‘Be resilient. Be optimistic. Believe in yourselves.’
After a year that started at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s class of 104 gathered with their loved ones to celebrate their hard work over the past 11 months and the bonds of friendship they had formed with their peers.
At a joyful graduation ceremony in a snowy Lausanne, the message from faculty and keynote speakers was clear: remember to be resilient and optimistic, and lead with empathy, compassion and courage – especially during times of crisis.
Leaders today are facing significant challenges on multiple fronts, from the climate emergency to supply chain disruption, the war in Ukraine, increasing polarization, and rising inflation.
Quoting a line from the 1984 American sci-fi romance drama Starman, IMD President and Nestlé Chaired Professor Jean-François Manzoni said graduates should strive to be at their “very best when things are worst” so they can make happen what otherwise would not have happened and leave the system stronger.
To nurture the ability to be at your best, Manzoni shared three pieces of advice to help graduates hone their resilience: manage your energy, remind yourself of your purpose, and accept the situation as it is.
“In years to come, make sure you turn yourself into a leader that others can count on all the time, including when the going gets rough,” he said.
Keynote speaker Riad Sherif, CEO of Oculis, who graduated from the MBA program in 2001, drew similarities between today’s uncertainty as the world emerges from the pandemic and 20 years ago, when the world was reeling from the dotcom crisis and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Sharing lessons from his international career in the pharmaceutical industry, he advised graduates to think out of the box, act like you don’t have anything to lose, and to make the most out of a crisis.
“Crises are moments where you can mobilize energy in organizations, where you can achieve fundamental transformations and you can be fast,” he said.
“These are the best moments where you can prepare an organization for the next step.”
Uniting these three things is optimism, he added. “Optimism is important because it’s the extra fuel you have compared to the average operation that will enable you to go the extra mile and win.”
Four hundred, eighty-five thousand, five hundred minutes
After the group collected their diplomas, some members of this year’s MBA band ‘The White Horses’ surprised their classmates by singing an adaption of the song Seasons of Love from musical Rent. The lyrics described how the “four hundred, eighty-five thousand, five hundred minutes” since they started the program in January could be measured in the number of classes they had sat through, or number of sips of coffee, or the number of hours they spent working in module groups until early in the morning.
Graduate Craig Plaatjes, who took to the stage to deliver a speech on behalf of his classmates, suggested the time could perhaps best be measured in the distance between the 104 individuals from 39 nationalities who arrived as complete strangers and were now sat there as lifelong friends.
Addressing the members of the class of 2022, he said, “I have the deepest respect and admiration for every single one of you. Each of us dared to see the bigger vision for our lives and were brave enough to be pulled by that vision into this life-changing year at IMD. It is our commitment and devotion that has allowed us to transform into the stronger and more able versions of ourselves that sit here today.”
Awards for exceptional participants
At a celebratory event earlier in the week, IMD honored the students who had helped foster a sense of community throughout the year by contributing to different clubs. Awards were handed out to members of the social, sports, yearbook, sustainability and EI&D committees as well as the class ombudsmen and MBA band.
In a first for the program, MBA Dean Professor Omar Toulan unveiled a new IMD MBAT trophy which commemorated the different awards – from dodgeball to dancing, and table tennis to trivia – won at the so-called “MBA Olympics” in Paris earlier this year.
The event was also a chance to hand out prizes to different class members as nominated by their peers. Nitish Patil received the Hepper Award – the prize for the most altruistic member of the class as voted by their peers. The award is named after Michael Hepper, an IMD MBA participant who died in a car crash two weeks before graduating from the program in 1997. Patil was praised for sharing his academic knowledge and job postings, as well as for staying late to organize finance revision sessions for his peers.
Getrude Okoth Rea from Kenya and Juan Perlas from Uruguay were presented with the Prix Fondation Vaudoise pour la Formation Bancaire (FVFB), an award that helps to honor how higher education plays a role in shaping banking and finance.
Maureen Pellicer Avalos from Mexico was the recipient of the Welshe Award. The award was founded by Gillian Welshe and honors a female participant who shows exemplary kindness, moral force of character, leadership, and academic strength.
Pellicer Avalos’ classmates praised her as “a leader who sets up other people for success” who acts a psychological safety net, recognizes when you are feeling down, and, importantly, shares her food.
Believe in yourselves
Closing the ceremony, Professor Omar Toulan, Dean of the MBA program, reminisced over the memories he had shared with the class including asado in Buenos Aires and flight simulators in Singapore.
“You are and always will be my first class as Dean,” he said. “With that comes a responsibility to live up to my expectations regarding your success and your happiness as you will set the benchmark for those who follow – and, believe me, my expectations are high. So, hold on to your dreams and push the bar. Believe in yourself as much as I and all of us at IMD believe in you.”