- IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Leadership

FBL as part of a longer journey towards leadership

Three alumni recall their experience of Foundations for Business Leadership (FBL) and how the program has helped them spread their wings as leaders
July 2018

Anne-Sophie, Elvis and Stefano have all attended IMD’s FBL program, which prepares participants for successful general management. The program essentially addresses the transition of moving to an executive position and tackles the challenges this can involve.

Looking back at their time on FBL, the alumni remember the learning experience, the friendships they made while in Lausanne, the challenges – even how they reacted in a stressful situation. But above all they reflect on the journey they have made during, and since the program.

Anne-Sophie Zerlang-Karsen, who now works as Global Head of Reefer Management at Maersk Line, recalls how FBL was the beginning of a journey, which then led her to study on the AMC and then EMBA programs at IMD. Recalling FBL, she says: “The program really taught me the fundamentals of business and it was great to take myself away from my normal day to day work. Being so close to people for three weeks was also a fantastic experience.”

Elvis Fontaine is head of Procurement at EPFL, Lausanne’s Institute of Technology. He attended FBL in 2017 and has since enrolled on IMD’s EMBA program. “FBL was part of a whole journey that I had planned for a long time and enabled me to explore very important topics that I had no chance of working on in my daily life,” he explains.

Stefano Poli, who works as VP for Business Development at Inmarsat, who completed FBL and then an EMBA at IMD, says: “First and foremost, FBL strengthened my critical thinking. It gave me tools and experience that I could learn from to be more mindful of the things around me and be more critical about them.”

Going back to work after the vigorous business exercises and challenges of the three-week FBL, all felt that they were able to apply some deep knowledge to their jobs.

Says Anne Sophie: “I remember coming back feeling I had new views on everything from marketing, to finance, and strategy. Having spent three weeks reflecting heavily on who I was as a leader, I now wanted to try to apply these skills in the office and found it easy to do this once back in my normal life.”

For Elvis, FBL changed him in a number of ways. “FBL has given me a lot of energy, discipline and has changed the way my team see me. Now I rise to challenges much more, and challenge my team more. I think I’m now more efficient and consistent in my daily work and quite often others need to adapt!”

The executive says that FBL also led to self-awareness: “Being in a large group of diverse people helped me understand that my mind and my voice are not universal. You realize that maybe you’re not great at finance or marketing, especially if you have a job that has nothing to with those disciplines, but you can learn these skills again.”

Anne-Sophie had a similar experience: “Being put in a completely different context with a lot of different people pushed me quite significantly,” she explains. “I remember feeling I got home with a better, or at least a different understanding of who I am and how people perceive me, and how I can have the most impact as a leader.”

When asked how she would advise someone considering FBL, Anne-Sophie says: “It sounds obvious, but I think it’s super important to really be present on the program. It worked very well for me that I didn’t do emails or work nights. I really dedicated the three weeks to being there and to learning.

“Other advice I would give: be prepared for a tough three weeks,” adds the executive. “FBL will push you and sometimes you are tired and frustrated, but that’s when you learn. Feel confident in the knowledge that what you will come away feeling enriched with knowledge.”

Elvis offers his own advice: “Be ready, not in terms of reading tons of books, or studying for hours and hours, but in your mindset. FBL is the foundation for all the other journeys that you may have at IMD and in your work if you’re trying to work towards a new way of managing on a daily basis, or more strategically.”

Stefano says: “One piece of advice I would give when starting FBL, is to make yourself vulnerable as soon as possible. Be yourself. Try to challenge yourself, don’t look for confirmations, because I think the best thing that can happen in a program like this is to turn upside down some of the certainties that we have. That’s a great asset that you can get out of a program like this.