David Bach, Rio Tinto Chair in Stakeholder Engagement and Dean of Innovation and Programs, IMD Business School

David Bach is Professor of Strategy and Political Economy, Rio Tinto Chair in Stakeholder Engagement, and Dean of Innovation and Programs. He will assume the Presidency of IMD on 1st September 2024.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Higher Education Digest, David shared his professional trajectory, his vision and future plans for IMD, insights on the future requirements for business graduates, the best piece of advice he has ever received, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi David. Could you please share your background and your field of expertise?

Born and raised in a small town in Germany, I went to Yale for my undergraduate degree before earning a PhD in political science at the University of California, Berkeley. I then moved to Spain with my Spanish wife and started work at IE Business School in Madrid, before becoming Deputy Dean of the Yale School of Management in 2012, where I expanded the degree program portfolio, created Yale Center Beijing, and helped establish the Global Network for Advanced Management, an alliance of 32 top business schools. In 2020, I joined IMD as a Professor of Strategy and Political Economy and Dean of Innovation and Programs.

You have been recently appointed as the President at IMD. Can you tell us about your vision for the institute, and how you plan to achieve it?

I’ve always believed that what sets IMD apart from other business schools is its commitment to real learning and real impact. We care about practice and application. We help people think about big issues and we try to look forward, helping leaders and organizations to figure out how, say, the rise of AI, geopolitical tensions, or the workforce entry of Gen Z will impact them. Because learning and the learner are central at IMD, we are also spending a lot of time developing our pedagogy, leveraging technology and new teaching methods to make our programs more engaging and more personalized.

As President of IMD, I want to build on these remarkable strengths and further cement our reputation as a world leader in management education. What does this mean in practice? I want us to be the go-to institution for organizations to skill up and solve problems and be the most recognized for our applicability of insight, proximity to practice, and the ability to catalyze change.

Looking at the rapidly changing business environment, what are the future requirements for business graduates?

Leaders and organizations are facing unprecedented challenges that require fresh thinking and new approaches. This calls for a generation of reflective and responsible leaders; those who cultivate critical thought and self-awareness, and care as much about their impact on people and the planet as they do about the bottom line. In our degree programs, we do this by equipping students with the capabilities to integrate sustainability into both their careers and organizations.

What are some of the things you’re most excited about right now in your field?

As a strategy and political economy expert, I believe business leaders need to increasingly engage with a diverse set of stakeholders, not just to drive positive change for society and the planet but to maintain their social license to operate. With the rise of social media and technology, many stakeholders now have the tools to scrutinize organizations and hold people to account. Leaders today need to learn how to separate signal from noise and when to speak out and engage.

What are your views on leadership? How should university vice-chancellors and administrators ensure that their faculty members and students transform into world-class leaders?

We live in an age where the expectations of leaders and their organizations are greater than ever. Leaders are paid for being, not merely doing. They must embody and represent at all times the vision for the institution they lead. At IMD, in keeping with our purpose of ‘challenging what is and inspiring what could be, we develop leaders and organizations that contribute to a more prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable world’, that means not resting, always innovating, and being laser-focused on enabling our faculty and staff, our students and clients, and our alumni to have maximum impact.

In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Ted Snyder, the Dean of the Yale School of Management, hired me to help expand SOM’s portfolio of innovative and mission-aligned degree and non-degree programs. I learned many things from him, including the centrality of a bold vision and alignment with it. One simple piece of advice he gave me: ‘The optimal number of mistakes is not zero.’ If you aim for zero mistakes, you will never take risks, and all leadership involves calculated risk-taking. This also means that you have to have your people’s backs, always.

As an award-winning management professor, what are your suggestions to integrate quality and excellence at all levels of business education?

We tend to spend too much time on what we would like to teach (and how we would like to teach it) and not enough on what students need to learn and how they will learn it best. Learner-centricity is the key to excellence and impact.

How do you define success? What is your take on the ways to achieve long-term success?

For me, success is about impact, which is what makes me so grateful to be working at IMD. Our goal is that ambitious, impact-seeking faculty and staff will want to make IMD their professional home. If we can attract the best people, and set them up for success, we will thrive.

What are your passions outside of work?

One of the advantages of IMD is its incredible location next to Lake Geneva and close to the Alps. In my spare time, I love to head to the mountains to ski with my family. During the summer, inflating a paddle board and getting out on the lake, looking at the mountains from the water, is just balm for the soul.

Where would you like to be in the next 5 years?

Leading the world’s most impactful business school!

What is the one piece of advice that you can share with other professionals in your industry?

Never forget the personal sacrifices many students make to join our institutions. They invest time, money, emotions, and energy, and we owe it to them to give our very best, every time, to help them achieve their potential and to make their contribution to the more prosperous, sustainable, and inclusive world that we all desire.

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