At the end of March, as a result of the global pandemic, Cambridge MBA Class of 2019 student, Matt Lisonbee, started an initiative that was later voted by the student body as the ‘Best Covid-19 Initiative’. This initiative, called the “CJBS Leadership Series”, featured business leaders from around the world that spoke to the cohort in an intimate, online environment. We spoke with Matt about his experience in developing and executing this impactful initiative.

What was the leadership series?

This initiative consisted of a series of weekly high-profile guest speakers from around the world that taught, motivated, uplifted, and inspired the MBA cohort. The Leadership Series also had special edition nights, featuring alumni and leaders that either graduated or failed a business during the 2008 financial crisis.  The series of speakers provided an informal environment to interact and learn from these inspirational leaders.

Who spoke across the series of events?

We featured speakers from all parts of the globe in all industries, including the CEO and Founder of Qualtrics, Ryan Smith; Chief Transformation Officer of the world’s second largest luxury brand – Richemont, Frank Vivier; Maya Mikhailov, Co-founder and CMO of GPShopper, a Synchrony Financial company; Karel Janeček, a Czech Republic mathematician; entrepreneur, anti-corruption campaigner and author, Tom Dickson, Founder of Blendtec; and many more incredible people.

What was the inspiration and drive behind bringing this series of speakers together?

The reality of the pandemic sweeping over the globe was setting in. It was around midnight; I couldn’t sleep as I felt a rush of energy that something needed to be done, to bring some form of hope and motivation to myself, and my classmates, as our world had just turned upside down. The idea started out as a class webinar to bring the class together, where a few students could share their inspiring stories during this time of difficulty – an opportunity to unite together as a cohort.  I spoke with a group of classmates and they expanded upon the idea, and together with their great help we kicked-off an event, which ultimately led into the series of speakers.

Was the unique timing of this series more important than ever?

I believe the timing is what made it as successful as it was. This was launched towards the end of March, just as the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were beginning to be put into place in the UK, and elsewhere. This was exactly when we were starting the Cambridge MBA Global Consulting Project (GCP), arguably the best project of the Cambridge MBA programme, that many students look forward to immensely.  All of a sudden, these projects were getting cancelled, loved ones at home were at risk for their health, markets were crashing before our eyes, we were seemingly confined to our rooms, and the very essence of why we came here, what so many of us sacrificed, so much for years to be a part of, was taken away from us.  We were all feeling different levels of emotional stress, fear and uncertainty of what was to come and being so far away from our loved ones.  The Leadership Series was launched right at the heart of this emotional time and gave, at least for me, something to look forward to, something to pull my attention away from the bad news, and into an environment of safety, fun and encouragement.

Has the Leadership Series and your consequent ‘Leadership Award’ from your peers, helped you with your personal post-MBA career goals?

It has been impactful with my personal career goals, and it is a nice conversation topic around my Cambridge MBA, but what is even more impactful, is being able to talk about the amazing efforts among our own MBA cohort.  I was able to work with, and watch, so many others in the MBA Class of 2019/20 rise up; I witnessed their true leadership capabilities shine forth. Other great initiatives were created as well, that were all very impactful. Most cohorts learn how to deal with crisis and how to pivot while in the classroom, but we’ve had, and have, the unique opportunity to put our learnings into practice.  It was a special opportunity to witness leaders emerge from our class in real-time in all different ways – simple and large. 

The CJBS cohort, which I’m calling ‘Cohort Pandemic’, is truly unique. There is no doubt that this cohort will be a particularly impactful group, that will change our world in ways we’ve never seen, and I just feel grateful to be among such a group of peers.