Five minutes with Dominique Turpin

Dominique Turpin, IMD President and Nestlé Professor.

Dominique Turpin

Who is the inspiration behind your many academic and business achievements?

One of my great uncles lived in Asia from the late 1920s until the late 1960s running a successful business between India, Hong Kong and Japan. As a kid, he kept me very interested in that part of the world. I always believed that Asia would become a major source of growth opportunities for many businesses, including a not-for-profit organisation like IMD.

Hong KongIt’s very much thanks to him that I went to Japan to study for my PhD (a rarity in those days); and joined IMD in the mid 1980s – at a time when Japan was at its peak and Japanese companies were trying to conquer the world. Today, IMD is by far the leading executive education school for Japanese companies. One of my closest competitors recently asked me how IMD had achieved such a strong position in Japan, I replied that he could start by learning the language. Obviously, If I had to do it again, I would pick up the Chinese language! 

You became IMD President in 2010. Of which achievements during your time as President so far are you most proud?

Dominique TurpinTo keep IMD at the top, we kept our business model focused on executive education and today, we are the only business school in the world that derives over 90% of revenues from executive education. We have maintained our No.1 world position in the executive education rankings for seven years in a row, an accomplishment that is unique among business schools.

There are two other recent personal accomplishments of which I am particularly proud: one is IMD’s hub in Singapore opened a year ago. This hub enables us to diversify our clients’ base, serve Asian companies better and expose IMD faculty to this critical part of the world.

IMD Business SchoolSecondly, I am particularly proud to have convinced the top management of CISCO to grant IMD US$10 million to create the first research centre in the world to deal with all the non-technological implications of the ‘Internet of Things’. CISCO is based in Silicon Valley, so as a non-American school, we were not an obvious choice. This exclusive agreement with the world’s leading internet company gives IMD a superb edge in terms of access to top research, knowledge and reputation!

Why do you believe the case method is such a valuable teaching tool?

I was introduced to the case method thanks to a number of leading colleagues at IMD (including Kamran Kashani and Peter Killing, among others) who are masters in case writing and teaching. Among many things, I have always been impressed by the impact that good cases can have on executives. Here’s just one example: a few weeks ago, at Hong Kong airport, I met an IMD alumnus who had studied at IMD some 20 years ago and who could still remember a case I had used in one of my marketing classes! I doubt that a lecture would have had the same impact.

You have extensive international experience working with global brands and teaching in various institutions. Why do you see IMD as a ‘global meeting place’?

genevaWe live in a global world and I find many students (at least the ones we attract at IMD) to be very culturally sensitive. Every year, over 8,000 participants from around 100 countries attend an IMD executive programme. It means that we have become a global meeting place where cultural exchanges naturally happen! IMD is blessed to be based in Switzerland, a relatively small country (geographically speaking). If they wish to grow, Swiss companies (like Dutch, Danish, and Finnish companies) have no other choice than to export their products very early on.

My predecessor, Peter Lorange, noted that ‘executives from countries with a big home market like the US, India, China and Japan often think there is one right way of doing things: it is the way they do things in their market!’ Of course, there is no right way! Even if we seem to live in a global village, everything depends on context.

If you could be transported into another profession for one week, which would you choose, and why?

wine bottlesI come from a long dynasty of French winemakers that goes back to the middle of the 16th century. I love the very rich wine culture: I still have fond memories of spending time with my grandfather when I was a kid; going through the vineyards and his cellars and helping during the harvests. Wherever I am in the world, when I find myself in a wine cellar, I can close my eyes and go back in time and feel close to my roots.


How do you relax?

I tend to be quite active but I very much like gardening: this is the most relaxing way for me to relax! 

Do you have a favourite quote or guiding principle?

I actually love quotes… but only the ‘real’ ones!  So many quotes have been misattributed, for example to Churchill, Einstein, Mark Twain etc – or simply invented! As a good scholar, I spend some of my free time finding the proper sources of these quotes. It is extremely time-consuming but fascinating. My collection grew from a dozen about 20 years ago, to about 9,500 today! As you can imagine, asking me to choose one in particular is a very challenging exercise.

Burrhus Frederic SkinnerHowever, since this interview is meant to be read by other educators, I would recommend this quote from Burrhus Frederic Skinner, an American psychologist (1904-1990) who wrote: ‘Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten’. This is from his book, Contigencies of Reinforcement, written back in 1969!

Dominique Turpin became IMD President in July 2010 and is also Nestlé Professor at IMD.


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