Month: October 2017

Federico Minoli, Ducati’s “Turnaround Artist,” Guest Lectures MBA Strategy Course

Federico Minoli (Source Vimeo)

Last week’s strategy lecture began with a concession.

“There are people who study and talk about strategy,” admitted Dr. Paolo Aversa, Cass’s Senior Lecturer in Strategy, “and then there are people who create strategy.”

Moments later, Dr. Aversa introduced Federico Minoli, the former CEO & Chairman of Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A. Mr. Minoli is known internationally as a turnaround guru. Our pre-class reading included a 2002 Harvard Business School case study that documented the remarkable transformation of Ducati under his leadership. There is certainly a great deal to be learned from studying and discussing Minoli’s work. But nothing could compare to hearing Ducati’s story directly from Minoli himself.

Ducati, a pioneering motorcycle manufacturing firm with history rooted in Italian racing, was on the verge of bankruptcy when it was acquired by Texas Pacific Group in 1996. Mismanagement and international competition had reduced the Italian racing giant to a niche market position with rising costs.

Minoli was working in Boston at the time, specialising in turnaround management at Bain & Co. and had assisted Texas Pacific Group (TPG) with marketing due-diligence prior to the acquisition of Ducati. It was during this research that Minoli discovered the challenges facing Ducati: lack of management, weak distribution and inefficient production. It was also where he identified key areas of untapped opportunity.

Minoli’s reputation for turning around struggling companies was already well known. TPG offered him the CEO position knowing he had the strategic knowledge needed to transform Ducati, but Minoli knew that taking the position came with considerable risk.

Joining Ducati meant moving his family to Bologna, Italy, thousands of miles from their comfortable lives in Boston. The market forces that had produced Ducati’s decline were not going anywhere and there would be additional challenges in integrating a new management team into a company with a seventy-year legacy of running things a particular way.

Nonetheless, Minoli was driven by what he saw as unique strengths that Ducati’s former management had failed to leverage. A strong product was the backbone of Ducati’s history. That product strength had been reinforced by an exceptional research and development team. Even more important to Minoli’s decision to join Ducati was an outstanding brand with a rich history of quality and racing excellence.

Minoli had a revolutionary vision as to how to utilise that brand. He accepted the risk and moved halfway around the world to execute that vision. As Dr. Aversa noted, his journey would culminate in the creation of a new strategy and the renaissance of a historic firm.

Minoli’s lecture provided captivating insights into how strategies form in the real world. Less a product of theory or careful application of strategy principals, Minoli’s transformation of Ducati was the product of strict adherence to a singular understanding of Ducati’s business. They were not a metal-mechanical company. They were an entertainment company with motorcycles at their center. They could not compete with their competitors in manufacturing efficiency, but they could excel in building a brand community that leveraged Ducati’s unrivaled history of engineering and competitive excellence.

While rivals focused on building the most powerful or comfortable motorcycles at the lowest possible cost, Ducati focused on community building, developing experiences that allowed fans to connect more closely with a legendary racing team. Minoli developed a “World of Ducati” structure that provided unique entry points into the Ducati community. This structure was self-reinforcing, renewing the passion of community members with each subsequent experience.

“This was not a matter of selling an object,” Minoli explained. “This was a matter of selling and sharing the same passion.”

Minoli and his team had reoriented Ducati around what would become known as neo-tribal management. Customers became tribe members. Marketing activities became rituals. Races became opportunities to grow the tribe and develop new passion within the community.

The results speak for themselves. In just five years, revenues quadrupled, EBITDA had almost doubled and Ducati’s market share in the sports bike segment had increased by more than 30 per cent. Minoli’s work at Ducati is now celebrated as an example of a successful corporate turnaround through managerial focus.

I connected with the Federico Minoli of 1996, comfortably living in the U.S., but with a drive for a new challenge. Just three months ago, I too was living and working in America, worried about the risks of picking up my life and moving to London and Cass Business School.

Today, I am so glad I accepted that risk. The challenge of returning to business school was outweighed by the considerable opportunities offered at Cass. One such opportunity: that of learning from a legendary strategic mind like Federico Minoli, has already paid dividends in my growth and understanding of how strategy is created in practice.

Joseph Cassidy
Full-time MBA (2018)


Gavetti, G. 2002. Ducati. Harvard Business School Case Study. Ref # 9-701-132.

Why do you want to do an MBA (at Cass)?

Why do you want to do an MBA? Why do you want to be part of this picture?

This is a question you should ask yourself over and over again. You should not only be able to answer this question in your application, to your interviewer, your employer, your friends and family but most of all to yourself.

Why is it you’re willing to pay £41,000 for the Cass MBA or even more so at other institutions, accompanied by the loss of salary, taking out a year or two from your career depending on the programme to face uncertainty ahead? Is this really what you want?

The reason this is important is because if you’re making a half-hearted decision, you’re not only wasting your time and money, but an opportunity for another amazing candidate who could have contributed to this class. In a place like Cass where the full-time MBA cohort is made up of just about 75 students, every single counts. Every single one of us is responsible for more than 1.3% of the success of the programme. So, think carefully before you take on this responsibility for yourself and others.

What are the right reasons to make the jump then?

Some people want to move upward in the hierarchy or possibly into a better company doing something very similar, seeking the academic credential to give them that little extra opportunity. I once thought that was the main reason why people went onto study for an MBA. I therefore dismissed the possibility of doing one myself a few years ago, as I saw myself steadily climbing up the ranks without those three letters. I had decided, it was too late for me to reap the benefits of an MBA. Looking at my cohort now though, surprisingly few are here for general career progression.

Why is it then that I’m doing a full-time MBA now, leaving behind a good mid-level managerial role with six-figure salary and possibly prospects of further promotions ahead?

In my case, it was realising after I had achieved long-awaited promotion, I had long waited for to materialise, I still wasn’t where I wanted to be; rather where I wanted to be was not  further up but actually somewhere completely different. It’s in that moment I recognised I needed a bigger change than what the inside of the building I was working in could offer. Like many in my cohort, what I’m seeking is not only a vertical move but a horizontal move (or diagonal? Who knows!). Whereto? That’s one of the questions I’d like to answer during my MBA. I think this is true for most of my cohort.

Some even venture into what our careers team call the triple jump: a change in industry, function AND location, not even knowing where that jump is meant to take them to. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No.

The MBA is exactly the right place for that. A year full of opportunities and chances to discover new things through your studies, even more through your fellow students, professors and through all the networking activities you should undertake from Day 1 to ensure you maximise the return on this big risk you had the courage to take.

Once you’re certain about your first answer – “Yes! I want to do an MBA!”, then the second question will be: where should you do it? The first thing everyone will look at is the MBA rankings. I won’t deny I looked at those as a minimum criteria of places I would possibly want to go to. Cass Business School’s full-time MBA ranks 37th globally, 13th in Europe and 1st for London 1-year MBAs in the FT ranking. It also ranks 1st in corporate strategy globally thanks to our Course Director Professor Paolo Aversa. It was definitely ticking the boxes.

Now, as a small disclaimer, I am already a City University graduate having completed my MA in Creative Writing in 2016. That’s probably how I probably got my first glimpse of Cass Business School, even though of course, being a long-time Londoner, I knew of its existence long before.

It was however, nothing more than a name, until I participated in the CityStarters Weekend, which is aimed not only at Cass students but open to all City University postgrad students. It was during that weekend, pitching and working through a start-up idea, with people I had met for the very first time, that I felt the entrepreneurial spirit of Cass, embodied by Aurore Hochard (Head of Entrepreneurship Programmes at Cass Business School) for the very first time. I’ll never forget the positive energy, full of students and mentors, who made me believe anything was possible.

At the end of it, there could only be one winning idea, one team that took home £3,000. But there was no denying that all of us had grown a little bit in those 2.5 days. Ever since that day, Cass Business School had a special place in the back of my mind. Even if I don’t want to be an entrepreneur (or maybe I want to be and just don’t know yet?), having an entrepreneurial mind-set is useful in any setting.

Cass does have a focus on Entrepreneurship (MSc Entrepreneurship, CityStarters Weekend, Cass Entrepreneurship FundCass Entrepreneurs Network etc.) which is again reflected in its high ranking in the subject (7th globally and 2nd in Europe). This won’t only be helpful for people who want to start their own business. This means Cass is a safe place where ideas, creativity and individual business thinking are encouraged and supported. So, when the day came when I reconsidered business schools, it was the very first place I went looking.

Apart from that very personal experience, there are a few other reasons that made me want to go to Cass. As I mentioned before, it was high enough in the rankings to make the cut as a “good school”. This doesn’t only matter because of the quality of teaching or the facilities but because all the other people will be looking at exactly the same thing and your future cohort will be equally aiming high in the league table for institutions to go to. It shapes the calibre of people applying and coming in. As my primary interest was to stay in London or at least nearby in the UK, it put Cass high on my list too.

What made Cass stand out in particular was the class size. As I said, Cass’s Full-time MBA class is around 75 students. Compared to many other business schools (who shall remain unnamed here) that is absolutely tiny. Whether that’s a good thing or not may be up to your way of thinking. If you believe that makes the alumni network smaller, then you’re right. We might have less clout in the world. Fair enough. For me, it meant I would probably get to know every single one in my entire cohort easily and lasting bonds were likely to be born as we went through it all together. I already feel the especially strong bond with my first team (among them a British senior biochemistry lecturer, a PE investment analyst from New Zealand and a Turkish government competition expert just to name half of them and give you a feel of the diversity) that I’m working together with through Block 1 and 2.

I also believe that as a thriving school, eagerly making its way up the league table, would give quality attention and dedication to each student individually because the success of the school really depended on all of us getting through it and having a good story to tell in the future. If any one of us did extremely badly, unlike in a cohort of 500 students, it would matter.

My theory was only that, a theory, but one that has now been confirmed and proven every single step of the way. From the moment I sent out my CV for consideration (a step taken when you’re a late applicant and want to know whether you have any chance at all), the whole administration team was absolutely brilliant and supportive. Even as an applicant, I didn’t feel like a number but someone they cared about, someone they wanted to find out more about to know whether I’d be a good fit for the school.

My interview with Professor Meziane Lasfer was the highlight of it all. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t a brilliant undergraduate student back in the days, I never really connected with my professors, nor did I ever feel like it mattered to them. With Professor Lasfer, it was a completely different experience, starting with “I don’t want you to think of this as an interview.” No, it really wasn’t. It was much more a free discussion, a chance to get to know each other better and making sure that it was the right decision on both sides. I left the interview invigorated, wanting to get accepted more than anything else.

We’re almost at the end of our first Block (out of four) in our MBA now. The first few weeks is especially a time of immense adjustments in all our lives. Compared to many others in my cohort who had to adapt to life in the UK, a new apartment, a new everything, the changes for me were rather tame. And yet, it’s still a lot to take in. Just because we’re all MBA students, doesn’t mean we’ll all love each other and be friends. Just because we paid £41,000, doesn’t mean we’ll automatically enjoy every class we’re being taught. Just because we thought we knew why we’re doing an MBA when we applied, we don’t wake up every day feeling amazingly happy, thinking “Yes! This is it!”

But that’s ok. You will make friends, you will learn, you will be challenged (especially with the things you don’t necessarily like) and you will discover new things about yourself. That’s what the MBA is all about for me right now: feeling uncomfortable and out of my depth every day and yet having the necessary support from everyone around me (students, administration, careers team and professors) to get through it and come out the other end as a better, fuller version of myself. 

When I started my MBA, I had a look through all the electives and thought I had it all figured out. With every passing week, those thoughts have been changing and now I’m considering taking up a few I never even considered to be real subjects before. So, while you should have good reasons to start an MBA, beware that once you start it, it might be completely different. In a good way.

If your reason to study an MBA is that you wish for a change in your life, that’s a good start but also a dangerous one. Ask yourself: what is the change you really want? If you’re looking for a quick and easy fix for a bad situation, then I’d advise you to turn around right now and reconsider your choice. Because nothing about the MBA is quick, nothing about it is easy and it comes at a cost that is much bigger than just the £ price tag to it, if it’s not what you really want to do with conviction. If you run away from the problems in your own life, then an MBA is not for you. But if you know you want a change because you’ve been charging on, want to keep on doing so but possibly in a different way and haven’t quite figured out how, then this might be the place for you.

Akane Vallery Uchida
Full-time MBA (2018)

Learning from the Man Who “Wrote the Book” on Strategy

Cass full time MBA cohort with Professor Robert M. Grant

Professor Robert M. Grant of Bocconi University in Milan, who visited Cass this month as a guest lecturer of Strategic Management, literally wrote the book on strategy.

As the author of our strategy textbook, Grant is a global thought leader in strategic management. He has faculty experience at London Business School, Georgetown, California Polytechnic, University of British Columbia and University of St. Andrews. He also gained his PhD at Cass Business School and is currently a visiting professor.

Grant’s lecture discussed the merits of resources and capabilities analysis. This was a particularly insightful lecture to receive directly from Grant, as he is globally recognized for his advocacy of the resource/capability-based approach to strategy.

Grant was one of the first to question the traditionally held view that a firm’s profitability is primarily derived from external industry forces. His textbook advocates for forming a strategy founded upon a firm’s internal resources. Grant’s lecture was a remarkable opportunity to hear his rationale firsthand.

We prepared for the class by completing a resources and capabilities analysis of Cass Business School’s MBA program. This was an interesting application of the learnings we acquired from reading Grant’s textbook. It also developed a unique perspective into how Cass differentiates itself within the larger MBA landscape.

The lecture began by discussing the origins of the “resource-based view” (RBV) of the firm, which Grant developed after noting that empirical evidence did not consistently support the view that external forces drive profitability. We noted examples of failed firms who unsuccessfully chased industry trends and successful firms that followed their unique capabilities into new, more profitable market spaces.

We then applied our discussion and our prepared R&C analysis to a class-wide discussion of Cass’s resources and capabilities. We first identified resources and capabilities that dictate success within the larger MBA industry and then rated Cass’s positioning relative to the one-year European MBA market.

The conversation was spirited, with each of us expressing our views as to what is most important about an MBA degree and where Cass’s strengths lie. By selecting an industry that each of us felt such a personal investment in, Grant was able to illustrate the challenges of removing subjectivity and emotion from resources and capabilities analysis.

The reality was that each of us selected Cass for a specific reason and we all felt that our personal reason represented Cass’s most important strength. It was only after Grant and our professor, Dr. Paolo Aversa, reminded of us of the importance of backing each of our opinions with data and fact that we began to develop a cohesive ranking system.

Of course, a comprehensive resources and capabilities analysis should take weeks, if not longer, to conduct. A two hour simulation of the process primarily served to demonstrate just how difficult assigning consistent quantifiable valuations of individual resources and capabilities can be.

Nonetheless, I found the activity to be eye-opening. I had read Grant’s description of the process and seen its practical application to specific business scenarios in our textbook. Yet, to be guided through the development of a strategy framework by the professor who developed the framework in the first place is an opportunity few students receive.

The Financial Times ranked Cass MBA first in the world in corporate strategy in 2017. In just a few short weeks of strategy coursework, I am beginning to understand why.

Dr. Aversa develops his teachings using insights from his own research as well as that of the leading minds in strategy management. The fact that he has been able to coordinate regular visits from someone like Robert Grant is a testament to his department’s focus on thought leadership when developing curriculum.

I was impressed not only by Grant’s logic when promoting his RBV framework, but also by his willingness to share his insights with students here at Cass. Clearly, his professional objective is to both develop new strategic insights and to pass those insights on to a broad generation of future business leaders.

As someone who is particularly interested in a career in strategy, I found these insights valuable in my personal professional development. In addition, I look forward to having the opportunity of sharing with potential employers the fact that I received strategy instruction from Professor Robert Grant, who wrote the book on the subject.

Joseph Cassidy
Full-time MBA (2018)

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