Gianluca Perino - IMD Business School
News Stories · Leadership

Levelling the playing field through scholarships

Gianluca Perino, an MBA Hilti STEM scholarship recipient, explains why he left the Italian Navy to do an MBA at IMD – and how scholarships play a global, social role that transcends the benefits for individual recipients.
5 min.
April 2024

Having spent eight years as an officer in the Italian Navy, Gianluca Perino had extensive experience in leadership. Describing himself as “flexible, highly trainable and with an adaptable mindset,” and used to managing a team of 20+ military personnel in meeting demanding requirements with limited resources in tight timeframes, it was a grounding in leadership that was acquired in highly demanding circumstances.

The most challenging experience was taking part in multiple missions to rescue migrants from the Mediterranean Sea as they tried to navigate the rough and dangerous waters to the shores of Italy. Not surprisingly, saving lives at sea was the experience of which he is most proud during his time in the Navy.

Lessons in leadership

It is also not surprising that, when he left the Navy to embark on an MBA at IMD in January 2024, he was pretty confident of his leadership abilities and was not expecting to learn much in that regard. He reveals, “I thought: ‘I already have all this experience. Maybe the leadership side won’t be so important for me.’”  

In fact, from day one in the IMD Leadership Lab, he was “amazed” by the learning process. “I was pretty confident of myself, but working in the Navy for so long means you acquire a certain leadership style – you have to appear fully in charge of your decisions and not show uncertainty. You also have to make decisions fast, which means you make a lot of assumptions, and you operate with bias. In the Leadership Lab, where you undergo three days of intensive training, you learn to challenge these assumptions. You become aware of your biases and blind spots. I was astonished by how much I’d learned by the end of it. Now, when I’m evaluating a situation, I stop and think. ‘Ok, this is my view, but is there any evidence out there that means I need to change my mind?’ It’s been eye-opening.” 

Another key learning, he reveals, is “how to get your message across.” Used to the military way of communicating, where everyone speaks the same language and there is a right and a wrong way to do things, he found that, in an environment featuring many different cultures and perspectives, “It’s not always easy. You need to be able to communicate not just by speaking but also by listening.” 

The scholarship effect

A native of La Spezia – a port city in Liguria, northwest Italy, famous for its seafaring heritage – Gianluca decided to leave the Navy to broaden his horizons. Although he had traveled widely, he felt he had only experienced life from a military perspective. And, having risen rapidly through the ranks, he realized that a rigid career path lay ahead of him, and he wanted to work in a more fast-paced environment. He applied to several business schools, but IMD was his first preference. “It was the best choice for me. I wanted to challenge myself, but I wanted to do it in an international environment. And I had no business background, so I knew IMD would give me that grounding.” 

Another reason for applying to IMD, he explains, was the class size and level of faculty support. “Having a small cohort means a lot to me – you’re more nurtured and have more help and you get to know your classmates well, plus the ratio of faculty to students is high.” 

Despite feeling confident in himself as a person, however, he was not at all confident of being one of the “lucky few” to be awarded a scholarship that would pay half the fees of the MBA. He vividly recalls the moment he found out he had been granted the scholarship. “I didn’t expect it to be honest, coming from a military background as I did, and not having any experience in the commercial world. I was onboard ship when I got the news, and it was a real ‘wow’ moment.” 

Receiving the scholarship inspired a profound change in the way he thought of himself. “I thought, ‘Who am I? What’s my value? Am I going to be good enough?’ The imposter syndrome was already kicking in. But being selected made me think, ‘They see potential in me.’ I was very proud and happy about that. It gave me confidence and made me feel empowered.” 

Gianluca believes scholarships are important for another reason. “It’s a lot of money and having half of it paid means you can concentrate on a career where you want to have an impact without thinking about having to repay a big loan – you don’t have to target a sector or industry purely because of the financial rewards, because otherwise you won’t be able to pay the loan back. It’s very freeing in that sense, particularly for students who don’t come from a privileged background.” 

A wider social benefit

For Gianluca, the scholarship has a vital role to play in “leveling the playing field”. He notes that people from every country (there are 44 nationalities in his intake) can come to IMD and learn “and you can learn from them.” This, he passionately believes, is essential in broadening the worldview of every student; whether they are from a so-called developed nation such as Switzerland or Italy, or a developing country.  

He is also convinced that the scholarship has a wider social benefit beyond that of individual students. “Everybody learns from everybody, and everybody gains an insight into other people’s perspectives. It’s a reciprocal process, so there’s a kind of cultural and intellectual exchange that goes on. 

“It’s about sharing knowledge, culture, and values among people from all backgrounds and all corners of the globe. It’s extremely gratifying to feel you are part of that.”