IMD International

IMD’s BOT “not something you can learn in textbooks”

Jennifer Y. Poon talks about her Building on Talent experience

If she weren’t a Senior Associate at a top international law firm where she specializes in corporate finance law, Jennifer Y. Poon’s enthusiasm for the IMD Building on Talent program might sound like a publicity pitch. “Fascinating and fun” is not your usual description of a strategic management and leadership course. She also said: “The course is amazing.”

Poon admits that she didn’t know much about IMD when she applied for a scholarship with her current employer CMS Cameron McKenna LLP to attend the course in Lausanne in 2014-2015.

Nor did she know what to expect of the BOT program; the amount of required reading and preparation beforehand made it sound “quite serious”.

As an attorney qualified to practice law in New York, USA, as well as a barrister and solicitor in Canada, and having completed a Juris Doctor degree preceded by a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Poon was getting ready for another spell of academic pursuit. What she discovered was the “real-world learning” that is the hallmark of IMD.

“The course flew by,” she said of the intensive course, which took place in 2014-2015, with two modules on-campus with project work in between, “but I do feel that IMD does it really well. It’s not an academic bubble: the professors treated us as busy people and encouraged us to share real-world experiences from our jobs, and by covering topical subjects, we could then relate what we learned directly back to our positions.”

“The course is unique and valuable because a lot of what we learned is not something you can learn from textbooks.”

Breaking stereotypes

One of the hallmarks of the BOT program is the emphasis on developing leadership and management skills, on top of covering typical business topics such as finance, marketing and strategy. In terms of the leadership component of the course, Poon explains that the two modules were very different, the first one dedicated to analysis of one’s personality type and how it affects management style, and the second to identifying leadership style, but both via hands-on group work.

In the first module, participants were thrown into stressful situations, such as leading a group through a difficult obstacle course or completing tasks blind-folded, and how they led and responded was then appraised. “Some people are too hard on themselves, others not enough.”

“You see a theme that comes out and that exposes your traits, both at work and in personal life. I learned a lot about myself.”

The second module focused more on leadership style and whether that style was effective. “Leaders are not always the ones you might expect.” She discovered that peer review can deliver surprising results, when, against her expectations, her ability to mediate and build consensus appeared to be heavily valued by her co-participants as leadership qualities.

“It turns out that leaders are not necessarily the stereotypical men who are loudest and most controversial. Sometimes the quieter executives who have the ability to express difficult ideas and bind a team together can be seen as better leaders by their peers.”

Poon had been a little worried to be the only lawyer in her class of 34 participants and one of the few women. “As a lawyer, I see myself as a good advisor, not someone who necessarily makes big decisions. I’m just as happy to sit back and observe, as I am to step in and lead.” Her IMD experience helped her revise her judgement and address a few stereotypes. The Myers-Briggs test, for example, taught her that she makes decisions in a highly analytical manner, which is usually associated with men, whereas several men in the class were emotional decision-makers, which is more frequently associated with women. “You really start thinking about those stereotypes.”

Cultural exposure

Another benefit of the program, Poon points out, is the exposure to so many different cultures. She herself is a US lawyer who was born and raised in Canada, now living and working in London. And in her group alone the participants came from Japan, U.A.E., Russia, Germany and France. “You learn so much about the way different cultures work and think.” Poon also believes that the intensity of the course exposes so much about a person, and allows participants to get to know each other sometimes even better than their lifelong friends.

Alumni events are also well-executed and Poon mentions a recent IMD Executive Forum on ‘digital disruption’ that she attended in London, where she has been living for approximately five years. She appreciates the efforts that go into the alumni events.

Grateful for the opportunity

“I went into the course feeling that I might be at a disadvantage because I’m not a business person per se, but discovered very quickly that I could give the right answers.”

She says that what she learned is in fact “useful and applicable” in her current position as she builds up the International Capital Markets group at her firm, which, she says, can be like running a business with budgets and training programs.

Poon gives credit to her employer for recognizing the importance of management training. “I’m guessing that not many law firms invest so heavily in executive training.”

“I was grateful for the opportunity. IMD has a unique approach: they really think of what their participants are looking for, and they executed it well.”

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