Determination, flexibility and perseverance are the hallmark attributes of IMD’s EMBA Class of December 2020.Thrust into a world of uncertainty when the pandemic hit, the graduates made the move to technology-mediated learning literally overnight, allowing much of the class to graduate as planned.

The ability to reflect

IMD President and Nestlé Chaired Professor Jean-François Manzoni devoted much of his speech to the importance of reflection, a desire and skill he said graduates had been able to develop in the EMBA program.

“Do nurture both aspects – the desire to reflect and the skills to reflect,” said Manzoni. “Book time for reflection in your agenda or it simply won’t happen.”

He continued with a discourse on generosity, quoting scientific research on how a spirit of giving can affect everything in life – from professional position to lifespan.

“In weeks, months and years to come, try to be generous,” Manzoni urged. “Give people the benefit of the doubt, give before trying to receive and try to create value before you try to capture it.”

This quality also shone through in a series of pre-recorded video messages from graduates, in which they thanked their spouses, children and extended family members for supporting them during their learning journey.

The ability to enjoy

Valedictorian Roger Wattenhofer, Chairman of Mühlebachhof AG, compared the year’s unprecedented challenge to the world of sport in his speech to fellow graduates.

“The key to success is it has to be fun. Knowing athletes, it needs a lot of work and discipline,” he said. “We have gone through an intense time the past year, but the takeaway is that we must become more mindful and more reflective leaders.”

He continued: “We knew it would be a unique and intense time, but the coronavirus gave it a completely new twist, dimension and challenge. We weren’t certain how the EMBA journey would go on, but we weathered the storm. To be successful, to work hard and have fun – this required energy.”

On behalf of the class, Wattenhofer thanked Professor of Leadership Ben Bryant and his team of coaches for the learnings gained in the leadership stream. Bryant – whose name was mentioned countless times by the graduates in their words of gratitude – has been a profound source of support for the program participants in this challenging year.

“Don’t stop noticing what’s going on – there is a fascinating world around you, as well as inside exploration and discovering things about yourself,” said Bryant, as he wished the class a successful journey onward.

The ability to leap

Faculty members were also there to congratulate the EMBA Class, focusing their post-degree advice on maintaining curiosity, fostering innovation and being courageous.

“Your journey reminds me of the film Indiana Jones III,” said Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change Ina Toegel, referring to the scene in which adventurer Jones needs to cross an abyss but there is no bridge. “He takes a leap of faith and finds there is a way – there is a bridge. By having great faith in your peers and yourselves, you have created pathways where there appear to be none.”

Dean of the EMBA Program Stefan Michel reminded the class that they must certainly have felt the sting of loss at some point in the last year.

“Maybe you felt like a loser, or there was a moment where you received a bad grade, critical feedback or lost an argument…some of you had even lost your jobs,” said Michel. “But you must be careful to avoid wasting energy on avoiding losses.”

With his trademark humor, Michel suggested the graduates – representing high-level senior executives from a wide variety of global industries – channel their inner child: “Kids are often much better than adults at negotiation because they don’t fear the ‘no’. For us the conversation ends with a no, but for kids it starts with a no.”

Leader of the Discovery Expeditions to Silicon Valley, which some of the graduating class will attend in 2021, IMD Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship and Management Jim Pulcrano urged graduates to “create something from nothing”.

“It doesn’t have to be a start-up but take a leap into the unknown at least once in your life,” he said.

After the leap of faith required to pursue – and complete – IMD’s demanding EMBA program, the Class of December 2020 has proven it has both the grit and grace to succeed in the post-pandemic world.