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B-School Life

MBA Journal: Surviving a Worldwide Whirlwind

The second module at IMD has been a whirlwind of competitions and travel experiences.

It started off with the MBA Tournament (MBAT), hosted annually at HEC Paris. With the exception of a couple of students, our entire class, along with families, showed up at HEC. We competed and cheered throughout our time there. I co-captained the basketball team, which lost, but our classmates won medals in cross-country and tennis. We even had an MBAT theme song that we broadcast on a megaphone everywhere we went. (“Waka, waka, eh, eh! It’s time for Africa!”) What can I say? We had a break in the intense schedule, and we made full use of it.

In the few weeks following MBAT, we got back into the swing of things with back-to-back classes, group assignments, integrative exercises, and case preparations. Amid all the class work, I managed to squeeze in a side project with the help of a few classmates. We submitted an entry to a video contest held by the Global Business School Network (GBSN) on the topic, “Can an MBA change the world?” All business schools were invited to enter, and the first-place winner received an all-expense-paid trip to Mexico City for the GBSN conference.


Our video highlighted three different projects that aimed to help developing countries socially and economically. It turned out that we won second place in the competition. With the support of the MBA office, Mahoto Harada (one of my teammates) and I travelled to Mexico to attend the conference and receive our award. We were able to spend a couple days mingling with MBA students and faculty members from other schools, and we learned that social responsibility has become one of the hottest topics in B-schools around the world. MBA programs are beginning to engage students by doing such things as matching them with nonprofits for school projects. Thanks to our Mexican classmates, we were also given a list of recommended restaurants and dishes to order—my favorite was tacos al pastor, a popular pork dish—and our own personal tour guide (a friend of a classmate) to show us around the city.

With the last round of exams finally over shortly after that experience, I was able to take my foot off the accelerator. Before that, life had been extremely intense. At times we were living meal to meal, coffee break to coffee break. Before drowning in work again, we had three weeks of vacation to recuperate, reconnect with loved ones, and reflect on the past few months of intense learning. Armed with the recommendations of my Italian classmates, my wife and I spent the entire time travelling across Italy in a rental car. Aside from the few occasions of anxiety while driving in southern Italy (where traditional traffic rules are optional), it was fantastic. The trip beautifully recharged my batteries for what was to come at IMD.


Now, we would set forth putting everything we had learned at the beginning of the program into solving real problems. For starters, we launched into the Discovery Expedition, one of the main differentiators of the IMD MBA program, where we traveled to a developing country and worked intensely with a small to midsize enterprise (SME) to help affect its business in a concrete way. Our group traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for two weeks.

The 25 projects slated for the Discovery Expedition focused mostly on SMEs with a handful of government projects and spanned different industries and various problems. My team of four picked a company that made accessories for off-road vehicles. African Outback is its main brand, and it has outfitted modern-day explorers with products that have functional designs that operate in harsh environments. Immediately we were struck by the passion of the founder, Adolf Waidelich. His vision was to manufacture African Outback products in Africa for Africa. Helping the African people was a top priority for him, and whether it was building soccer fields in remote villages or supporting South African explorer and humanitarian Kingsley Holgate’s expeditions in Africa aimed at “saving and improving lives through adventure,” he exuded excitement. It naturally rubbed off on the team, and we were ready to hop on an expedition across Africa in a heartbeat. Even though that didn’t happen, we were still inspired to help the company in any way we could.

In the brief period we were there, we witnessed the complexity of the environment in which we were operating. The lingering impact of the abolished apartheid system, labor unions that were established in the past few years, the competitive strain of cheap overseas products, and the rising South African rand made our work all the more challenging. At the end of the two weeks, in addition to developing a set of analyses and recommendations for the business, I experienced the warmth and hospitality of the South Africans. They taught us—or at least attempted to teach us—their native tongues, offered their home-cooked meals, and shared with us their dreams. Their hope for a better tomorrow lingers within my heart, and we promised to return to South Africa one day.

But first I will be diving into the job search and International Consulting Projects (ICP), for which my classmates and I will be working with larger and more established companies on specific projects.

Au revoir.

Howie Chan is a former scientist who was drawn to the business side of operations at his employer Medtronic (MDT). He worked his way up to product marketing manager, a post he has held since 2008, according to his résumé. Now, he's pursuing his MBA in Lausanne, Switzerland at IMD (IMD Full-Time MBA Profile), the only business school to which he applied. Chan, who has lived in Singapore and the United States, would like to spend time in Europe and said in an interview that he aims for a global career.

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