After weeks of blog silence, I’m back with another adventure! This time, it’s not so much about me getting back on the horse as it is about my first gallop across international borders since the pandemic put a temporary halt to my globetrotting escapades. This expedition was more than a trip – it was a reunion of the IMD MBA Class of 2008 in the ever-lovely city of Lausanne, Switzerland.
My flights took me to Geneva by way of Frankfurt. At passport control in Frankfurt, the customs officer complimented my German. Considering that I don’t even speak German, I thought this was an auspicious start to my first European visit in four years!
As my plane touched down in Geneva, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of emotions. The world had changed, and so had I. It had been quite some time since the pandemic had forced us all into our shells, but here I was, back on the move, vaccinated, tested, masked, and thrilled to be back in my old stomping ground.
Switzerland, it turned out, hadn’t changed so much. I was greeted by familiar watch advertisements at the airport, and Tekoe, my favorite tea shop, was right there on my way to the train station. There is something to be said for consistency and dependability!
Arriving in Lausanne, I had some meetings with business partners and investors (some of whom are IMD faculty!) before switching gears and settling into reunion mode. For my hotel, I stayed at the Chateau d’Ouchy. Having spent years walking and running by this beautiful hotel and restaurant, it was lovely finally to stay in it. It didn’t disappoint! My room offered glorious lake views and of course I enjoyed the castle architecture.
That evening I met some of my classmates for dinner at the Creperie d’Ouchy. How lovely to enjoy crepes along the lake with a McKinsey consultant, a supply chain executive at Amazon, and a dignitary at the European Commission – this was pretty much exactly how I would have imagined us 15 years after embarking on the IMD MBA!
Jet lag catching up to me, I turned in early and then woke up early for a long run along the lake. Stepping foot again on the well-trodden running path by Lac Léman was nothing short of cathartic. Slipping on my Vibrams, I embarked on a pilgrimage along the lakeshore to Lutry and back, the breathtaking views of the crystal-clear water contrasted with the austere Alps in the distance serving as a spectacular canvas.
Each stride was a journey back in time, an echo of the many mornings and evenings I had spent pounding the pavement, lost in my thoughts, contemplating everything from leadership feedback to case analysis. It was here, on these solitary runs, where I found solace amidst the intensity of MBA life, where I discovered the perfect harmony of mind, body, and spirit.
It was this same path along the lake that cultivated my love for running, a hobby that has since grown into a keystone of my health and well-being. The beautiful lake was my first running companion, one that silently bore witness to my transformation from an exercise-driven runner to a runner who runs for joy and mediation.
After my run – and a shower – I made my way to the IMD campus for our reunion program. First we joined the other reunion classes in the main auditorium for an update from IMD leadership. After a lunch (The IMD restaurant did not disappoint!), our afternoon was for a session between just our class and Professor Jennifer Jordan. Jennifer led a great – and topical – case discussion about working with challenging colleagues. Our class really came alive, and it really felt like being back in school again!
After class, there was to be a dinner, but first we had some time off, so naturally we found . . . the ping pong table! Back during our MBA days, the ping pong table was more than a game setup; it was a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and some friendly competition. With every volley and every spin, we were not just players; we were classmates navigating the fast-paced rhythm of MBA life, just as we navigated the ping pong ball’s unpredictable trajectory.
The ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ of our student days reemerged in full swing during the reunion. Paddle in hand, surrounded by my multinational classmates, I found myself back in the familiar rhythm. The echoes of laughter, cheers, and light-hearted banter around the table were reminiscent of our past victories and losses, both at the table and in our academic journey.
Just like in our student days, the ping pong games were a metaphor for our professional lives. Fluid teamwork, strategic maneuvers, and adaptability to sudden changes – the hallmarks of successful leadership – were all mirrored in our game.
Running along Lac Léman was a daily meditation, but the ping pong table? That was our battlefield and our meeting ground, the place where we celebrated diversity, built lifelong friendships, and most importantly, learned to take life’s unpredictable spins in our stride. Although the ping pong arena began to smell a bit ripe with our sweat, it was glorious to be back!
The following morning, several of us met early to go for a run along the lake in the opposite direction – to Vidy and back. This was our typical path when sneaking in exercise between late night group work sessions in “The Dungeons” of IMD. As we ran together this time, discussing everything from geopolitics to business opportunities, the synergy was electrifying. Our shared pace, reminiscent of the shared ambitions and relentless drive from our MBA days, added an extra layer of camaraderie and nostalgia.
In the afternoon, we took the train up into the mountains and had a fondue lunch hosted by our local classmates and their families. Their kids actually did the organization and service. It was pouring rain outside, but we were holed up in a cozy lodge / hiking refuge, which was a lot of fun!
After a very necessary post-fondue nap, we gathered at MGM – a familiar haunt from our MBA years – for a closing dinner. We shut the place down and it was such fun just to catch up with everyone; we likely could have kept going for more hours.
Early the next morning, I was off to the airport and headed back across the Atlantic. The passport control officer in Geneva complimented my French, which was a nice bookend to my arrival. The flight back included some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced, but we made it safely in the end.
Returning to Lausanne – and reuniting with dear classmates – after so long was a true joy. Lausanne, IMD, and my MBA classmates all continue to be secure bases for me, so it was envigorating to immerse myself in them all for a few days. The one missing piece was my family, whom I missed while I was gone. Hopefully I can bring them along next time, which will make the experience that much more more complete.