Thomas Vellacott, CEO of WWF Switzerland - IMD Business School
IMD News · Leadership

‘This is a time for changemakers’

The April 2023 EMBA class celebrated its graduation with a call from speakers and faculty to determine their own criteria of success and keep striving to make an impact.
April 2023

Speaking 10 years after his own graduation at IMD, keynote speaker Thomas Vellacott, CEO of WWF Switzerland, said the world was facing a radical period of change, and urged graduates to play an active role in shaping the future or risk being left behind.

“This is not a time for administrators. This is a time for changemakers,” he said. “We have a choice how we react to this moment of transformation. We can either seize it or shape it or stand by and be shaped by it.”

As with any transformation, the graduates will come up against resistance, often from those with a vested interest in the status quo who will say that transformation is not possible, added Vellacott.

“Whenever someone tells me it’s impossible, I think of that wonderful quote by George Bernard Shaw, who wrote, ‘People who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it,’” he said.

Vellacott also described how he had developed his own “denominators of success” that weren’t based on the criteria traditionally used to rank business schools, such as salary increase and job progression, but rather his own personal impact.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always felt it was important to think about what success looks like for me,” he said. “We also have to be aware that we’ve all internalized a lot of criteria from other people, which doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s worth thinking about whether those are the criteria which really make you happy.”

Collective impact

In her first graduation speech as Dean of the EMBA Program, Professor Vanina Faber praised the 54 graduates in the “Mindfusion” class for their strong sense of fairness and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“You are caring, you speak your mind, and you question the status quo,” said Faber, who is also elea Professor of Social Innovation. “You exemplify why we call you “participants.” You actively shaped your learning journey, and you made me strive to do better for future cohorts.”

Citing an adapted quote from Shelly Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient and a champion of gender equality, she said: “An IMD EMBA alone has power, collectively we have impact.”

She urged the class to commit to lifelong learning, work intentionally to create equal opportunities, and cherish each other as a community to create lasting impact together.

Your impact on others

Impact was also a theme picked up by Radostina Stanisheva, one of the two valedictorians chosen by the graduating class.

“As we leave here today, we face the opportunity to leave our mark on the world. Whether through our career choices, volunteer work, or personal habits, we must all take responsibility for the impact we drive,” she said.

The second valedictorian, Jonas Honegger, praised his peers, the faculty, but also others who had made an impression on him over the past 12 months.

“What this program was about was the people in it,” he said. One such person was Joseph, a photographer who accompanied the class on their Discovery Expedition to Kenya and shared with Honegger: “My goal in life is to add value to someone every day.”

Whether a smile, a tap on the shoulder, or a compliment, Honegger said this was a takeaway he tried to implement in his daily life.

Your impact as a leader

IMD President and Nestlé Chaired Professor Jean-François Manzoni congratulated the cohort on completing “one of the most demanding programs in the world” and urged them to “do the right thing” as much and as often as possible.

“In a world where citizens, employees, all of us, young and old, have largely lost faith in our leaders, more than ever the world needs leaders that will inspire us to dare, leaders that will inspire confidence,” he said.

He also encouraged the graduates to stop worrying about the things they can’t control and instead focus their energy on what they can.

“Let me propose to you that time spent ruminating over past actions, or feeling anticipatory excitement or pain over future events – do not help you very much to accomplish any of your goals,” he said. “In fact, they take valuable time and energy from you and from your ability to improve your chances of success. So, as much as possible, practice again and again staying focused on what you can do, here and now, to improve your odds of success.”

As the graduates set off on a new journey, keynote speaker Vellacott reminded the class to treasure and invest in the relationships they had built during the EMBA.

“Because it’s an amazing resource. You know, these are amazing people to discuss the really big questions in life with, to share successes and failures, to think through where we are and where we’re going, to basically journey onwards together.”