Peeling the onion and finding a taste for leadership - IMD Business School
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Peeling the onion and finding a taste for leadership

András Incze explains how IMD leadership programs have helped him to uncover the issues that were holding him back.
January 2023

András Incze (MBA 1993) has had to let go of several self-limiting beliefs throughout his career.

The first of these was a feeling that, because he had grown up under communism in Hungary, he was inferior to his peers in the West. “We were struggling with everyday things, whereas everything there seemed to be working,” he recalled.

He managed to get over this complex by attending a leadership program in Denmark for junior managers from companies in Central and Eastern Europe in 1991. “I realized I wasn’t less intelligent than the others,” he said.

This experience – alongside a desire to be at the cutting edge – whetted his appetite to do an MBA, so he enrolled at IMD in 1993 as the first ever Hungarian on the program alongside 82 other participants from around the world.

“From my perspective, I was the person that year who benefited the most,” he said. “I was a Hungarian with an engineering background, and I grew up under communism. All the content was new – finance, operations, marketing.”

Working with people not machines

The year at IMD also confirmed that he wanted to be more than just an engineer. “It’s nice to work with machines, but I wanted to work with people,” he explained.

He moved into pharma, joining Novartis in Budapest the following year before relocating to Basel in 1998. Incze climbed steadily up the corporate ladder and completed several internal training programs at Novartis as well as courses at other business schools.

In 2002, he came across IMD’s High Performance Leadership (HPL) program while looking for a course that could take his skills to the next level. After that first program with Professor George Kohlrieser he was hooked. He completed Advanced High Performance Leadership (AHPL) and also attended several invitation-only retreats.

The authority gap

This was when he uncovered the second self-limiting belief, a fear of authority which stemmed from his personal family history. When the Hungarian authorities nationalized property after the Second World War, they took over his grandfather’s apartment and forced them to share it with other families. His grandfather was also sent to work in another city far from his family.

With Kohlrieser’s help, Incze worked to overcome the fear of his own power and learned how to keep calm and control his mindset by focusing on the present reality.

This transformation gave Incze the confidence to set up his own company and lead with the necessary authority. In early 2011, he founded Akceso Advisors, a consulting firm that advises pharmaceutical companies on drug pricing and market access. He crafted a mission, inspiring himself and his team ever since: be a catalyst of patient access to medicines, for better public health worldwide.

The decision to leave Novartis was partly driven by a desire to push himself out of his comfort zone. He got what he wanted, and in the first few years was faced with the daunting task of acquiring clients, building the business, hiring and motivating people.

Managing people who aren’t in the room

From the outset, Incze focused on creating a remote workforce, hiring the best people for the job, no matter where they were based. In doing so, he was a decade ahead of many firms who were forced to grapple with how to motivate staff working from home when the COVID-19 crisis shuttered offices across the world. So, what are his tips for motivating and engaging employees who are working remotely?

“You need to get people in the same room from time to time,” he said. Once a month, he holds a 90 minute-call with his entire team where 5% of the time is spent on business and 95% on personal matters.

They also get together twice a year for “Imagine Days” where they thrash out future strategy and socialize. In addition, he tries to bring the partners of his employees to at least the social part of the program once a year. These get-togethers have taken place in Riga, Cyprus, and even Rio de Janeiro. This year, his team will be heading to Albania.

Incze said these moments together are essential for building team morale. “It doesn’t need to be the fanciest thing,” he said. “Even a simple meeting in a simple venue can work wonders.”

Leading yourself

Attending IMD leadership programs have also encouraged Incze to step out of his comfort zone in his personal life.

After completing his first HPL program, Incze decided to start running marathons. He ran his first one with fellow IMD alumnus Poul Pedersen in New York in 2004. He has since gone on to complete marathons on all seven continents in Vienna, Marrakech, the Great Wall of China, the Gold Coast of Australia, Antarctica, and Easter Island.

To fit in his training with his responsibilities as a father, Incze encouraged his two young sons to ride their bikes alongside him. “This led to some fantastic conversations,” he recalled. And he travelled to the marathons together with his wife, or sometimes with the whole family, collecting unforgettable joint experiences and strengthening the family bond.

As well as running his company and running marathons, Incze also lectures in Healthcare Management at Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW). In a way, this has allowed him to connect with his roots. In his office hangs a grand painting of István Rybár, his grandfather on his mother’s side who was a Professor of Experimental Physics.

Incze also takes inspiration from other family members. His great, great grandfather Gyula Incze was an entrepreneur who provided financial support to others. He also admires his father, an internationally respected scientist who rose to become head of the department at the Meat Research Institute in Hungary despite not being a member of the Communist Party, and eventually assuming the top role in the Institute after Hungary’s turnaround to a free country.

Letting go

In November 2022, Incze attended AHPL for a second time to get energized for the next stage of his leadership journey. The revelation that emerged from the discussions was that it was time to start operating his company “on a longer leash” and share more responsibility with his team.

Incze likens the HPL programs to peeling an onion, enabling you to uncover the roots of your leadership.

“You have so many layers. You peel back one layer, but you can always improve. Whatever level you are at in your leadership journey and whatever blind spots you might have, you can always get to the next level.”

Incze’s top tips for young leaders

1. Immerse yourself in an intense social self-experiment

The one-year MBA program at IMD is tough but teaches you things about yourself you might never uncover. It also embeds you in a fantastic global social network of peers. Take the opportunity if you can.

2. Take calculated risks

Signing up to the MBA was a huge financial risk for Incze. He managed to borrow money from family and friends and the IMD alumni fund provided him with a loan for the fees. “It would have taken 100 years to repay the loans with my old salary,” he said. But he was sure the risk would pay off. And it certainly did, in many ways.