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Toan Do

St. Gallen Symposium: The Perfect Culmination of My Yale SOM Journey

Master of Advanced Management alumnus Toan Do ’19 discusses how he applied his classroom learning to present solutions to the problem of short-termism to leaders from around the world at the St. Gallen Symposium.

When I told people outside of the Yale SOM community that I was working on my Master of Advanced Management degree, the reaction that I often received was, “You got an MBA, from Hitotsubashi ICS and now an advanced degree—do they teach you how to earn even more money?” I always answer with a big smile and say, “I guess the ‘advanced’ part in our program does not mean earning more money for myself, but going beyond that: earning money more responsibly with the societal considerations in the back of our mind.” That is what Yale SOM is all about, and that was also what the St. Gallen Symposium was all about.

The St. Gallen Symposium is an annual event held in the beautiful city of St. Gallen, Switzerland, to facilitate discussion among corporate leaders, world think tanks, academics, governors, and graduate students. Each year, a pressing issue is chosen to be the main theme of the three-day conference. In 2019, the 49th St. Gallen Symposium, the topic was “Capital for Purpose,” addressing the ubiquitous short-termism in our world today.

When a St. Gallen’s representative first came to Yale SOM and introduced this year’s topic, I immediately knew that I had to join the event, as I deeply care about how the business world can be more impactful to society. To get the invitation from the St. Gallen’s Wings of Excellence Academic Jury to participate in the symposium as one of 100 Leaders of Tomorrow (LoT), one must write a 2,100-word essay, proposing a solution to the problem the annual symposium seeks to address. I decided to cut my winter break short by two weeks to focus on my research. To come up with a thorough solution, I traced back the root causes of the current short-termism trend and learned that the problem does not only lie in top management roles, but also exists in the public perception of businesses. Isolated best practices of CSV (creating shared values) and impact investing firms cannot solve this deeply rooted problem. Instead, we need to have a more systematic solution, and that is why I proposed that governments should play a more active role by changing their taxation systems.

Fortunately, the idea was appreciated by the academic jury of the St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award, comprising around 40 to 50 judges, and they ranked my proposal among the top three winners from almost 800 applicants this year. This also meant that I was chosen to present my idea in front of around 700 guests—world leaders, prestigious professors, and the brightest graduate students from all around the world. This honor was both exciting and nerve-racking to me. Every day after the announcement of my achievement, I woke up asking myself, “Is this for real?” and then freaked out a bit: “I will be representing Yale at St. Gallen. Am I smart enough?”

But things turned out fine at the conference. Under the great facilitation skills of Linda Hill, professor of business and administration at Harvard Business School, and Riz Khan, former CNN and BBC journalist, I was able to successfully deliver my pitch. The moment people gathered after the sessions and told me how they liked my idea and shared their thoughts on how to make it work was the moment I knew that my two weeks locking myself in Cushing Library to fully immerse myself in the topic—using the materials I got from the SOM course Japanese Business and Economy, global business classes led by professors Yoshi Fujikawa and Nawa Takashi at Hitotsubashi University Business School, and SOM Professor David Bach’s Global Leadership: Big Issues class—had paid off.

Beyond the presentations, the St. Gallen Symposium gave me a huge opportunity to interact with the world’s top-notch leaders as well as young entrepreneurs who aspire to change their communities for the better. I met a nurse in Japan who is working on improving mental health for children, a young entrepreneur who is trying to help North Korea integrate more into the world (he actually brought four representatives from the country to the symposium), and a coach who is bridging the gap between fresh graduates and firms in Indonesia. All of these interactions inspired me to be a mindful leader when I come back, a takeaway that resonates well with the mission of Yale SOM and Hitotsubashi.

I went to Switzerland to exchange ideas, and what I got was even more valuable: a motivation to take action. As Jason George, the event’s host, said when he concluded the 49th Symposium, “The world does not lack good ideas; it lacks good implementors.”