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“We are so proud”: IMD celebrates 50 years of its MBA program at “a pivotal moment” for leadership

A gala dinner celebrates the journeys of thousands of MBA graduates who have passed through IMD’s doors and gone on to build careers as leaders in every corner of the globe over the past half a century.
October 2022

Fifty years ago, when IMD’s MBA program was launched, Richard Nixon was President of the United States, bands like ABBA were topping the charts and we were on the verge of an energy crisis.

“In some cases, things might not have changed so much in the last 50 years,” said Professor Omar Toulan, the current Dean of the MBA program, as he opened a gala dinner in the ballroom of the Montreux Palace Hotel. “And one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for responsible and reflective leaders.”

Tracing its roots back to the MBA programs introduced at IMEDE in 1972 and CEI/IMI in 1978, the IMD MBA program has adapted to anticipate future trends and respond to the changing demands placed on leaders, while staying true to its common ethos to develop leaders with real-world understanding.

“The MBA’s emphasis upon personal development leads to the formation of true leaders, not just business analysts. IMD alumni have changed the world – dramatically, and for the better,” said Michel Demaré, Chairman of IMD’s Foundation and Supervisory boards.

A pivotal moment for the world

Some 200 alumni gathered in Montreux from destinations as close as Lausanne and as far away as Australia, Singapore, and South America to reflect on 50 years of real-world learning and cutting-edge pedagogy.

“I chose to go to IMD, or IMEDE at that time, because it had a great program and used the case study method,” said Woods Staton (MBA 1976), Executive Chairman of Arcos Dorados, the world’s largest independent McDonald’s franchisee.

“The year at IMEDE was a gamechanger for me,” said Liselott Kilaas (MBA 1987), Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Coala Life, Implantica AG, and Avonova AB. “After that year there were so many opportunities. It shaped me professionally and personally.”

As IMD celebrated this milestone, IMD President Jean-François Manzoni said it was also a “pivotal moment for the world.”

While globalization has brought with it great advances in prosperity and medicine which have increased life expectancy and lifted millions out of poverty, it has also created an array of social and environmental liabilities that are inescapable, he said.

“In such an environment, we need competent and trustworthy leaders; people who import stress and confusion and export calm and clarity,” he added. “We want the leaders we develop to be responsible. They have to be forward looking and innovative. They must also have the courage to make tough calls.”

An MBA experience 50 years apart

Phil Gardiner, an Australian who was a member of the first ever MBA class at IMEDE in 1972, and Gertrude Okoth Rea from Kenya, who is in the 2022 MBA class, shared their experiences of the program 50 years apart.

Gardiner said the MBA’s intensity had served him well throughout his career as a banker at Macquarie in Australia and as a farmer. Okoth Rea said the program has already given her the confidence and connections to face whatever her future career holds.

Asked about her favorite moment of the MBA so far, Okoth Rea cited the ‘MBA Olympics’ held at HEC Paris in May, where IMD students demonstrated the closeness of their ties, as well as their competitive spirit.

“IMD was most definitely the smallest school but for sure we were the loudest. We showed up for everyone’s game, we cheered so loudly,” she said.

Meanwhile, Gardiner praised the MBA program’s deans, faculty and staff for building IMD into an institution with an outstanding reputation. “We are so proud – all of us here in our class – to be part of it.”