IMD MBA 2008 Reunion in Lausanne, Switzerland

Six years ago I first set foot in Switzerland for what would ultimately become a life-changing trip. Shortly after my exhausting, exhilarating day of interviews at IMD, I received my acceptance and decided to attend the intense, transformative one-year MBA program. And shortly after that I made my very first post on this blog! This weekend 56 members of our 90-person class (plus families) reconvened in Lausanne for our 5-year reunion.

My flight over was uneventful but was the first time I've ever flown to Geneva airport from a departure point other than Houston. On the train from the airport to Lausanne I met a delightful Australian couple who had just arrived for their first tour of Switzerland. It was fun sharing their compartment and, upon our arrival, they told me I was an excellent representative of American culture - quite a compliment for this extrovert!

Once settled in my home away from home in Lutry, I became more and more excited for our reunion kickoff dinner at Watergate along the lake. Several other classmates were also keen to get started, so I trained into Lausanne early. Despite my jet lag and lack of sleep, the thought of seeing everyone infused me with so much energy that I chose to run from the train station down to the lake instead of taking the metro.

The first classmate I was able to meet was none other than Sergei, my Belorussian teammate from my very first IMD team. What a joy to reconnect with someone with whom I shared so many significant - and often painful - leadership development experiences! We were both nearly six years older and he had with him his wife and 13-month-old son - and yet it was as if we had only been toiling away in the IMD study rooms yesterday.

Once we arrived at the restaurant it became evident that many other classmates were in a similar situation as well, joining us with partners and recently born children - apparently the IMD MBA is pretty good for fertility! Incidentally, one of the interesting side effects of attending such an international program is witnessing parents speaking baby talk to their children in 20+ different languages! We closed down the restaurant but, exhausted as I was from travel, I opted for bed in lieu of a wild night out.

Friday we spent all day on campus at IMD. It featured presentations from some of our favorite professors as well as IMD management about the status and direction of the institution. The class's four entrepreneurs were also asked to make a brief presentation about our startups so I was pleased to have a chance to catch everyone up on what I've been up to. I was somewhat surprised by how much interest my presentation generated as the rest of the day classmates kept engaging me with their ideas, feedback, offers to make useful introductions, and even a few offers of investment!

The highlights of the day were lunch and dinner, both served at IMD's famous restaurant. The food is just as amazing as I remember it - as is the post-food ping pong with classmates! After dinner several of us went out to a bar in Le Flon and, once we closed it down, then proceeded to a nearby club (L'Atelier Volant, the very first Lausanne club I ever frequented!). It has been a long, long time since I stayed out until 4 AM but, as much fun as I was having catching up with classmates, I could have stayed out indefinitely.

After the late night, morning came much too soon. Once again, though, the collective energy of the class was infectious as we boarded a morning bus for the Parc Aventure in Aigle. The adventure park is a large wooded park with ropes courses of varying difficulties between and among all the trees. We arrived, suited up in our harnesses, and spent the day challenging ourselves to make it through one obstacle course after another many meters above the forest floor (and the most difficult courses even had parts that extended out over a river!).

Much like the IMD MBA itself, it was a LOT of fun in hindsight. While I was out there grappling, tight rope walking, and zip lining, though, it was actually quite stressful - anyone who knows my [lack of] command of balance will understand why!

Saturday night we had dinner at a new restaurant started by an IMD alum from the class of 2007: Eat Me. Although we started early, we still closed the restaurant down after more than seven hours of eating, drinking, and making merry with dear friends we hadn't seen in awhile - some not since graduation.

Sunday there was a soccer match between our class and the current MBAs (which we won, of course) followed by a closing lunch at our favorite class hangout, Le Pinocchio. The weather, which had been gorgeous all weekend, continued to impress, so I took a slow jog along the lake to the park where soccer was being played and then another jog back to Lutry after lunch. Sometimes I wonder if my memory of living in Switzerland - perfect weather, beautiful views of lakes and mountains - is somewhat idealized, but days like Sunday remind me that it really is a fantastic place.

And there you have it: after a three-day sprint, our reunion is over. The reunion itself actually seemed like a microcosm of the IMD experience: late nights, intense days, and much joy in being together. Even as much time as we spent together, though, there are some people with whom I regret not catching up more.

Much has changed since we underwent the MBA journey together five years ago. Jobs have changed, families have grown, and both accomplishments and disappointments have been realized. That which has remained constant throughout the five years, however, is the bond that we all formed first by choosing to undergo (and being selected for) such a unique program and then by traveling that unique journey together.

In fact, that bond is so strong that, even though the reunion is over, those of us still in Lausanne are meeting up every chance that we get. Five years out is a good time to reflect on the IMD experience. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to attend IMD but, as this reunion really drove home, the most tremendous blessing that IMD provided is the addition of all these great people in my life.


Life in Chapel Hill

Having moved into our Chapel Hill home nearly a month ago, I now have some reasonably concrete thoughts about life here. The biggest impression made on me so far is the area's dichotomy between being a large metropolitan area of two million people but having a really small town feel.

Durham may feel a little more like a bustling city and Raleigh surely does, but Chapel Hill feels like a sleepy college town out in the country. There is low enough light pollution that the stars are dazzling at night even when we just step out on our deck. The area is densely forested - so much so that our home feels like a tree house - and everywhere you look is green, green, green. When we take Max for a walk it isn't uncommon for us to encounter deer roaming around the neighborhood. Max really, really wants to volunteer to help keep the deer population in check.

The green feel translates to the people as well. There are farmers markets available every day of the week and they are full of fresh, local, natural foods. Recycling is a big deal here too and it is actually illegal to throw away some recyclable materials. People are very active so I have joined several hiking meetup groups to meet others and explore the natural beauty all around.

Despite this small town, country feel, we are a 20 minute drive away from a major international airport (Raleigh-Durham), 15 minutes away from the largest research park in the country (Research Triangle Park), and very near multiple hubs of startup activity. I've found the people here to be very friendly and welcoming, not just on a personal level but also in providing access to the business community.

The area reminds me of Houston in many ways. Many of the locals seem to be non-natives, having moved here for school or work. This endows the region with a strong diversity of culture, opinion, and industry interest. Like Houston, the area also has incredibly low cost of living, which extends from the low real estate prices to the multitude of inexpensive, healthy, delicious food options.

In some ways, however, Chapel Hill is completely unlike Houston. At least twice since we moved in the temperature has reached down into the 60s F at night - don't they know it's August?? And, although people here complain about traffic, they apparently have no idea what real traffic is. I've been out on the major through-ways during what passes for rush hour here and you almost wouldn't know that you were driving during a peak time.

On the subject of transportation, there is very good public transportation here. The municipal buses run all over the place (with UNC Chapel Hill as the main hub) all day and are completely free. Katie and I are now a single car family (I have left my car in Houston because I am still spending so much time there.) and, even so, her car doesn't get much use. She is able to walk and/or take the bus to school and I can bus around to most places as well.

There are many aspects of the area that we still haven't explored. For example, there is a thriving craft beer scene here that I would love to get to know. A few hours to our west is great mountain hiking and a few hours to our east are some good beaches - hopefully we will have a chance to check those out soon.

In the meantime I'm still spending a great deal of time in Houston, which reduces my bandwidth for North Carolina exploration. I'm teaching two entrepreneurship courses at Rice University this semester and steering my Houston-based startup through a critical ramp up to product launch. Still, the little bit I've experienced of the Triangle so far has me quite impressed.