Perpetuating the IMD legacy through the Alumni Club and its scholarship
IMD alumnus François Gabella still approaches business challenges using the skills he learned over 30 years ago during his MBA program. Every year, he also attends get-togethers at the Alumni Club in Lausanne, and is supportive of its scholarship, which he believes is good for Switzerland's economy.
With an engineering background at EPFL, in 1982 François was able to attend and finance his MBA, after selling the patent rights of his invention to Schlumberger. His creation was a mechanism that ensures a metal sheet-bending machine makes straight bends, whatever the thickness of the material.
This afforded François the time and money to learn about the many facets of business and general management, which he believed would also be the quickest way to fill in the gaps and open up job opportunities.
"I knew IMD would help me get to a couple of doors further along in the recruiting aisle, given that the promotion challenge is not only about practical experiences but also getting the right education."
While on his MBA, François liked the atmosphere at the business school: "There was a mixture of good content and, perhaps more importantly, a chemistry with the professors, which generated sparks and an incitement to question things even deeper. This was what really transformed me at IMD."
The experience enabled him to look at different viewpoints and learn to really understand issues before coming up with meaningful solutions. This was aided by the case studies.
"The cases force you to understand the most relevant aspects of a situation and the vast backgrounds in the room generate many different ways and solutions to the issue, none of them being completely necessarily right. But the massaging of the elements into the problem is very enriching," he explains.
His biggest take-away from the program? Using the same methodology in any business. "I approach issues in the same way, by digging for facts and using both parts of my brain to come up with practical recommendations. I have done this for the last 30 years and IMD prepared me well for that," says the executive.
Immediately after completing his MBA, François became head of the transport division at a train-manufacturing company where, aged 29, he became the boss of a 60 year-old production manager.
"The production there was in a mess, and my first challenge was to reform things without losing the support of the guy who knew the factory by heart," recalls François. "At first he was upset not to be the boss, but after a while we became best friends."
This was his first opportunity to apply his new skills and François says he was able to analyze situations, problems and find objective answers, by measuring what the company was trying to achieve and putting in place more concrete ways to achieve it.
His next job was at ABB, where he started as president of one of the companies and then managed a $1.2 billion business with 34 factories around the world at the age of 39.
Today, François is Chairman of Winterthur Instruments and a board member of a handful of other businesses. He enjoys being a part of the Alumni Club, which also provides a scholarship of CHF 50k to high potential MBA participants.
"I believe this is a good investment," says François, "because these people will either work in Switzerland, which is good for the economy, or they will go home and will more likely keep good ties with the country. If we can encourage that, then that's great."
He says his main life lesson around business is to keep a good balance between what you are good at, and what gives you enjoyment. François explains that, during his career changes, he always keeps his personal radar of interest firmly switched on.
"You may discover you are a fantastic golf player but do you want to play 300 days a year? It's the same with business: you may be very good at it, but are sure that you really enjoy what you do every day?"