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Honours students advise horticultural companies in 30-hour hackathon

Honours students from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) surprised ten innovative Dutch horticultural companies by producing creative, applicable solutions for some of their pressing business challenges in just 30 hours. The ‘hackathon’ took place in the World Horti Center in the Netherlands in December 2017.



Among the forty students was Lorenzo Magagnin, a second-year student in RSM’s BSc in International Business Administration programme. He dived head-first into the unfamiliar world of tropical plants and, together with his team, advised the company to slowly merge with its competitors to create more bargaining power in the competitive plant market.

“I really did not have many expectations, mainly because I had little familiarity with the world of horticulture,” he says. The company he was assigned, Forever Plants Group (FP), a green and flowering potted plants grower, faced a complex problem, he soon learned.

“FP’s business is at its apex currently, in terms of profits, but both the owner and the manager are experiencing a lack of bargaining power relative to their buyers, mainly export companies and retailers. These bigger players have little switching costs and as such have high bargaining power when it comes to price, limiting FP’s influence,” Magagnin explained.

Slow merger

The team decided to tackle the problem from several sides: company culture, and generational challenges as the company is family-owned. It also explored the possibilities that mergers and acquisitions might offer.

The solution they proposed was a business model transformation, in which competing family businesses in the Dutch Westland would eventually come together to form a unique entity, having more collective purchase power and a better position to negotiate.

The solutions, while business-smart, might be met with resistance in the strong company culture that is, as with many family-owned businesses, rooted in a long tradition.

Four steps

To overcome such barriers, the RSM bachelor students then suggested to execute the merger in steps. Their proposed model suggests to form a learning joint venture first, followed by a marketing and sales joint venture, then a financial merger, and ultimately a full merger between the competitors.

“The innovation would be in the transition between the third and fourth phase, where the competitors, already financially merged, would go public together, maintaining their greenhouses and renting them out them to the financial institution, while still operating them and receive ‘rent’ from the bank in return,” said Magagnin. He added this approach had the potential to reduce friction with existing company culture.

Erik Persoon, owner of Forever Plants Group, said the proposal was “very confronting, but enormously inspirational.” He added: “We showed them around in our company and they had clearly listened to us carefully. In such a short period they managed to come up with a long-term plan. For us, this also presents a great opportunity to introduce high-potential students to the horticultural industry.”

Follow-up

The company has invited Magagnin and his colleagues back for a follow-up presentation in January. Magagnin said the effort has already paid off: “I learned many things in so little time. In the RSM Honours Programme we have the chance to work with the brightest students of RSM, which is a great learning and development opportunity. Interacting directly with company representatives and seeing that our work could actually be implemented makes this really exciting and rewarding.”

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China. www.rsm.nl

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Ramses Singeling, Media Officer for RSM, on +31 10 408 2028 or by email at singeling@rsm.nl.

 

Photo hackathon: Rolf van Koppen

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