2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Sunny Lirong He, IMD

Sunny Lirong He


“Down-to-earth, value and principle-driven, inquisitive, aspirational, authentic, adventurous, a bit nerdy and fun.”

Age: 35

Hometown: A remote village in Hunan Province, China

Family Members: My parents and younger sister, my fiancé and his parents

Fun fact about yourself: Learned to ski in Switzerland by watching Youtube videos and studying ski physics

Undergraduate School and Degree: (Include Graduate Schools and Degrees If Applicable) Bachelor and Master Degrees Economics, from Renmin University of China, Beijing

Where are you currently working? Equity Portfolio Investment Manager for Dow Chemical’s European Pension Plans

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: Passionate advocate for Gender Equality, Women Empowerment, Impact Investing and a more sustainable society.

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

  • Academically: Working on writing the Logitech case study with Professor Stefan Michel and my amazing fellow classmates Victoria, Thomas, and Serguei.
  • Recreationally: Leading 1/3 of my Israel discovery expedition cohorts to swim in the Mediterranean Sea every morning to kick-start a busy day!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Continuing to learn and grow through the whole journey, bind together different cultures from all countries that I have lived and worked in (China, Switzerland, Argentina) while maintaining my own values and principles.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Leadership Professor Ben Bryant: He is the most humble, down-to-earth, lovely, honest yet provocatively stimulating individual in his role to guide students to find the answers to the most important questions for each one of us.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Too many good reasons! The reasons that merit mentioning here include: the school’s excellent reputation and focus on continuous personal growth; a solid balance of business fundamentals with a personalized touch; a highly diverse outreach of program pedagogy (campus learning, teamwork, case assignment, three dramatically different international discovery expeditions, personal development work in leadership teams, individual coaching sessions, general career workshops and individual career strategy sessions, to name but a few); the amazingly vast background of cohort participants, and the Crisis Management training and simulation with the Swiss Armed Forces.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general?

  • Learning about myself and group dynamics
  • Discovery Expeditions to Silicon Valley, Kenya, and Israel
  • Teamwork, in a variety of groups, throughout the entire learning journey

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your EMBA and how did you apply it at work?

It’s hard to outline the single biggest lesson, yet the deep and comprehensive frameworks from the combination of the learning streams of Strategy, Leadership, Marketing, Finance, Cultural Transformation, and Digital Transformation all came together and helped me make new assessments and reflections on our business, our corporate culture, our internal dynamics, and (most importantly) the impact that I can have as a leader in the organization.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I will be brutally honest: there was not much juggling here. Basically, study and work, work, and study. My private life was the biggest sacrifice – luckily this period lasted no more than 1.5 years and IMD did a great job to prepare us and our family members for this challenge.

During the summer vacation, I arranged champagne tours for my fiancé and his parents while I stayed in the hotel to work on my cultural assignment and case assignment. I was very happy to delve uninterrupted into my assignments and then join them each day and enjoy nice dinners together.

I’m extremely grateful for my loving, supportive partner. In fact, we actually were engaged during my EMBA study year.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be crystal clear about what you’re looking for and, at the same time, stay open-minded and let yourself be surprised.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Before IMD, I received all of my formal education in China and I had most of my work experience overseas, so I was very curious about the IMD EMBA learning journey. Surprisingly, the theoretical and class learning experience was quite similar, as were the assignments.

The fundamental – and unique – difference of the IMD EMBA program was the group interactions and how we were continuously relating the learnings back to our daily professional life and where we were applying the theory to our own business environments in our assignments. Real Learning, Real Impact! The IMD experience was also a lot about constructive thinking and continuous self-reflection.

What was your biggest regret in business school? As a super study-nerd and self-described introvert, I wish I had spent more time observing and living through the group dynamics, applying the leadership frameworks, and building even stronger bonds with my classmates.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a tricky question as there are so many; it is impossible to highlight just one.

I admire my strong female classmates for their amazing courage, vast achievements, strong personalities, and relentless drive! I adore a few male classmates who are extremely successful, yet very humble and respectful.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…when I searched for inspiration and guidance for personal and professional development in 2017.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To run a successful and far-reaching Impact Fund, which brings opportunities and financial inclusion to the under-privileged while achieving a balanced financial goal.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would be happy if my peers smile and feel a sense of authenticity, warmth, reliability and some spices of fun when they think of me.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? I don’t have a bucket list. I only have goals, which I intend to achieve and plan rigorously. Besides my professional goals, I’m planning to summit Mont Blanc with one of my IMD EMBA peers this year. If Covid-19 won’t allow this to happen, then we will do it next year.

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

“Sunny was, and I am sure will continue to be, an incredibly dynamic member of her class. She epitomizes the diversity of her cohort – with more than thirty-seven nationalities and from twenty-three industries – of 66 accomplished executives with an average age of 40 years old. She embarked on the IMD EMBA learning journey with a curiosity, hunger and determination to learn that justifies her claim to be a super study-nerd and belies any impression of an introvert!

Sunny’s remote, countryside origins, no doubt, had a significant impact on her drive and ambition to improve her education and expand her opportunities and that of her family. She is satisfied with nothing less than the best of herself and is committed to putting in the work to make this a reality. While perhaps a self-described introvert, this does not translate to a loner nor an individualist. Sunny was equally determined that others succeed along with her and was instrumental as an active and engaging team member. She listens, reflects and asks others – especially the quieter or more reserved members – to contribute their input. No doubt, seeing her own cultural diversity in others, encouraged her to ensure an inclusive environment to capitalize on the full potential of the teams she worked with. In this, she was a role-model.

Equally so, and given her own experience and determination, she is a strong advocate of women – in their capabilities, talent, and tremendous value. She believes that women are worthy to “take a seat at the table” and should have fair and equal opportunities to do so.

Sunny’s inquisitiveness was particularly evident in the Leadership Stream where the approach was unlike anything she had encountered previously. To learn new technical skills is one aspect of the program she mastered with excellence, yet to learn more about herself, be open to behavioral feedback and be mindful of her impact on others was a new challenge … and sometimes a difficult one, as with many of her classmates.

I have little doubt that Sunny had a profound impact on each and every member of her class. Certainly, with her classmates in Israel as she recruited early risers for a morning run and ocean-dip before the long day of discovery ahead of them!

As with many others in her class, her story and perspectives are unique leading to a rich and dynamic EMBA learning community.”

Terry Akitt
IMD EMBA Program Director


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