Trust an IMD Switzerland MBA grad to execute a task with surgical precision. It’s no wonder then that Hari Raghavachari’s depiction of life at IMD was so exhaustive that we had to break it up into 3 parts.
Who knows, by the time we complete the trilogy, we might have surpassed the official IMD website (and Yash Raj films) in providing a thorough overview of what Switzerland has to offer. For starters, here’s a generous helping of the first part –
This blog post for MCB focuses on my journey to and through an MBA at IMD International. Located in Lausanne, Switzerland, IMD is a Top Tier European school, with an MBA ranked in the Top 20 in nearly every global ranking of business schools. I graduated the MBA program in 2005 and am since working with a Fortune 50 Healthcare Company based in their European Operations HQ just south of Zurich.
Over the next 3 posts – I will take you through:
Part 1 – Why IMD : The process by which I chose to apply to and attend IMD (if I was admitted)
Part 2 – IMD MBA experience : My experiences in the program itself
Part 3 – IMD Jobs & Careers : My search for a career and where it has led me today
Please note the views expressed here on IMD and some other schools are my own.
IMD – The Choice to apply!
“~1200 characters”, this was a joke, right? They wanted me to condense painstakingly crafted stories of my professional life, leadership experiences, rationale for MBA, career goals etc into “vishesh tippnies”! The polar opposites of Stanford’s first essay!
In addition, the recent IMD graduate that I was talking to told me some intriguing things – the MBAs were called participants, not much (if at all) sleep in the first 6 months of the program, working with fortune 100’s and start-ups on consulting projects, meeting CEOs alongside scruffily dressed green-peace activists, and traveling to Bosnia on discovery expeditions. All this alongside the standard ingredients of any MBA, the academics, professionally experienced and phenomenally intelligent faculty, interviews and job searches etc. The various rankings from Wall Street, Financial Times, BusinessWeek, Forbes etc (this was 2003) rated IMD as a Top 5 European and a Top 10-20 global school.
What was this little school located in Lausanne, Switzerland all about? It was time to research and analyze the insights using my decision criteria sheet.
|Criterion||IMD’s level of fulfillment|
|Recognition (some say brand)
Target – Good!
– Excellent in industry (functional & general management); not the greatest amongst banks & consulting firms, though a healthy 15-20% of the class of 90 went to banks and consulting firms;
– Fairly global reach; well spread alumni; not great in the US
– Comparable to INSEAD and LBS (though they send more into banks & consulting; half-a-notch higher than IESE, Oxford, Cambridge, Cranfield etc
– Evoked sufficient oohs… and aahs… amongst the colleagues I could trust when talking about my plans going forward
Verdict – Good! No issue with recognition considering my career path was in industry (operations, SCM, product or service delivery); the US wasn’t my primary geographical choice.
|All-round academic, social & cultural experience
Target – All round academic & practical curricular experience.
– Well known faculty in their fields; doctorates from top universities; earned spurs consulting to and researching industry, training executives and teaching on the MBA; rated on feedback from participants and their client companies! No tenure like in the US Schools, they could get fired if they didn’t perform! At least 1-2 are asked to leave every 2 years. Faculty accountable for their programs!
– Case-based learning. While several are standard HBS cases, many are based on faculty experience, with occasionally the key actors in the case asked to join / speak in class (nice!)
– Class of 90 (all in one section), compared to 900 in INSEAD, 300+ in LBS and averaging 150+ in all other schools.
– 2 different opportunities during the year to work with companies on consulting projects addressing real challenges. One with a start-up and one with a large company (the ICP); which follows a proprietary IMD process from Industry, Company, Issue à Analysis & outcomes. (practical!).
– Core courses and start-up in the 1st half of the year, which culminates with the discovery expedition to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 2nd half commenced with the Stakeholder module which exposed us to real issues of PR, sustainability, CSR, negotiation etc. All practical, real cases, real people, and of course Greenpeace J.
– Dedicated recruiting periods, including for on-campus recruiting.
– A reasonably active social life despite the work-load of the 1st half; but yes, the 1st half did & would strain personal relationships (I was married when applying for the program).
Verdict – Top of the pops! Compared to several other programs, this was a lot to pack into 11 months. While always the concern around how much one could learn, there seemed to be enough meat in the program for me to sink my teeth into. The lack of internship (addressed later in this post) was more than made up for by the consulting projects.
|Access to job market, Career Services
*EU / Switzerland
*Supply Chain, Business Development, Operations
*Industrial, Manufacturing, Core Services companies
This aspect was judged not only by the strength of roles that graduates got and alumni held; but also by the strength of the career services of the school. The Career office appeared to have the credibility to attract not only the best companies to school to present and conduct 1st round interviews.
However, it also had the added capability and resources to train, coach, counsel and mentor participants for an effective off-campus search. The counseling was 1:1, which meant that I would have access to an experienced counselor no lessthan 10-12 times (each session of an hour) over 6 months to guide me through the job search. This strength was particularly visible when 90% of the class secured jobs 3 months out in 2002 & 2003, and over a third of the class found jobs off-campus through networks or alumni contact.
IMD’s key job market is the EU (more than 2-3rd of the class goes to West & Central Europe including Switzerland). With graduates averaging 7+ years before an MBA and age at graduation averaging 31-32, only a small % of the class tended to veer towards consulting & banking (the MBA entry / associate levels). Most targeted 1st level Functional (marketing, sales, operations, product development) or Corporate (like Business Development) Manager roles in industrial & services companies; normally not part of a talent pipeline / MBA rotation program. As a result, not always advertized therefore MBAs had to network off-campus to get into some of these roles. The average salary at graduation was competitive with the best schools in the world.
What I also heard was that the school enforced recruiting ethics, etiquette and discipline strongly with the participants, but also with the companies that recruited on & off-campus. They seemed to have the credibility and the strength to do so.
There was no internship, which was a concern, but the ICP was a real enough experience.
Verdict – Benchmark! The true capability of a school to help place its graduates is visible mostly in an unfavorable job market. All anecdotal & visible evidence suggested that IMD had performed much better in this area than its comparable peers (INSEAD and LBS included). 90% of the classes of 2002 & 2003 had accepted jobs 3 months out of graduation – not bad for a class that’s only ~50% European, >90% non-Swiss.
While I had the usual concerns around placement (and yes, I thought like an Indian J), my contacts assured me that if I had the applicable & transferable skills and was able to convince an employer to hire me, then they would do so; and they would help me with the necessary work & residence permits.
Target – reasonably large, globally spread, mid / senior levels for the ones who graduated 2000 or earlier.
3000 MBA Alums (<1,000 MBAs since IMD in its current avatar came to being in 1990) doesn’t inspire much confidence, particularly since INSEAD & LBS each boasted over >10,000 MBA alums alone. While the contact with the recent graduate proved a telling example of the level of assistance Alumni were willing to provide, it was hard not to feel slightly apprehensive. IF I had only a 3000 MBA alumni, how many were in the kind of roles, industries and geographies that I was targeting?
However, contact with other alumni who got through networking and off-campus searches provided me with reasonable assurance around this.
Verdict – Ok, but could be better! It wasn’t large, but the other criteria were achieved.
|IMD Switzerland MBA Class profile, admissions, classmates
Target – difficult to measure, but I wanted to study with smart, successful and motivated people
Average age 31-32, average GMAT 670-680 year on year, 7+ years of experience. Barring I would be just short of 30 on entry, I just about fit with the other statistics. I was however impressed with the jobs people held before coming to IMD, and the jobs people held after; which told me that I wouldn’t have to worry about the quality of my classmates. My target was to study with 89 people, each smarter, more successful than me.
Verdict – No concerns! The profile of the then current 2004 class further alleviated any questions I might have had at the time.
Target – ~50% coverable by personal savings & funds, and ~50% with various forms of financial aid
The IMD Switzerland MBA cost about CHF 75,000 ($60,000 at the time) which covered:
– Tuition, books and learning materials + access to the various systems & platforms used by the participants
– The Bosnia Herzegovina discovery expedition (undertaken every year) including travel, accommodation, visas and logistics
– Lunch at the superb IMD canteen 5 days per week, coffee and refreshments when we wanted them
– All the other necessary support from the school, including helping with the search for accommodation, visas and residence permits and access to a small fitness center
– Overall – my budget was about CHF 120,000 ($90,000) at the time, which was way more value for money than the comparable cost of attendance at LBS or INSEAD (LBS exceed CHF 150,000 in overall cost of attendance; while INSEAD was at CHF 130-140,000)
The school offered scholarships (varying from CHF 10-30,000) and guaranteed financial aid up to CHF 60,000 (~50% of the overall cost of attendance) through a bank-loan sponsored by the school (IMD Switzerland MBA would collateralize the loan). The HSBC loan for LBS was by no means guaranteed, and the visibly poor performance of the 2003 class (<65% with jobs 3 months since graduation) wasn’t going to make the HSBC loan any easier to get. The cost of living in London was enormous even with the possibility of my wife finding a job; while INSEAD’s bank loan scheme with ABN-Amro had actually been terminated in 2004 (driven largely by the weak job market in 2002-2003 and job market challenges for non-EU graduates).
From an accessibility & value for money perspective, IMD Switzerland scored higher than its peer schools. I did however focus on this variable only after researching all other aspects of the school. Money aside IMD had to be as good or better than INSEAD or LBS on all parameters.
Verdict – On target if I could only get there J!
|My personal preferences & circumstances||
Being married at the time placed constraints on the length of time that I was willing to spend out of a job. Given also my career goal to be in operations, supply chain management and service delivery (a large part of which was my pre-MBA career) the lack of an internship didn’t concern me too much given the other possibilities for industry interaction.
My chosen MBA would therefore be a year long. At this stage LBS was out, and it was IMD Switzerland and INSEAD.
While LBS is a superb business school, it wasn’t better than IMD for my personal goals and it didn’t fit my personal circumstances. INSEAD was too big as a class for me, and I doubted the ability of the school to provide me with a bit of personal attention to train me for the career I sought post the MBA.
IMD’s location (Western Switzerland, by the shores of Lake Geneva in Lausanne) didn’t play much part in the decision, but the bonus of studying there would be the opportunity to study in the most beautiful country on the planet. It helped that DDLJ had been shot there, so the wife was certainly very happy about my decision to try. It would be a challenge for my wife to get a job to keep her occupied in a French speaking environment (we spoke no French), but we would overall be quite happy.
As a result, IMD Switzerland MBA would be my first choice to apply and attend if got in. The outcome of this process was that I would apply to IMD’s program in an early round. If was dinged, then I would apply to INSEAD in a 3rd round (both schools have 4-5 rounds for their respective calendar year programs).