Ivar Borge uncorked a nice bottle of champagne at the end of February 2011. That’s when he had to submit his final assignments for the TRIUM global executive MBA, a ten-year-old program run jointly by NYU-Stern, London School of Economics and HEC-Paris.
The 16-month course has been a grueling but fantastic ride, he says, shuttling his 65-person class around the globe for six, face-to-face modules (a total duration of ten weeks), with work piled high between classes. In fact, between classes, TRIUM faculty assigned projects and readings that took as many as 20 hours a week to complete. That was on top of Ivar’s demanding, 50-plus hours of consulting, and time spent with his wife and three kids. “The time commitment is considerable,” he warns. “But you can earn it back ten times in terms of learning.”
While he prepares his final projects in Professional Responsibility, Bankruptcy, Leadership, and Risk Management, he is also adjusting to week two at the helm of the 70-person consulting practice of PwC’s Bergen, Norway office. He took time out to share his journey to and through the three-school ringer.
People ask me, ‘why would you go through the pain of such a program?’ And it is painful from time to time. First, I want to become a better leader and mentor for the people in my group.
Secondly, I want to become a better coach and discussion partner for my clients. Third, I simply wanted to do this for myself.
I had earned two undergraduate degrees. The first was Mechanical Engineering – for building construction – from Bergen University College. After a year of mandatory service in the Norwegian Navy, I enrolled in the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration and earned my Master of Science in Business in 1995. I got a job as a consultant at Coopers and Lybrand (before merging with Price Waterhouse). After four years, I quit to take a position as divisional head of an industry and trade company in Bergen. Two years later, I’d learned a lot, but understood that I’m a management consultant at heart. I was invited back to PwC to assist in building a more robust consulting department. Ten years later, the Bergen office has about 70 consultants, as well as an Assurance and Tax department with 110 people.
Part of my career plan was the chance to head the consulting practice when my boss retired in 2011. If I was going to do an EMBA program, which is quite time and focus consuming, I had to finish by about this time. It is important to have the knowledge and experience for this job. The people we hire are the best from engineering, law, political science, medicine, and other programs at the top universities in Norway and across Scandinavia. They are challenging people to lead and manage. They require a lot from their leaders, so you have to be on the edge yourself to gain their respect.
PwC has a formal (executive education) relationship with INSEAD, which offers us some internal training courses. I was at INSEAD five years ago for a one-week strategy course. At the end of the week, they marketed their own formal courses. That started the thinking process. I went back to Norway, discussed the idea with my peers, my boss and our senior partner, and they were supportive about my getting an MBA. A while later, I decided to really do it and I started searching.
The first thing that turns up on Google is the Financial Times rankings. That’s where I started. That’s the first time I heard about TRIUM. I made a short list of a few schools: INSEAD’s EMBA program, IMD, LBS, and TRIUM. I got some brochures, and made some phone calls to figure out what it’s all about. I immediately saw that it’s a big workload to apply. You have to make it a priority, and go for one school at a time. Then, if you don’t succeed, go for another one. I started with TRIUM. And they chose me!
I really like the idea of a multi-school program. Getting the best of the best got my attention. LSE is well known as a brilliant school for economics and the macro picture. NYU-Stern is known for finance, and HEC-Paris for their strength in marketing, for instance. The program’s practicalities – module lengths and program timeline – were also appealing.
I had very high expectations about the program, the professors, and the content. It’s quite expensive and time consuming. I didn’t think much about the other students, aside from expecting a lot of them to be managers and leaders. We met for first time in the autumn of 2009, in London. Was it love at first sight? I’m tempted to say yes. I had no expectations to get close friends from TRIUM, but that’s what happened. We knew it would be challenging, and we all arrived with anxiety. But we had a surprisingly good time. We worked hard during the day, and had a good time during the nights. We really got to know each other well. The 65 of us are from about 30 countries.
My classmates’ personalities have been more important than their positions. It is about finding the right “chemistry” between people rather then looking for the most “important” ones. To know that you know people in relevant positions around the globe is useful. I was surprised at the range of careers we have – from leaders in very central positions in large global companies, to people who built their own career and firm. It’s not possible to say that those within a large entity are more valuable than the others. It’s down to their personality. We’ve done business together. We’ve seen business opportunities together. And we see the light at the end of the tunnel now (that the program is almost over).
It’s not an easy choice, because all three of the schools are brilliant, but LSE was my favorite. We met for the first time in London, and the insight and learning from that module, in terms of understanding macroeconomics, politics and things going on in the world, was really useful to me.
In terms of socializing, China was the best module. It was my first time in China. Shanghai is an amazing city with many opportunities. The China module and India module are a little less tough. There’s a bit less work. We had time to look around, to visit companies, and experience the country.
Another important part of TRIUM is personal development – how you look at yourself as a manager or leader. Learning about other people, and how to do business in other parts of the world was especially important. I thought I knew more about this than I did. I’ve worked in many countries in Europe and Africa, but still there is a lot to learn, especially in Asia.
TRIUM isn’t a fixed workload throughout. You have pre-module work, which is a lot of reading and some exercises. Then, you’re away for two weeks. One important learning from our first module was to tell your colleagues at home, ‘when I’m on TRIUM, I’m on TRIUM. You can copy me on an email, but it isn’t fair to expect me to do anything.’ After each module, we came home with a huge workload and projects. In the post-module period, we averaged 15-20 hours of work per week. When you submit your final, post-module project, you’d get a big package in the mail including your next pre-module work of reading. Pre-module work isn’t too bad – about ten hours a week. And during each module, we had a six-day week of classes over two weeks. We only had Sundays off. We’d be in class from 8:30 to 6:00 pm, and then, quite often, we had something to prepare for the next day. Sunday was typically spent preparing presentations.
I’d tell applicants to think really hard – do you have the time to spend on this (kind of program)? The time commitment is considerable. But if you do, you can earn it back ten times in terms of learning. If you have a very different background, like medicine or engineering, there’s a lot of new stuff. But with a business background, like mine, some of the subjects like finance were familiar. The net learning effect was a little less in those classes. But what I like about TRIUM is the way it combines macroeconomics with the more technical aspects of accounting, finance, or marketing.
I’ve been positively surprised by level of faculty. If you go on an ordinary MBA, the professors have read the books. If you go on TRIUM, these guys wrote the books and came up with many of the well-known theories. Many have board positions, are advisors to huge global businesses – they’ve done it! Even for me, working in an accounting audit firm, Dan Gode‘s course on accounting was quite tough. Also, the very last course, Bankruptcy, was quite tough. There was a lot to learn in three days. Most other students learn this stuff over a semester. We learned it in three days. Business-to-Business Marketing at HEC-Paris was also one of my favorites.
TRIUM has made me more open-minded. I’ve learned that very often there is no right or wrong solution. Things can be thought of in another way. In the b-2-b marketing course – this is what I typically do – we learned how to put yourself in your client’s shoes, how to package your services, and how to communicate with clients. In terms of leadership, I learned a lot. I have taken on a new position that will give me new challenges to cope with. I learned a lot about myself, so I feel more confident in these situations.
TRIUM isn’t a technical course – learn this, go home to apply it. It’s a big amount f knowledge that you have to take in, absorb, and then find your own way of using it. I’ve been able to apply my learning directly. The Doing Business in China course and module, in general, was very useful to me when one of my clients wanted to discuss the opportunity of outsourcing part of their business to China. Another example is the way we learned to structure our strategic thinking in the Competitive Strategy course. As a strategy consultant this knowledge has been “internalized” in the way I now work with clients in the field.
Honestly, there are not a lot of things I would change about TRIUM. The concept is good. The faculty is brilliant. And they are adaptive. If professors get bad feedback, I think they are changed out. They’ve made a seamless program between those schools. It’s impressive, and their administrative staff really works had to make everything run smoothly. But if I could change one thing, it would be that after our last module, we are not assigned post-module work. It’s hard to celebrate when you’ve got this amount of work to go home to after a module. TRIUM also has to be marketed even more. They need to make it better known. People typically emphasize the names of the three schools more than they do “TRIUM”.
I’ll see my classmates again in July at the program’s 10-year anniversary in Paris. Graduation is in London in September. Then, one of my good friends and classmates has taken an initiative to start “Module 7,” which isn’t a formal part of TRIUM, but will hopefully be an annual, long weekend event that includes some good speakers and hopefully faculty. It will help us to keep up our network and expand it. Our first Module 7 is planned for Lisbon in the spring or summer of 2012,
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