- IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Leadership

Former Naval officer says IMD MBA forges leadership and business impact

“The year-long ‘journey’ has helped me better understand my personality and bring out the best in team interactions.”
June 2017

Corporate experience is not a requirement to get into - IMD Business School the IMD MBA program, as Thibault Acolas discovered. A graduate of the French Naval Academy, he has been a naval officer for 10 years, and worked on strategy and operations on destroyers and maritime patrol aircraft in various environments, from the Libya-crisis in 2011, to fighting off piracy in Somalia, to rescuing shipwrecked migrants in the Mediterranean. He joined IMD for opportunities to create value in the ‘real’ world.

Thibault Acolas is the recipient of an IMD MBA Future Leaders Scholarship. 

Why did you choose to come to IMD?

I chose IMD for its unique industry focus coupled with its emphasis on real world impact. In addition, IMD’s key location in Lausanne, Switzerland, would help me find opportunities throughout the European ecosystem. Lastly, the 90-student format suited me, because it facilitated networking and friendships and improved the learning experience from each other.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?

I took great interest in Professor Leleux’s Entrepreneurship classes. Through his lifelong experience, diverse startup exposure, and personal involvement with founders, he brings the matter alive and provides insights into the entrepreneurial mindset. He describes with passion how Startups can die from “opportunity overload”, or thrive despite an initially disastrous business plan!

What did you enjoy most about business school in general?

The leadership stream here at IMD characterizes the business school experience. The year-long “journey”, with leadership labs, one-on-one coaching and mentoring deepened my understanding of my group dynamics and my impact on people, helped me better understand my personality and bring out the best in team interactions. My past deployments in the Navy provided me with a wide range of leadership exposure, but IMD helped me reflect on these events and improve my self-awareness.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you?

I find it fascinating how business schools can bring together people from such diverse backgrounds (banking, consulting, supply chain, military, architecture…) and build on these experiences to forge future leaders and impact the businesses.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

Pitching effectively for business change in front of a panel of six former IMD alumni (class of 1996).

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program

IMD is all about self-awareness and building on who you really are. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and reflect that in your essays.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal?

My long-term professional goal is to reshape the European defence industry by benefiting from R&D synergies, consolidating the supplier base and remodelling the value chain to reconcile the contradicting trends of diminishing government defence spending with rising insecurity.

Where will you be working after graduation?

For a defence & aerospace consulting firm such as Honeywell or within defence firms such as ThyssenKrupp.

Describe yourself in 15 words or less:

Naval Officer with leadership exposure in Libya conflict, Somalian piracy and migrant rescue in Mediterranean.

A fun fact about yourself

Joined the US Naval Academy “Pipes & Drums” bagpipe band as the only French officer during a USNA semester exchange.


Passionate Bagpipe player, Tennis, Running (Paris 20km October 2016).

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you

As an outgoing friend that they can count on for life.