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Major crisis for IMD’s EMBA class

The Executive MBA program takes participants out of their comfort zone
November 2015

Graduates of IMD’s Executive MBA class of November 2015 recently went through an ordeal that they won’t soon forget.

In November they were rushed away to a World War II-era secret military stronghold in the Swiss Alps where they got a taste of some of the most challenging and potentially disastrous moments that many executives will ever see in their careers.

For the second time, IMD partnered with the Swiss Armed Forces to give its EMBA program a realistic crisis simulation. This co-created initiative is directly supported by the Chief of the Swiss Armed Forces, Lieutenant General André Blattmann, who visited all the teams during the exercise and addressed them during a plenary session in the bunker.

“Today’s executives need to understand that crisis management is different from day to day business and they need to know when to switch,” said Stefan Michel, IMD Professor and Director of the EMBA program. “I am not aware of any other EMBA program that prepares executives for crisis management with the same rigor and relevance.”
“Handling a crisis can’t be improvised. Business leaders need to be prepared and need to have procedures in place. The Swiss Armed Forces are experts at dealing with crisis and providing leadership training. We are proud to partner with them for this exercise and it provides a very unique and impactful experience for our EMBAs,” he added.

Over the course of two days, participants are given training on how the Swiss Armed Forces Command deals with crisis and are given practical exercises that escalate in intensity.

For this session the groups were in charge of a major transportation hub in Switzerland. They were faced with everything from accidents to natural disasters, disgruntled travelers, high-level official travel to pesky journalists and potential losses of revenues.

The class was split up into groups and each participant served in various roles, such as chief of staff, head of media and communications, or assistants and more.

A separate group of Armed Forces officers and soldiers along with real delegates responsible for crisis management at a Swiss international airport create the conditions for as realistic a crisis simulation as possible by sending instructions and scenarios by phone and e-mail in real-time. They also tailor the consequences based on the groups’ reactions.

Participants were faced with difficult conditions that test their decision-making capabilities just like they would be in a real world situation. Working under extreme pressure, uncertainty, lack of sleep, technology and communication hiccups, confusing or misleading data input and differences of opinion among a diverse group who have no choice but to work together are all part of the experience.

During the program, Swiss Generals and other top ranking officials from the Armed Forces as well as IMD Chairman of the Board Peter Wuffli visited and briefly addressed the EMBA groups.

Colonel Michel Kenel, Commander in the Swiss Armed Forces responsible for in information and communications training, oversaw the training and simulation.

“Every company or organization has a chain of processes where one problem can cause a series of other problems,” he said. “Even if this training is inspired by the military, the methodology is highly valuable for executives in any sector. This scenario also prepares participants to deal with both public and private authorities.”

IMD Board Chairman Peter Wuffli said: “Today crisis is the norm, not the exception. The Swiss Armed Forces are crisis specialists and we are fortunate that they provide a key crisis training module for one of our flagship programs. The exercise helps business leaders learn how to work across silos and be more inclusive leaders. I am also proud to be working with the Armed Forces which exemplifies Swiss excellence, something IMD holds dear.”

Over 60 EMBA participants, who represent around 30 nationalities and as many industries, participated in the event.

The training took place in a bunker hidden inside of a mountain. Until about a decade ago it served as a top-secret Armed Forces fortress built to deny access across Switzerland to the Third Reich and later was repurposed to be a key strategic location during the Cold War.

After the simulation, the EMBA participants were replenished with a good army meal and then headed off to their graduation ceremony in Villars, Switzerland which was followed by a much deserved reception.

According to EMBA participant Dominic Liechti, an education professional based in the San-Francisco area, “IMD does a fantastic job at developing leadership. One of the exceptional aspects of the EMBA program at IMD is being able to work with people from all over the world. The crisis simulation was amazing.”

EMBA class member Jeanette Marais-Cilliers, Director of Allan Gray Ltd. South Africa, said “What a fabulous, unique and unforgettable learning experience”.

Simon Muntwyler, EMBA participant and COO and Co-founder of Femto Tools said, “Luckily we don’t have that many serious crises at work but if we do, now I’m ready”.

When Chief of the Armed Forces, Lieutenant General André Blattmann addressed the class, he made his intention very clear: “What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Swiss Armed Forces is the best leadership training promising young people can get in Switzerland. We are pleased to be working with IMD, one of the top business schools in the world, on this exercise. It allows the participants to learn from the military, but it also helps our Generals and Colonels to learn from and interact with a very diverse group of participants.”

IMD’s Executive MBA program is for fast-rising, internationally experienced executives. It is one of the most stimulating, most challenging and most rewarding Executive MBA programs. It is a modular program consisting of two stages: the Foundation Stage and the Mastery Stage. The program is personalized and focuses on business problems that executives are facing in their industries.

“Our program takes participants out of their comfort zone,” said Stefan Michel. “This simulation shows executives that timing is everything in a crisis. It’s better to make a good decision at the right time than the best decision too late.”

Find out more about the IMD EMBA program.