Aiming for the top? Here’s a high-powered MBA program that will definitely help you get there: IMD, domiciled in Lausanne, Switzerland. Check out this interview with Professor Dominique Turpin of the IMD program.

Our guest today is Dominique Turpin of IMD. Formerly the IMD MBA Program Director, Professor Turpin is IMD’s Dentsu Professor in Japanese Management, and specializes in marketing and strategy. He is co-director of the Program for Executive Development (PED) at IMD, in which he teaches a course in global marketing. He earned a doctorate in economics from Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan and has real-world work experience in Japan. Since 1994, Professor Turpin has served as the IMD representative on the Academic Council of the China-Europe International Business School in Shanghai (People’s Republic of China).

Devalier: IMD has a great website, and our viewers can enjoy reading all About The IMD program on their own from that source (

I’d like to focus our discussion this morning going into a bit more detail about aspects of special interest to international applicants from Japan and elsewhere.

1. Devalier: IMD is quite an innovative program, with many unique features among MBA programs. What do you feel distinguishes the IMD MBA program?

Turpin: The MBA class is small, with 90 participants, all of whom have beenextensively interviewed. The class is highly diverse with 36 nationalities represented. IMD is a truly global MBA school. The program is intensive and focused on real world learning; the curriculum includes 4 group projects, one related to entrepreneurship, another to international consulting, a third the leadership trip to Bosnia and still another a network building project. IMD MBA students are mature, with an average of 7 years work experience. The IMD program emphasizes leadership development.

Are people leaders by nature or leaders by nurturing? Well, both. We take the leadership inherent in our participants and cultivate it.

IMD offers “hands-on” practical education in an environment in which the extensive experience of the executive participants feeds on the MBA students and experiential learning in the MBA program is in turn adapted for use in the executive programs.

In our executive education, typically approximately 60 participants from 25 countries join the Program for Executive Development (PED), later returning to their companies. Generally, these are functional managers being groomed for general management positions. The diversity in the PED program stimulates a great deal of cross-fertilization. We also sponsor so-called “private” or customized executive education for global companies, such as Toyota, Cannon, SONY, and Matsushita (among Japanese industry). Companies tend to believe, incorrectly, that the problems they face are unique. They may have an objective to turnaround a situation, or improve market share. We have created executive programs in which 6 companies facing the same challenge ‹ for example, accelerating a product launch ‹ send 5 or 6 representatives to participate in an IMD tailor-made executive course focused on a particular problem. In the morning participants will learn from the experiences of one another, and in the afternoon, they may work with a professor on issues particular to their situations. In a sense, the course incorporates elements of consulting to the companies and is rather unique among MBA executive programs.

Think of building a strong MBA program like preparing a fine meal. The ingredients are, number one, the participants ‹ and then the faculty, and of course the curriculum. We spend a lot of time selecting the best participants, we ensure that our faculty offer real-world perspective and practical business education, and our curriculum is designed to develop leadership.

2. Devalier: How would you describe the IMD culture? On a spectrum with “competitive” on one end and “collaborative” on the other, where does IMD stand?

Turpin: IMD students must work in teams. If they do not, they lose the respect of their classmates. The program is demanding, especially in the first three months. There is inherent conflict in any group process. To have perfect harmony in an MBA program is not only unachievable but unrepresentative of the real world. IMD is competitive just as top managers and CEO¹s are competitive, yet it is collaborative to the degree that participants must work together to achieve superior results.

3. Devalier: MBA education is continuously evolving. For example, real world projects are common in MBA programs today. Schools have introduced experiential learning methods, supplemented simulation games with fee-remunerated student consulting projects, and are offering students real time management of portfolios, even venture capital funds. What changes in IMD are planned or targeted in the foreseeable future that you could share with our readers? Is the IMD model perfect? How might the program be improved?

Turpin: At IMD we are continuously evaluating all of our programs based on input from our customers (participants, partner companies, recruiters) and innovating based on their input to remain on the leading edge of MBA and executive education. No radical innovations are planned in the MBA program at this point, but we will continue to innovate to enhance the program based on input from our MBA participants and others in the marketplace.

4. Devalier: Several MBA programs have established global alliances (a step beyond exchange programs) to pool resources and expand scope, and one could envision a few “mergers and acquisitions” in the MBA world some day. Is there an alliance in the making for IMD? Why or why not?

Turpin: IMD has an alliance in executive education with MIT. IMD focuses its business on being the global meeting place ‹ bringing participants from around the world to IMD to gain the benefits of diversity. Consequently, no additional alliances are planned at this time. One of the difficulties of forging successful alliances is to manage differences in culture between the MBA schools themselves.

5. Devalier: I recall that IMD has no tenure system for professors. Is this still the case? From a personal viewpoint, what do you see as the merits and drawbacks of a no-tenure policy?

Turpin: The tenure system influences a “publish or perish” syndrome, in which faculty may emphasize research at the expense of teaching. Without the tenure system at IMD, we can strike the right balance of research and teaching. We have no departments nor do we have a hierarchy of titles. We are structured to focus our attention to customers and to problems rather than centered on departments.

Our system allows us to offer integrated teaching in the classroom. For example, an MBA class in the morning may begin on a financial theme, reviewing an assigned case. It may continue during the day with a discussion of marketing issues, and end in the afternoon with an examination of management issues related such as ownership succession. Three faculty integrate and lead this discussion covering the multi-perspectives that are inter-related in real-world decision-making.

6. Devalier: Some have suggested that IMD MBA students are so busy in their studies that they have little time in leisure activities. Obviously, an effective manager is skilled at time management; one could argue that the intensity of the IMD program develops such skill. Moreover, too much “fluff” in an MBA program is not cost-effective. Perhaps I have “led the witness,” but how do you respond to the comment that IMDers are all “work” and have no “play”? Clearly, IMD students have time to contribute to the international community, as evidenced by their 180 km. relay run around Lac Leman, raising money to build sports facilities for kids in Sarajevo. Quite impressive.

Turpin: Building relationships with other participants is one of the most valuable parts of an MBA experience. Every year participants do this formally, through the several different project teams of very diverse participants. The class finds time as well for social activities. For example, this year the social committee plans a party once a month, and with the assistance of MBA partners it celebrates national days, i.e., Japan Day, Brazil Day, and St. Patrick’s Day. As well, the majority of the class participates in the MBA Olympics in Paris. IMD students spend time together preparing for the games, practicing rowing, volleyball, table tennis and football. And there is much more informal activity ‹ dinners at student homes etc.

Alumni of IMD remark at how much they learned from one another through the program and how valuable the IMD network helps them, a network built during the IMD experience.

In regard to informal interaction of MBA and executive participants at IMD, MBA participants are given the names and positions of the executives studying at IMD, they are free to contact them, and they may join them for lunch in the school restaurant.

7. Devalier: The one-week trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina is a highlight of the IMD experience, and is quite valuable to provide insights about broader issues in society and to remind students of their responsibilities as future leaders. In what ways does this trip develop leadership? Have you given thought to changing the venue in the future, visiting other countries such as Afghanistan or Argentina, each with its own set of awesome challenges.

Turpin: The objective of the Bosnia trip is to put participants in a very difficult business environment, which they may not have experienced previously, so they can understand the challenges facing the country and gain a deeper understanding of situations where as future leaders they may assume a broader social responsibility.

As part of our quest for continuous improvement in the program, we do consider other alternatives, such as Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, but for now, we will continue to go to Bosnia. We have built a relationship with the people there and we would like to continue to build on this relationship. The relatively close vicinity of Bosnia to Switzerland puts the problems facing some countries into sharp contrast.

8. Devalier: Leadership is a primary theme of the IMD program. What are the activities of Leadership Week at IMD? Please highlight the other elements of IMD’s program on leadership. How do you “teach” leadership?

Turpin: Leadership Week is designed to wrap up what has been learned over the course of the year and to prepare the participants to embark on the next phase of their leadership journey.

We don’t “teach” leadership as such. Rather, we identify candidates with leadership potential and the put them in situations to further develop and enhance their leadership capabilities. We teach our MBA students to ask the right questions, an essential skill in management.

We feature the “Discovery-Expedition” to Bosnia-Herzegovina, described on our web site. In personal leadership development, we offer personal coaching, in-depth self-analysis, group exploration of leadership, team-building exercises, and structured study group feedback. Participants put together individual leadership styles with organizational needs to develop a participant’s authentic leadership style that will be effective in organizations. Fresh graduates may comment that they wish they had less instruction on subjects such as organization behavior, yet when we interview them five years after graduation they tell us they wish they had more education in these areas, just as expected.

Leaders have been described by Warren Bennis as having been through a “crucible” or very difficult experience, and learning and growing from that experience. The IMD MBA program is an extremely intense experience, designed to challenge participants and help them emerge stronger from this experience.

9. Devalier: IMD’s MBA class is highly international. No single nationality dominates the IMD class, faculty members consist of more than 19 nationalities, and cases are drawn from all over the world. This diversity contributes to high interaction among participants. Looking at the geographic mix of MBA students, approximately 50% come from Western Europe, 14% from Asia, 11% from North America, and the balance from elsewhere. 20% of the students are female. How do you feel IMD can further increase diversity to mirror the real world? Is the program “Euro-centric?”

Turpin: IMD’s objective is to select the best class of 90 participants, who will best contribute to each other’s learning, instead of the 90 best individuals. In selecting this class of 90, we look for diversity. Diversity of nationality as you indicated. But also diversity in terms of functional work experience, industry expertise, gender, etc. We believe diversity is key to a successful learning experience and we will continue to select our class based on these multiple facets of diversity.

10. Devalier: There are obvious advantages in a one-year program. What do you see as the drawbacks, and how does IMD mitigate such disadvantages?

Turpin: A one-year program is designed as a general management program ‹ to contribute to a broader business understanding of already experienced candidates and to build their leadership capabilities. A one-year program is not a good fit for a candidate who desires to specialize in a specific field, finance for example, and remain in a functional position throughout a career. It is important to select the right participants who will benefit most from such a general management focused MBA program. While an intensive one-year program minimizes work time away from the workplace, participants have less time to absorb what they learn while students at IMD. We mitigate this disadvantage by the various integrative experiences in the curriculum.

11. Devalier: I understand that the Dynamic Learning Networks represent a virtual network of the IMD community of MBA, EMBA, alumni, and participating firms. Would you please describe how the DLNs work, using as an example one network in 2003: Developing Authentic Leaders.

Turpin: Dynamic Learning Networks (DLN) are designed to build the network building capabilities of future leaders. Global leaders today need to be able to build networks of people across geographies, across time zones and with people they have never met. And technology may be a way to build these networks.

The DLNs, Developing Authentic Leaders, for example, focus on a specific topic that is of interest to MBA participants as well as MBA and EMBA alumni and partner and business associate companies. Each DLN is led by a faculty member. The MBAs create a network website, filled with background material relevant to the topic. During the course of the project they facilitate discussions among all network members and conduct surveys and other research to increase the knowledge of all participants based on their real world experience. At the end of the project, the MBAs work together with network members to write a “white paper” of what they’ve learned, to move the knowledge forward on their particular topic.

12. Devalier: IMD is enriched with “real world” projects, four of them throughout the year, such as the Entrepreneurial Project. “Walk”s our readers though an illustrative Entrepreneurial Project in which an IMD team worked with a start-up company. Describe the start-up company and the ways in which the student team helped it.

Turpin: The rationale behind the projects is that no manager in the 21st century will be able to lead successfully without a mastery of the innovation and venturing process. We don’t intend to make entrepreneurs out of every participant, but all should be familiar with entrepreneurial issues and an in-depth understanding of what new ventures require.

For example, Mecanair Rotary Engine, a 2-year old Swiss company, developed a new rotary engine for the general aviation market. With a prize-winning business plan, but with well-entrenched competition and a principal market in North America, the founder had difficulty attracting capital. The IMD MBA team then worked with the founder on this and other critical short-term issues, looking at the longer-term strategic alternatives. In return, they learned about the personal commitment required and the pressures involved. One team member, Radhesh Welling (MBA 2003), said, “For a start-up to emerge as a successful enterprise, it needs more than just a strong business plan. We experienced the emotional highs and lows with the founder and learnt the importance of managing the delicate balance between short term survival and long term profitability.²

Another team worked with a young company that had developed a new, patented solution to computer security. Its two products were in their infancy and development resources were drying up. The MBA team researched the market potential for the company’s products, and found that while the market was growing, numerous well-established competitors offered similar solutions. Interviews revealed doubts about the product’s ease of use and total cost. The team concluded that the best hope for the company was to design a special niche product. What did the project teach them? Stephane Delorenzi said, “It’s easy to convince yourself that you have a killer product listening to feedback from the press, friends and potential customers. But the moment of truth comes when you ask them to pay for it.”

Every year we have 2 or 3 MBA initiated entrepreneurship projects. Last year we had two projects; one was an Argentina Microfinance project which was initiated by one of our last year’s MBAs and actually launched at the end of year. We also had an Israeli student who had invented a method for ³writing on clouds.² He worked with a team to develop ideas for the best way to commercialize such technology.

13. Devalier: IMD features co-participation of MBA and EMBA participants in all elective courses, a networking advantage for the MBAs. In such an intensive 10-month program, generally how many electives do MBA participants take? 14 elective courses were available in 2003. Have you considered introducing an elective related to Asian business, for example, about Japan or China? The expertise is certainly at IMD, with talent like you, Jean-Pierre Lehmann, and Kazuo Ichijo.

Turpin: MBA / EMBA participants may take 4-5 electives. We offer electives that will be most appealing to the class. It is more likely that Asian business would be a component of a broader, globally focused class, instead of a specialized course on its own.

14. Devalier: IMD students make a wrap-up presentation of the four ³real world² project experiences in the last week of the program. How long are these presentations, are they graded, and who listens to them?

Turpin: The wrap up presentations are presented to customers of that particular project: ICPs to their client, entrepreneurship to their client, DLNs to a team of faculty and the Bosnia trip to a representative of the Bosnian government.

The timing of these presentations is appropriate for the subject and the audience. And they are included as part of the overall course / stream grade.

15. Devalier: Among teaching methods used at IMD, currently what weight is given to case study instruction? Approximately how many cases are reviewed during the 10 month program. On average, how much of a course grade reflects class participation (recognizing that it may vary by class?

Turpin: Case studies represents an average of 45% of the teaching at IMD, but the weighting depends on the subject matter and what is most effective for that topic. We cover approximately 275 cases during the year. About one-third of these are cases developed by the Harvard Business School, one-third by IMD, and the balance from other sources. In general, grading is based on approximately 1/3 class participation, 1/3 group projects, and 1/3 exams.

16. Devalier: The IMD program is designed to develop students for top executive leadership. You web site indicates that 90% of IMD alumni are already in leadership positions and 30% at the board level. How do you define ³leadership positions² to develop these statistics? What percentage of the MBA class alumni are in such leadership positions?

Turpin: Defining “leadership positions” as director level and above (directors, vice presidents, chairmen, CEOs, etc), approximately 70% of MBA alumni are in leadership positions with many of the others (the recent graduates) on their way up. Given that IMD as a whole is focused on executive education, many of our participants are already at a senior leadership level.

17. Devalier: Your interview system is among the most complete and innovative among MBA programs. If invited to an interview, what are the chances of acceptance to IMD? For those applying by the February or April deadlines, interviews are available in Shanghai and Singapore, and decisions will be communicated within 48 hours of the interview. For applicants interviewing in Lausanne, what is the turnaround time for receiving notification of acceptance status?

Turpin: Approximately 1 in 3 are invited for an interview. After the interview approximately 50% are then offered a place in the class. Those interviewed in Lausanne receive their admissions decisions approximately 2 weeks after their interview.

18. Devalier: The primary motivation for pursuing MBA studies is job enhancement. Your job placement record was excellent in 2003 for the overall class. What¹s the record look like on an longer-term historical basis?

These are the percentages of IMD MBA graduates with job offers 3 months after graduation for the past five years: so you can see that even in difficult economic environments, IMD candidates find jobs. This is due to the strong experience of the candidates and the strength of the IMD network.

2003: 95%

2002: 85%

2001: 84%

2000: 90%

1999: 97%

19. Devalier: What should an applicant emphasize in applying to IMD?

Turpin: Any applicant should make sure they have focused on demonstrating what they can bring to the class. The three most important characteristics the IMD Admissions Committee considers are: Leadership potential. Leadership should run as a solid thread through the application. Not only in driving for business results, but also in personal life, academics and community involvement.

International exposure. IMD is looking for young managers with a global mindset, whether working in or with different countries, as part of diverse teams or growing up in a really international environment.

Achievement. Through essays and recommendations we look for high-energy individuals that constantly strive for and achieve outstanding results.

20. Devalier: Do you have any advice for Japanese applicants interested in IMD?

Turpin: Concentrate on developing your real-world skills in communication, and seek opportunities to develop leadership on-the-job and in the community. If you can, gain international experience overseas.

Devalier: Thanks a lot for your incisive comments.