Craig Plaatjes - MBA 2022 - IMD - IMD Business School

The MBA Scholarship: A validation that carries me forward

Craig Plaatjes (MBA 2022) shares how an alumni-funded scholarship helped fast-track him into a global product manager role by allowing him to gain the leadership skills and valuable connections that complement his technical expertise as an electrical engineer.
May 2024

Craig Plaatjes’ profession combines his two great passions: business and engineering. A global product manager with OTT HydroMet, part of the Veralto Group, he is responsible for key parts of the company’s solar instrument portfolio, a role that keeps him close to the research and development team and some of the latest thinking and innovation in the renewable energy space. It’s also a role that marks a “perfect transition” in his career and professional development journey. 

“I’m an electrical engineer by training, and I worked in engineering consulting after graduating, focusing on areas such as industrial automation for wastewater, as well as solar and wind energy,” he said. “I enjoyed the tangible impact of the work, but I’d always wanted to go down the managerial path; I saw myself working with people and making strategic, business decisions.”  

Progressing into management can take years in engineering, however. Typically, graduates must work for 10 to 15 years to “prove their worth” as leaders, says Plaatjes. For this reason, an MBA was always on the cards as a means of accelerating his career.  

Shortly after registering as a Professional Engineer – the profession’s highest standard of competence – he began his search for the right MBA program in earnest; a search that led him from his native South Africa to Lausanne, and IMD.  

“I was looking for a global program and international experience. I wanted a learning experience that focused on leadership and self-development,” says Plaatjes. “Fortunately, I had a friend who’d done his MBA at IMD in 2020. He sent me a link to the IMD MBA assessment challenge – the first that the school was running in Africa. I decided to take the plunge.” 

Plaatjes submitted his application and was accepted onto the challenge in July 2021 – a Saturday, he recalls. On Sunday, he received notification that he had performed well enough for an interview the following day. On Tuesday, he was in the office when a Swiss number appeared on his mobile phone. 

“They called to say that they liked my profile and my performance and that they would like to make me an offer. I was overwhelmed. In just four days, my life had completely changed.” 

Craig Plaatjes - MBA 2022 - IMD - IMD Business School

A global education 

Taking his place within the MBA class of 2022 was daunting at first, says Plaatjes. Here was a terrific opportunity; but looking around at his classmates—students from all over the globe—he was suddenly struck by a feeling of “severe imposter syndrome.” 

“Everyone in my cohort struck me as extraordinary. I felt excited to be here, but simultaneously anxious and daunted by it. Little by little, though, I learned that everyone felt the same way; everyone had their own story and their own unique brilliance. That really began to ground me as the program unfolded. There was this sense that we were connected and all leaning on our shared humanity. That was a massive part of the learning.” 

The learning from his MBA experience is something that Plaatjes says he is still assimilating, so rich was the journey. And, coming from a technical background, he particularly appreciated how well-tailored, accessible, and engaging the formal elements of the program were, even those parts of the curriculum that he found particularly “unnerving.” 

“I was terrified of things like accounting, but the IMD faculty made it so fun and relevant,” he laughs. “That said, I think the richest part of the learning happened outside the classroom, working in different module groups. Coming from South Africa, I’m familiar with a diversity of identity, language, and culture. But working with so many different world views, personalities, and styles of communication was a global education in itself.” 

The breadth of perspectives within the cohort made the learning journey as challenging as it was enriching, says Plaatjes. Connecting, influencing, and learning to lead very different people brought conflict – and some “painful months on campus,” he notes – but also invaluable lessons and deep friendships.  

“The whole MBA experience is an opportunity to learn and grow and connect with people who become lifelong friends. The relationships I have forged at IMD are incredibly solid. This year alone I’ve been with classmates in Dubai, Spain, and Latin America.” 

Then there’s the alumni network. 

Making his first career step after graduation, Plaatjes found unique recourse in the IMD alumni network. He was able to connect with both recent graduates and senior executives for their perspective on his profile and for guidance and feedback – support structures he believes were critical in landing a role at OTT HydroMet and making his “perfect transition” from technical consultancy to product management.  

Support from within the program also helped him prepare for the job market, from designing his curriculum to determining how he wanted to present himself to his employers. 

“The IMD ecosystem provides formal and informal backing as you return to the workplace, from your personal mentor and the careers service right through the global network of connections and support. The impact is phenomenal.”  

Craig Plaatjes - MBA 2022 - IMD - South Afirca - IMD Business School

Phenomenal impact, and a unique sense of validation 

For Plaatjes, receiving a scholarship to pursue an MBA at a school like IMD has been game-changing in many ways.  

Financially, the scholarship constituted a “massive contribution” in terms of financing his learning – support that made all the difference as the South African Rand went through a period of acute and precipitous fluctuation, even as Plaatjes was completing the program. 

Then there was the personal aspect: the investment in his talent and potential on the part of the school represents a profound validation – one that has helped him overcome his initial sense of imposter syndrome, and that has continued to buoy his self-worth and confidence as he moves forward in his life and his career.  

“Getting the scholarship, the honors in my degree, doing my graduation speech—all these things are symbols of validation that have helped carry me forward,” says Plaatjes. “To this day, around my wrist I wear a band that we were given at one of the MBA boot camps. It’s a small token – like the black belt you wear in Karate – that it’s tough, but I deserve to be here.  

“The scholarship, the band, all of it, I carry with me as validation and a reminder that I will continue to grow. I never take the band off. It’s extremely important to me.”