[PaGaLGuY Exclusive] Indian GMAT scores highest in class-IMD MBA Admissions Director

Having a small class size allows the admissions commitee to spend long hours on each application, says IMD Sitzerland’s Director of MBA Admissions Katty Ooms Suter. In an exclusive interview with PaGaLGuY.com, she stresses several times that the…

Having a small class size allows the admissions commitee to spend long hours on each application, says IMD Sitzerland's Director of MBA Admissions Katty Ooms Suter. In an exclusive interview with PaGaLGuY.com, she stresses several times that the small class size of IMD's one-year MBA program has a direct impact on everything from learning to recruitment at the Lausanne-based school.

What is the kind of presence of India in IMD and what kind of activity does IMD do within India?

IMD is known to be one of the most global MBA programs and even though we are a class of only 90 people, each class has between 4 and 8 Indian students who tend to be extremely strong students. We have meanwhile also increased our research concerning India. We have a lot of faculty working on cases and projects with India and we are pretty soon gong to open a physical research centre here in India.

IMD claims a real world, real MBA proposition for its MBA program. How is your MBA program structured to deliver this proposition?

Basically, there are a couple of ways. IMD is always focused on practical approach and one of the places where you see that is we are really a (manufacturing and services) industry school. Seventy percent of our applicants come out of the (manufacturing) industry and over 70 pc go back to the (manufacturing) industry. So we have a lot less consulting and financial services profiles than typical MBA programs.

The faculty teaching in the MBA program are the same faculty teaching in the executive programs. So the knowledge that they gather from working with top executives in really big manufacturing companies comes straight to the MBA class. We work with cases only. Besides, there are a lot of practical projects and an entrepreneurship stream which is like an entrepreneurship project. Then there is an eight-week long consulting project, a leadership development week in a foreign country and so on. So its a very down to earth practical approach on management and leadership.

The age profile of participants in the IMD MBA program is between 28 and 32 years, which is quite similar to what one would find in a typical two-year MBA program in the USA.

No, I think the age profile is slightly higher in our MBA program. Our average age is 31 years, whereas in the US it is 28 years. The average work experience in our class is 7 years whereas in the US its 5 years. And we have an absolute minimum requirement of 3 years of work experience whereas elsewhere you see people going straight into the MBA without any work experience at all. So were a more mature group.

So who exactly is the IMD MBA program for?

The MBA program is firstly for people who have a very strong desire to lead an organization or a company, which could be profit, non-profit or even political at some point in their lives. We're talking about people who want to take leadership roles at a very high level. The whole program is focused around leadership and its not just a course in leadership. You actually have different elements to leadership approach. It includes a one-on-one coaching throughout the year with a personal coach and a team coach who will similarly work with the teams. The whole program is divided into teams so theres little individual work.

Secondly, the program is for people who have a global interest. Its not a European or an American or an Asian program. Its a truly global program and theres not a single nationality that dominates in there. It is for people who know what they want, have built up a certain amount of work experience, have done well and now want to accelerate their career progress. So we give them the leadership skills and tools required to accelerate their progress. Because its a one year program, we need people to be upto speed fairly quickly so we cannot take people with very little work experience because they would be lost at the beginning of the program.

What according to you are the top 2 things that the IMD MBA teaches and nobody else teaches?

The first one is leadership development. Its not teaching leadership but developing leadership skills. The second thing is absolute down-to-earth (manufacturing) industry focus.

The IMD program is known to be very intense, with tremendous amount of content to be learned in a very short span of time. Is the one year enough to learn everything to sufficient depth?

The MBA program is definitely no fun (laughs). I think that participants at some time of the program do feel frustrated because they dont get the time to sit down and reflect. But lets look at reality. Does a general manager have the time to sit down and reflect? Probably not. So what youre teaching them in this extremely tough and condensed program is to become a general manager and to deal with that kind of workload. First of all, our MBAs work extremely hard during the class Monday to Saturday, morning to evening and then have homework or case preparation for the next day. They handle 80-hour weeks. So you can put a large amount of compact hours. The other way you can do it is when you take people that are more mature and experienced, you can skip certain basics and go extremely fast in the beginning of the program. We teach all the basic courses like marketing, finance or organizational behavior in the first 5 months and then go into project work.

The other thing is that if people in the program have seven years of work experience, the opportunity cost of being out of work is very high for them. So we think its important that these people get back to industry as fast as possible. And if you look at the economy in the future, it is going to run short of highly intelligent and qualified people and companies are going to push for people to come back fast and to not be out for two years. Having said that, it does not mean that the IMD MBA program is right for everybody. If you have no idea what you want to do with your MBA, if youre not sure you want to go to consulting or investment banking or (manufactiring and services) industry, you need to go to a two-year program where you would get to do an internship and try things out. If you want to specialize or take electives, its not in a one year program. So the one year model is right only for certain people.

Moving on to admissions, can you share some statistics on the number of applications in the last couple of cohorts?

We received between 400 and 600 applications for the class of 90 on an average in the last couple of years.

How many of these were Indian?

A lot (laughs). We cannot provide data on individual countries but I can tell you that Indians form one of the bigger pool of applicants at IMD.

Given the small class size of IMD, how do you create a balance between merit, nationality and profile? Do you have quotas for nationalities or sectors?

We have no quotas. Because we are a small program and small team, we can break all rules and thats a great position to be in for an Admissions Director. What we do is, we spend an awful lot of time assessing candidates more than any other school. On an average we spend about 10 man hours on each individual before they get into the program. We try to look for a skill-set that we appreciate. It includes academic intelligence, strong work experience, prior success in their careers, quality of career progress and international experience or exposure. About 90 percent of the class has worked outside their home countries already. We also look for leadership potential and a desire to take leadership roles along with strong interpersonal skills. Once we see that set, we sort of qualify applications and then we start to diversify. So instead of going for the 90 best candidates we could find, we go for the best combination of 90. So once the base criteria are ticked off, we diversify in terms of nationality, industry and function. We literally work with a system on a three dimensional matrix and try to fit as many dots as possible. What you then get is a class of 90 with extremely high caliber and 650 years of very diverse work experience.

So is there a limit on how may Indians you are going to take this year?

No, theres no quota per se. What is there is that a single nationality should not dominate, whether it is American or Swiss or Indian. There should never be more than 10 percent of any nationality in the class.

You speak of far reaching international exposure as a prerequisite on your website. So does someone who has not worked outside of his or her home country at a disadvantage?

Not necessarily. I think there are a lot of different ways to get international exposure. Obviously, a lot of people have worked outside their home countries and some have been in three or four countries and thats great. But I know that for some nationalities its difficult to get out of their home countries. But these people might have extremely international jobs and India is a great example. People working here in the IT industry work on projects worldwide. They might be physically located here but they are part of teams comprised of four to five nationalities and the projects take place in different parts of the world which has them travel a lot for those projects. That to me is international exposure. However, it is not because you move from one country to another that you have great international exposure but because of the content of thw work. So anybody who has not worked outside their home country should highlight in their application if they have been in touch with other cultures, worked with other nationalities and worked on projects with global companies.

What is the lowest GMAT score below which IMD will refuse to look at the application further?

I will not look at the application if the GMAT score is under 600-610. Above that GMAT really is not that important. So whether you have 650 or 750, that doesnt make a big difference. The work experience and what youve achieved in your career is a lot more important. I think the more work experience you have, the lesser your academic qualifications are going to matter.

Having said that, in India the GMATs tend to be very high. With that pool of people in front of me, I am going to try and select the best and so among the GMAT scores in our class, those of Indians tend to be probably higher than the rest of the class. So if the GMAT average for the class is 680, for Indians it would be a little over 700.

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Eleven essays in an application is a lot! What is the reason behind requiring so many essays?

When you build up a small class and you work one-on-one with people you have the luxury to really get to know them. We dont do a number-based application process. Its not like if you score so much youre in or out. So we are trying to know who the person behind the application is, how strong is the person and we dont stop there. If we think hes a good person we invite him for a full-day assessment at IMD and we spend the whole day with the person. We check if this is the same person behind the application or has the application been written by somebody else. We go even further. We identify things that we have questions about and probe further through different tasks and interviews. So were going to get to know each one of our 90 students. The one guarantee I can give to the people in the class and to recruiters is that we have only 90 people but every one of them is great and to each one of them, youll say wow!

What are the top 3 mistakes people make while writing essays?

The biggest mistake they make is that they dont write their application (laughs). Some applications are so formal and book-text like that they are no fun to read and are extremely impersonal. There are a lot of fluff words in there, keywords that dont mean a lot and plenty of blah-blah without any of personal learning and reflection. So thats a really big mistake.

The other big mistake is to lie or not to say something. Everybody makes mistakes in their careers and thats great because you learn from mistakes. So dont hide them but tell us what youve learned from them.

The third mistake is in recommendation letters. People get recommendations from the CEO of their company who says hes a great guy, did well, all good and its a good name to be recommended by but the person clearly doesnt know the candidate. So for us its important that the people you ask to recommend you should really know you in a professional environment. They can speak about how you function in teams and how you have shown leadership with examples. Thats much more important than the title of the person.

When you say that you stress on global experience and leadership in applicants, does that leave out people who have worked in small companies or started their own businesses and made a difference at a local level?

In every class, we will bring in a couple of entrepreneurs or people from family businesses. As a matter of fact in the 2007 class weve got 11 people coming from a family business background, from both small and large companies. I think that people coming from an entrepreneurial background can bring in very different inputs into the class and contribute well to the entrepreneurial stream of the course.

However, the limitations of people from small businesses can be financial, or it can be that since the business is very local then why would the person want an international MBA? Unless youre looking to take the company global, doing the IMD MBA might not be the right thing to do. But each year we have many entrepreneurs and the other interesting thing is that we have the entrepreneurship stream in which we invite 15 entrepreneurs who get a team of MBAs and a faculty member. The MBAs help the entrepreneur with a business plan or getting financing, depending on the stage that the company is in. And we dont give them extra time to do that because in real life entrepreneurs dont take time off to set up companies, they do that on top of their existing projects.

So roughly how much percentage of the class do you add in each admission round?

We try to add more on the front than the end so I would say that the September deadline adds less than 10 percent of the class. Now the February, April and June deadlines are all strong deadlines with easily 20 percent or more additions in each. So we try to split things over the five deadlines but I would not wait for August and September. The reason is that if you look at how we build our class, we try to diversify. So if you come in at later deadlines, we might already have admitted certain profiles and we might say that youre great, but the seat is already taken.

Which then is the best round to apply to IMD?

I would say that for people here, the February or April deadlines. But if I dont catch the June deadline, I wouldnt go for August for September.

How do you look at applicants looking for their second MBA at IMD?

The business schools within India attract very good candidates. Some of them do a local MBA and get work experience, after which they might still want to do an international MBA to work at a global level. Weve seen that such candidates do extremely well in our program and we like that. The other thing is that the IMD MBA is very different from that at the Indian Institutes of Management so theres not much duplication except in some base courses. The leadership development module at IMD is where it all depends and theyll get a much more global outlook here than in an Indian school.

How does IMD look at reapplicants?

It depends. Whenever we decline an applicant, we are willing to give feedback to the applicant. It could be that youre too young, you do not have the required work experience or youre too local so go get more work experience and try to make it more international. When you come back to us with that experience, thats great. But it really depends on the kind of issue. If its GMAT, you can reapply with a better GMAT. So if theres a specific reason and you can fix it, we encourage you to apply.

So when one reapplies, do you compare the new application with the older one?

We allow them to use the application so that they dont have to submit all the 11 essays again (laughs). So we just ask them to update whatever new has happened, maybe strengthen essays with new experience and add a couple more recommendation letters.

Is IMD likely to open up to younger people, perhaps without work experience, like some of the schools in the USA?

No, we will never do that. I have talked to recruiters and they come to IMD because of the caliber of the people and past work experience. On an average we place our people in Director type positions. Thats what the industry looks for at IMD. On top of that, I dont think people without work experience can contribute in a class where your neighbor has 9 years of experience. So for us its not the right way to go. I think if you have to fill a huge program and your applications are down, you might want to go that way to get more applicants in but I dont think thats strategically the right decision.

Could you update about the latest recruiter patterns at IMD?

The job market for the 2006 MBA class was fabulous. We had 60 companies on campus for 89 people looking for a job, as one was company sponsored. We generated over 200 job offers and some people had eight offers. At graduation, which is the 30th of November, already 90 percent of the class had job offers. The salaries and average were higher than the year before. There were USD 115,000 pay salaries. People in the class were changing geographies, function or industry. About 30 percent of the class changed all three of those factors, 50 percent changing at least two and 100 changing at least one of those factors.

How does IMDs program compare to that of INSEADs?

I dont think one should compare the programs. Theyre both very good programs from top schools. Theyre also very different programs. INSEAD has 800 in the class whereas IMD has 90 students. Theyre spread over different campuses while we have everything in Switzerland. We are focused on leadership development whereas they have more choices in terms of specializing through electives. We work with a group of 90 in a very one-on-one approach the whole time.

How is life beyond the MBA or anything beyond academics at IMD?

IMD is a very close knit community so the 90 people spend day and night together in the campus and get to know each other very well. Its an extremely fun and talented group. It can be imposing in the beginning, because you might think Oh my god, I thought I was really great and now there are these 89 people and theyre really amazing. It takes some getting used to. On top of that, over half of the class is married or has kids who also come along to the school. So we have a kindergarten for the kids and support for residence or mobile phones or anything else.

Theres a list of countries on your website for which you offer specific funding options. Is India going to feature there anytime soon?

India is in there for scholarships that are need-based. Just to give you an idea, in the last couple of classes weve had about six Indians each and two of them from each year have had scholarships consistently. The rest have been on loan. That might not look much as a list but you have to remember that we have only 90 students. So if you look at the amount of scholarship available per capita, we have a higher figure than any other school.

Thanks Katty you for the interview.

You're welcome!

I wish MBA Institutes are so clear regarding their selection.
I wish prospective students are so aware as to which college/school they should aim for.
I wish Faculty is so clear to be able to deliver what is expected of them
I wish Recruiters understand the process of learning so clear to pick the right candidate.
I wish MBA degree justifies itself through results

It is good that now I know what IMD is looking for in his students.
with only 2 and half years of experience and that too in a software firm in India, know I know how far I have to go.
even then I will apply for IMD just to go through their grueling way of admission.

Can one approach the school 'just to go through' to probable candidate when the school is detailing adequately who is their choice. This refers to second wish. Good luck

IMD positions itself as a full time MBA program when in my opinion, it is an Executive MBA program. IMD stresses "leadership" and the ages of the students appears older than the other schools with more work experience. My experience is that they are disorganized and have a haughty attitude. So I didn't apply and happily applied to INSEAD.
In my opinion a much better school. Never mind the fact that Switzerland is undergoing a tremendous upheaval right now regarding immigration. The recent minaret ban is emblematic of the kind of xenophobia stirring in Switzerland and that will translate into a difficulty finding employment. My best friend was the head of recruiting for a Forbes 100 multinational. When I asked him what he thought about IMD he said "who's that?"
I think the school is also very overpriced and living expenses in Lausanne are outrageous. IF you can even find an apartment. A friend of mine is looking for 5 months still because they don't rent to foreigners. Google will tell you all you need to know. . . Just my opinions and experiences!