IMD's Graduates Set A Fast-and-Furious Pace

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The boutique management school in Lausanne, Switzerland, admits only about 90 students a year to its 10-month pressure-cooker M.B.A. program. Applicants hail from some 70 countries, with only about 4% coming from Switzerland. An even smaller executive M.B.A. program also exists, with its students graduating in at least 16 months. But all students need a strong command of English, the language used in all of the courses, which are taught by 44 full-time professors and four visiting faculty members.

Because of its fast-paced nature, the International Institute for Management Development, as it is known formally, tends to attract older students (typical age: about 30) with an average seven years of work experience. And recruiters clearly like the students' maturity and global perspective. In the Journal survey, recruiters gave IMD its highest scores for students' international knowledge and experience, leadership potential, personal ethics and integrity, strategic thinking and well-roundedness.

Good Contacts

"Another positive is the quality of the career-services department," says Jozef Tournel, talent director at DuPont International SA in Geneva. "It's very international and well-structured, and contacts with companies are well organized."

Recruiters rated IMD lower on its students' awareness of corporate-citizenship issues, such as social and environmental responsibility, and on the content of its core curriculum.

Because they're older and more experienced than students at most other business schools, IMD graduates typically seek midlevel to senior management positions, leading some recruiters to complain that they have exorbitant career and salary expectations. Some recruiters also criticize what IMD prides itself on - its small size. As one survey respondent put it, "There aren't enough students to recruit."

Respondents said they especially would like to see more female graduates, since at the time of the Journal survey less than 20% of IMD's full-time M.B.A. students were women.

One explanation is that many women start families by the age of 30 and so are less inclined to return to school at that age. IMD says that the ratio of women to men in its M.B.A. program is the same as it is in applications for the program, and that it is working to attract more women - for example, by offering a Nestlé scholarship for one woman each year.

"We have not designed a women-specific marketing program, but we are constantly looking for strong women in our marketing efforts and through our alumni, and we work hard to encourage these women to apply and join IMD," says Janet Shaner, the school's marketing director.

Older Students Welcome

IMD student Carrie Gregory-Hood, a British citizen, says she was sold on the school because she found it is one of the few top-rated M.B.A. programs that would readily admit older students. Ms. Gregory-Hood was already 33 when she joined IMD eight months ago and had just traveled the world for a year after leaving her job as a financial adviser for a telecommunications company.

The school's 10-month structure also was appealing because Ms. Gregory-Hood believed that a two-year program "just wouldn't have made sense" at her age. Her ambition is to stay in the telecommunications industry but to move from finance to the operational side of the business.

As for the shortage of women at IMD, Ms. Gregory-Hood says she doesn't mind. Having worked in corporate finance, she says: "I'm used to that. And besides, most business schools have problems with that."

Ted Przybylowicz, a 32-year-old U.S. citizen, says he was also accepted at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., but chose IMD because of its international focus and the maturity of its students: "At Cornell you might get 70 people who are Americans and another 30 who decided to study in the States," says Mr. Przybylowicz. "People who are coming to IMD are less U.S.-centric." He also says the fact that the program takes less than a year was important to him.

Some business-school deans and recruiters question whether IMD's fast-paced M.B.A. is truly the equal of the two-year programs found at U.S. schools, which include a summer internship. But IMD fiercely defends its abbreviated course of study.

"What we've learned from employers was that even though they often went through a two-year program themselves, they really resent the two-year model," says Sean Meehan, director of IMD's M.B.A. program. "When you're locking these people up for two years, you are extracting key resources from a business and the economy for at least half a year too long."

Because of the work experience that most IMD students already possess, Mr. Meehan says, a summer internship would be superfluous. And key to making the 10-month program work, he says, is its small size. "Getting those same results in a class of 200 or more is not feasible."

IMD was formed by the 1990 merger of two universities with corporate roots: IMI in Geneva, established by Canada's Alcan, and Nestlé's Imede in Lausanne. Today, IMD maintains close ties to industry through both its regular and executive M.B.A. programs. Student teams work with entrepreneurs to develop business plans and participate in eight-week international consulting projects for such companies and brands as Switzerland's Holcim Ltd., the world's largest cement producer, and Nestlé's Nespresso coffee.

IMD is trying to raise its profile in the rest of the world. Ms. Shaner, the marketing director, traveled to the U.S. not long ago and found a receptive audience. "The number of U.S.-based companies interested in recruiting students from our M.B.A. program or in sending their senior managers for the executive program is increasing," she says. "What they are looking for is managers with exposure to international issues and executives with a global awareness."

Broader Forces

Two years ago, IMD changed its global-leadership program to focus more on understanding complex political and economic forces. Each year since 2002, the entire class has traveled to the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina for a week to study the challenges of a country recovering from war. Meeting with local business leaders, government representatives and everyday citizens, the students prepare for situations in which, as future leaders, they may have to tackle social and political problems. This year, students prepared presentations on how to increase the country's attraction as a tourist destination.

Applicants to IMD must visit the campus and take part in a case-study discussion with fellow candidates, which helps the admissions committee screen them for their communication skills. Throughout the M.B.A. program, students work in small teams and must learn to cope with the cultural and personality differences that arise in a diverse, multinational group.

"What you are learning in those teams are the soft skills of leadership," says Mr. Przybylowicz, who is on a leave of absence from Eastman Kodak Co. "You spend a lot of time in your team, and IMD assigns a psychologist to the team, which makes a huge difference in helping you understand the team dynamics."

"You can enter IMD with your stereotypes," Mr. Przybylowicz adds. "But you are not going to leave with them."

Ms. Greil is bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires in Zurich. She can be reached at anita.greil@dowjones.com.

Copyright (c) 2004 CareerJournalEurope.com

All Rights Reserved.

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