IMD International

Rewiring the brain to face the unexpected

Alumna Bea Knecht explains how the “pressure cooker” conditions during her MBA at IMD prepared her for real life challenges

It was in a Zattoo board meeting in August 2015 that a difference of opinion reminded Bea Knecht of her time spent at IMD many years before. Bea, who founded Zattoo a decade ago, had noticed an issue with one of the internet streaming company's contracts - but no one else on the board saw it the same way. The scenario took her back to her MBA, which would place her in a similar "pressure cooker" situation in which discussions would sometimes reach boiling point.

The entrepreneur attended the one-year program in 1995 and remembers being "tremendously impressed" with the whole process. She recalls how IMD rented out a whole hotel for the month of January and remembers thinking that putting everyone in the team in one place was a bold move. "This was a statement that said: 'we are very serious about getting you guys together and you are now in a boot camp' - I thought that was a very strong start."

Over the course of that year in Lausanne, Bea was given some 500 business problems to solve under pressure along with five or six people in a team whose members rotated every month. "Like in real life, we were under time pressure and negotiating towards finding the truth, which you are probably only going to get 80% close to," she says. "At times we had two or three equally valid strategies or found ourselves in a team with one person who said 'I'm not sure'," she explains. But there was no chance to abandon the situation; they had to work it out and there was "collaboration and, of course, strife," says the executive.

Bea explains that IMD's mix of people, who are all from different backgrounds and with differing personalities, means that (to borrow a Steve Jobs analogy) rough stones are washed together in the washing machine, rub against each other, but come out as smooth pebbles. "At IMD, team work was sometimes a contact sport. You show up, something happens and you react to it in the here and now."

Fast forward 20 years to August's board meeting, and Bea says she ended up giving way to the rest of her team. "I had to accept that, just like at IMD, sometimes you see something that others don't. You might even get the satisfaction of being proved right."

Bea spends 60% of her working life at Zattoo, running projects with the EU on behalf of the tech firm, reaching out to universities to carry out the next phase of research. After creating the start-up in San Francisco, she migrated the company to Europe and there are now offices in Zurich and Berlin, but she still has a ritual of returning to the foggy city once a year to visit friends and connect with potential clients.

The IMD alum is also founder of Zurich-based TV audience and internet usage measurement company Genistat, which provides internet statistics. Bea also develops real estate in Berlin and is an accomplished interior designer.

As for advice about life, Bea says that the world rewards those who "show up and seize opportunity". After reflecting on the fact that younger generations no longer know whether the knowledge they acquire at university will be valid in 30 years, she says: "If you see flowers on the side of the road, pluck some of them because with things changing so rapidly in the world, you don't know whether your strategy will stay valid. IMD helped us rewire our brains by putting us in surprising situations so we would be better at tackling real world problems."

IMD's MBA program provides the skills to know, the confidence to act and the humility to lead.

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