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Winning Strategies in the New Business Landscape

More than 300 Alumni flew in from as far away as Hong Kong, Dubai and the U.S. to be part of RSM’s 2nd annual Leadership Summit, themed ‘Winning Strategies in the New Business Landscape,’ which was held on Friday 8 October 2010 in the World Trade Center Rotterdam.

The Leadership Summit is one of the RSM events spearheaded by Dean George Yip over the past two years, part of his overall goal of opening up a dialogue between the world’s most influential business practitioners, RSM’s top academics, the school’s alumni and students, and the City of Rotterdam.

The topics chosen by the four business leaders who spoke at the Summit, indicated that they had been dealing with new dynamics and new strategies over the past several years, and had discovered various means of sustaining their organisations’ success.

Greg Farrett, the Executive Director Corporate Communications and Public Affairs of GE International discussed GE’s long and short term strategies. “We’re a company with a history of innovation,” he said, referring to the venerable company’s original innovator – Thomas Edison, developer of the light bulb. Today, ‘reverse innovation’ is one of GE’s strongest strategies: adopting low-cost, fully-featured product innovations from developing markets to create new price points and new markets across the board.

Josette de Goede, Executive Director of RSM’s Executive Education and Organisational Development department, followed Farrett. She offered a brief presentation about an HR innovation: Sustainable succession. This is no longer just for those at the very top of an organisation, she says. In today’s more mobile world of work, in which the average young manager will have seven jobs during their career, succession is an important consideration for everyone in an organisation.

René Hooft Graafland, CFO of Heineken and member of its Executive Board – as well as being part of RSM’s Advisory Board – was interviewed by Prof. dr. Dirk Brounen of RSM in a theatrical, entertaining presentation regarding the management of short and long term performance. The two sat at a picknick table, drinking – not surprisingly – from iconic green bottles of Heineken beer while discussing the facts about the company (for example: 150,000 glasses of a Heineken beverage are consumed every minute worldwide; of those, only 17% are Heineken beer itself, the rest are local brands.) After 8 years as CFO, Graafland is not frightened by debt, which “brings discipline,” he says. However, he feels that those who spend a long period in a job “tend to work on auto-pilot,” and that it is important to challenge oneself to forget what has been done in the past, “to stretch and reinvent yourself.”

Egbert van Acht, EVP BU Leader Health & Wellness, Philips Consumer Lifestyle, discussed the marketing transformation of Philips. “This is a story about a marketing transformation, but also about a big cultural shift in Philips, the reinvention of the company over the past 5-6 years. And it’s a story about a strategy shift – we had to go from recovery to growth, and sustainable growth.” In 2002, the company had over 400 brands or logos, and a lot of market confusion; further the company was focused on technological advancement for its own sake – it had left the consumer largely out of the loop. With ‘Sense and Simplicity’, Philips found not only a compelling story for consumers, but a total internal culture shift: now there are only 5 or 6 clearly branded product divisions, meetings take a maximum of 30 minutes, design is focused on the consumer and must be ‘easy to experience,’ and “every day we ask ‘What have you done to simplify today?’ of our employees,” said Van Acht.

Chris Zook, Partner at Bain & Company and best-selling author of the ‘strategy trilogy’ Profit from the Core, Beyond the Core, and Unstoppable, was the final speaker. They key to sustained success now and in future? “Speed and repeatability are the key,” he said, because in a ever-faster and more complex world, aligning repeatable (and successful) business models with speed is essential. He used the very Dutch example of the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, calling it “a cathedral of repeatability” in which a rose that was picked yesterday in Kenia will find its way to a vase in your own home today.

The event wrapped up with a drawing for autographed copies of Mr. Zook’s latest book, Profit from the Core, and with Dean Yip thanking the speakers, participants, and the Leadership Summit’s sponsors ABN AMRO, KLM and McGrawHill.