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Joint Alumni Conference Brings Together CEOs, Deans and MBA Alums From Top Business Schools

Heads of Deutsche Bank, Novartis and Africa's Celtel among heavyweight speakers at the premiere conference for MBA alumni in Europe

By  Kate Jillings

Sun Oct 2 2011

We just returned from the 2011 Joint Alumni Conference (JAC) in Zurich and thought we'd share some of the highlights. Set at the superb Swiss Re Center for Global Dialogue, nestled in woodland with views of the lake and blue skies, the conference attracted an impressive array of speakers and several hundred MBA alumni from the world's top business schools.

Chair Martin Walker, a journalist, author and policy expert, was hotfoot from the annual IMF- World Bank Annual meeting in Washington DC, where policymakers were pondering another global recession. Walker introduced the JAC conference theme: "Better Business - Better World", and was excited to see Africa prominent on the day's agenda.

First up was Josef Ackermann, CEO of Deutsche Bank. With Swiss roots and a doctorate from elite St Gallen University, Ackermann has been at Deutsche bank for 15 years and Chairman of the Board for the last five. His talk focused on the various criticisms of investment banking following the financial crisis: lack of trust in the industry; inefficient passive investment strategies; flawed algorithmic trading models; price movements detached from reality and the unruly size of financial institutions. He acknowledged that financial markets are prone to imperfection and that further measures should be taken to reduce the risks in banking, but he fervently defended the importance of financial market signals, the liquidity provided by high-frequency trading and the benefits of M&A activity to the economy. In summary he said the world needs strong cross-border banks.

One member of the audience asked: "Why are bankers paid so much - don't other industries have the same brains as the banks?" to which Ackermann responded that compensation is determined by "supply and demand" and that experienced bankers (wherever they are in the world) have a high market value. Another question from the floor was "Can Switzerland be the financial capital of Europe" to which Ackermann replied "No, but Switzerland should focus on it's relative strengths" such as private wealth management, where the country has a long-standing reputation for excellence.

Switching from derivatives to drugs, the next big speaker of the morning was Joseph Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis. Jimenez is a Stanford grad with an MBA from Berkeley and a career running large corporates such as Heinz and Astra-Zeneca. Jimenez explained the Novartis strategy of growing by internal science-based research and listed three focus areas for his company: to innovate and bring new medicines to market, to offer a mixture of high-cost and low-cost generic medicines to governments and to build a broad product portfolio. He said the old pharma sales rep model must change and that the role of pharmaceutical companies should be to, "Help the payer or physician deliver a positive patient outcome". The global healthcare market is expected to grow from USD$1 trillion to $1.3 trillion in the next five years and Jimenez stressed that the world's ageing population needs medical breakthroughs from pharmaceutical firms.

Jimenez sparked some lively questions from the audience: Q) What about personalised medicine? A) Yes this will be a growth area - we need to reduce the number (currently 30%) of patients who don't respond to a medicine; Q) Will Novartis innovation include food products? A) No, just science-based healthcare, we'll leave food to Nestle; Q) How can we make people take responsibility for their own actions? A) Novartis is working with governments on preventative techniques, particularly in the US where 30% of GDP is spent on healthcare vs 3.5% in Singapore.

From a very different perspective Mo Ibrahim, telecommunications entrepreneur and philanthropist, provided an overview of African governance and what still needs to be done for 'Better Business' in the region. Ibrahim reflected back to the Cold War, which he believes was "worse for Africa than Colonisation", turning the continent into a chess board between the US and Russia and creating an local corrupt megalomaniacs. Africa has moved forward since 1990 and although corruption and criminality still persist, the bigger issue is actually "mispricing", notably the exploitation of African resources, often by well-known Western multinationals. This is "theft" from Africa, something which we cannot ignore. In an attempt to change the course of Africa, Ibrahim launched the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006, which includes the Ibrahim Index to assess governance in Africa and the innovative Ibrahim Prize to recognise excellent African leaders.

Another speaker passionate about Africa was Anat Bar-Gera, an INSEAD MBA and co-founder of internet company 4G Africa who's vision is to close the digital divide across Africa. She said "what Mo Ibrahim has done for voice we want to do for data" and believe "you can't talk about a Better World and leave Africa behind". Similarly, Dr Akram Eltom of the The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, made the point that Africa represents 50% of the world's population but only 4% of global GDP and sees huge opportunity to improve public health and increase productivity for the African region.

Next up was Pamela Thomas-Graham, an HBS alumnus, who cut her teeth at McKinsey for 10 years and is now in charge of Talent, Communications and Branding for Credit Suisse and the only female on the executive board of the bank. Thomas-Graham said her goal was to build a winning culture with a "virtuous circle of external messages, internal talent and growth" for Credit Suisse. For their "human capital strategy" she said they were looking for people who are great listeners, persuasive and able to synthesise ideas, and were focusing on campus recruitment where they can get people early in their careers who can grow and develop internally.

Before lunch two charismatic professors shared fresh thinking from the business school world. Dipak Jain, the Dean of INSEAD, marketing academic and board director, declared that business schools should be about profits, people and the planet. He referred to the recent criticism of business schools producing greedy human talent but said "to forgive is good, to forget is better and to move forward is the best". There are fundamental global challenges that business schools can help to tackle - such as ageing populations and that China might get old before it gets rich. Jain engaged the audience with a splattering of personal anecdotes, such as surviving the Tsunami on December 26, 2004 and presenting his welcome address as new Dean of Kellogg on September 11, 2001 whilst two aeroplanes flew into New York's Twin Towers.

David Bach, strategy professor at IE Business School went further to summarise global trends such as population ageing, emerging market growth, urbanization, technological advancement, and how business is responding. One of Bach's specialisms, non-market stategies, looks beyond the traditional market of customers, suppliers and competitors to a wider group of stakeholders including governments, regulators, charities and the media. He talked us through four practical examples of well-known firms who have reached 'beyond the market' to grow their business: Toyota's negotiation with the Californian state to allow hybrid Prius cars in the speedy car-pool lanes; Avon's breast cancer awareness work; Walmart's various environmental efforts including leaner pizza boxes, natural in-store lighting and windmills in car parks; Prudential's financial literacy campaign for women in Asia. All of these companies have generated return on investment ('ROI') as well as societal benefit, through strategies beyond their traditional market.

Following an exotic lunch (with unique combinations such as popcorn salad and chestnut trifle) the delegates dispersed across various break-out rooms and a few ventured outside to network in the sunshine. Afternoon sessions included forums on leadership, sustainable investing, the next energy crisis, entrepreneurship, real estate, corporate governance, Asia, Russia and Africa.

With a packed audience still engaged, the final speakers of the day were Martin Kall, the Chairman of Swiss media company Tamedia, Alberto Grando, the Dean of SDA Bocconi and Bob Lutz, the former Vice-Chairman of General Motors (more on Lutz in a separate video story!) Kall, an HBS MBA, defended the future of journalism arguing that the role of publishing companies like Tamedia, is to produce "well-researched and profoundly analysed" information. Dean Grando drew on Renaissance values (Europe's 15th Century intellectual revolution) for modern-day managers: keep the human being central; maintain perspective on the outside world and respect the environment. Grando described some entrepreneurial successes in Italy - Luxotica (fashion), Cucinelli (cashmere), Ferrero (chocolate) - all family-run businesses rooted in social capital.

The next JAC conference will take place on 21 September 2012, with plenty of other activities in the interim, including the Joint Business School Ball in Zurich on 19th November 2011. For more info contact JAC organiser, Benno Marbach:

Student Reviews

IE Business School




On Campus

My Review

Madrid Is incredible, I've had a fantastic time at IE University. I've had some excellent lecturers overall. They sincerely want the students to flourish and are concerned about developing a personal relationship with them. Having said that, students typically must fulfil their half of the contract by putting in the necessary work and demonstrating a desire to achieve success.




On Campus

Coming Master

I spent 1 semester on my Erasmus during my BBA trip. This was the great experience and after that I decode to enroll for the master program there. I must say that the only disappointing fact is connected to distribution of the students. Master students are being connected to the old campus what is not fully fail.




On Campus

Former BBA

As the former BBA student I can say that the level of the learning is quite high. In addition the place (IE Tower) is probably one of the most innovative and networking-support place in the Europe. I totally recoupment this Uni for business students.




On Campus

International focus

IE university has a global perspective and attracts a highly diverse student body, with students from all over the world. This international environment fosters cross-cultural understanding and prepares students to work in a globalized world. This is same for the faculty members as well, the university's faculty members are from diverse parts of the world and are reputable. they are not only experts in their fields but are also often actively engaged in research and industry. Their practical experience and academic expertise create a stimulating learning environment.




On Campus

Loved it

IE University, in my experience as a student, stands out as an outstanding institution for higher education. Its international perspective is a major strength, evident in the diverse student body that represents a multitude of countries and cultures. Interacting with such a global community has broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of various subjects, providing a rich and comprehensive educational experience. The quality of the faculty at IE University is exceptional. Many professors bring real-world experience to the classroom, making the learning process more practical and relevant. This approach not only enhances engagement with coursework but also ensures that students are well-prepared for their future careers. The accessibility of professors and their willingness to engage with students personally fosters a collaborative and supportive learning environment. Practical learning is another significant advantage at IE University. The integration of real-world projects, internships, and case studies bridges the gap between theory and practice. This emphasis on hands-on experience equips students with practical skills and industry insights, making them more competitive in the job market. IE University offers a wide range of programs across various fields of study, making it a versatile choice for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. This diversity ensures that individuals can find a program that aligns with their academic and career interests. However, like any institution, IE University has its challenges. The cost of attending can be a major concern for some students, as tuition fees are relatively high. While scholarships and financial aid are available, not all students may qualify for them. This financial aspect is an important consideration, particularly for those with budget limitations. The competitive nature of some courses and programs can create a high-pressure environment. While competition can be motivating for some, it may also lead to stress for others. Maintaining high academic standards can be demanding, and students should strive for a balance between excellence and well-being. The workload can be quite challenging, especially for students undertaking double degrees or heavily involved in extracurricular activities. Effective time management is essential to manage academic demands while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. In conclusion, I would recommend IE University to prospective students with specific considerations. If you value an international perspective, practical learning, and a diverse educational environment, IE University is an excellent choice. However, it's crucial to carefully weigh the tuition costs against the benefits and to be prepared for the competitive nature of some courses. Students should also be ready to handle a demanding workload. IE University has provided me with a rich and globally-focused education, equipping me for a career in an interconnected world. Ultimately, it's important to make an informed decision based on your educational and financial goals, along with a willingness to confront the challenges that may arise.




On Campus

Rather Exciting

As a student at IE University, enrolled in the Business Administration program, I can confidently say that my experience at this institution has been overwhelmingly positive. IE University's innovative approach to education stands out as one of its most remarkable features. The interactive classes and focus on critical thinking, particularly through the use of case studies, have significantly enhanced my ability to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world business scenarios. Additionally, the global perspective at IE University, fostered by the diverse student body and international faculty, has broadened my understanding of global business practices, which is crucial in the field of Business Administration. The university's strong industry connections have proven to be invaluable. These connections provide students with numerous internship opportunities and networking prospects, allowing us to gain practical experience and build professional relationships while still studying. Moreover, the comprehensive career support services offered by IE University, such as resume building, interview preparation, and job placement assistance, have been instrumental in preparing us for the job market. On the flip side, it's important to mention that tuition costs at IE University can be relatively high, which may pose a financial challenge for some students, even though there are scholarships and financial aid options available. Additionally, the programs at IE University can be intensive, demanding a significant time commitment, which might not align with everyone's preferences. In conclusion, I wholeheartedly recommend IE University to individuals considering a degree in Business Administration. The innovative teaching methods, global perspective, strong industry connections, and comprehensive career support make it an excellent choice for those aspiring to enter the world of business. However, prospective students should be aware of the financial considerations and be prepared for the intensive nature of the programs. If you're willing to invest in your education and are dedicated to your studies, IE University offers an exceptional and enriching educational experience in the field of Business Administration.




On Campus

A Decent Experience

I've had the privilege of being a student at IE University, where I've been pursuing a degree in arts. My experience at IE University has been highly rewarding and unique. One of the aspects I appreciate the most is the university's strong emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. The opportunity to collaborate with students from diverse fields, including business, technology, and social sciences, has enriched my artistic endeavors. This cross-pollination of ideas has added depth and diversity to my creative work. IE University's international perspective is another significant advantage. The institution's diverse student body and faculty from various corners of the world have broadened my artistic horizons and encouraged me to think more globally. In the field of arts, where cultural influences play a pivotal role, this global outlook has been invaluable. The university also invests in modern resources and technology, providing students with access to cutting-edge software, creative tools, and state-of-the-art facilities. These resources have allowed me to explore new mediums and techniques, pushing the boundaries of my creativity. Furthermore, IE University places a strong emphasis on practical experiences. This practical orientation has given me insights into the professional art world and how to navigate it effectively. Opportunities for internships and collaborations with art institutions have been instrumental in bridging the gap between academic learning and real-world application. On the downside, tuition costs at IE University can be relatively high, which may pose a financial challenge for some prospective students. Additionally, the university's programs are quite intensive, demanding a substantial time commitment and strong time management skills. In conclusion, I would wholeheartedly recommend IE University to students seeking an arts education with an interdisciplinary and global perspective. The institution's innovative resources, practical experiences, and international approach have significantly enriched my artistic journey. Nevertheless, it's crucial to consider the financial aspect and be prepared for the demanding nature of the programs. If you're willing to invest in your arts education and are committed to hard work, IE University offers a truly unique and rewarding artistic experience.




On Campus

A Great Experience

As a student at IE University studying architecture, I have a unique perspective on the institution. Let me share my thoughts on this university: Overall, my experience at IE University has been quite positive. The university's commitment to a holistic education, combined with its innovative approach to learning, has made my time here rewarding. Here are some key aspects I appreciate: Interdisciplinary Approach: IE University places a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. In the field of architecture, this means I've had the opportunity to collaborate with students from various backgrounds, such as engineering, business, and design. It's been enlightening to work on projects that integrate different disciplines, mirroring the real-world scenarios architects often find themselves in. Faculty and Industry Connections: The professors at IE University are experienced professionals in their respective fields, and they bring a wealth of practical knowledge into the classroom. This has greatly enriched my architectural education. Additionally, the university's strong connections with industry professionals and firms provide students with valuable networking opportunities and potential internships. Global Perspective: IE University's international approach to education is a significant advantage. I've had the chance to collaborate with students from all over the world, which has broadened my cultural awareness and global perspective. This is particularly important in architecture, as it's a field where global influences and trends play a significant role. Innovation and Technology: The university's commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements is impressive. In architecture, this means access to cutting-edge software, tools, and resources, which have been instrumental in my academic and design work. On the flip side, there are a few aspects that might not suit everyone: Tuition Costs: IE University is a private institution, and as such, tuition can be on the higher side. This might be a challenge for some students, but there are scholarship opportunities and financial aid options available. Intensive Programs: The university's programs are often quite intensive, requiring a significant time commitment. While this can be beneficial for learning, it can also be demanding, so time management skills are crucial. In conclusion, I would certainly recommend IE University to those interested in studying architecture. Its unique approach to education, international perspective, and strong industry connections have enriched my architectural journey. Just keep in mind the financial considerations and be prepared to put in the effort, and you'll find a stimulating and rewarding academic experience at IE University.




On Campus

A Global and Innovative Learning Experience

IE University is a dynamic and innovative institution that has gained recognition for its unique approach to education. There are several aspects that make it stand out, and while it may not be the perfect fit for everyone, it certainly has a lot to offer. One of the notable strengths of IE University is its commitment to fostering a global perspective. The university attracts a diverse student body from all over the world, creating a rich multicultural environment. This diversity enriches the classroom experience and prepares students to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. The emphasis on international exposure through study abroad programs, exchange partnerships, and a global network of alumni further enhances this global outlook. IE University is also known for its focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. The institution places a strong emphasis on practical, real-world learning experiences that encourage students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. This approach aligns well with the demands of the modern job market, where creativity and adaptability are highly valued. Furthermore, IE University's faculty is often comprised of professionals with extensive industry experience, providing students with valuable insights and connections in their respective fields. The small class sizes enable more personalized attention, fostering a close-knit community and facilitating meaningful interactions between students and professors. However, no university is without its drawbacks, and IE University is no exception. One potential downside is the cost of tuition, which can be relatively high compared to some public institutions. While scholarships and financial aid options are available, this cost may still be a barrier for some prospective students. Another consideration is the intensity of the academic programs. IE University is known for its rigorous curriculum, and students often find themselves facing a demanding workload. While this can be an advantage for those who thrive in a challenging environment, it may not be suitable for individuals seeking a more relaxed college experience. In conclusion, IE University is an excellent choice for students who are looking for a globally oriented, innovative, and academically rigorous education. Its emphasis on entrepreneurship, international exposure, and practical learning experiences can prepare students for success in a competitive job market. However, the high cost of tuition and the demanding nature of the programs should be carefully considered. Ultimately, whether IE University is the right fit depends on the individual's goals and preferences, but for those who are up to the challenge, it can be a rewarding and transformative educational experience.




On Campus

The liquid learning method

I do like my program so much, since it gives me the possibility to develop my own personal skills while building a strong professional cv with plenty of extracurricular material. The amenities are extraordinary and the campus is super professional and convenient for networking!