“CEOs exist to LEAD, not MANAGE Companies”. Such words couldn’t have rung truer during the recent Cass Business School MBA strategy lecture with guest speaker Mr. Federico Minoli.

The former Chief Executive Officer of the esteemed motorcycle brand, Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A – Mr. Minoli played a decisive role in steering the company from the brink of bankruptcy to setting the foundation for Ducati to enjoy sustained, superior growth in 2001.

Key facets of Mr. Minoli’s management doctrine include, but are not limited to, leading with passion, a strong focus on research and innovation, along with an indomitable spirit to continually challenge existing paradigms. However, the key message of this briefing was that an organisation’s external growth is predicated on the fostering of a strong, unique company culture first.

Introducing General Holland Smith 

True to the overall Cass  ‘Leading the Adventure’ slogan, Mr. Minoli’s message and his leadership style recalls me to the four year contract I recently served as an officer in the US Navy.

As a veteran making the transition from the ‘Wardroom to the Boardroom’, Mr. Minoli’s experience and his message to the Cass MBA class shares various aspects with the leadership lessons of General Holland Smith.

General Smith

General Smith is revered in the Marine Corps as the ‘Father of Amphibious Warfare’ – bringing the US Marine Corps its own unique identity in the face of change and uncertainty during the Second World War.

General Smith grew as a passionate and committed leader within the ranks of the Marine Corps, during a time when the US Armed Forces were dominated by the ‘flag ranks’ of both the US Navy and the US Army.

These in turn viewed the US Marine Corps as a secondary, subordinate branch. General Smith challenged this subordination of the Marine Corps through not only his relentless advocacy for marines to lead amphibious assaults on foreign shores – but also through his strong demeanour, wherein he fostered a culture of intensity, motivation and camaraderie among the marines he led.

Whilst this aggressive advocacy and ‘unconventional’ strategy ruffled many feathers within the senior ranks of the navy and the army, these traits won General Smith the blessing of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to create an ‘Amphibious Corps’.

This in turn helped the Marine Corps grow into a military branch of its own – with its own distinct leadership and organisational culture that in turn is centred on an overall strategy of taking any fight to the shores of enemy nations.

Although marines in modern America come from all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures – they distinguish themselves every day through a commitment to the mission of the Marine Corps and a fierce loyalty to their brothers and sisters in arms.

Ducati’s ‘turnaround’ artist 

Similarly, Mr. Federico Minoli turned Ducati from a brand on the brink of bankruptcy within the motorcycle industry into a key player, with approximately ten per cent of the global market share at the time he left Ducati.

Whilst Ducati as a company was never lacking a strong product, the company in the past did not properly develop the brand image. Mr. Minoli decisively changed this for the better through the introduction of his ‘tribal’ company culture. Mr. Minoli envisioned the product of his company – the Ducati motorbikes as a ‘totem’, which would unite all the company’s customers through their loyalty to the Ducati motorbike.

Similar to the culture fostered in the US Marine Corps through General Smith – members of the Ducati ‘tribe’ come from all cultures and backgrounds, but are united in their passion for Ducati’s unique motorcycles.

These ‘tribal’ changes extended to the management ranks of Ducati – wherein motivation and a passionate commitment to the Ducati brand became traits that were screened in the hiring of potential managers.

This change in the management culture not only created a fierce loyalty to the company, but also empowered managers to serve as catalysts for positive change within Ducati. This in turn empowered employees of all ranks to work to become a part of something bigger than themselves.

Mr. Minoli’s strategy enabled Ducati to maintain its brand identity after it was acquired by Volkswagen Group in 2012. Despite being considered as an ‘underperforming’ brand by the company and talks of sale following Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal in 2015, Ducati has successfully proved its resilience to forced external changes through the strength of the ‘Tribal’ culture developed by Mr. Minoli.

This overall message of building a strong internal culture in order to grow an organisation is not a novel, nor a groundbreaking concept in the context of an MBA education.

However, as MBA students at Cass Business School, the examples and the legacies of both these outstanding leaders will continue to inspire my classmates and me to be catalysts of positive change as we enter the business world as leaders.

Written By: Oliver Yogananthan
Edited By: Bilal Ahmad, Nathan Griffiths, Cai Ling Soh and Tom Wooltorton.

Submitted on behalf of the Cass Full-time MBA class of 2018