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Emerging stronger from the storm: IMD celebrates MBA class of 2021

Aim high, be courageous and don’t be afraid to fail, urged IMD President Jean-François Manzoni at IMD’s MBA graduation 2021.
December 2021
Emerging stronger from the storm: IMD celebrates MBA class of 2021 - IMD Business School

In a year marked by the ongoing challenges and uncertainty of the COVID crisis, 97 MBA participants celebrated the resilience they have honed and looked forward to making their marks on the world at a graduation ceremony at IMD in snow-blanketed Lausanne.

Dean of the IMD MBA program Professor Seán Meehan opened the ceremony by congratulating the class for navigating the inevitable ups and downs of the year.

“Your experience has been, indeed, an experience you have made,” he said. “I’ve observed with admiration – and sometimes a modicum of amusement – how your talent, energy, resilience, and enthusiasm have carried you through the various challenges the program presented.”

Take the high road, take the hard road

IMD President and Nestlé Chaired Professor Jean-François Manzoni said the graduates should be proud of their achievements, adding that he hoped they would emerge from the program with a better understanding of themselves and the difference they wanted to make.

“As you go out and conquer the world, never forget that leaders are not paid to preside over the inevitable. They are paid to make happen what otherwise would not have happened,” he said.

Alluding to the climate crisis and social challenges facing society, Professor Manzoni said the task faced by the graduates was to leave the economic, ecological, and social systems stronger than they found them.

“To do so, I hope that you will be daring and bold! The problem in this world is less people who aim high and fall slightly short. It is much more often people who aim low and hit the target,” he said.

“I hope that you will be courageous – try to avoid the path of least resistance if there is a better, harder one. Take the high road, take the hard road.”

He advised the participants to continue to develop the principles they had learned in the program so that they will be leaders who inspire confidence, and he emphasized the importance of finding fulfilment in work.

Thriving as a team

Keynote speaker Alexander Wilhelmsen, chairman of the board of Norwegian private-investment company Awilhelmsen A.S., said his IMD MBA in 1994 had taught him the value of teamwork and the lessons you can learn from collaborating with people with different professional and personal backgrounds.

“Building teams became crucial in my career. The successful teams have made billions. The wrong hires have destroyed billions. Learning how to build a team could be the most important lesson you’ll ever need to know,” he said.

After completing his MBA, Wilhelmsen went on to take over the family business and transformed the company from one primarily focussed on shipping and oil services into an investment firm with holdings in the cruise industry, real estate development and software for health services.

He said family businesses – which make up two-thirds of the world’s businesses according to the IMD Global Family Business Center – were often better equipped to cope with uncertainty due to an emphasis on stability, sound corporate governance and mindful relationships with employees and society.

“Big, widely held institutions without a substantial private owner have often proven inadequate in coping with the types of challenges we are now facing in the world, like climate change. This is perhaps because they lack resilience and patience – all this we have in spades in family businesses.”

The brave 97

After the group collected their diplomas, graduate Campbell Brown took to the stage to deliver a speech on behalf of his fellow classmates. He recounted the journey the participants had undergone from the first accounting class sitting behind plexiglass at 8am on a Sunday morning, to learning how to sell bikes in Bangladesh and assemble a tent blindfolded.

“This year has been a tough year. It hasn’t been easy for us in the MBA, it hasn’t been easy for the world,” he said. “We started as 97 participants. Now we are a family of 97 who became MBAs and leaders during the most turbulent time in living history. The common trait in every one of our class is the small, unflickering, undying flame of courage. We are the brave 97.”

He thanked IMD staff for working hard to ensure the MBAs could enjoy a full face-to-face MBA experience, with strict COVID protocols in place, despite the continual challenges of the pandemic.

Concluding the proceedings, Professor Meehan urged participants to set the bar high, take risks and be ready to embrace challenges.

“I hope you realize that, when you think you’re done, there is more to be done,” he said. “You have every reason to believe in yourself. I urge you to back yourself, make a difference, be the difference.”