In June, the 2016 Navigating the Future conference, the third of its kind, showcased the work of IMD MBA participants. Over 140 executives from different industries around the world as well as seasoned IMD alumni and business people attended the two-day event.

Three guest speakers were invited to share their opinions on what the future holds for their respective industries and society in general. Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging, and Peter Nicholson, Vice President, Business Development & Strategy of Nestlé Skin Health pointed out the need for businesses to embrace markets for new products and services to target the ageing populations. Those who understand and prepare for a world that is aging will win. Health care is no longer just about detection and big data. André Kudelski, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Kudelski Group, added that in the face of the rapid digitalization there will certainly be new opportunities and new risks for business – how we adapt is up to us.

The MBAs focused on three main topic areas: (1) Business model transformation – drivers & outcomes; (2) Human challenges and business responses: energy, food, health and work; and (3) Macro-Perspectives: Disruptions of mass production; Development, culture and resource use; and Scouting for attractive markets.

Business model transformation:

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – VUCA – may not be new but companies apparently find it increasingly difficult to cope. Over the last forty years the average lifespan of companies has been nearly halved.  Avoiding extinction requires either proactive or reactive adaptation depending on circumstance. And yet, addressing key change drivers - varying customer values & needs, shifting generic technologies, adjustments in regulatory and stakeholder demands – does not necessarily sustain profitability. What is needed is an in depth understanding the interaction amongst these factors. The discussion of business and regulatory concerns about “Big Data” provides an integrative perspective on these points.

Human challenges & business responses:

Dealing with current human challenges demands more than a mere productivity boost – it calls for identifying dilemma, clarifying trade-offs and stimulating societal dialogue to allow for novel industry responses. Four fundamental questions areas were discussed: How to guarantee health for an aging global population while containing costs; how to incentivize innovation to increase the yield of agricultural production and overcompensate the rapid decline of arable land per capita; how to overcome existing infrastructures & methods to satisfy an explosive increase in energy demand in a clean and affordable way; how to guarantee work while benefiting from labor-saving technology substitution. In each case, business initiatives are conditioned by past decision; breaking the impasse requires navigating a host of potential reactions at the macro-economic and political as well as micro-economic individual level. Sunk cost investments are often used to justify the status quo; calling them irrelevant opens up new frontiers. But who will move first?

Macro-perspectives:

Faced with a vast range of broader perspectives that could be discussed, the 2016 Navigating the Future line up focused on three: Reassessing general production options away from the tried large-scale, homogenous vs. small-scale, heterogeneous process split; broadening our views on assessing market attractiveness for internationalizing companies beyond the limited GDP or  market-openness criteria and a function of the company’s strategic intent; discussing natural resource management as a national governance issue to avoid the “curse of plenty.”  Benefiting from a macro-perspective foremost requires questioning the traditional language and implicit assumptions of, say, operations, macro-economics & trade, or regulation. More often than not, it requires thinking clearly inside the box rather than looking outside.

The Navigating the Future conference is the first of a series of activities where IMD’s MBAs present their findings in front of alumni and executives. A selection of these presentations were furthermore presented on June 30th in London, Zürich and Munich to an audience of recruiters and alumni and will be taken on the road at alumni networking events during the MBA discovery expeditions to UAE/Singapore, Shanghai/Tokyo and Monterrey/San Francisco in the last week of August.


To learn more about IMD's MBA program and see the highlights of the conference please visit our website.

Should you wish to join us next year at the Navigating the Future conference in June 2017 or in any of the events during the MBA discovery expeditions in Augustplease let us know by either calling us on: +41 (0)21 618 0298 or writing directly to Gitte Marie Didrichsen.