Author: Joseph Cassidy

Exploring Leadership at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

The Cass Full-time MBA cohort at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

As I approach three months at Cass, one key pillar of the School’s philosophy continues to become more and more apparent. There is some education that requires that you leave behind your textbooks and go out into the world. What’s more, some of the most impactful learning can happen when you go to the places where that learning is most valued.

Take, for example, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the venue of Cass’s  professional development week.

Sandhurst is the training academy for all British Army officers. With the motto “Serve to Lead,” the Academy develops military leadership that is grounded in the service of others. If you are first discovering Sandhurst in this blog post, I do suggest that you read further about the Academy’s unique value system and its transformative impact on leadership. Or, you could just enroll in Cass’s Full-time MBA, where you can experience Sandhurst’s ethos firsthand.

The ‘Achieving Your Potential’ professional development week functions more as a leadership retreat than as a traditional professional development workshop. While we participated in lectures and discussions that focused on fundamental themes of leadership and followership, what made the three-day trip incredible were the many opportunities to put these themes into practice on the grounds of one of the world’s most celebrated leadership institutions.

I must admit I am sworn to a certain degree of secrecy regarding the details of the week. Cass’s partners at the Inspirational Development Group (IDG), who designed and led the week’s activities, made us guarantee that we would not give away too much about the individual activities, for the sake of future Cass MBA students. What happens at Sandhurst must stay at Sandhurst, if you will.

But I can say that IDG does an outstanding job of integrating Sandhurst’s military leadership roots, storied history and breathtaking grounds into a series of experiential learning opportunities that illuminated our strengths, weaknesses and potential as leaders and team members.

We were placed into teams at the start of the week, largely with cohort members whom we had not yet worked with in our studies. This allowed us to start afresh, with no team roles established or expectations to build on. We could be aspirational when approaching each activity, experimenting with the sort of leaders and team members that we wanted to be.

As one might expect from a retreat at a military academy, we were asked to stretch ourselves both physically and mentally. There was more than one hill to climb and heavy thing to carry.

But these challenges developed a certain camaraderie within the teams and the cohort at large that we simply could not have built in a lecture hall or study room.  We had to lean on each other in ways we normally would not need to in an academic setting.

Aside from the real leadership development that I gained through our trip to Sandhurst, this sustained period of cohort-wide camaraderie was also an outstanding chance to see how we function as a group when we are together around the clock. With international consultancy week and the international electives looming in the spring, it has been great to see that we can depend on each other from sun up to sun down (as well as toast our successes at the hotel bar after hours).

Although I am sure it is impossible to fully espouse Sandhurst’s “Serve to Lead” ethos in just three days of professional development, I do think our ability to depend upon each other was strengthened by the fact that it was acquired at an academy so committed to selflessness. It is also a learning you do not usually associate with leadership development workshops.

Such workshops usually focus on I, rather than we. How can I be more influential or motivating or respected? That simply is not how the Royal Military Academy views leadership, and they know a thing or two about how great leaders work in some of the most challenging of situations.

The ‘Achieving Your Potential’ week was one of my favorite experiences provided by Cass thus far, because I was able to explore this powerful and unique perspective on leadership at an institution I may never have been able to visit otherwise.

Cass recognises that such opportunities are some of the best for real, transformative learning. I look forward to seeing where the programme takes us to next.

Joseph Cassidy
Full-time MBA (2018)

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.

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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