Business schools all over the world are moulding tomorrow's executives, and some of the best-known schools are based in Switzerland. In the first of a series of reports on the country's leading business schools, swissinfo visited the International Institute for Management in Lausanne.
In its annual survey of business schools, the Financial Times ranks the IMD as Europe's top establishment and globally, only Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania rated higher.
The IMD was formed through the merger in 1990 of two management education centres created by Alcan and Nestlé: IMI in Geneva and IMEDE in Lausanne.
Besides its MBA programme, the IMD offers services to private companies that send executives to management course. The school can tailor private courses to companies, and its faculty members can serve as consultants for specific problems.
Originally housed in the sixteenth century main building, La Résidence, the school has expanded over the years and is currently building a new state of the art learning centre.
MBA forms core
Although the MBA programme accounts for just five per cent of the IMD's annual revenue of SFr70 million ($41 million), the course forms the core of the school's activities.
"The MBA really is the flagship of our programme because it allows us to do things we can't do with executives because they are only here for a week or two," says the director of the MBA programme, Dr Dominique V. Turpin. "It's easier to try new things on a course that lasts 11 months and because MBA students are younger they are more eager to try things out."
One of the IMD's unique selling points is the size of its MBA programme. With just over 80 students, the environment is much more intimate than other business schools and allows professors to have a lot more contact with the students.
With an average age of 31 and some work experience behind them, the average student is also different here.
"I chose the IMD because it had a student profile that very much fitted my own," says South African student DeLaRey Venter, "Much more mature and experienced. You sense that you can learn as much from your classmates as from the faculty and that has indeed been the case."
Students' background helpful
Students are not only older and wiser but they are a cosmopolitan lot too.
"What attracted me to the IMD was the diversity of the student body and indeed the faculty," says Su-mei Thompson from Malaysia, "I've lived in many different countries and worked for multinationals and wanted to continue to have that global exposure."
Venter worked in the mining and metals industry in South Africa before taking a career break to sharpen his business skills.
He hasn't regretted the decisiont.
"The course gives you the academic knowledge and theory that you need but it also focuses on developing your leadership qualities that are essential in today's international global business environment."
As part of their studies, the students' skills are tested to the limit when they contribute to a genuine consultation with an IMD client. Venter and Thompson are collaborating on a marketing study for a North European company wishing to expand into southern Europe.
Personal development is a key part of the programme and students say they learn a lot about themselves as the year progresses.
The MBA programme at the IMD is not for the faint-hearted. With constant exams and assessments there is little free time, but the students value the chance to come out with an MBA that is respected the world over.
In the process, students learn a great deal about themselves.
"They foster students to understand the meaning of humanity and humility," says Thompson. "We focus a lot on developing our strengths but at the same time we come to recognise our weaknesses. The course encourages you not just to do things better but to do better things."
By Michael Hollingdale.