EMBA Discovery Expedition project provides invaluable experience for EDF executive

Sylvie Richard used to consider herself a pure "techie." With degrees in mechanical engineering and physics, the label seemed to be the most fitting. But after having completed her Executive MBA at IMD in 2009, things have changed.

"Having the opportunity to develop both my business acumen from a strategic and economic perspective, as well as a well-rounded set of leadership skills, has opened many doors for me in my current position as chief of staff and chief advisor to the plant manager at an EDF nuclear power plant," stated Sylvie. (The French-based EDF is the world's leading nuclear energy company).

Sylvie chose the IMD Executive MBA based on a list of top-ranked schools, according to the Financial Times, suggested by her company. During a trial visit to IMD, she was impressed by the quality of the program and Faculty.

For Sylvie, the Executive MBA Discovery Expedition to China was the main highlight of the program.

A key part of IMD Executive MBA course work, the Discovery Expedition is designed to allow participants to apply what they have learned in class to a real life situation, enabling them to grow as leaders and make an impact.

Being catapulted into China for the first time in her life with 10 days to evaluate a highly complex project presented Sylvie with an exciting challenge. Opting for a project connected to the environment, Sylvie's team decided to investigate the feasibility of implementing desalination stations in China in order to relieve the country's chronic water shortage. The project also set out to investigate whether environmental issues are a concern in China today and what openings might exist.

Each team was given carte blanche to choose their approach. Sylvie's team set up meetings with a number of different parties from NGOs to entrepreneurs to key players in industry and universities.

"The people targeted to benefit from our project were the very poor at the bottom of the social pyramid," she explained. "Consequently, we started by identifying relevant NGOs and companies that might be willing to fund the project through their CSR activities.

"As it turned out, in China there are many government organizations and a certain number of NGOs but the latter tend to be big names like the WWF which have guidelines for their own projects and are not looking to form other partnerships. It proved to be very hard to meet NGOs on the one hand and on the other, there is a lot of state regulation regarding who does what in the country."

Despite the great opportunities offered by China, the project demonstrated that there are other, less regulated countries which provide a better backdrop and infrastructure for the type of pilot that Sylvie's team were hoping to implement. The experience has been invaluable to Sylvie in her post at EDF.

It reinforced the message that it's never only what you know but who you know. In addition to the IMD Executive MBA course content, Sylvie is greatly appreciative of the contacts she made. These individuals continue to provide off-the-record advice and support.

"It's great to be able to share things with people who have the same interests and experiences - and saves boring our nearest and dearest to death with work stories. I recently had a tough decision to make and one of the members from my IMD team was an invaluable sounding board.

"In addition, she feels that program has enabled her to bring newfound management and leadership skills to EDF.

"Since December, we have had a new CEO at EDF and I have been part of a workshop exploring the possibility of expanding into China," she explained. "My experience on the Discovery Expedition has been invaluable in helping me make a significant contribution to new development strategier the company."

Such is the life of new of responsibilities for a former "techie".

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