‘IMD’s EMBA Program helped me become a more mindful and reflective leader,’ says alumnus Roger Wattenhofer
Roger Wattenhofer was voted Valedictorian of the IMD EMBA December 2020 class by faculty and peers. Before pursuing his EMBA, he held senior finance and management positions for public and private companies in Switzerland and Australia, and also co-founded a real-estate company of which he is Chairman and Co-owner. IMD spoke with Wattenhofer as he prepared his remarks for the upcoming graduation ceremony.
IMD: Congratulations on both graduating and being voted Valedictorian. How did you react when you heard the news?
Wattenhofer: I was at lunch with my wife when Stefan [Professor Stefan Michel, Dean of EMBA Program, IMD] sent me an email to give him a call once available. When I called him, he told me the great news that I was elected Valedictorian and both faculty and colleagues had given me a strong vote. I was surprised, very honored and particularly touched by the support from my colleagues. They are all very talented and knowledgeable people and great leaders, and having their vote means a lot to me.
IMD: In terms of stretch, where were you most comfortable and where were you most challenged during the course?
Wattenhofer: With a finance MBA and as CPA, the finance module was my home turf. I was comfortable and also able to support my colleagues by explaining key concepts and topics to them. The cultural transformation assignment was challenging as I had to find an external company. The challenge there was to make an assessment of a company’s culture from the position of an outsider. Luckily, HR quickly connected me with 10 people and the interviews held were very good and helpful. As the company is going through a transformation it was very interesting to elaborate the current status and ideas for the future.
IMD: What are the most significant learnings that you gathered over the course and aim to apply immediately?
Wattenhofer: I found the leadership module very insightful. Firstly, based on the concepts taught, it is very useful to have the chance to explore and reflect on yourself and your leadership over a longer period and in several steps. Also, Ben [Ben Bryant, Professor of Leadership and Organization] has a unique and outstanding way to teach and convey leadership principles, so you are encouraged to really go into yourself, listen and reflect. To progress in this area was very beneficial and helped me to become a more mindful and reflective leader.
I also benefitted a lot from the customer assignment. For this, I interviewed the tenants of our real estate company to evaluate and explore what we may change and consider in the future. The value of having that discussion was listening in order to understand not just the topic on the surface, but the underlying customer needs and demands. As I was not exposed much to the end customer-focused side in the past, the course gave me excellent exposure, experience and learning.
IMD: Will the EMBA mark an immediate career shift for you or will you return to your pre-existing role?
Wattenhofer: I left my previous employer during 2020 in order to fully engage with the course and work with some startups. Added to that, I have a family business background and founded a real-estate company with my brother and sister in 2014. That entrepreneurial aspect, linked with the finance aspects, is something that I am passionate about. So, this is very much an exploratory journey for me and I am curious and excited to see where it will lead.
IMD: The EMBA Class of December 2020 was self-named ‘the COVID cohort’. How did you manage to bond and engage positively in networking and develop the strong connections that will take you forward to the next phase of your life and career?
Wattenhofer: There was uncertainty and so many emotions and thoughts came up. But knowing and having met each other in that first week at core module 1 in Lausanne was very helpful. You know, if you are together in a boat, and you hit a storm and manage through that, it bonds you and makes you an even stronger group. I think it was a lot about having the spirit to face the crisis and row hard to push through. For the later hybrid core module 2 and 3 we were again lucky that more than half of the cohort could physically participate in Lausanne. Lastly, in 2021, we will meet again in Lausanne for an elective week and go to Silicon Valley. This will be a great opportunity to continue the network and bond as well as continuing the learning journey in to the future. I am really interested to see how we each develop and to see where we will all be by then.