Maria Tokarska - IMD MBA - DIsney - IMD Business School

The IMD Scholarship: Unique in its life-changing generosity

Signing up for an IMD MBA “on a whim” was the start of a learning journey that led Maria Tokarska (MBA 2023) from her native New York to her dream job in Los Angeles – via Lausanne
May 2024

Maria Tokarska never imagined she’d end up working for The Walt Disney Company. As a Disney product manager based in Burbank, California, it falls to her to oversee the accuracy of upstream data that the company uses to create new shows; a role that she loves and describes as a “bridge between the company’s engineers and its ecosystem of stakeholders.” Getting here, though, has entailed a journey that Tokarska didn’t envision as a graduate. It is a journey that has taken her from her native New York to the West Coast, via Lausanne.

Maria Tokarska - IMD MBA - DIsney - IMD Business School

A biology major and graduate of Princeton University, Tokarska began her career in consulting – a decision that she felt aligned well with her skills in science and problem-solving. But curiosity about formal business education continued to niggle, she says. Within three years, she had applied to the IMD MBA program, as she describes it, on a “whim.”

“I was interested in an MBA and Bloomberg situated IMD at the very top of the rankings,” she recalled. “At the same time, with family in Ukraine, I had a long-held desire to go to Europe. So, when I found out that IMD was offering an academic challenge for a place on its MBA program, I thought: ‘Why not?’ I signed up on the spot.”

The challenge, a seven-hour virtual workshop in leadership and problem-solving, was a conduit to the interview process, one that Tokarska passed with flying colors. It was also the first critical step towards obtaining a scholarship to pursue her MBA and the start of a life-changing journey.

“Getting to the interview stage with IMD was exciting enough but learning that I’d been accepted onto the program with a scholarship was incredibly unexpected. Everything happened so fast, it felt almost too good to be true. There was no question that I had to accept. Within five days of the interview, I signed up for the MBA. Four months later, I was on my way to Switzerland.”

Going into the IMD MBA, Tokarska had some sense of the learning experience ahead of her. During the challenge she had been exposed to “interesting people from all over the world.” She had never lived outside of New York City or New Jersey. Taking her place on the program, she was immediately struck by the enormous diversity of culture, background, and language that constituted campus life. Within her immediate cohort, there were no fewer than 36 nationalities.

“Going into the program, I felt like the odd one out for the first time, and I really liked it. This felt like an experience that I would never have had, had I stayed in the US.”


Leading across difference

Leadership runs like a golden thread through the IMD MBA, says Tokarska. For her and her peers, however, building leadership capabilities began with learning how to manage across diversity and difference.

“Being based in Switzerland, we did a lot of leadership excursions in the mountains which felt unique. Here we did all kinds of activities that required us to work in different groups and manage each other. In one activity, I had to lead silently – making gestures and miming. Others had to lead while blindfolded. You must confront and manage your own frustration as you manage and mediate conflict. It’s a unique opportunity to experience these things and to be introspective and analytical about yourself and your own style.”

Working with classmates in these contexts forged strong bonds, she adds. With “nowhere to hide,” the learning journey brought the cohort together in a way that has endured beyond the program, meaning that Tokarska today enjoys a rock-solid friendship and support network that spans five continents. Having learned together, grown together, and overcome a multitude of challenges – including inevitable differences of opinion – it has helped her broaden her perspective exponentially and given her a deeper understanding of herself as a person and as a leader.

“As time passes, I will uncover more about the impact of the program, but already I feel far more in tune with my thoughts, emotions, and reactions. A function of the MBA is to really embrace introspection, and that’s key in leadership.”

Then there’s the ability to feel comfortable with conflict. “I’ve learned that polite teams get polite results,” she laughs. “Doing the MBA has taught me that conflict can be necessary, and it can be good. And as a woman working in tech, that has helped me enormously. I’ve learned not to turn away but to be welcoming of the tension that comes from different perspectives. And to be more assertive as a result.”

Disney Logo - IMD Business School

Disney beckons

Emerging from the MBA program, Tokarska realized that it was important to her to return to the US to be close to her loved ones and friends. It meant a great deal to her and her family that she pursued opportunities in America, even if that meant moving from one coast to the other.

“I was the first in my family to be born in the US, so it’s important to me – and, I think, to my parents – that I continue to progress and to look for opportunities here. Coming back from IMD, though, I knew I wanted a renowned and iconic organization on my CV, and the opportunity to try for Disney was too good to miss.”

Making the cut at Disney was in no small part down to her IMD network, she says. “I was able to network with a lot of IMD alumni and I reached out to contacts who had flagged the opportunity and were able to support me in preparing my application. They made the referral to my hiring manager, and it turns out that I was the right match, which is wonderful,” says Tokarska.

“It’s elevating to have an MBA, it’s as simple as that. And IMD is unique in its generosity and support for young people with ambition and goals. Through the scholarship program, the school made world-class education and a global network available to half of the students in my cohort. It’s a completely different level of caregiving. It is truly life-changing.”