Applied EMBA learnings help to eliminate waste and save millions

Executive MBA programs are usually regarded as valuable for the individuals who pursue them, but Dr. Martin Iffert is convinced that his company, TRIMET, has benefited from his passage at IMD as much as he has.

When his company designated him as a candidate for the Executive Board, Iffert knew he would need to deepen his understanding of business and management. With a master's degree in electrical engineering and a PhD in chemical engineering, he had all the technical expertise to manage the plants of the biggest provider of aluminium in Germany, but he still did not feel comfortable reading a balance sheet.

The board members of privately-owned TRIMET all had commercial backgrounds as traders or bankers, so Iffert decided that "it was important to learn to speak the same language." MBAs are not widespread in Germany, Iffert said, but his post-grad studies in Australia and his many international contacts had made him realize that he needed to complete his training with the "financial basics" and developing a broader and deeper view of business.

He was encouraged to attend IMD by the owner of TRIMET who suggested the Program for Executive Development (PED). Iffert knew that his responsibilities at TRIMET would not diminish during the duration of his studies, but he insisted nevertheless on going further than the PED, and doing the Executive MBA. Although it was a "very stressful year", he said that he was grateful for an experience that he qualifies as "mind- blowing".

"The program surpassed my expectations in every respect," Iffert indicated. The fact that some of the ground covered was outside his professional field broadened his perspectives.

"I learned so much about innovation, strategy, finance and other aspects of general management, including starting up new businesses," he said. Working collaboratively, he found it interesting to write up a business plan in technology and market areas that he knew nothing about. He also found it valuable to master the art of pitching ideas: "The ultimate test comes when you pitch your business plan to a venture capitalist. Your performance and charts have to be precise, convincing and on the spot."

But what he appreciated most was to use his own company as a "learning laboratory" for his assignments. One of his initiatives was to introduce Kaizen - a Japanese-inspired work philosophy that aims to establish continuous improvement and eliminate any waste in products and processes - to TRIMET.

"This very successful methodology has allowed the company to save millions already," he indicated, adding that today the Kaizen continuous improvement approach has become part of the company culture. His next target is turning TRIMET into a true learning organization.

"Any company can buy equipment, machinery and plants, but having a good and effective organization is what makes all the difference," Iffert said in acknowledgement of what he learned at IMD. "Using your own company as the basis of your learning brings it all together. That's what distinguishes this program from other schools."

To anchor the improvement process at TRIMET, Iffert has encouraged other managers to attend IMD. "I realized that the more people speak the same language, the better we become."

Rather than spending millions on consultants, Martin Iffert suggests that companies are much better off investing in the education of its best people. That way, the knowledge stays with the company and doesn't move on.

"Everything you learn at IMD can be immediately applied to the business. What a payback for the company," he asserts.

Effective October 1, 2011, Martin Iffert has been appointed CEO of Trimet.

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