I had the honor of giving the graduation speech on behalf of the MBA class of 2007 for IMD Business School.
I would highly recommend anyone to do an MBA from www.imd.ch.
It is only one year. Average age is 31 (i.e. your colleagues will have actual real world experience you can learn from). The average starting salary after graduation is higher than any other MBA school (yes – even higher than Harvard). 90 people – 42 nationalities.
IMD was ranked #1 in the Economist worldwide in 2008 and #2 in the Wall Street Journal in 2009 (IMD rankings). Obviously I tell you about the ones that it did well on – point being there are loads of good schools and the rankings are different depending on what you are reading.
That’s enough of a sales pitch (but we all have to do our bit for our schools – it helps our own brands!).
Here is the YouTube and the text for the speech is below.
IMD MBA Class of 2007 Graduation Speech [In words – I deviated a little from the script]
Friends and family of the class, guests from around the world, IMD faculty and staff, IMD MBAs and part-time MBAs it is a great honor for me to speak on behalf of the graduating class of 2007.
For those of you who don’t know me and are sitting at the back, I am tall, dark and good looking. For those of you that are sitting in the front – don’t tell the people at the back.
This speech will take 15 to 20 minutes depending on how much you laugh at my jokes…..Okay it looks like I will be done in 12 minutes.
Before I begin, I would like to say a special thank you to friends and family that has traveled from around the world for this event as it means a lot to us that you could make it here today.
So you might be wondering what exactly has the $100,000 we spent and the little amount of sleep over the past 11 months has been about. I can tell you about the 3 key takeaways that I got for this investment and I can tell you that these three lessons alone were well worth the investment. We had 90 students this year and the 90 of us went through the year with slightly different goggles but my three key takeaways I am sure resonate with my fellow classmates as well. Firstly, I would like to thank the class for giving me the opportunity to speak to you and secondly to the members that helped put this speech together.
2. Finding Passion
My first key learning came early in the year. On one of the first days at IMD I remember speaking with Filipe, our Portuguese classmate, and he was speaking passionately about the elevator business – where he had been working for the last couple of years. I have never learned so much in such a little time about elevators. The business model, some of the technology behind them, how the nuts and bolts work, the speed of the various elevators. Prior to this I never really thought about elevators aside from the fact that that they go up and down. Eventually though I was able to drag myself away from the conversation to speak to some other new students at IMD.
I turned and talked to Tomo, our Japanese classmate, who pretty quickly began telling me about the banana business. How bananas were transported to various countries, how the plantations worked, types of bananas etc. I thought this was going to be an interesting year. How can these people be so into elevators and bananas?
Throughout the year I discovered that there were other people passionate about other things: Yariv about wine, Tom Buss about sailing, Stephane about Poken, Adel about talking …
Some of these passions didn’t suit me and at first I questioned how could they be passionate about random products and lifestyles such as oil and chocolates? Then I looked at myself. For the previous 4 years I had been passionate about text messaging. Yes 160 characters of code sent from your mobile. Everywhere I looked I thought about opportunities on how text messaging could make the world better. I thought everyone would and should see the world as a better place due to text. Text was my answer to everything.
This seemed natural to me and often I wondered how someone could not be passionate about it. I have learned from my experience this year that one can learn passion for anything. If you work in insurance or debt financing or heavy machinery this is not something that might have come from birth but this is something that you can grow to love and become passionate about.
Why the hell were we up at 4 in the morning worrying about the font size on a presentation in front of a non-existing fake client that makes no real difference to anyone? Or working the weekend making a bag that no-one was likely to use? Because when you put commitment and dedication to a task you end up falling in love with it.
IMD had recruited people that were passionate and its important for us to continue to find the passion in what we do – whether it be at or outside work. Passion can be taught – it is not something that one is born with. One can learn to have passion for anything – my passion was text messaging, but it can be anything else tomorrow and I know to have any chance at being good at it I would need to find my passion.
Everything else comes after passion.
3. Running your own race
My second big lesson about what IMD was trying to teach us came all the way in October. Along with Mark, Nora and Jeroen I entered the Lausanne triathlon. Whereas the others in my class ran the full triathlon I opted for the half-triathlon. For me this was a 500 meter swim, followed by 10 km bike ride and a 5 km run while the others did twice as much.
Right before starting I set myself an objective of finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack. I hadn’t run one of these before nor had I trained extremely hard for it but thought that I would still be an average finisher.
A 100 meters into the swim though I looked around and I was in the group of the last pack of 10 guys or so. “Don’t come last” suddenly became my new objective. Another 200 meters into the swim and I suddenly had the nightmarish realization that I was last. “Catch-up” became my new objective but as we went another 100 meters instead of catching up I began to slowly move further away from the pack. In the last 100 meters I realized that I was going to finish not only last, but embarrassingly last.
At first I was rather annoyed at myself – perhaps I should have trained for this triathlon – in a gym rather than the Whitehorse bar. After a little bit of frustration and embarrassment of seeing the sympathetic crowd I realized one of the biggest lessons that IMD had been teaching us the whole year: Life is about running your own race.
If I compared myself to the super triathletes that had entered this race than yes I was a really poor performer. But if I compared myself to my own self than I was doing great. If a year ago someone had told me that I would be getting up at 6 in the morning on a Sunday on a voluntary basis to bike, run and swim on the same day I would have told them that they were crazy and booked them some time with Jack Wood. But now I was doing it. I suddenly realized that if I compare me to me than I had a lot to be proud of.
We have all been taught to compete. What grades did we get, how much salary we have, how big is our house, how great is our spouse, how our kids will be doing at school, how great our car is. There are an infinite number of things that we can compete on. We will always find people who are doing ‘better’ than us or ‘worse’ than us. The thing I learned is that if I’m always comparing to my classmates, or the people around me than I am never going to be happy. There are millions of races going on in the world at any one point. I can compete at any given level but if I learn to compete with myself I will always find races that push me just the right amount.
We need to pick the races that haven’t been set by our parents, faculty, colleagues or our spouses but instead been set by ourselves.
4. Its not just about the slides
The final big lesson I got was when I started writing this speech. I started thinking of the 100s of PowerPoint slides that we had made and 1000s we saw during the year and I realized that I could not remember the content of a single slide that the professors, my colleagues or I had made during the year. But what I did remember were long nights working, debating and laughing through the creation of the slides. Having heated discussions with a Brazilian, Japanese, a Lebanese and a German were surprisingly entertaining.
The third big learning suddenly came to me: Its not about the slides, its about the connecting with people that matters.
You can see all the material we went through the year – but the fact is even if you read all that you still would take away less than 30 % of the actual knowledge and experience we got this year as its impossible to capture the people element.
Working and connecting with people is an art rather than a science. Just when we thought we had figured out the dynamics in a group and how people worked, our group would change and our previous theories would go out the window.
People are interesting. I learned that I didn’t need a TV this year as I could just go and watch the Croatian interacting with a Scott. Or an Israeli having a deep discussion with a Zimbabwean.
Sometimes we are too focused on the end PowerPoint slides, or the contract or the business that we are building and we often forget about the relationships that we build along the way and the process of working with people. The learning and appreciation of the people aspect of life was my third key takeaway.
5. 90 of us
Its true that we keep hearing about the 90 exceptional future leaders, but the truth is that these 90 are just a small part of the group of exceptional people that you find at IMD. The exceptional people included from the Faculty to restaurant staff, from IT to career services, from Information center to the MBA office all the way through to the rest of the staff and the partners and family of the MBAs. We have found ourselves surrounded by exceptional people throughout the entire year.
6. The Faculty
What can we say about the faculty of IMD? I suppose the biggest complement I can give them is that they are all truly unique and their own characters. From Jean-Pierre’s quest to save the world, to Stewart reminding us of his realistic expectations of our ability to become accountants, to Corey telling us to not forget our friends when we get rich, to Jan and his ability to talk to just about anybody on just about anything, and to James Henderson being well….James Henderson.
The faculty at IMD is truly exceptional. Even when we had the same subject being taught by different professors they each had a completely different style. Seeing finance through the eyes of Jim was very different from seeing it through Arturo’s (or as Pablo likes to call him Antonio).
We might have complained and bitched but actually we quite enjoyed the classes. These guys were not only picked for their subject knowledge but also for their ability to make learning entertaining. So thank you to the amazing faculty of IMD for putting the passion in your work and for making learning so easy for us.
7. Faculty Assistants
Also a thank you to the faculty assistants for keeping the professors sane – or close to sane anyway. I don’t think they could have coped without you and neither could we.
8. Career Services
We all would also like to thank the career services. I figured out the best way to keep myself entertained during the year. On random occasions when I was bored I would go to the career office to tell them about the random career choice that I had found a real passion for: Investment banking, zoo keeping and being a monk amongst others professions.
It was great to see the ladies trying to frantically find contacts in the Swiss zoo keeping industry and calling up the local monastery to see how they could help me get jobs. Again everything ran like clockwork and we all appreciated the effort you made in getting recruiters here, getting us to interviews but also the constant help in helping us find and win our own races.
9. MBA admissions
Thanks to the MBA admissions for selecting such a diverse group of 90 people. It was great to have lawyers, engineers and even accountants on the course.
We had all sorts of talented people in the class. For instance, the doctors were great to have around especially if it was 3 in the morning and you could walk up to one of the doctors and stick your finger in his face and ask him if this was a wart or to inquire about a rash you might have developed during finance class.
10. MBA Marketing
Thanks for promoting us to the external world and making us look like movie stars when we had too little sleep and too much coffee.
11. Information Center
Thanks to the Information Center for putting up with 90 people that had no clue what they were asking for and you still managed to get us an answer which we promptly copied and pasted into presentations and took all the credit for.
Not only did things run smoothly but when a couple of us did have nightmares about the computers going down the IT department made it as effortless as possible.
One of the great things about IMD was that we were fed well throughout the year. We started to take things for granted during lunch but when we really appreciated the food at IMD was when Sebastian or one of his colleagues would bring us the leftovers from the other programs. Then it was interesting to see the group dynamics of a civilized group of MBAs acting like vultures.
14. Elian & Paul
Two other people that I’d like to thank. Elian & Paul. Elian serves us coffee at the cafeteria and I think quite representative of the IMD spirit. We could get the coffee ourselves but again its about the passion and the people that make IMD what it is. It isn’t about the coffee but more about the connecting people over a friendly cup.
Paul, aside for being a master ping pong player in his spare time, is always there whenever you need anything.
Obviously this year wouldn’t have been the same without Benoit. The guy has a big task to manage the class but he also has a big heart to match. Benoit with his trademark Diet Coke or more recently Coke Zero and is someone who truly believes in us.
He is someone that many of us will take away as not only a professor and a program director but also a friend for life that will always be wanting to help us out and to succeed in our next ventures.
Thank you Benoit for caring so much.
16. Joelle & Celine
They say behind every great Belgian man is a great Swiss lady. Benoit had 2 – the year started out with Joelle and after 7 years at IMD she moved and now Celine has taken over for next years class and driving the program.
17. Giving Back
I’m not going to elaborate on all the great achievements of the class as there are too many to mention and we all have something that each one of us is proud of. I would however, like to highlight just one of the achievements that as a class we made. While on our trip to South Africa we visited an HIV hospital for children. This was run by an organization named Cotlands. I think almost all of us took so much away from this experience. Its on occasions like these that you realize how lucky we are for what we have – just take a moment now to appreciate the beauty of the room we are in surrounded by the mountains and the lake in one of the richest countries in the world.
The importance of giving back was one of the themes that we continuously got throughout the year. The class has spent the last couple of weeks in helping out Cotlands and we’ll tell you more about this later.
But this fundraising was symbolic– the IMD MBA wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for the giving back of the individuals in the class. We had many great parties that were organized, class notes for revision which were shared, reading clubs, soccer team and all sorts of other help. If it weren’t for the individuals in the class giving back the experience this year would not have been the same.
I knew that I could randomly select any one of the 89 to help me out on something and they would. Whether it be raising money for an aids hospital in Africa or helping the class through parties we could really thank each other for the effort we put in.
18. Diary Writers
Another great example of giving was the diary writers. I was wondering why anyone would volunteer for the task of being a diary writer at the beginning of the year. The work load is meant to be tough and then to come back and write 300-400 words everyday on what was happening was going to be a task that no sane person would ask for.
It took me a while to figure out their motivations but eventually I knew that if you want to get with the hot women on the course – become a diary writer. Women like the softer skills of the diary writer or something but I know where ever I go next I’m going to incorporate writing into my life.
We also have to be thankful to the IMD MBA partners. These people put up not only with seeing very little of their partner but then also having to listen to the “the people in my group just don’t understand” moaning every night.
The partners were a major benefit to the class. Having worked closely with some of their better half’s, I would say they do have some amazing resilience.
The year was life changing more than just academically. Sergi, Adam and Eva decided to get married to their respected partners in June. It was great to see Eva daydreaming about the big wedding day during finance class only to be woken up as Jim or Antonio would talk about Economic Value Added and she thought she was being cold called. [it says in my notes to pause for laughter…perhaps this microphone isn’t on properly….].
One of our more memorable classes this year was on diversity. The men in the class though didn’t take any learning from it and Ajeeth, Alistair, Samih, Stephen, Stephane and Tomo all decided to have boys during the year.
Surprisingly, none of them decided to name their kids Fred or Renn.
Thanks again for the partners and the families of the MBAs. On a personal note seeing a lot of my peers live through the ups and downs of having relationships and even kids and made me realize about the importance of balance in life.
There is more to life than work.
20. Passion theme
Looking back to my three key takeaways from the year about finding passion, running your own race and that its not just about the slides.
The people at IMD were already doing the takeaways that I had just discovered this year – I found them all to have the passion in whatever they did, and what they did to help us in the year was in their own unique way and very different from each other. And finally they were able to not only provide the output – whether it be IT, catering, or career search but take care of us and build relationships with us along the way.
In the words of a famous Kenyan philosopher I would like to conclude with a conclusion.
We came into IMD perhaps a little unsure about ourselves and anxious about how the year would develop. We were expecting to learn a bit about accounting, finance, marketing and essentially about how to run business better.
What we learned was much more than this. We learned about ourselves and we have crystallized our identities as individuals. This meant figuring out what and who we truly are rather than what and who we are supposed to be and what other people want us to be. We learned to either improve or simply accept our weaknesses and to use our strengths more wisely.
As we face another transition into new places or roles we go with the confidence of having the right skills and friends that will always be there for us. We have a great reason to be optimistic about our future and we know that this knowledge will not only help us in our careers, but also make us better family members and better friends to the people we already know and the new people we will continue to meet throughout our lives.
Finally, on behalf of the MBA class of 2007 I would like to thank the people of IMD for making this place a very special one. For putting in the passion into everything that you do and for making 2007 a year we will always remember. Thank you.