Reinventing business models with Big Data Analytics

From a business perspective, the purpose of Big Data Analytics is ultimately to improve competitiveness and impact by making better business decisions that can be acted upon. Such decisions are backed by relevant and reliable facts collected from a variety of sources, providing insights based on trends and patterns which the human brain would never have found, in turn enabling a predictive approach to decision-making.

Every single industry is impacted by Big Data Analytics as digital transformation accelerates. Individual companies and public organisations are trying to make sense of all the changes, determining which are opportunities and which are threats to their activities.

As entire industries reinvent themselves, taking advantage of data-driven business models, we decided at BSL to zoom in on a few sectors and invite guest speakers to help us understand the business challenges each faces as well as how Big Data Analytics is helping them find a path to resolution, sometimes by reframing the challenge.

  • As Public Healthcare seeks to improve our quality-adjusted life-years, Big Data Analytics help direct the right care to the right person at the right time. Treating illnesses earlier, sometimes even preventing them, positively impacts society and the economy. Kevin Dean, Managing Director of Smart Health Science Limited and former Director of the Genomics England Project, shared with us how Big Data Analytics is used to accelerate our medical understanding and decisions, thus improving lives and saving costs. One of the main challenges with these often decade-long projects is to balance what is viable with what is affordable – in other words, to prevent costs getting out of hand without steering away from the end goal. Finding immediate applications for the technology is a good way to improve affordability.
  • The Financial Services sector uses Big Data Analytics extensively to inform better investment decisions and to improve their client experience. Who better than the world’s largest asset management company to talk to us about Big Data? David Wright, BlackRock’s EMEA Head of Product Strategy for their Scientific Active Equity (SAE) Group, shared how self-learning algorithms are driving 1,000+ investment decisions daily for parts of BlackRock’s portfolio. To be able to do that, the algorithms analyse over 4,000 brokerage reports a day as well as transcripts of earnings calls, correlated with external data sources ranging from satellite imagery to consumer sentiment based on online search behaviour. Constructing better economic indicators whilst de-risking investments is the main goal.
  • A fascinating talk with Anne Mellano, co-founder of the Swiss startup BestMile, gave us insights into what Public Transportation will look like tomorrow. BestMile offer the world’s first Cloud platform for the operation and optimization of autonomous vehicle fleets. She shared with us today’s main public transportation challenge, which is that users need to adapt to what is offered, no personalisation is possible. Also, no matter how good the historical data, public transportation will always be planned based on past trends (pick-up locations, routes, timetables, capacity, etc.). BestMile are reframing the challenge by imagining an urban public transportation model which adapts to individual user needs through real-time routing and capacity management based on big data analytics feeds from various sources, including user devices such as smartphones. Sharing the mode of transportation will also help solve our urban congestion and pollution challenges.
  • With urban migration leading to >60% of the world’s population living in cities by 2050 (UN report), and with cities representing only about 2% of our available landmass, there are many challenges to be addressed urgently. Health, safety, movement, jobs, construction, education, entertainment and the list goes on. Nicola Villa, Global Leader of Digital Platforms for Government at IBM, shared with us the concept of the Cognitive City. A city where the Internet of Things (IoT) platforms are successfully addressing the various urban challenges and enabling us to shift from smart city to smart citizens. We are all co-responsible for the quality of life we aspire to in our cities around the world.

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  • Whatever the industry, tomorrow’s talent needs to be more agile, curious and collaborative than has been required in the past where the focus was more on hard skills. So, to wrap up our Big Data Analytics course, we invited an expert in Human Resources to share with us the role that technology is playing in redefining that industry. Paul Jacquin, Managing Partner of Randstad’s Innovation Fund, explained how recruiters are changing their approach to sourcing, screening and selecting the right talent. Increasingly, online tools based on self-learning algorithms are testing candidates, managing the hiring process and finding the best match with employers. Sometimes, it’s even the other way around with several employers bidding for the right candidate. Often we are victims of unconscious bias which leads to people hiring people like themselves. Also, the traditional application process of sending unsolicited CVs can be highly frustrating for candidates. And for employees, the cost of hiring the wrong person is very high. Big Data Analytics addresses all these issues, helping reduce the hiring timeline and the associated costs whilst finding the best candidate match.

Getting our BSL students ready for this changing digital world is paramount for their success and their ability to contribute to our collective future. This requires a sound understanding of the use and implications of Big Data Analytics. As one of the leaders at BlackRock says: “All employees are responsible for being students of technology”. That responsibility starts even before becoming an employee.

Author: Anja Langer Jacquin,
Professor at BSL

Sustainable Blue Ocean Strategies Developed in MBA Workshop

The course “Strategic Thinking for General Managers” exemplifies what BSL stands for in business education: preparing managers today for building sustainable businesses contributing to a sounder world. I would like to share with you one aspect of the course which particularly illustrates the BSL approach.

Students in the MBA program at BSL developed Blue Ocean strategies for sustainable solutions in the areas of health, transportation and nutrition. In a workshop atmosphere the students developed original product ideas in these future-oriented business areas which would help shape a greener, healthier – and more enjoyable! – world. In this way the students gained first-hand experience in realizing the three pillars of business education at BSL: Sustainability, Entrepreneurship and Responsibility.

As part of the course “Strategic Thinking for General Managers”, students learned techniques to develop innovative ideas for products and services, differentiate them radically from the existing offers in the market, and evaluate their prospects for success. The key success factors for moving into an “empty space” guided them through these three steps in formulating a Blue Ocean strategy, in which companies, their stakeholders and societies gain quantum jumps in benefits by creating new industries.

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BSL’s Blue Ocean meeting room, named after the business strategy

Highlights of the ideas, and the unique benefits for all, are as follows

  • Check Your Health@Home Prevention Kit: A complete solution in which simple medical devices are used at home to check the basic health indicators, track their development over time, and report the results on-line to the personal doctor. Users become more aware of their health, and doctors can intervene in a preventive way, to together lower the incidence of medical problems, lowering the medical costs in society.
  • The “Fado” Minibus: A transport service dedicated to bringing passengers to and from airports in Portugal – as a first step – and their homes. The reliability as well as comfort and safety on board, including musical entertainment, would attract users away from using their cars, reducing congestion and emissions on Portuguese highways.
  • The Nutri-Patch: A body patch to introduce the nutrients and vitamins for healthy living directly into the blood system. Ambitious sports persons want precisely measured quantities of specific ingredients, and many people on the go would like to eat healthily but don’t always have the required time or access to their desired foods. The Nutri-Patch gives them the benefits of the latest scientific understanding of nutrition, customized to their own needs and preferences, combined with mobility, flexibility, and more free time – perhaps our most precious resource!

More about these ideas cannot be revealed here, because – who knows? – the budding entrepreneurs may want to work up these ideas into businesses without rivals in the know – which is exactly what Blue Ocean strategies are about.

Benjamin Wall, Professor at BSL

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Responsible sourcing at Nestlé – BSL students learn first-hand about key elements of corporate sustainability

As all of us working in this field know, sustainability is highly complex, requiring an understanding of multiple disciplines, many of which rather technical. Additionally, there’s a big gap between theory and practice, especially when attempting to transform existing companies and systems that were not built with sustainability in mind.

In our case, after 5 classes of “Business Responsibility & Sustainability”, covering principles, natural and planetary boundaries, human dimensions, major programs like SDGs and MDGs, the role of businesses, stakeholder models and management, including role plays on how companies create conflict and how to resolve them – it was time to see how it all works in practice.

Early January, we were fortunate to be received by Dionys Forster (Sourcing specialist, department of corporate agriculture) and Diarmuid O’Connor (Global manager, agricultural raw materials) at the Nestlé HQ in Vevey.

Given the size and complexity of Nestlé (over 300k employees, 190 countries, thousand of brands and many more products), we had to focus, in the case of our visit on rural development and responsible sourcing of agricultural products, especially milk, cocoa, coffee. This of course means that many other topics with high sustainability relevance, such as processed food, added sugars, bottled water, palm oil, pesticides and many others, were not discussed during this visit.

What we saw and discussed was highly sophisticated, well designed and effectively implemented. Here are a few highlights:

  • Planetary boundaries and Terrestrial biodiversity were used to introduce the subject, similarly to how we started our own class two months ago.
  • Nestlé, with 1.7% world market share, is the biggest player in a highly distributed market, top 20 companies collectively accounting for only 9%. This means, to make a big difference, working with competitors is required.
  • Social media analysis reveals that people are concerned about food quality, climate change, packaging, animal welfare.
  • To make sourcing more responsible, Nestlé implemented Farmer Connect, directly sourcing from 760’000 farmers, ensuring almost total product traceability, offering training (400’000 farmers trained) and limiting price volatility (a major benefit for farmers, allowing them to better plan ahead).
  • A broad sustainable agriculture initiative (SAIN) aims to reduce waste and pollution, better use water, reduce greenhouse gases through technology dissemination, financial support for farmers, buying clubs, price stability, education, training, and advocacy.
  • RISE (Response-Inducing Sustainability Evaluation) is a questionnaire-based tool developed at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, rapidly identifying problem areas, allowing to better focus improvement efforts.
  • “Dairy for you” is an education program offering differentiated training for workers, specialists, managers, and graduates, by setting up a local institute or working with a local university.
  • At Nestlé Nutrition, baby food requires much lower limits of pesticide, lead, cadmium, mercury etc. residues – Nestlé applies the same (strictest) standards around the world, even in countries where not legally required.
  • In Ghana, to reach the majority of farmers who don’t read or write, a local theater play with characters representing good farmer / bad farmer is used to develop local community knowledge – and at the same time improve raw material quality and safety
  • A key issue in agriculture is succession – worldwide, the average farmer age is 60, in the US 65, in Japan 77; and specifically making farming attractive for the young generation. Nestlé has been working with many farmers for 2 or 3 generations, but the issue remains.

This reminds me of an excellent article published in the NYTimes “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers”, showing how the design of our food system, among many other issues, also makes farming unattractive for young generations.

Therefore we thank again Dionys Forster and Diarmuid O’Connor, not only for receiving us so well, but for doing so much to make sourcing more responsible.

Author: Sascha Nick, Associate Professor at BSL

Hacking for chocolate

“Chocothon” hits sweet spot of collaborative innovation in Ghana

Key question….what went on in Ghana last weekend that might have something to do with BSL’s vision and mission, and especially its three pillars of entrepreneurship, sustainability and responsible leadership in a context of collaborative learning?

The first Chocothon, that’s what! BSL has partnered with Google, the International Trade Center, the Future Food Institute, Crowdfooding and a host of other cool organizations to promote a “techno” focus on the sustainability and business threats around world cocoa supply. How? By holding a hackathon for chocolate (hence the term “Chocothon”). For those not yet in the know, a hackathon is an event, typically lasting a few days, in which groups of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming. The idea of “hacking for chocolate” was born some two years ago at the Google Food Innovation Lab (where BSL partner and thought leader Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers is an expert participant). The first Chocothon in a series became reality in Accra, Ghana this weekend!

img_9925Threats…around chocolate? What? When you look at supermarket shop shelves today, it is hard to believe there is a problem. After all, we seem to have a plentiful supply of cheap, delicious chocolate treats. But don’t be fooled; our business system is overly short-term oriented. The economics barely work for now and benefit too few stakeholders. Long-term, if the crucial farmer producer of cocoa is not protected, then it’s a zero sum game. In other words, no supply = no business (so bad news for companies) = very expensive Easters, Christmases, Valentine’s days and Birthdays in the future (so terrible news for consumers).

Let’s focus on the challenges. Undercompensating farmers for quality cocoa ultimately leads to too low an income for farmers to bother staying in the business. It creates a rather vicious cycle: no money = low or no investment in new technologies, new trees or desperately needed training = increasingly lower yields and environmental degradation = lower quality cocoa = even less compensation. Then there are government policy threats, such as lack of knowledge and certainty about land rights and ownership leading to insecurity in land tenure. Macroeconomic issues such as inflation and defective exchange rate regimes also take their toll. So farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and other cocoa producing countries are not only exiting cocoa farming and/or switching to other less challenging crops, but they do not want their children to stay in cocoa farming either.  Farming cocoa is a grueling task. If the economics do not work, it is even harder to make a business case to the increasingly literate children of farmers who, after all, may have other options.

So what does the Chocothon set out to do? Well, can the best of modern day high tech ingenuity contribute to resolving the problems around cocoa production? Can this be done in a context where illiteracy is widespread and access to Smartphones extremely limited? We agree…its a pretty tough call. But the technology landscape is changing rapidly. The Chocothon team figured that if we could get young Ghanaians excited about problems in their own country, through collaboration they could be empowered to focus their ingenuity on thinking forward and fixing them. After all, the problems we mention are man-made, so let’s get some man (and woman)-made solutions!

Need more convincing?  Well, if you get enough stakeholders together in one room with some hackers to work on a problem, you can literally start… hacking away at it.  So, for example, at the Chocothon, we invited government representatives to not only contribute their knowledge as “knowledge brokers” but to also raise awareness with them of the importance of increasing internet and Smart phone technology access, or of increasing institutional knowledge about land sizes, ownership and security. After all, knowing what you didn’t know makes for better decision-making. Looking forward, we can expect that young farmers in Ghana will be – as all young people are – ingenuous about assuring their own access to technology; every single trend in the world indicates that this is the case.

Therefore, the idea of designing collaborative platforms to share farming equipment or expertise to increase quality of work and efficiency and thus productivity, is not a pipe dream.  To set up systems empowering farmers to demand and get the best prices on the market is not a hallucination either. To enable mobile direct payments to farmers – faster cashless money transactions – coupled with now fast developing services like mobile insurance or other business transactions for tools or fertilizers are totally feasible future options for Africa, as they have been for other countries. Micro-financing of farmer investments, even by crowd-sourcing funds from all the chocolate lovers out there might be another possibility. Creating training platforms, or indeed tools that help young farmers with assessing soil fertility, tree age, crop diseases…all this is possible today. We can also look at optimizing transportation platforms to allow for better transport of cocoa beans – a big headache for Ghanaian farmers today. Get it? Good!

So from Saturday to Sunday 20-21 January, 2017 a group of young and talented hackers – IT developers and social innovators – got together with other stakeholders at the Impact Hub n Accra, Ghana. Representatives and knowledge brokers joined from multiple organizations such as the Ghanaian government, Google, Barry Callebaut (Swiss B2B cocoa supplier), the International Trade Center and the Future Food Institute. The Chocathon team assigned the hackers to working groups and provided food, drinks, and even mattresses (yes!) for the all night hack.

img_9852-2The teams had a task of building up a prototype and uploading deliverables step by step during the hackathon. Sounds familiar? It is pretty much the techie version of what the students of BSL did by designing start-ups to tackle social issues during the last Gap-Frame week last December… Yes, this kind of collaborative learning is taking hold in more sectors than one! The Ghanaian Chocothon hackers get tempting prizes to encourage innovation and even conversion of their prototypes into working businesses, such as a co-working space for one year at the Impact Hub or for six months at ISpace, or indeed a cash prize.

Watch this space for the next blog about the Chocothon where we will tell you about some of the cool ideas the hackers came up with. This is the first of a series of Chocothons that will ultimately contribute to saving YOUR treasured chocolate from gradual extinction. Tune in to #chocothon hashtag to find out more. Even better…how about supporting our next Chocothon? Here is our crowd-funding site link:  https://www.crowdfooding.co.uk/deal/188/Chocothon

Why should you get involved? Because YOUR chocolate needs YOU!

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Active in thought leadership, consulting, applied research, teaching and supervising DBA candidates in sustainability & responsibility.

Analytics-driven decision making is becoming the ‘new normal’

This November 24th we launched our new “Introduction to Big Data and Analytics” course, destined for the Bachelor students. You may wonder whether we are digressing from the important business topics to be taught at a business school. Surely, Big Data is just an IT concern? And our students don’t aspire to become data scientists? So why bother?

Well, the reality is much more nuanced. How to deal with Big Data and Analytics is directly linked to success or failure of companies, as they continuously seek competitive advantage. What insights are they able to extract from their data to support the implementation of their business strategy? The access to, and storage of, data is no longer the issue, and as available data continues to grow exponentially (double every two years) the playing field is no longer level. Those companies and public institutions that don’t follow will very quickly fall behind and become uncompetitive.

It all boils to down to how large and varied sets of data, gathered and analysed in near real-time, can help companies make better decisions. Those companies that ‘get it’ continue to set the pace and it is fast! Their company strategies and unique differentiators are clear, and they focus all their Big Data efforts on helping them make the most competitively compelling decisions. Examples include Uber optimizing supply and routes based on your location; your telecoms provider adapting their promotional offers to your personal consumption profile; your supermarket dynamically changing stocked products and prices based on external factors such as meteorological data, social media data and local upcoming events; your city installing sensors on lampposts, garbage bins and traffic lights to maximise urban infrastructure efficiency; your car communicating proactively with its manufacturer to predict upcoming technical problems and servicing needs.

Every single industry vertical is affected by Big Data and Analytics and the numbers are mind boggling. Walmart alone processes 2.5 petabytes every hour (that’s 2.5×1015 bytes = roughly 1.3 trillion printed pages) with over 200 streams of internal and external data. Our digital universe doubles in size every two years, and there are more bits of info than there are stars in our physical universe. Only about 5% of all our data is analysed today. With about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day (= 10M Blu-ray discs) and bad/poor data costing US businesses roughly $600Bn every year, there are literally no minutes to lose on working out how to use large, varied and real-time data sets to drive competitive advantage. 

At BSL, we are taking a sector approach to teaching Big Data and Analytics. During our 2016/2017 Winter term, we will have six prominent guest speakers from six different industries to help make concrete data science business challenges come to life: Public Healthcare, Financial Services, High Tech, Transportation, Smart Cities, and HR/Recruitment. This will also give the students an invaluable insight into the core business model questions of each industry sector. They will better understand how decisions are made and why, as well as the trade-offs that companies and public institutions always need to consider.

My hope is that this class will become redundant over the years, as Big Data simply becomes the “new normal” and is fully integrated into the overall curriculum of business schools. In the meantime, we will prepare our BSL students well for a world in which understanding, analysing and applying big data sets has become a minimum entry requirement.

Author: Anja Langer Jacquin,
Professor at BSL

The Speak-up Series

Scandals like Volkswagen or Fells Fargo made it clear again: Before a scandal erupts, many, many people in the company knew about the ongoing ethics problems for quite a long time. But, why did they not speak up? Bettina Palazzo will explore in this series:

  1. How leaders discourage that their team members address uncomfortable truths and what they can do about it.
  2. How leaders need to conduct speak conversations that make it safe and worthwhile for employees to speak up.
  3. Why employees do not speak up and who the courageous people are that do dare to speak up.
  4. How employees can prepare am effective speak-up conversation and how they can conduct this difficult talk with courage and confidence.

#1 Speak-up : The Role of Leadership is crucial

Speaking up on topics of ethics and compliance is hard to do. Already speaking up when you disagree or have bad news can be difficult in organizations.

But speaking-up is important because companies need to know about ethical problems early, before they become a major scandal. Research shows that before a corporate scandal is revealed, people in the company knew about the problem for at least a year.

In order to encourage speaking-up, you need a climate of trust, where coworkers can speak up in a safe environment knowing that their opinion counts and that they do not have to fear negative effects for themselves and their careers.

Very often, though, leaders discourage speaking-up without even noticing :

  • Leaders are bad role models and do not speak up to their superiors themselves. Coworkers will always model their behavior to how their superiors behave. An example: Regular hand-washing is very important to prevent infections in hospitals. The most important factor in increasing hand-washing is when senior doctors act as role models and frequently wash their hands.
  • Leaders have an authoritarian leadership style that is based on command and control. Clearly this is unfavorable for the creation of a relationship between managers and coworkers that allows to speak up easily. An authoritarian leader presumes he/she knows best and does not empower coworkers to freely share their own, dissenting opinion. When coworkers disagree, they use the force of their authority to get their will.
  • Leaders do not listen to their coworkers.
  • They do not actively ask for their coworkers’ opinion.
  • They are not open to feedback.
  • They do not give constructive feedback themselves to coworkers.

We can see, if leaders want their team members to speak up, they need to work on a more participatory leadership style and create a climate where giving and receiving constructive feedback is normal. Only if this open and safe culture is well established, employees will speak up.

The importance of the leader’s role in speaking up cannot be over-estimated. This quote from the book « Making Conflict Work: Harnessing the Power of Disagreement » by Peter T. Coleman and Robert Ferguson sums it up so nicely:

People with low power who are not convinced their honest perspective is really valued instinctively withhold their ideas. A leader has to do much more than say things like «My door is always open» or «I really want to know what you think” to get the goods from subordinates. The leader has to prove again and again through statements and actions that honesty is valued and that constructive disagreement goes unpunished.

So how can leaders create a speaking-up culture?

They have to do seemingly simply things like listening to their team members. Easier said than done. We are often hard-wired to respond instead of taking the ideas of others in. Especially leaders are tempted to jump too quickly to conclusions and offer solutions. Understandably so, after all a manager’s job is to solve problems…sometimes they are so eager to solve the problem, that they do not take the time necessary to really understand what is going on by using tools like active listing and asking the right questions. Leaders should never underestimate the small problems their team members might address. You never know, they might be the beginning of bigger problems or the tip of an iceberg.

Furthermore, leaders need to sharpen their senses and watch out if coworkers fall into silence over a topic. If everybody is chronically of the same opinion in team meetings and nobody ever offers a dissenting opinion, it is time to take a trusted team member a side and ask some open questions.

Finally, leaders need to make speaking up normal:

  • They should explain to all of their team members form their first day of working together, that sharing their open opinion with him or her, is vital and that they will be receptive to constructive feedback and always say “thank you”.
  • Leaders can integrate speaking-up into their team meeting routines. Of course, they will need to role-model this first.
  • Leaders need to prove that their followers can trust them and that speaking-up will be safe and worthwhile.

So we see, speaking up is first and foremost a communication and relationship problem. If you have good communications and a good relationship with your coworkers, if they trust you, if you do share responsibilities with them, speaking up is much easier.

Stay tuned and watch for the next episode of the speak-up series!
Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

Competencies that count: Where are Responsible Leadership and Sustainability proficiency listed in the job descriptions?

Recently, and through different announcements, a number of large global corporations have made public their intention to remove University Degree requirements from (some of) their job descriptions and requirements. They argue that the correlation between holding a degree and being good for certain jobs is weak and too many good candidates are discarded because of this wrong filter. They plan to use new and innovative online tests that will do a better filter job according to them.

I look at this with interest as I have never been convinced that current degrees, and business degrees in particular, are representative of the important skills our future leaders need (and by leaders I mean leader in whatever position they hold, not only senior management). Among the many important skills future and current leaders need are responsible leadership and sustainability proficiency. Or not?

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My feeling is that if you ask the question directly to a hiring manager, they will certainly answer yes. At the same time, have you ever seen these two competencies in any job description? I am trying hard but, unless I come across some very specific job related to sustainability, I have seen no trace of the demand for these two important competencies. I am embarrassed by this. At Business School Lausanne, we have made a clear commitment to facilitate learning around sustainability and responsible leadership all across our program and courses. We design innovative pedagogy around these crucial competencies as we believe that there is no way the world will progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals unless new practices are embedded within any single next decision that business people are required to make. What is the next ingredient you will source for your product? Will you ship it by train, track, plane, boat? Will you ask for a local production? How much money will you allocate budget for personal development of your team? Will you invest in a social venture? Will you close an eye on your current polluting factory? Will you ask for innovation toward sustainable practices? Will you engage with all relevant stakeholder when making impactful decisions? And the list can go on and on forever. Almost every single decision business people are asked to make, presents a choice to go for more or less responsible and sustainable solution. Do you want your employees to be conscious of that option? Do you want them to be fluent with the consequences wrong decisions can lead to (and clearly not only financial)? This is a call for every job seeker to add where they stand with their responsible leadership and sustainability proficiency on their CV. This is a call for all hiring manager to make sure they make it clear they demand such competencies.

Let a new purposeful market grow around jobs and competencies that count and will make the world a better place!

Author: Carlo GiardinettiActive in Program Development, Holacracy and directing the BBA, Masters and E/MBA programs Business 

African Handmade Shoes

African Handmade Shoes” is a start-up created by one young guy, Paul Burggraf, from Lugano in 2013.The company fairly employs thirty shoemakers from Cape Town, South Africa, to produce shoes (espadrilles) sold worldwide. It is an innovative project as well as a supportive business idea that creates a bridge between South Africa and Ticino, Switzerland.

The idea is very simple: producing handmade shoes in Africa and sell them online in Switzerland and worldwide. In addition, the project is characterized by an ethical attitude that provides fair wages and optimal operating conditions for the thirty artisans working in the Cape Town laboratory, differentiating it from other shoe manufacturers who exploit their workers through poor working conditions and with low wages. Nevertheless, “African Handmade Shoes” are fully aware of these problems and they are ready to make the difference.

In 2007, Paul Burggraf made his first of many trips to South Africa. Since then, he has fallen in love with South Africa – a colourful country, incredible, so full of potential.
The idea of “African Made Shoes” was born through meeting Arnold – a young South African craftsman who ran a small shoe shop. Paul was immediately interested and impressed by his work and his products. He realized there was serious potential for fashion export. Thus “African Handmade Shoes” was born.

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They started with a Facebook page collecting orders and received good feedback. They subsequently figured out the brilliance of their idea. They now have a thirty-man strong workshop in Cape Town, a website through which the product reaches around the world and a logistics base in Ticino: https://africanhandmadeshoes.com/.

The main sales channel is e-commerce, however, it is also possible to find temporary stores during festivals and events such as the “Locarno Film Festival” and so on. Currently there are a few stores in Ticino and Switzerland, it is even in the most prestigious Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich.

Transparency and fairness are very important; in spite of the few resources available,
social media has been key to make them known. Through these channels they have decided to completely document what was going on in the workshop of Cape Town. In short, the complete manufacturing process is documented for final consumers to see.
Pride in their craftsmanship, dignity and self-worth in their employees, respect for workers, earn a living wage, multicultural and happiness are values important for the brand. Workers are simply local people, they are friends and they are also neighbors.
Trusting workers is important to get maximum quality for the final product.
They have also helped to maintain a trade, that of the shoemaker, which globally is disappearing. Those who learn this profession with them can support themselves in the future. In the African social reality, in which education and apprenticeship training are lacking, giving people a future by learning a job is a huge added value.

Finally, they believe in African culture as well as the promotion and growth of the African economy. Therefore, the company is conducting a competition for local entrepreneurs called “Startaboom”: Three projects of local entrepreneurs are presented on the website of “African Handmade Shoes”. The public chooses what business will get financial support by voting on the website. The entrepreneur who receive the most votes will get the 10% of 2015 profit of “African Handmade Shoes” in order to help the project grow.

The success of “African handmade Shoes” is very simple: The colours and fabrics of these shoes make a product with a long cultural history, tradition known globally. Companies like these show us that business does not have to about profits only, but can be economically successful by helping to solve social problems and making people in Switzerland and South Africa proud of what they do.

Here a few links for more information:

Video presentation
Founder speech about local entrepreneurs (new start-up)
One of the three local entrepreneurs

Author: Riccardo Bonfitto, Master in International Business student, 2016

We’re hiring for DNA!

Today started with a strange email in my inbox. One of the three final candidates in a current open position for which we are hiring wrote that he is retrieving his application. He explained that after having completed the two assignments we ask all advanced candidates in any position at BSL to complete, he understood after intense reflection that given the internal structure of BSL with our strong focus on business cases in sustainability, he would not be able to contribute to the overall goal of the circle for which he was under consideration to the degree he would wish. Interesting, I thought. The two assignments were the completion of a strength-finder self-assessment and an essay about Holacracy at BSL, and more precisely about how a candidate thinks of and places himself in the organizational context of Holacracy. This is the first sign that our recruitment process is truly working both ways. Thanks to a very transparent sharing of who we are and how we work with each other, a potential candidate has decided that this was not an environment for him. Brilliant! I feel that we have just made a big leap forward. A year ago, it would have been very possible for us to end up hiring such a person who would subsequently end up being a misfit with our organization, without having had the tools, wisdom and processes to screen for this hugely important cultural aspect.

This is a week full of people changes. A long-term collaborator will end his contract with us on Friday with his new energetic replacement having started just a few days ago. And another member of our team has gracefully announced that she will be leaving us to pursue other opportunities related to her dream. We are a small team and this is a lot of change for us. A colleague mentioned to me that somehow her circle felt as if the blood was changed in a person and that she needed yet to get used to how the new person would feel that her circle was transitioning into. When I shared with her the story of the email I had received, she smiled and said: “well, now, we are hiring for DNA”. She referred to a most recent hiring decision where we opted for the candidate who brought the most desirable attitude to us, at the expense of the perfect expertise his counterpart had offered. And indeed, I realize that what has happened over the past six months is that somehow, we have found our own DNA as an organization and that in our continuous adaptation of our recruitment and onboarding process, we have learned to create processes, questions and assessments that allow us to filter for this DNA when recruiting new members of the team.

This is something that has occupied many of us deeply over the past year as we have learned to find words and spaces to express how we sense that the organization needs to evolve. This is something that the tension-based process of Holacracy has invited, and maybe even forced, us to do. We have gone through a period where we found increasing courage to attempt to bring words to misalignments in this domain and in entering in daring, personal conversation about how to develop further and how to overcome our shadows and shed light on blind spots. We are in the middle of a newly developed self and peer assessment that those with an interest in designing such things have co-created. I am curious to see how honest and caring conversations we are able to have, with ourselves and with each other. I have opted to select those partners in the organizations who I suspect are the least happy or the most critical of my performance and I am hoping for real insights into how I can improve and develop. In my self-assessment, I have completed a view on myself that should shed light on my dilemmas, regrets, poor choices and areas where I judge lacking performance and I hope that this courage will be contagious so that my partners will be similarly critical in their care to help me advance. I so look forward to their point of view.

My heart was singing of joy as I walked out of a BSL company governance meeting (the super circle of most other circles) where a BSL partner joined us to express serious concern about a policy that had been introduced 5 months ago. We had adopted a “partner retention policy” from Holacracy One after a Holacracy Coaching training course a few of us had attended and which contained also steps of how to let go  (fire) an employee in case a committee would not vote to retain a partner. A policy that was entirely foreign to our HR practices but that seemed the way to advance with Holacracy. I doubt that many people were comfortable with the policy and yet nobody had expressed a tension about it, which itself was source of a tension for at least a couple of people. So finally, today, a partner addressed her concerns and in a most direct, open, daring and courageous sharing, deep fears, concerns and worries were voiced in such a way that the policy was suggested to be deleted. Except for a valid objection of another partner which meant that a solution had to be found to integrate the objection resulting in an amended retention policy that everybody present in the room was very happy with. It took us 60 minutes to undo a malaise that had blocked the organization for a few months. Having removed inappropriate elements that presumed that a person who would not be voted to be retained would be laid off, we agreed that if a person does not get support to be retained that what would need to happen is for the right group of people sit with that person and figure out what the next developmental steps for that person would be. In the check-out round, one of the participating members said that his legs were shaking when he had first read this new policy five months ago, right upon return from his vacation. He was sure the policy was aimed at him and that he would be laid off. Five months of worry without having found a way to express this – wow. We were all stunned and realized the long journey still ahead of all of us to verify assumptions before jumping to conclusions and to dare to bring up such worrying concerns right away. The experience of having seen a colleague finding words to address such a delicate issue has given me and I am sure everybody present in the meeting today the hope that we are today an organization that is on its way to welcome warmly and caringly whatever delicate concern anybody may have. And that makes my heart sing.

This new transparency and appetite for courageous conversations has been most visibly a turning point in a five hour long negotiation with a strategic partner this afternoon and has finally brought out the real hidden issue that has held us all back from finding the shared common solution we had all been hoping for. Finally, a member of the other team, slammed his hand on the table and said: “So, ok, if you want it really straight as you guys seem to be doing it with this Holacracy thing, here is what is really bugging me!” And this was the opening to being able to find a joint solution that allowed us to pop a bottle of champagne. So, this courage is spreading also outside of our little team, and is starting to be contagious to our partners we are engaged with. Wow – who would have thought that culture can be that contagious!

It was a long day and I while I am exhausted, I feel very very happy inside. I feel I am part of an organization that is not only finding its soul but is also finding ways to let it vibrate and sing. And I love the very very quiet first new sounds of music that these vibrations are making. Today was a day where I heard and felt that music. Thank you, fellow partners of BSL!

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs

 

Giving Sales the position it deserves

Going into Sales used to be the career choice of people who weren’t particularly good at anything else. The view was, that you could always make enough of a living from finding people who could be convinced to buy whatever you had to sell them. Someone even less smart than you…

Over the years, being a salesman gained a bad reputation, becoming associated with images of aggressiveness and dishonesty. A 2011 survey of more than 9,000 people from around the world (What Do You Do At Work? survey, Daniel Pink) showed that the first words which come to people’s minds when being asked about Sales are ”pushy”, annoying”, ”sleazy” and ”yuck”! 

Yet the days are long gone where salesmen rang our doorbells with a suitcase full of products to sell. The level of sophistication required to successfully sell products and services has risen exponentially with the avenue of digital (Internet, mobile, social media, analytics). Today, a sale is so much more than a transaction, it has become an experience for the buyer who looks for emotional triggers well beyond the traditional rational reasons. In our world of abundance, we have so many choices that we seek personal fulfillment in addition to simply satisfying a need. In fact, we often end up buying things we don’t even need. And the things we buy are often based on recommendations from people we’ve never met.

Today’s sales person must be incredibly versatile to navigate this complexity: be a subject matter expert, display focused business acumen and – probably most importantly – demonstrate strong emotional intelligence. They have to be masters at building genuine relationships whilst still delivering on the financial returns required by their employer. In fact, no sales means no revenue means no company. Everything else is context at the end of the day.

As our BBA students in the Sales and Key Account Management course reflected on the future of selling in a recent assignment, there was consensus that the role will only become more complicated in the coming years and decades. The human touch is being lost from the sales process, with many buyers preferring to make decisions and manage processes themselves (just consider how we prefer self-check-in or online purchases).  How to compensate for the absence of contact, knowing that buyers are looking for an experience? Companies as they gain better insights into their customers through tailored analytics will evolve to employ artificial intelligence in the sales process as well as advanced technologies such as virtual reality and drones.

We’re in for an interesting and turbulent ride as business models are turned upside down (consider the fate of everything from travel agents to the music industry to the banking sector). Those responsible for ensuring that products and services are sold and that revenue comes through the door, will need to be highly adaptable and attentive to market shifts. We need business-savvy young people who are well prepared for delivering value to customers and to companies, whichever way is the right one. That preparation starts at Business School Lausanne.

Author: Anja Langer Jacquin, BSL Professor