Life at IMD – an interview with Rakesh R, IMD MBA
From the high seas to the IMD MBA – that is Rakesh Renganathan’s story. Rakesh managed large offshore vessels as a Master (Captain) in his earlier life, and here he is at the IMD MBA, managing himself through a program that is intense, demanding, and full of learning. In this interview, Rakesh talks about life at IMD, his key learning experiences, and how being part of one of the world’s most elite MBA programs has helped him grow as an aspiring business professional. A must-read for those looking at the IMD MBA as a future option. Even for those who are not, this interview can help understand life at a top MBA program. Over to Rakesh, who delivers some excellent insights into life at IMD.
Preparing for GMAT and applying to the IMD MBA
As a Merchant Navy captain, I knew that I would always be running against time in terms of preparing for the GMAT. I used books by Manhattan GMAT and Veritas, and studied hard, but even then, I underperformed on test day. I had been consistently scoring 700+ on my mocks, so ending up with a 660 was a little bit of a disappointment. However, I knew that a somewhat average GMAT score is not the end of the world, as top schools look at the overall profile.
To shortlist IMD, I used a fairly simple process. I wanted to go to a program which was very international, given my background. So, choosing IMD was simple for me.
The IMD MBA experience, and life at the IMD MBA
The experience has been simply fantastic. IMD is a very niche school, so I was not sure of what to expect when I began. Over time, I have seen that IMD has a very close-knit community and also found that the minute you go and meet alumni, they really take time and go out of their way to help. So in that way the IMD community is not just about people on campus but also includes alumni, most of whom are in top position in industry.
As a consequence of this, sometimes, one gets to meet really senior executives on campus. For example, just last week, we had one of the IMD MBA alumni who is an Argentinian billionaire. He came for his 40th reunion and yet found the time to speak to us for an hour. The CEO of Zenith Watches and the CEO of Nestle have also been to campus and been to our classes. Even during the cocktail events, senior executives will often introduce themselves quickly and talk to us in detail. So the networking aspect is very real and very strong.
In terms of work, for the first 4 months, as IMD MBA students we were very busy, but then slowly we began to settle down and understand the landscape of the program in the later parts. So the first part was heavier in term of academics, and the second one will be more focused on career planning. I am also going to be part of the International Consulting Project (ICP) in the near future, and it is related to shipping, the industry that I came from.
Post-MBA plans, and how IMD helps
I would divide my post-MBA plans into three layers: shipping, consulting, and FMCG or supply chain roles. Given my overall experience, I feel that I should be a fit with each of these three. We have already had a lot of companies coming in for pre-placement talks and presentations in June, and the second set will be here in August – a set of 10 companies. Further, a lot of job offers also keep coming in from the Career Services team and IMD students can apply to them through an internal platform that we have. The IMD network is pretty strong so a lot of recruiter events and alumni events keep happening as well. I have already networked with quite a few people in my sector.
Real world, real learning at the IMD MBA
The first part of the program was designed to be more intense, and so apart from the academics, we began with our Entrepreneurship Project in the 3rd week of the program itself. A lot of companies apply for this program to IMD, which involves making six IMD MBA students work for them to get the startup to a decent stage. For us as students, the most important part here was what we learnt could be applied to real business. Even though I did not have much of a background in finance or accounting (interview note: Rakesh came in from a Merchant Navy background), I was able to contribute very well. I think that’s where the real learning part of IMD comes in. This will continue in the second part of the year, when we will be working with real companies as consultants, with one of the IMD professors as our coach.
So while all of this is intense, one can still manage adequate rest at the end of the day, provided one is working with focus in the day. On days when we have Integrative Exercises, we have to work a lot more but then it’s fun! Let me also mention here that the IMD community is a tremendous source of support for us. For example, when we have late-night study sessions or group meetings, we find that dinner is already arranged for us, or the spouses have arranged a get-together. That really motivates us even when we are super tired.
The IMD MBA’s small class size, and how it helps
IMD’s class size (90 people) is small in terms of the batch, but it is pretty large in terms of number of people in a room, so it doesn’t seem that small in class 🙂 !
While the in-class environment is certainly fantastic, having a small and close-knit community can help in other ways as well. For example, we have had many colleagues bringing in opportunities from their old companies. We keep getting email messages on new offers through this route as well – everyone puts in a lot of effort for others and we all walk together the whole year. It is not an environment in which we are competing with each other, but we are in fact trying to help each other. Over time, everyone starts looking at the entire experience as not just an individual experience, but an experience through which they are part of the IMD brand, and so are expected to respect the brand and not just grow themselves but also help others grow.
Global learning, and the (non) effects of Brexit
Not yet. There is nothing at all as of now. Later, if there are any ramifications on the European or the global economy, we too might feel it, but we don’t anticipate anything as of now.
In fact, just last week, I went for a trip to London for a networking event (I presented there as well), as part of the Navigating the Future initiative (through this initiative, one group went to London, another to Zurich, and another to Munich) at IMD. We met a lot of executives in London and things, at least so far, seem completely normal.
Overall comments on the IMD MBA program
I would, first of all, highly recommend the school as a great place to get an MBA, if one is lucky enough to be admitted. IMD is a very different school, and focuses a lot on collaboration and also on the individual. This can be seen from the fact that the class size is just 90, and even in the admissions process, IMD handpicks these 90 people through its unique IMD Assessment Day, in which people come and spend a whole day interviewing at IMD. I feel privileged to be here – the learning is great, the peers are outstanding, and IMD even takes care of the little things like meals (by the way, I really love the IMD restaurant!). So, these small gestures, such as having dinner ready when students are studying till late, in order to ensure that they don’t waste time going outside campus to eat, really matter to me as well.
Overall, its been a one-of-a-kind experience, and I know it will only get better.
PS – Rakesh also runs a very popular blog on his IMD MBA experience. Be sure to check it out!