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Alumni Stories · Leadership - Board

Exploring potential challenges to make a difference as a board member

Alumni from IMD's High Performance Board (HPB) program reflect on what they learned and how listening to speakers and fellow participants has helped them to have a positive impact on their own boards.
March 2019

Board members face a multitude of challenges. The board’s key responsibility is strategy and it must have an intimate knowledge of the economy and be prepared to navigate political uncertainty. It also faces the additional demands of a fast-changing digital world, and how to adjust its business model accordingly.

Some of the challenges it faces are unforeseeable. “Every board is different, but I think all of them can face situations that they don’t anticipate,” says Bernard Bajolet, Board Member at SBM Offshore N.V. Bernard has attended IMD’s HPB program, which over three and half days, breaks down some of these challenges and explores what contributes to an effective, high-performing board.

Participants on the program look at real-world case studies, which Bernard says are extremely useful: “During the program we are presented with different situations that our board might one day face. This is good because, by being confronted with these various scenarios, we are then ready for them.”

For HPB alumna Hanne de Mora, who is member of the Board of Directors at AB Volvo, Outotec Oyj as well as the IMD Foundation and Supervisory Boards, the principal benefits of the program are two-fold. “First HPB helps you to get clarity on your own role as a board member and what this role means to you. Secondly it helps you understand the ingredients that are contained in a high performing board.”

Hanne says the program helped her, as a board member, to pick up things that she had not reflected on or talked about before. She then had the opportunity to go and apply them in her next board meeting. Hanne also says HPB taught her how best to communicate her learnings to fellow board colleagues back in the office, as well the best way to suggest how they might potentially do better as a board.

Michel Demaré has, over the last few years, assumed several board mandates with UBS, Syngenta, Vodafone, Louis Dreyfus Commodities and IMD. Referring to HPB, he says: “Because it’s a short program, in a couple of days you really get a chance to get a refresher of all the best practices of boards nowadays. Also, what is really attractive is that you get a good mix between theory and practice.”

HPB alumna Emily Kok, Board Member of UEM Edgenta Berhad, Malaysia, says she attended the program as she was looking to become a better and higher performing board director, independent board director, and business person.

“The program has given me a process and a structure on how to up my game, jump the S curve, not just for myself, but for my business as well,” she says.

The program features many guest speakers who come to share their experiences. Michel notes that IMD relies on a very large customer base of multinational companies, and he believes this enables the teachers to borrow from the guest speakers’ points of view.

Says Bernard: “Particularly interesting is the variety of speakers with very different backgrounds and personalities. They are all very challenging, but each in a very different style.”

The majority of alumni agree that it is the high quality of other participants on the program that make the experience at IMD all the more enriching.

Hanne: “The great network and diversity of the group means you are able to exchange views in a very different way than when you sit back at home. Here suddenly you meet a completely different group of people for almost four days and this means the exchanges have a positive impact on what you take away with you.”

She adds: “If you are with, say, 50 participants, you will honestly receive 50 practical takeaways, because they’re all individual.”

Michel: “During the program, we have a very good mix of participants who come from different regions, from different industries and who are board members or want to be board members. I think this makes for a situation in which we have a unique opportunity to bring all that together and make the experience much richer.”

When asked what advice Emily would give to anyone thinking of attending HPB, she says: “Don’t think twice, come, just come. You’re going to meet some great people, and access some great thought leadership.”

Find out more about High Performance Boards

Due to the success of the program two additional editions have been launched.

The program is also part of diploma journey

Find out more about IMD’s commitment to women in business