Christian Bucheli, executive director at SIX Payment Services, always associated a strategy program as being mainly about tools, frameworks and methodologies – the tactical aspects of strategy development. He never expected personal development to be incorporated so prominently into such a program at a top business school. Yet it was this aspect of IMD's Advanced Strategic Management program (ASM) that has been most impactful from his perspective. 

"This personal development emphasis was completely unexpected but extremely valuable," he said. 

Bucheli was looking for a refresher strategy course following a 2012 restructuring at SIX Payment Services (provider of secure cashless payments to financial institutions and merchants). As a result, he was promoted from his role leading business development to being the head of strategy and mergers and acquisitions. He chose IMD because of its reputation, the positive experiences he heard from his colleagues and his interest to learn with an international cohort from different backgrounds and industries. Even before he stepped into the IMD classroom, Bucheli was thinking through personal development issues as part of the program. 

"Before we officially started ASM, we were asked to think through what we wanted to achieve from a personal perspective. We had to narrow this assignment down as the program progressed. The majority of participants changed their focus throughout the three weeks. What they thought was important for achievement changed because of new insights – and these changes often times were significant." 

For Bucheli, the end goal he articulated at the outset of the program was to build a sustainable long-term growth strategy for his business that was aligned with his personal values and aspirations. Group work, assignments and particularly a two-day personal development retreat in the Swiss mountains enabled him to crystallize how he needed to move forward to reach this goal. 

"Before the program, this was all fuzzy to me," he recollected. "It became clearer as I went along. I was able to get a much better picture of how I needed to organize the team internally, put together a legal structure, best serve target markets and think through the financials." 

In addition to becoming clearer on developing and executing a strategy, the personal development emphasis changed the way Bucheli approaches his job. 

"It became clear to me over the course of the program that development and strategy are tightly interconnected. Consequently, I am more self-aware and cognizant of my strengths and weaknesses. I have a better understanding about what I want and need to do." 

This was not the only way in which Bucheli directly applied his learnings from the program. He was also able to put into practice some of the tools presented in the classroom once back on the job. 

For example, Bucheli and his team applied the Diamond Model, a visual means of summarizing, analyzing and adjusting strategy. The diamond highlights differentiators, staging and pacing (how fast to move), arenas (whom to sell) and vehicles (how to capture the market). At the center of the model is the economic value (how to earn money). 

"Within one month of the program's conclusion, I was using this model at my company to run strategy workshops," Bucheli said. "In the past, we didn't have the best way of re-evaluating our strategy. Taking the Diamond Model, we as a team were able to see areas of our strategy from a new perspective and gain fresh insights. This allowed us to refine our strategy in a more optimal way." 

In another instance, Bucheli recalled how every ASM participant was presented an A3 poster that outlined the complete learning journey. Back at SIX Payment Services, he and a colleague were looking for inspiration on how to present the company's strategy to everyone in the company and drew upon this ASM poster. They designed a similar poster that outlined the journey that SIX Payment Services needed to undertake to achieve its strategic goals. The poster explained the strategy by telling a story that could be easily memorized thanks to its graphic elements. 

Bucheli has also been able to benefit from the IMD network – both with fellow ASM participants and IMD faculty. 

"I exchange ideas with my fellow ASM program participants on a regular basis," he said. "It has been extremely beneficial to dialogue with sparring partners who provide an unbiased outside view." 

Bucheli has managed to keep a close relationship with IMD. He took part in a research project with Professor Michael Wade and has collaborated with him on two different case studies: SIX Payment Services (A): Disruptive Innovation in the European Payments Industry and SIX Payment Services (B): A Response to Disruptive Threats.  

He summarizes his IMD ASM experience by using one word: courageous. "IMD sells an advanced strategy program – which it certainly is – but it goes far beyond that by integrating the personal development emphasis. IMD doesn't shy away from the personal dimension but rather is dedicated to these discussions with participants. This is the key differentiator."