“It’s time to regroup, reflect on this journey, and then... the sky’s the limit.”

These were the words of Frith Brennan, Head of Corporate Commercial Projects at A.P. Moller - Maersk as she delivered her valedictorian address during the graduation of the IMD November 2019 class of Executive MBAs.

It was a day of celebration but also high emotion as over 60 EMBAs from 37 nationalities and 23 industries completed this major step in their learning journey, and prepared to move on to the next exciting chapter in their careers.

Small steps

Earlier in the day, Ben Bryant, IMD Professor of Leadership and Organization, shared five tips with the graduating class on how to manage the transition back to their normal lives following the successful conclusion of the programme.

Firstly, expect irrational re-entry tensions, he said. All of a sudden, you have more of your time back, and it’s normal to miss the structure that the program brought to your life.

Secondly, keep asking yourself - what’s my purpose? Even in the most difficult meetings or challenging situations, you should keep coming back to this, Bryant said.

Third, it’s important to create a new routine or ritual, or reinvent one you already have. When you start doing something different, Bryant said, it will eventually solidify and become a ritual. This can be anything, he said, in either your private of professional life, and it will help to give you purpose.

Fourth, manage your expectations, Bryant said. It’s all about “Les petits pas” (small steps). “We talk about revolution and transformation but really the way things change is by small steps at a time,” he said.


“My last advice for you,” said Bryant, “is create some time and space just to stop and think about yourself.” Create this space and protect it, he added.


Go forth and show pride

Professor Jean-François Manzoni, President of IMD and Nestlé Professor, was also on hand to offer his advice to the graduating class. “Be proud of your degree … nurture the friendships that you developed during this year.

“Choose your own dreams and objectives, deliberately and consciously,” Manzoni said. “Choose wisely, and then revisit these choices at regular intervals.”

“The world is facing serious challenges,” he added. “The world needs responsible leaders who speak and act in ways that contribute to the common good. We believe that you will be among them. We look forward to hearing about everything you will accomplish, and we look forward to watching you make a positive impact on the world.”

Speaker Danny Touw, who was valedictorian of the IMD EMBA class of 1999 - the first ever EMBA class - and now invests in art and start-ups, shared his professional journey since graduating 20 years ago.

“I’m sure you have all found your own path … mine continues, and yours is far from finished too. It is these stories that we can tell about these journeys that make the difference.”

Privileges and responsibilities

“We promised you three things,” said Professor Stefan Michel, Dean of IMD’s Executive MBA. “You will learn about the world … you will learn more about management … and you will learn more about yourself.”

“Our objective is to make you a better leader,” he added. This has many privileges, but also many responsibilities, such as the responsibility we have in every small interaction, in both our professional and private lives. “I’m talking about the rule of 5 and 20,” he explained. This rule dictates that every piece of positive feedback you give a person has an impact five times bigger than you would expect. In contrast, every negative remark will have an impact 20 times greater, so this outgoing class of business leaders should be aware of the consequences on the people they provide feedback to.

Bringing the ceremony to a close, valedictorian Brennan said the last 379 days had been a “mammoth learning pilgrimage” involving “countless group experiences.”

“Thank you for sharing your knowledge, your insights, your experience,” she added. “Thank you for being brave enough to share your humanity and sharing your unpolished edges, your scary thoughts, your vulnerabilities and your sometimes too honest feedback.

“After this mammoth journey, it’s time to regroup, reflect, and then, the sky’s the limit.”