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‘Be grateful to life and generous to the world’ IMD’s President advises EMBA graduates

“Don’t sweat outcomes,” Jean-François Manzoni said in his EMBA graduation ceremony address, advising graduates to focus time and energy instead on managing people, processes and activities, the areas of the world that leaders can influence.
September 2021
‘Be grateful to life and generous to the world’ IMD’s President advises EMBA graduates - IMD Business School

Be a generous leader

Congratulating the September 2021 cohort, Professor Manzoni said that a great leader would do well to be generous – to give people the benefit of the doubt, to create value before trying to capture it, and to look for ways to help. The graduates should also invest time and energy in nurturing the bonds they have formed with each other during their Executive MBA program, he said, while acknowledging that the group had navigated a challenging program in extraordinary times.

The restrictions imposed by the COVID crisis had required participants “to demonstrate even more courage and resilience than previous classes” Professor Manzoni said. The 38 graduates, hailing from 21 industries and citizens of 26 different nations, had an average of 17 years of work experience before embarking upon the EMBA program.

As the group received their diplomas on Saturday – many at a ceremony at the Beau Rivage Palace hotel in Lausanne, others via video link from around the world – there was a shared sense of achievement, camaraderie and a celebration of the bond they now shared.

Be a reflective leader

Stefan Michel, Dean of the EMBA program and Professor of Marketing and Service Management, encouraged the graduating class to be reflective leaders. “People who brag that they are ‘brutally honest’ are almost always very selfish,” he said. Rather than being brutally honest, for example, when a colleague has delivered a poor presentation, he said, great leaders should “understand that you need to give your colleague feedback that helps him to grow in her/his presentation skills. At the same time, you need to contextualize this feedback in a way that supports his growth.” This would not be easy, Professor Michel warned, as it would require the filtering of the leader’s own emotions, and an effort to empathize with the colleague.

“The technical term for this is emotional labor. And it’s very different from sugar coating,” he said. To be brutally honest, Professor Michel said, was to be lazy, and to ignore the feelings of others. “As a reflective leader, you challenge what is, and you inspire what could be,” he concluded, invoking IMD’s purpose, to develop leaders who transform organizations and contribute to society.

Be an intuitive leader

Relishing the contrast of her words, keynote speaker Dr Karen Huebscher challenged the room to be prepared, but not to undervalue the importance of listening to their gut when making big decisions. Dr Huebscher, CEO of Solvias, a group that conducts research and develops products for the pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and cosmetics industries, is an IMD EMBA 2000 alumna, and also holds a Master’s Degree in Animal Sciences and a PhD in Natural Sciences. Congratulating the class of 2021, she reminded them of “the underrated value of intuition in decision making and life”.

“You are probably going to be making the best, biggest, most successful decisions based on your gut,” she said.

“If you’ve mapped out things in too much detail, you have set your expectations so high in a manner that will disconnect you from your true self,” she said, “and then it actually becomes difficult to catch luck.”

Dr Huebscher advised the graduates to:

  • Be prepared
  • Learn to trust and follow your intuition
  • Keep the peak in sight as you enjoy the journey, enjoy the journey as you follow the peak.

In conclusion, she reminded each leader seated before her, “Don’t get stuck in the spreadsheets and don’t try to fit in.”

 - IMD Business School

Be a focused leader

There are many paths to an Executive MBA. Valedictorian Christel Bruijns spoke of her motivation to pursue the degree: a revelation following her 1999 trip as a social worker to South Africa, where she worked at a school for children with disabilities.

“I felt powerless there and pledged to do everything in my capacity to make the world a better place,” she said. “My journey brought me here to IMD, to upgrade my business acumen in order to explore new business models to accelerate access to healthcare.”

Bruijns, who is Director of Patient Partnership Rare Diseases at PTC Therapeutics, praised the program for being “transformational”, and echoed the words of Professor Manzoni: “We are the EMBA class of September 2021. We are each other’s resources to make our dreams come true. We will always have each other’s back, and we need each other to challenge us about our fears and aspirations.

And, perhaps most important, “now we are friends for a lifetime.”