2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Frith Brennan, IMD

Frith Brennan


“A vivacious, strong-willed problem solver who’s happiest when immersed in new knowledge, skills, and experiences.”

Age: 36

Hometown: A born and bred Aussie girl (Canberra) residing in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Family Members: My Danish husband – Jes; my brother and sister who, like me, are global nomads; and a mum who, despite raising a brood brushed with wanderlust, want us to “quit galivanting” and move back to Australia.

Fun fact about yourself: Despite having travelled to 79 countries, I’m yet to meet another Frith.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

IMD Business School – Executive MBA with Honors (Class Valedictorian) – Switzerland

College of Law – Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice – United Kingdom

Australian National University – Bachelor of Laws with Honors – Australia

Australian National University – Bachelor of Science (Molecular Biology), Australia

Where are you currently working?

A.P. Moller–Maersk A/S – Head of Joint Venture Management (per 1 May 2020)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Nominated & selected as IMD’s Executive MBA Valedictorian (November 2019)
  • Nominated & recognized as a “Top 100 Talent” in Danish Industry & Commerce g
  • Completed the Swedish Classic aka “the Swedish Manhood test

90km skiing (Vasaloppet); 300km cycling (Vätternrundan); 3 km open water swimming (Vansbrosimningen); 30km running (Lidingöloppet) in 12 months

  • Completed Copenhagen Marathon and Berlin Marathon:

Time of 3:17; 3rd in my age group — ‘top 10’ non-professional women

  • Completed Copenhagen Go Epic ½ Iron Man and Deloitte Oresund ½ Iron Man

1.9 km Swimming; 90km Cycling; 21.1km Running

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

My appointment as Valedictorian was the pinnacle of my Executive MBA journey, and perhaps of my professional and educational history to date. The academic recognition was gratifying after 18 months spent immersed in concepts, models and analysis entirely foreign to me despite both my legal and scientific educations.(Who knew that the whole world, bar lawyers, and scientists were familiar with Porter’s Five Forces?) But surpassing the academic achievement was the recognition by peers and faculty of the “human contribution” I’d made to the EMBA cohort and our shared EMBA journey.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?

  • Creating a cash and liquidity management team to address restricted/trapped cash jurisdictions which identifies creative and legal measures (proactive and reactive) to repatriate cash, execution and repatriation of cash (released USD 50 mill/year+ during 2016-2018).
  • Co-creating new industry standards in container shipping through the negotiation, drafting, and execution of strategic agreements with high value customers, suppliers, and counterparts.
  • Managing the Global de-merger of three business divisions – Inland Services, Freight Forwarding/Logistics, and Shipping (combined annual revenue of over USD 20 billion and over 65,000 employees).
  • Creating an independent Container Liner Business division – Maersk Line A/S – involving the transfer of USD 18 billion worth of assets and the transfer of thousands of customers, contracts, employees, IT systems, and other tax and licensing registrations.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Leadership & personal development is a core theme of IMD’s Executive MBA program. And such challenging material can only hit home when delivered by a Professor as masterful as Ben Bryant. Like most professionals, I’ve participated in my share of leadership and development seminars, courses and readings. Professor Ben Bryant, however, took the subject matter to the next level and his methodology and delivery had our cohort emerge from his Leadership module as better and more reflective versions of ourselves.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? A European Executive MBA program with world-class rankings was a must – leaving me with only a couple of real options. I grilled colleagues and friends who’d studied at the top European programs. While all reported academic growth, the IMD graduates all spoke of a life-changing experiences and mammoth personal development on top of the academics. Having “survived” the program, I too can attest to the IMD “paradigm shift.”

Although not central to my decision, IMD’s entrance criteria was also relevant to my ultimate decision. [IMD’s entry criteria and acceptance process is rigorous and requires candidates to demonstrate professional experience and results but dispenses with GMAT testing]. The removal of the GMAT was valuable for me – as time is my most scarce resource. Bypassing months of re-hashing knowledge from undergraduate university optimized my time by allowing me to get straight to the knowledge and coursework relevant to my continued professional development.

Instead, the program is very creative by integrating a 5-week on-line module that is integrated into the learning journey. In this way, the learning is built on progressively, following on three-week residential module. At the end of the online module, participants must pass exams prior to moving into the final Mastery Stage of the program. This, for me, was a far better barometer of academic capabilities and workload management, as required in the EMBA, than a standardized aptitude test such as the GMAT. This especially true for senior EMBA candidates with more than 15 years of experience.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The majority of business school “pleasures” were hard-won by-products of hard work. However, one of the pure pleasures of IMD’s Executive MBA was the 18-month exposure to new countries, industries, companies, and the overwhelming number of extraordinarily impressive and inspiring individuals I met, both within the cohort, IMD’s faculty, the EMBA team, and beyond. As a cohort, we were afforded the opportunity to explore and be introduced to the “best and brightest” businesses, investors, entrepreneurs, and politicians in seven countries.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? IMD’s Executive MBA has furnished me with the capacity to identify the critical issues in any project (i.e. be that a strategy roll-out, platform design, project execution, etc.), develop a plan to address those issues, and most critically the capacity to efficiently communicate the above in whatever format our Management needs the information.

The EMBA has similarly equipped me with greater self-awareness and an awareness of those around me. Although still a work-in-progress, that increased awareness has improved group outcomes: creating space for others to contribute views, expertise, or feedback has unquestionably led to better project work and better outcomes.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? My husband and I have always prioritized travel. However pure “holidays” during the EMBA were unworkable for me given my work schedule and the fortnightly assignments due for the EMBA. Nonetheless, with careful scheduling and a patient husband, we were able to plan trips to Kenya and Tanzania around my husband’s work travel. We also made it to Chile as a side trip to an EMBA expedition. Mornings and evenings were reserved for EMBA – but we managed to squeeze safaris, scuba diving, and hiking in three new countries.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? A good Executive MBA program is going to push you to your own limits. It’s at those limits, under excessive pressure, that many of the EMBA’s greatest learnings and insights arise. When you hit that limit and feel the greatest discomfort know the following: 1) You will survive both the discomfort and the EMBA; and 2) The discomfort tends to be a signpost that you have something to learn in exactly that arena: the greater the discomfort, the greater the potential learning.

Providing specific examples is difficult – as the limits and learnings are highly individual. For me, there was both acute academic discomfort (mastering IMD’s Finance modules) and personal discomfort (in facing IMD’s Leadership modules). Both modules and the associated discomfort led to real professional development: being able to sensibly challenge financial assumptions and finding in myself a more reflective leader.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Every couple of years, I embark on a new self-improvement project. I worked as full-time M&A associate while completing my graduate diploma in legal practice. I worked more than full time completing a global corporate restructuring for a transport and logistics conglomerate while completing tertiary Danish language certification. And most recently, worked more than full time on a corporate divestment and restructuring project while undertaking IMD’s Executive MBA.

The beginning of each of these “self-improvement” projects has inevitably coincided with nostalgic recollections of how much I enjoy “the self- mastery, strict prioritization and time-management,” which are part and parcel of full-time work/full-time study. The reality of returning to the school-bench is always less rosy: in an already busy life, “something’s gotta’ give” – and each time, there have been real sacrifices (personal and/or professional) attached to the learning experience.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret, and perhaps simultaneously my greatest relief, was that I didn’t have more time to complete the program. IMD’s Executive MBA is so jam-packed with knowledge, learnings, experiences, people, assignments, and international discovery expeditions that you could easily spend all your waking hours trying to soak it up – and still have more to learn and experience. Here, six months post-graduation, I’m still reading my way through the “Optional Reading” lists that I could not find the time to work through during the program.

Which EMBA classmate do you most admire? The caliber of my IMD Executive MBA cohort makes providing a single name near impossible. But, if forced to name a single classmate, Abdulaziz Albarrak consistently delivered work of the highest quality, while making the MBA/work/family juggling act look effortless. He was liked by all and, with a natural and seemingly unintended charm, could unite any group and drive any agenda.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I’d identified a multi-million-dollar opportunity to improve a company’s liquidity – and was handed a “P&L/BS” and asked to illustrate the plan but fumbled my reading of what I later learned was a Balance Sheet. (But despite the false start, did implement the liquidity improvement).”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Pre-EMBA, I planned to reach the top floor with a corner office: I was going to make it to the C-Suite of a major multinational come rain, hail, or shine. However, IMD’s Executive MBA exposed me to the stories of an array of tremendously successful and inspiring businesspeople. Post EMBA, I’ve come to see the world somewhat differently. I’d still like to reach the C-Suite – but I now plan to find a C-Suite that allows me to untangle and solve problems that can improve lives whilst delivering returns.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? An ambitious go-getter who makes the impossible happen by seeing and encouraging others’ strengths.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Having now completed my EMBA, learn to read music and play the cello.
  • Travel all the countries in the World (79 to date); swim all the World’s Oceans (3/5 to date); and join a multi-month expedition to Antarctica.

What made Frith such an invaluable addition to the class of 2020?

“As Frith mentions in her nomination form, she has yet to cross another Frith while traveling to 79 countries, the same holds true for IMD EMBA participants. Frith is one of a kind – we have never had someone with this name in the program, nor have we had someone like her! She is dynamic, intelligent, socially engaging, and incredibly down-to-earth. She is equally determined and ambitious. She is, in many ways, a model EMBA participant as she threw herself whole-heartedly into the EMBA learning journey and, her energy and curiosity was infectious.

As a result, Frith was very much at ease in the highly diverse and accomplished group of 66 professionals in her class – with an average age of 40. Candidly acknowledging her areas for growth in some of the business fundamentals, given her extensive legal training, she actively leveraged contacts within the class to help herself and others. In turn, she was often seen facilitating group discussions and asking the difficult, or provocative, questions in a team assignment. Her drive and determination, no doubt, were key to her nomination as class valedictorian. Equally so, her infectious good humor, positive outlook and wonderful sense of humor made her an endearing choice of her colleagues.

Frith fully embraced being “out of her comfort zone” and the insights that self-discovery, mindfulness and team dynamics offered her from the leadership stream. Despite her many accomplishments and incredibly hard work, she was humble to embrace the insights of self-discovery, mindfulness and challenging team dynamics that the leadership stream had to offer her.

In only a few short months after completing the program, Frith was promoted within her organization to a senior role. This does not come as a surprise to any of us!”

Terry Akitt
IMD EMBA Program Director


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