2019 Best EMBAs: Moncef Tanfour, IMD

Moncef Tanfour

Institute for Management Development – IMD Lausanne (Switzerland)

Purposeful leader, audacious thinker, tenacious achiever, avid learner, passionate people developer and dedicated community builder.”

Age: 39

Hometown: I am originally from Skikda (Algeria) and currently live in St. Gallen (Switzerland). I spent more than half of my life in European countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and more recently Denmark.

Family Members: A loving and tight-knit family comprising my mother (Nefissa), my three brothers (Lyès, Adlène, and Imad), and their extended families, my aunts and uncles. My late father (Tahar) was my great role model and remains an inspiration to me. I feel fortunate to have been brought up in a family that instilled in me values of respect, compassion, solidarity, hard work, and a passion for learning.

Fun fact about yourself: I am a fervent fan of Roger Federer and I look up to his unwavering resolve and the ceaseless quest for excellence. I am a voracious film and music buff and I particularly admire the craft of Christopher Nolan and artistry of Cecilia Bartoli. I had the honor of meeting both the Algerian President Liamine Zeroual and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – two most memorable encounters.

Undergraduate School and Degrees

  • Imperial College London (United Kingdom), MEng in Chemical & Process Engineering (First Class Honors)
  • Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Geneva (Switzerland), Certificate of Advanced Studies in UN SDG Investing
  • University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), Gates Scholar
  • Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands) and UNITECH International Society (Switzerland), UNITECH International Fellowship

Where are you currently working? I am Head of Strategic Development & Innovation at Grundfos, and I split my time between Denmark and Switzerland. I enjoy combining my interest in corporate development and strategic transformation with the opportunity to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda, particularly SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 13 (climate action).

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

I was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), based on academic excellence, global leadership potential, and commitment to bettering the lives of others. Prior to this, I was awarded the Presidential Prize for achieving the top national academic performance at the Baccalauréat examinations (Algeria).

Currently, I am a mentor for start-ups at MassChallenge and for students at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland). I am also a guest lecturer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich (Switzerland). I am a member of Stars (Leaders of the Next Generation), a community of leaders from Business, Government, Academia, and Civil Society to foster inter-sectoral dialogue and cooperation.

My past community engagement activities included elected positions as Chairman of the Gates Cambridge Scholars Society, President of the UNITECH Alumni Association, and class representative at Imperial College London.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am particularly proud of the research-based case assignment that I undertook on the agile transformation of ING, a leading banking and financial services institution, together with my wonderful classmates Sara Svedjedal (Sweden) and Eduarda Philadelpho Fernandes de Pina (Brazil), under the supervision of Professor Stéphane Girod. This collaboration culminated with the international publication of a case. In general, all the EMBA team projects were highly enriching and instructive about how diverse teams can be leveraged to achieve great results. This includes the consulting engagements that we carried out for a global energy company in Brazil, a leading crop protection company in India, and a Swiss renewable energy start-up.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I feel privileged to have worked alongside outstanding leaders throughout my career, including Dr. Georg Wiebecke and Dr. Richard Miess (Roche), François Girard (Alstom), CEO Klaus Stahlmann (Sulzer), Dr. Ernst Lutz and CEO Mads Nipper (Grundfos). I also feel proud to have been part of companies that did not only pursue financial gains but looked for ways to innovate and make a real difference. Another prized achievement continues to be developing people around me and seeing them thrive. One of the most gratifying things is when clients or partners come up and give me positive feedback about one of my team members.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I appreciated how knowledgeable and approachable IMD faculty members were. I particularly enjoyed the engaging teaching styles and rich sessions of EMBA Dean Professor Stefan Michel (Strategy), Professor Ben Bryant (Leadership), and Professor Carlos Braga (Leader of the Brazil Discovery Expedition). I also learned a great deal from insightful exchanges with Professor Stéphane Girod (Organizational Agility and Transformation).

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? It is hard to single out a specific course because the IMD EMBA curriculum and assignments are designed to be integrated, which I found unique and differentiating. As an example, the Strategy course with Professor Stefan Michel in which we covered aspects of strategy design and implementation offered many synergies with the Leadership module led by Professor Ben Bryant, which covered mindful leadership and organizational change. The company-based assignments allowed me to apply what I learnt in class, effectively making my organization a test-bed for new ideas. In addition, these assignments afforded many opportunities to reflect on the crucial links between change design, leadership, implementation, and organizational learning. Another memorable insight from the Strategy sessions was how the diagnosis step (i.e. what is the problem to be solved?) is key to developing and deploying effective strategies. Unfortunately, many companies forget to address this basic requirement in crafting their strategies.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? The school has an excellent reputation and long-standing experience in training executives from all over the world. Faculty members combine academic experience with a solid understanding of global business from their multiple engagements with international companies. The alumni network is strong both globally and locally. The cohort is diverse in every possible sense, including cultures, sectors, and functions. Interacting with high-caliber peers makes you as a participant more confident about and robust in your approach. I also enjoyed the flexibility to explore some themes in more detail as part of my coursework.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? It was stimulating to be around peers who are curious and committed to their own development as well as the development of others. I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know and connect with classmates from different sectors and cultures. IMD’s focus on “Real Learning, Real Impact” made it possible to tap into the wealth of my classmates’ experiences and to ensure the relevance of what is learned in the classroom. The IMD campus in Lausanne, and its proximity to the beautiful Lake of Geneva, provided a relaxing environment for learning and reflection. The school felt like a family; the atmosphere was open and everyone was friendly, supportive and helpful.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The main takeaway for me revolved around the need for individuals and organizations to strike a smart balance between learning and performing (or exploring and exploiting) and the crucial importance of knowing one’s secure bases. In other words, leaders cannot be successful in transforming or reinventing their companies if they do not know, and draw strength from, what their organizations hold in their core in terms of capabilities, values, DNA, etc.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I was very happy to have successfully managed a professional transition that entailed working for a new company in a different country and leading a transformational initiative. By applying many of my course assignments to this transition, I felt I was able to both secure my success in the new role and maximize my learnings. The belief of my family, support from the IMD EMBA Office team, and encouragement from close friends and classmates helped me get through this demanding period in the most positive way. I am also appreciative of the trust and unwavering support from my line manager, Dr. Ernst Lutz at Grundfos.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Take your time to research schools. Speak to as many alumni as possible about their learning journey and inquire about the reasons that made them pick their school of choice. Some schools offer candidates the opportunity to attend a class, which can be a great way to experience first-hand what it will be like to be in the classroom. Depending on your career development objectives, I would advise you to carefully consider the schools’ alumni network strength and reach. Additionally, great business schools enable your learning by providing a rigorous structure and a rich ecosystem. Ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat and are steering your personal and professional development. Finally, be prepared to be taken out of your comfort zone and embrace it!

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is that going back to school is harder than juggling family commitments and work responsibilities. What is true though is that an endeavor like taking an EMBA requires dedication, focus, and intensity. The more energy one invests into this transformational journey, the greater the rewards will be.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Regret is not my modus operandi. I am content with my EMBA experience and happy to have fully embraced the transformation it brought. I tried to not only focus on the destination but to also enjoy the journey to get there.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire?

While I admire many people in my cohort, I am particularly proud of my classmates Andrea Spaggiari (Italy) and Mike Cuenco (USA), and I aspire to be like them in so many ways.

Andrea Spaggiari is an incredibly talented, hard-working, pragmatic, and humble individual. I appreciate how passionate and determined he is in pursuing his dreams. He radiates an infectious enthusiasm for everything he does.

I also have huge respect for Mike Cuenco, who impressed me from day one of the EMBA as someone who is respectful and inclusive of others. He is a caring leader who brings harmony into teams and is generous with his time and advice.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was an undergraduate student in London. IMD was already at the top of my list. Visiting the campus some years later confirmed the many positive things I heard about the School. I also feel I have joined the EMBA program at the right stage in my career and leadership development.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term ambition is to steer and shape the future of an organization that makes a positive contribution to business and society. In this regard, I am hoping to emulate my uncle and role model Hamid Guedroudj – a visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Beyond advancing my career, I would like to give back more to my community (in a broad sense) and contribute to enabling better access to education. I am also passionate about forging inter-sectoral partnerships and utilizing innovation to foster sustainability and reduce inequalities.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as someone who was the following:

  • Fun to be around, supportive, inclusive, sincere, conscientious, and dependable
  • Approaches all his undertakings with passion and integrity
  • Strives for excellence and long-lasting impact

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • I would like to help solve challenges around access to clean water globally;
  • As a native of Algeria, I am keen to leverage my experience and skills in support of the country’s economic development and social prosperity.

What made Moncef such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

Moncef is an accomplished executive who is respected within his organization, his industry and by his classmates. He is very much at ease in this highly diverse group of 63 professionals – with an average age of 40 years old. He embraces a strong set of values which are transmitted through his energetic, direct and professional manner. His passion for sustainability and creating a lasting impact on business and society is omnipresent and translates beyond his words and into his actions. In a recent discussion that we had together, he was excited about how his team has developed and how much he was enjoying building such a dynamic and high-performing team. In our brief discussion, he spoke more of them than he did of himself.

Moncef leaves the program very different than how he joined. His intellect, commitment, and energy were obvious characteristics when he began his EMBA journey. He also demonstrated a critical eye and a high standard of excellence for himself – as well as others. Over the course of the program, Moncef immersed himself in the learning – on all dimensions – to the extent that one wondered how many hours he had in his day. He fully embraced being “out of his comfort zone” and the insights that self-discovery, mindfulness and team dynamics offered him from the leadership stream. He was supportive, dedicated and actively coached his peers. He appeared to be “kinder to himself” and, by default, in his interactions with others.

Moncef is among the brightest individuals that we have had the privilege to join our EMBA program. He has broadened to reveal his strengths as a reflective, caring and passionate leader. He is unwaveringly clear on his desire to impact, not only business but society overall.”

Terry Akitt

Executive MBA Director


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