David Vanni Interview | BSL Careers Office

Our BSL Careers Office interview series is a great opportunity where we reconnect with some of our former students and find out about their personal and professional lives after graduation from BSL. For the next installment of this series, we reached out to BSL alumni David Vanni, who is currently living halfway across the world in Shanghai and Hong Kong as the Digital Marketing Supervisor for the Chinese division of Novartis Pharmaceuticals. 

David achieved his Master in International Business at BSL in February 2019 after successfully completing a 6 months exchange at the Renmin University  School of Business of China. This proved to be a pivotal factor in carving out the next few years of David’s professional career. We chatted with David to find out more about his career path.

david vanniWhat product or service does Novartis Pharmaceuticals offer?

Novartis is a worldwide leader in innovative medicines, focusing on several disease areas like cancer, cardiovascular, immunology and dermatology, and ophthalmic diseases. Novartis is also a leader is gene and cell therapy that will revolutionize medicine. Gene therapy is the introduction, removal or change in the content of a person’s genetic code with the goal of treating or curing a disease. Cell therapy is the transfer of intact, live cells into a patient to help lessen or cure a disease. In my digital marketing role, part of the Business Model Transformation team in China, I work with the team on initiatives to build local partnerships with Chinese technology companies to enable better patient access to our medicine and better treatment adherence through digital platforms and tools in order to support better patient outcomes. Novartis is determined to change the practice of medicine and our team in China is supporting that by reimagining the Chinese healthcare industry with data and digital.

What got you interested in studying business and how has studied through BSL helped you in your career?

My Bachelor’s degree was focused on business, more specifically in marketing. During a diverse work experience of 4 years before BSL, I went from private banking to a sales role in commodity trading, and then to a cost analyst position. I believe it gave me a taste for acquiring diverse knowledge and skills, which is increasingly important in today’s fast-changing business world. It is this mindset that pushed me to enroll at BSL. It has a great diversity of people from different backgrounds and a focus on smart and sustainable business practices. I picked the Master in International Business course as I wanted to have a broader understanding of doing business internationally, and because I wanted to leave Switzerland for a few years after graduating to pursue my career. I jumped at the opportunity provided by BSL to enroll for a 6 months exchange at the Renmin University. It was really a pivotal moment in my life and today I am still living in China and working there thanks to that decision.

Which subjects and professors stood out to you most?

Arash Golnam from Systems Thinking

A highly knowledgeable and unconventional professor teaching a way to frame issues through models and how to solve them by understanding the relationships between different factors.

 Tim Connerton from Strategic Leadership

A very experienced mind in business that brought his real-life experiences with a very sharp aptitude on a topic that I felt enthusiastic about.

 Kelly Kretz from Marketing

She told me I have ‘an eye for marketing’ which inspired me further. She guided me to listen to people’s needs and wants, and to offer them value through innovative products and services. Her class was made for me. 

 And last but not least, André Delafontaine from Entrepreneurship

He supervised my Master thesis and we share the same passion for entrepreneurship and startups. I learned a lot in his class and it resonated with my views on proactive thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset, whether you are in a corporate setup or if you have your own company.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your studies?

How much you gain from a class is really up to you. If you are able to study for the educational value and not for the grades, your experience will be so much more enriching. When you understand that you are doing this to have a positive impact on your life and to society itself, it is very empowering. I also learned to care for everyone and that everyone had something to say. If certain pieces of information don’t necessarily match with your current interests now, they will often do so in the near future – so don’t dismiss anything. If you listen well and build relationships you will be able to let yourself be positively surprised by the synergies you will find along the way from the people you met.

In your current role, what are the biggest challenges you have faced?

Novartis pushes us to have proactive behavior, to seek solutions ourselves, and to take ownership of our decisions. It is a challenge in a way, but an amazing enabler as well as it empowers you to trust yourself and to be humble enough to acknowledge you cannot succeed alone and that you often need support from others. 

What have been your biggest wins in your career and what would you attribute them to?

I believe I can access people rather easily. I speak several languages, I traveled a lot, and I am curious by nature. This enables me to rapidly find common topics of conversation with people and build relationships. My biggest win so far is receiving the trust of others in business initiatives. In particular, when top management entrusts me with implementing a project. For example, I have organized a startup pitching competition in Beijing with 10 of the most innovative local healthcare startups, over 150 people attending and many honorable guest speakers. This was the very first Novartis startup event in China and only the first step in our commitment to increasing our footprint in local innovation and startup ecosystem while promoting entrepreneurship and creating a flow of exchange between startups and the corporate world. Building on that success, we will now lay down the strategy to open our very own startup incubator in China next year.

What is your vision for your career going into the future?

I plan to be based in China for the next 3 to 4 years, working in the business model transformation in applying digital technologies to business processes, changing the mindset to an active learner and promote a more agile corporate structure. In our industry, the importance of big data is rising and impacting all the units of the business. The same data that can be gathered from patients in order to tailor treatments to people’s very specific needs and improve the treatment outcomes with the support of technologies forming a digital therapeutic solution around the conventional medicine. China is a great country to test new technologies and iterate quickly from one solution to another.

Do you believe that studying through BSL has provided you with a competitive advantage among your peers?

Yes definitely. I really thank BSL for two things: first, the quality and diversity of the BSL professors’ backgrounds. Many (if not all) of them have practical business experience which made the courses so much more ‘real world’. Second, their partnership with the Renmin University of China, School of Business, which exposed me to an environment I previously knew nothing about and changed my view of life forever. I am now ready to embrace change and different ideas.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to other budding entrepreneurs and business-focused students?

I have been involved a lot with startups in Beijing as it was the focus of my Master thesis. I understood the importance of testing your ideas as quickly as possible. This is what is called the MVP (or minimum viable product). I truly believe in it for startups but I see also in larger corporations that it is becoming a priority. It is the acknowledgment of a customer-centric approach: you don’t build a product for the customer but rather with the customer. That means you will test your product or service as early as possible with your target market so that you can use their feedback to quickly make modifications. You do this many times until you reach a point where your product or service will fit to the market needs. My advice is to not be afraid to share your ideas and test them with other people, don’t be afraid to have it stolen as it will change so many times anyway. The worst is to work for years and launch a product that has no market traction, even though it can be a good product by itself.

How do you think business and business leadership will change going into the future and how do you believe businesses can prepare for the change?

New technologies, changing demographics and geopolitics have pushed the world in a speed of change like never before. Leadership is adapting to this by empowering employees and giving them ownership of initiatives. Ideally, businesses should not react to change nor get ready for it but be the change themselves. The best way to anticipate change is to be the change agent yourself. Speed of decision needs to be prevalent in all aspects of the business, and this can only be done by empowering employees and allowing them to take part in certain aspects of decision-making that was previously in the hands of the middle and top management. New technologies are supporting and accelerating these organizational changes. It will also give people a stronger sense of belonging and a hard-working mentality.

David is clearly passionate about what he does and what he has achieved in his early career. We hope that the next few years of his growth will see him furthering his achievements and advancing his ideas to the benefit of his team. Onward and upwards, David!

BSL alumni Richard Fyk brews entrepreneurial success

For the next installment of our BSL careers office interview series, where we get an insight into the lives of our business and entrepreneurial graduates, we caught up with BSL alumnus Richard Fyk, owner of SYC Brewing. Based in Alberta, Canada, SYC Brewing brews and distributes craft beer to various suppliers across the country, including bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. SYC Brewing officially opened its doors in January 2019 and has received a warm reception from the craft brewing savvy public in North America. BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)

Richard owes a lot of his initial business success to his formative grounding and the business knowledge he acquired during his MBA at BSL. “My thesis paper really helped me galvanize my plans to start my own business. I put all that I had learned at BSL into practice and it gave me first-hand experience in how to piece everything together and create something from scratch. It was very helpful – so much so that I immediately put my teaching into practice to start SYC Brewing”. 

Richard’s thesis also focuses on finance. Although far removed from the craft beer industry, Richard insists that BSL equipped him with the tools to pursue any career in any industry or sector. “Once you understand how each cog in a business mechanism operates, you soon realize that the possibilities for starting your own business are endless”. 

It was a conversation from an unlikely source that helped Richard make the decision to study his MBA at BSL. “I was working in a bank and had progressed very quickly through the ranks. I had an informal career coaching discussion with my manager where I informed him of my intent to progress even further within the organization. He told me to give it another year to have the conversation, which made me quickly realize that he didn’t have my best interests at heart. Directly after that conversation, I began researching online the best places to do my MBA and BSL was on the top of that list. The next thing I knew I was enrolled and on my way to attend my first class”. 

What really impressed Richard from the onset was BSL’s focus on entrepreneurship. He always knew he wanted to create a business for himself but he didn’t have the skills and know-how to progress his ideas into action. When the idea for opening his own craft beer brewery was solidified in his mind, the next step was to learn the necessary business skills to make it work. “After I graduated from BSL with my MBA I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but more importantly, how I was going to do it. Suddenly the thought of starting my own business wasn’t a daunting idea because I knew exactly what I had to and how I was going to do it”.

BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)2Richard enlisted the help of a friend to get the business off the ground. Together they began brewing a range of different variations of craft beer until they settled on what they wanted SYC Brewing to taste like. The next step was marketing the product. “I knew branding was crucial in the beer industry, but when you deal with it first-hand you realize it’s a lot bigger than you initially think. You have to make sure that your beer quality is great and that your branding is almost better. I learned a lot about marketing a product during my MBA and that really gave me the upper hand when starting out. I knew what to expect and how to execute my ideas into action, and it worked”.

Due to Richard’s product being alcohol, getting started is not an easy thing to do. The alcohol industry is highly regulated and so brewers have to go through every single level of government to acquire alcohol manufacturing, selling and distributing licenses. Richard had to go through the federal government for permission to make beer. Then he had to get allowances from the provincial government to allow him to brew while still having to deal with his local municipality for rules and regulations regarding the specific location of his brewery. “The entire process takes a long time because you’re dealing with all forms of government and each department’s processes and regulations, including their waiting periods. This is of course not great for entrepreneurs needing to get ahead of the competition”. However, Richard managed to get all the required licenses quickly through his dogged determination to get his business off the ground. 

BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)3

As Richard will tell you, no amount of studying and theoretical framework can sufficiently prepare you for the real thing – but it can certainly help. Having gone through the channels of his MBA at BSL to starting his own business, what advice can he give to current and future entrepreneurs hoping to create their own businesses in the future?

“Knowing what you want to achieve from the very beginning is crucial. Being willing to always learn from either your own or others’ mistakes can save you a lot of time, energy and money – so be aware of those who have come before you. You have to make sure you are agile and that you have the ability to make quick and important decisions. These can come along rarely, or twice in an hour – so be ready.  If something is not working, change it up. Make sure it’s working for you. Being a small startup we’ve done it multiple times. If something wasn’t working, we made a decision the same day and before we knew it the next day it was working. I’m a big believer in not saying ‘sorry’. If you are selling a product in a higher price range it’s because you believe in the quality, and so you’ve got to sell your vision. But perhaps the big one is to just work hard. It’s amazing what you can do with a 100 hour week. I work 100+ hours and I don’t get tired because I love what I do and what I am creating. It’s not about the number of hours – it’s about what you do with your hours that makes all the difference”. 

Well done on your amazing business achievement, Richard! We are very proud to see you and your brewing business flourish. Although it is still early days, we are sure you will create something truly remarkable that will send waves of inspiration through our classrooms as an example to all our future entrepreneurs that anything is possible with the right skills and mindset. We look forward to charting your success from across the pond and hopefully soon SYC Brewing will be a household name in both Switzerland and the world.

Finding a new kind of energy: how one BSL graduate’s journey is taking him to Oxford

We are celebrating the success of BSL alumni member Armen Danielyan. Armen is a born leader with a wealth of knowledge and the world at his feet. He not only graduated from our accelerated BBA program but has since been accepted into a first-of-its-kind MSc program at Oxford University. We took some time to catch up with Armen to find out how he was able to get the most out of his time at BSL. 

Tell us more about your time at BSL?

I enrolled in BSL’s accelerated BBA program in 2017. It was a unique study opportunity that made it possible for me to complete my Bachelor’s degree in only two years. The course was more intensive and required me to do five courses per term. During this period I was an active member of the student council and also worked as a tutor, organizing study sessions to help others prepare for subjects like accounting and statistics. 

What do you think has been your most valuable lesson or experience as a BSL student? 

There have been many valuable lessons during my two years at BSL, but I really value the ability to apply the theory I have learned to practical situations. I’ve always been interested in a broad variety of subjects and disciplines, and I was able to discover ways to apply what I learned at BSL to my interests, making my studies more relevant to my future.BSL

What was one of your greatest achievements and how do you feel you were supported in achieving this?

One of my greatest achievements would definitely be my involvement in the Business Innovation Week. BSL traditionally organizes the event to bring BA and MS students together and facilitate communication. There was also an opportunity for students to compete against each other and showcase a summary of everything that they had learned at BSL, through making startup prototypes and financial plans.

However, BSL and our professors encouraged the Student Council to organize the Business Innovation Week under their supervision and guidance. We could contact and invite guest speakers and plan activities like peer-to-peer teaching modules. I was one of the students involved and hosted an Excel class. I think it was a success because students were able to teach one another skills that would complement our BSL studies and help us become more prepared for professional life.

Could you give us an example of how you’ve been able to apply the theory you have learned from your time at BSL to engage with your interests? 

Being interested in many topics and skills has sometimes made it difficult to focus on one thing for too long. I realized that due to BSL’s small classes and more individualized approach, I would be able to often tailor study content and approach subjects in a way that allowed me to focus on my interests from several viewpoints, ensuring I didn’t have a one-dimensional, boring experience. This was different from previous university experiences where I couldn’t receive a flexible learning experience due to the high ratio of students to professors. 

Could you tell us about your upcoming opportunity to study at Oxford? 

I’ve been accepted to study a Masters in Energy Systems at Oxford University. I spent a long time looking for Masters programs where I could delve into this subject, but they were often limited to people with a background in science or engineering and made it difficult for people with my background to study further in this field. However, this program is Oxford’s first energy systems-related program that allows people with varied backgrounds to take part in this field. 

image1Why did you choose Oxford specifically? 

There were several factors that drew me to Oxford. This question was actually asked during the interview I had in the application process. While there are, of course, aspects like the university’s reputation and connections, I viewed Oxford differently than other ‘prestigious’ universities like Cambridge or Harvard, even before I applied. I think it happened naturally over the last couple of years, as I began to listen and read many individuals who taught there either before (such as C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien) or now (prof. John Lennox). So it just happened by chance that I became more engaged with Oxford over time, and how it became my goal to get there. But most importantly, it is the nature of their Masters degree program was what ultimately drew me in. 

How is the Oxford degree structured and what are some of the subjects you’re excited to tackle? 

Oxford’s MSc in Energy Systems is a brand new program, so I’ll be in its very first intake (probably also to be experimented upon as a guinea pig). The program will have a small intake of 10 full-time students from various backgrounds, and the idea is that we will teach each other our respective disciplines and how they relate to energy. There’s a significant aspect of peer-to-peer learning built into the structure of the program, and this was what separated it from other masters programs that I looked into. We will also be taught by professors from different departments on pretty much everything that relates to energy, from its science and various technologies to the markets and regulations. After three terms of studying, I will have to deliver a thesis by the end of summer, so the whole program is about a year long.

The idea is to prepare a specialist with broad (as opposed to narrowly specialized) understanding of energy, who would be able to integrate its various aspects and aid in making general decisions. I’m especially excited to see the new technologies that are currently being developed in a world-leading university and will be in the market in the next 10-20 years.

What values, expertise or lessons do you think you will take from your time at BSL that will help contribute to these programs? 

During the application process, I was asked to prepare a presentation about the energy system implications for new legislation put forward by the Balearic Islands, aiming to have a 100% ‘clean’ energy supply by 2050.

I had to approach the topic by talking about the implications this decision will have on all aspects of society.  My BSL experience enabled me to apply my knowledge of corporate social responsibility, public perception, and the supply chain to help make people think about how these areas will interact with energy. 

My relationship with my professors also helped when it came to the physical applications, as BSL students can enjoy a close [professional] relationship with their professors. When it came to requesting letters of recommendation, it was easier to get strong and individualized commentary from people who knew my capabilities.

What are your personal values and vision for the future? Do you have a message for prospective BSL students?

I would like to keep my horizons broad in terms of my plans. I would like to stay in Europe and learn more about energy because it is a very relevant topic and I think there is a need to approach it from every aspect. In the long term, I would like to be more involved in energy solutions across Europe and eventually in Armenia.  

My message to prospective and existing students is to make the most out of the freedom of a small business school where you can take the initiative to implement your own ideas and clubs. BSL continues to encourage students to create their own journey. So, take full advantage of every experience. 

BSL Alumnae, Ola Kayal, keeps it cool with Nabati a plant-based ice cream startup

For the next installment of our BSL careers office interview series, where we take a look at the post-BSL lives of our business and entrepreneurial graduates, we chatted with Ola Amro Kayal, founder of Nabati, an ice cream business with a twist. Based in Florida, USA, Nabati (meaning ‘plant-based’ in Arabic) is not your typical ice cream shop. It offers plant-based, organic, unrefined ice cream while sending an environmental message. All of the 100% plant-based ice cream, toppings, sauces, and desserts are served in biodegradable packaging. It is also a concept store, and they often collaborate with like-minded brands for various green campaigns.

OlaKayal_AtNabati_1_ByMelanieOlivaWhat degree did you received from BSL?

I graduated with a Bachelor in Business Administration with a focus on sustainability. I think we were the first group at BSL to do the switch to Sustainable Business as a subject. 

Which subjects and professors stood out to you most?

BSL was a very unique experience for me. I remember most of the content from my classes and, of course, all of my amazing professors. It was such a personal and hands-on learning experience, something I had never experienced before. I loved that all the professors were actually working in the industry they were teaching. What sticks with me the most is a class I had with Arash, Systems Thinking MIS. I also remember solving big problems with the fishing game simulation which was fun and informative. 

What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your studies and how have they helped you in your career? 

The case study approach left a mark on me as it made me realize that every situation in life is different. Of course, it’s always good to have a plan but it is also important to be adaptable to change. But I think the most important takeaway from my degree was that my education embedded in me a strong sense of sustainability in my lifestyle, actions and business decisions. From all that I learned at BSL, the question I still ask myself to this day is “What is the most sustainable way to operate?”. This keeps propelling me forward in my personal and professional life.  Nabati_Storefront_ByMelanieOliva

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in beginning your business?

What I learned from the outset is that every day brings a new set of challenges. Due to Nabati being based in Miami, USA, I faced a lot of challenges with acquiring the various permits for construction. Everything in this city requires a specific permit and costs a lot of money. Finding good quality workers and making sure they are satisfied is another challenge in itself. This continues to become a challenge, managing everyone’s personal needs and problems. Setting up standards and controlling them is something that is difficult to balance at first, but gets easier with experience. Delegating tasks is always tough when you are a perfectionist, so letting go of certain things and allowing others to handle them has been a point of personal growth for me. Marketing and getting my brand out to the public has also been challenging. The market for organic foods in the USA is already rather saturated, but plant-based ice cream is a unique offering. So getting the public to be able to know and differentiate the product is difficult, but we’re making headway!  

What have been your biggest wins so far and what would you attribute them to?

We have been fortunate enough to have numerous articles and publications favorably reviewing what Nabati is all about. There has been a lot of interest in us being the first 100% plant-based ice cream shop in Miami that is also plastic-free. We have recently been officially recognized by PETA which is amazing.

Nabati_OwnContainer_ByMelanieOliva

What is your vision for the business and your professional career going into the future? 

My dream is to have Nabati franchised in the USA. From there, I would love to open stores across the globe. We are now working on our wholesale capabilities with the aim to supply restaurants and shops in the USA. 

Do you believe that studying at BSL has provided you with a competitive advantage among your peers?

I think studying at BSL gave me a full overview of business administration with a real-world perspective. Gaining experience from industry professionals really helps you understand all the various and complex elements of running a business. It is cool to get the chance to put your theory into action. Like anything rewarding, it is challenging but also so exciting. If you have drive and passion to start your own business, then I would highly recommend BSL to gain valuable real-world experience.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to other budding entrepreneurs and business-focused students? 

I don’t only have one piece of advice, I have many! Have a plan but remember to be creatively adaptable. It’s important to know everything that is going on in your business, even if you are delegating something you should know how it is done to know what to expect. Finally, don’t be scared to make mistakes, that’s how you improve your business! And perhaps my most sage piece of advice: work hard – nothing good in life comes easy. 

Thank you for your time, Ola! It was truly insightful getting to know more about how you started your business and how your studies at BSL helped equip you with the necessary skills and perspective to create something of your own. From all of us at the BSL Careers Office, we wish you and Nabati continued success. Next time we’re in Florida we’ll be sure to try some of your delicious plant-based ice creams!

Innovation course addressing the learning appetite of students, the imperatives for companies and the challenges for megatrends

As I am correcting the post-assignments of the “Internal and External innovation” course, I am reflecting on the nature of innovation that will have to be addressed by us but more importantly by our students over the next decade.

Obviously, the Digital revolution will continue and it is estimated that half of the jobs in this area in 2030 don’t exist today.

Sustainability: the increase of population from 7.5B today to 10B in 2050, with natural resources that will actually reduce in absolute value, will have to be tackled.

Inequality, with a middle class that used to be the cement of democracy, will get poorer and with an aging population that may not afford the cost of medical care.

There are a dozen more critical topics that will equally require a constant curiosity, critical eye, pertinent innovation, and successful execution.

Along with all the courses of BSL, we hope that the innovation best practices and experiments that our students have played with will better equip them to face these challenges. We hope that the creative teamwork they have engaged in the internal and external innovation class will give them the fortitude to discover, to ideate, to try, to iterate and deliver value for the world.

In the meanwhile, our students will certainly deliver value to customers, helping their company to develop and prosper, but also ensuring that this prosperity will bring true value that will not be used to buy and deplete other companies.

To achieve this ambitious vision, we sincerely believe that we have given the participants an appetite for continuous learning, confidence in the creativity they showed during their childhood and the trust in working in teams, as they did in our class, working for instance on a real venture. They helped indeed a young entrepreneur in collecting customer insights, making sense of them and brainstorming on various scenarios. True Design Thinking process applied in real life!

Yves KarcherAuthor: Yves Karcher, BSL Associate Professor

BSL Alumni Mentoring Program – a year after the launch

careers guidance counsellorThe BSL Alumni Mentoring Program has been up and running for a full year, with 20 Alumni and 20 students involved in this pilot project launched by BSL Careers in January 2018. It is time to share with our community some observations and feedback about the program.

To mentor? Or not to mentor? This is the question that many BSL Alumni may have asked themselves after reading the email about my mentoring idea in summer 2017. It’s been nearly one and a half years since and I have spoken to numerous people both in person and over calls on the phone and Skype for interviews, the launch and the feedback gathering. As the designer of the program, it has been a great experience for me to get to know the Alumni, and to connect students with mentors from around the world.

I started gathering feedback from the mentors and the mentees throughout 2018. This data was collected through emails and face-to-face interactions and has enabled me to identify encouraging patterns as well as some areas for improvement. The results varied with many connections working well, with few barely taking off at all. Let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the program.

Positive patterns

The majority of students selected for the program reported that they found the experience to be a great success and enjoyed their first taste of a high-level networking. These students stated that the program offered them a safe space, free from grading and judgement, offering them opportunities to understand more about how professionals think in the different phases of their careers. The discussions concerning careers and professional development were also found to be extremely valuable.

Most of the Alumni mentors enjoyed opportunities to connect and engage in thoughtful conversations with younger, ‘switched on’ students and gained valuable insight on the next generation’s trends and incentives.

A discussion with a particular mentor made me realize that the program could also develop in directions that were not necessarily foreseen during the design phase. A very experienced entrepreneur, who was paired with a Master student, shared his highlight of the program, mentioning that “…at some point, the student and I swapped the mentor-mentee role as we reached such a great level of empathy between us. Something I truly enjoyed!”. I found this statement to be highly encouraging, as both the mentor and mentee indicated that they have continued the mentoring beyond the 10 hours and will meet this coming April in person!

Some experienced Alumni have also expressed their appreciation for the program, being of the opinion that it came at the right time in their careers when they felt a need to give back and help others.

On top of these positive patterns, we managed to bring some of our Alumni back to BSL and enrich our MBA seminars while tightening the connection between current students and Alumni, something which is particularly important when nurturing our community.

Where and how can the program improve?

I have taken into account that many of the Alumni who have a wealth of managerial and work experience have never officially mentored anyone before. Taking this feedback into consideration, I will be preparing future mentors with some practical examples to help guide and inspire them. In doing this I hope to improve the overall experience for both mentors and mentees.

Additionally, I received feedback regarding the impact of imposing mentoring time frames. Some felt that by assigning 10 hours to this process, the program ran the risk of limiting an experience that should develop naturally, without boundaries. This feedback will be implemented into future programs when new mentors will only receive a finite amount of hours to decide whether they will continue mentoring their mentees.

Lastly, many mentors expressed concerns that their mentees seemed to be more interested in accessing their networks than engaging in holistic discussions about their future. As the aim of the mentorship program is to create a space in which mentors can share personal and professional decisions, challenges, dreams and fears, we will be adapting the application process, requiring new applicants to submit a thorough motivation statement.

Alumni Mentoring Program in 2019

If you are a BSL Alumna/Alumnus with 5-7 years of management experience and would like to know more about the BSL Alumni Mentoring Program, please contact me directly at daniele.ticli@bsl-lausanne.ch. I will be happy to walk you through the objectives of the program and share some inspiring stories with you!

Dani-Linkedin-300x300Author: Daniele Ticli, BSL Head of Careers and External Affairs

BSL journal: My amazing experience in China

To top off an already exceptionally rewarding studying experience pursuing my Master’s degree in International Business at BSL, I decided to head to China for one semester as an exchange student at the Renmin University of China in Beijing. I would soon realize that this would be one of the greatest decisions I ever made.

Changing my environment, leaving my comfort zone in Switzerland and moving halfway across the world for 5 months to study in a University of 25,000 students proved to be a unique experience which also turned out to be a very profitable adventure for me. As for my courses themselves, I took 3 classes per week during my 4 months which were similar to the ones in Lausanne. The biggest difference was the environment: Beijing is an impressive sprawling metropolis with 21 million people living together in the heart of the world’s soon-to-be primary economic powerhouse. I understand that everybody will have different experiences in this remarkable country, but I made mine a successful one by getting involved. I gave myself the goal to leave China with more than with what I arrived with.

bsl student china experiencesource: David Adrien Vanni via Techstars Global Startup Weekend Beijing

Thanks to my thesis topic about startups which I completed during my exchange, I have been fortunate enough to find myself involved in the startup world in China. Beijing is one of the most active startup centers in the world. I participated in a 54-hour creative weekend workshop where strangers meet and work together on an innovative idea and pitch it to a panel of professionals by the end of the weekend. My team was awarded 2nd place out of 12. From there, together with two members of my team, we decided to push our idea further and I integrated their startup 3 months later – an educational platform providing consulting and tutoring services to Chinese high-school students willing to enroll in top US and UK universities. I am now the Director of Business Development and a shareholder of a fast-growing startup with revenues in a $2 billion market.bsl student china

source: David Adrien Vanni via Techstars Global Startup Weekend Beijing

Life has so much to offer when you are genuine and committed, so don’t miss out and go the extra mile, it’s beautiful out there.

Author: David Adrien Vanni, BSL MIB Alumnus

A successful entrepreneur: our alumnus Lorenzo Wiskerke

Lorenzo WiskerkeLorenzo Wiskerke completed his BBA at Business School Lausanne in 2006 and his MBA one year later. His sister Chayenne also did her BBA at BSL in 2010, and then joined Columbia University in New York to obtain her Master’s degree.

Lorenzo and Chayenne are members of a well-known family in the Netherlands, active in the onions’ business since 1933. The company was founded by Jacob Wiskerke, their great-grandfather, and is currently run by Chayenne.

An entrepreneurial spirit is obviously in the DNA of this family.

When Lorenzo was studying at BSL and his wife Loris Vitry-Trapman at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, they identified a gap in Switzerland’s food supply: high quality, fresh fish at an affordable price.

That is the reason why, in 2012, Lorenzo started his own company Royal Fish: http://www.royalfish.ch/pages/fr/accueil.php

At the beginning, the company, based in Aclens (VD), imported fish directly from Dutch fishers, but now it also has suppliers in France, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Italy and Spain, each one specialized in one kind of fish.

The big asset of Royal Fish is the supply chain they were able to put in place. Just in time is the characteristic of it, guaranteeing the freshness of this highly perishable product. Concretely, the fish is delivered six times a week from Monday to Saturday, and customers can order fish until 5 p.m. for the next day!

The company mainly works with restaurants, hospitals, schools and catering companies such as Eldora.

It is rapidly growing (30 % annual growth rate last year), and currently employs eight people. It expects a turnover of 5’000’000 Swiss Francs for 2018.

If you want to hear Lorenzo talking about his studies at BSL and about this endeavor, you can use the following link:

https://soundcloud.com/business-school-lausanne/voices-of-bsl-podcast-lorenzo

BSL is particularly pride to count such successful entrepreneurs among its alumni.

Congratulations to Lorenzo and his wife, and our best wishes for a bright future!

Author: Philippe Du Pasquier, President of the Board

An exotic Internship between BSL & Sumba Hospitality Foundation

In 2017, Business School Lausanne (BSL) and Sumba Hospitality Foundation (SHF) in Indonesia co-created an Internship program tailor-made for BSL students called Sustainable Development Internship.

You may wonder, what is Sumba? And what do they do? So, let us share a brief presentation of this Foundation. SHF offers a vocational training in hospitality for Sumbanese underprivileged youth. The holistic education program provides students with general courses and enables them to graduate in Culinary, Food & Beverage Service, Housekeeping or Front office. To allow the students to apply and train their skills, SHF has opened ten luxury guest pavilions, a SPA as well as a restaurant & bar to the public. Education, environmental awareness and sustainability are the three most important principles of the foundation. It is in the belief of the foundation that tourism can be a positive force in poverty-stricken regions particularly when its community is involved in the process. The goal of the foundation is to assist in providing viable employment to Sumba’s young inhabitants and break the cycle of poverty while also protecting the environment and their culture.

A large part of the campus is dedicated to the growth and maintenance of a sustainable, organic farm, created with the precepts of the burgeoning field of permaculture in mind. Produce from the land are used in the restaurant and the students are taught current farming methods with guidelines to better cultivate their land. SHF aims to raise the students’ awareness of their environment. The school is powered entirely by solar energy allowing SHF to be completely off the grid and re-uses wastewater for irrigation.

One of our BSL students on Sumba Island, Morgan Manin, is doing his internship as part of his Capstone Project (Master of International Business); I took the opportunity to ask him via email for a preliminary description of his internship, to share with our community.

BSL internship

“Reading about SHF on the website and social media made me choose it to do my internship, as my values match perfectly with the foundation’s values and I believe that I will be learning a lot during my Sustainable Development Internship. After the first week, I have identified areas where I could be helpful and learn, which I can summarize with three main tasks and responsibilities. The first one is to analyze the financials at SHF and therefore create a budget for each department meaning the actual school, the administration, the hotel, sustainability and the F&B, including an indication of Capex by departments. I will also guide the SHF finance team towards greater transparency and define cost improvement initiatives.

The second main responsibility I have is to create a Triple Bottom Line Reporting (TBL). TBL is a progressive mode of reporting and seems suited to the SHF. Sustainability centric practices are deeply entrenched in the DNA of the SHF business model. Environmental and social responsibility sit at the core of daily practices and this alongside the true cost of these operationalized initiatives must be reported. I will then gather information to facilitate understanding around the social, environmental and economic practices of SHF. I will conduct research into TBL, using these understandings and research knowledge, with the aim to create a presentation that highlights sound reasoning and justifies or rejects TBL as a means of reporting at SHF. If TBL is found to be preferred mode of reporting, the presentation will include a step-by-step guide detailing a prescribed pathway toward the implementation of TBL reporting at SHF, and then create the strategy that details how to implement TBL as the reporting mechanism for SHF. In the event that SHF management decides to implement TBL as their primary mode of reporting, I will then begin the process of implementation.

To finish, I will be the IT ‘go-to’ person for the team, helping everyone out on Excel, Word, etc.

I will also consider improved ways of using IT for communication for the SHF team.

Before I arrived here, it was planned that I would have to formulate a business plan to be shared with others wanting to duplicate the model of the SHF. I will, therefore, formulate a business plan, constructed in such a way that it has the capacity to facilitate like-minded operators wanting to duplicate the SHF model.

In addition to my primary tasks and responsibilities, I will have ad-hoc tasks set by the Executive Director, I will take care of the students during their study hours and exams as well as shepherding them at night and being in charge of sport activities for the students; also, I will monitor Community English classes for young Sumbanese children living in the neighborhood.

I strongly believe that I will learn so much through this experience, being in a different environment, living in this community, having multiple tasks matching with what I have learned at BSL, and matching the BSL values”.

Morgan, we are all proud of you, we wish you a great experience and let’s see if we can come visit you at some point on that amazing island!

Dani-Linkedin-300x300Author: Daniele Ticli, BSL Head of Careers and External Affairs

Five steps to make Company Value Statements work

A friend of mine said recently to me:

“I never understood why companies publish value statements. I cannot imagine that this has any effect.”

If I look at many corporate values statements I have to admit that he is right: empty word bubbles on glossy paper, that present an organization that does not exist in reality. Cliché values like teamwork and integrity are overused and are not get specified what they really mean for that given company. In consequence values statements like this cannot create any emotional appeal. And finally, very often nothing happens in the company after the value statement is published. It stays a dead piece of paper with no link to real-life behavior.

What a pity! What a waste of time and energy! I think this situation can be explained by the fact that companies tend to underestimate the complexity of managing values in a credible way and overestimate the power of publishing policies and written statements.

There are tons of studies that show that companies with a strong values-based culture are more successful because connecting your people to a purpose that goes beyond the profit motive is extremely powerful and motivating. Humans want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves, where they can have impact, appreciation and pursue common positive goals. Values can be like wings that lift us to do amazing things together.

So what do you need to do to avoid the 4 apocalyptic riders of bad value statements?

The 4 apocalyptic  riders of value statements:

  • Too general
  • Not authentic
  • No emotional appeal
  • No link to behavior

1. Make values specific to your company

The first step towards a values statement that works is putting extra effort into the choice and wording of values in order to develop values that are specific for the respective company.

Instead of simply picking the usual suspects of over-used values like the above (excellence, integrity, and communication) or the equally commonplace client orientation, teamwork or trust, you need to find out what really defines the culture of your organization. Choosing client orientation, teamwork and trust is the lazy way out. Nobody can be against them. All companies need client orientation, teamwork, and trust because without them they would soon be out of business.

You need to do some more heavy thinking and find out how exactly e.g. do you serve your customers. How do you do it differently than your competition? What is unique about a clients’ experience with you?

A good example of specific values comes from Ikea. Their values are: Humbleness and willpower, leadership by example, daring to be different, togetherness and enthusiasm, cost consciousness, constant desire for renewal and accept and delegate responsibility. They have defined values that really fit their culture and could not be used by almost any other company.

2. Only authentic values are credible

The second step towards good value statements is ensuring that they are authentic. This is best achieved by developing them in a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach. This helps to avoid the common pitfall of coming up with a list of unauthentic and unrealistic values that reflect the wishful thinking of top- management. In fact, it is often hard for the people at the top to know what the culture and climate of the rest of the company look like. In general things tend to look rosier from the top.

Does that mean you should start with a couple of employee focus groups to come up with your new company values? That depends on your situation and your corporate culture. The danger of starting with a bottom-up development is the fact that you create expectations with coworkers that might get disappointed by the top management.

When I work with clients on value statements I usually like to start with a first input from the top management that is then specified and modified by a series of bottom-up workshops. In these workshops, we discuss questions like:

“What do this values really mean to us?”

“Could we do without this value?”

“What are positive stories about this value?”

“What do we still need to do to realize this value?”

With the material from these workshops, it is much easier to come up with a first draft for a value statement that is both authentic and specific. In addition, you gain employee buy-in from the very beginning.

3. Aim for the hearts

The third step toward good and credible value statements is making them emotionally appealing. The Bavarian Bank Sparda is a thought-provoking example of how to do this in a courageous and unusual way. Unlike most companies, they did not initiate their values management process with a top-down process but with a focus on the individual coworker. The banks visionary and charismatic CEO, Helmut Lind, Sparda wanted to change the bank by shifting everybody’s attention to the strengths of every coworker.

On a voluntary basis, coworkers filled out an online questionnaire and participated in workshops that helped them identify their natural talents. This created an enormous emotional traction, credibility, and trust because suddenly the men and women in the bank felt seen in their own special characteristical strengths. A deep desire that every human has. It also became much easier to appreciate diversity, because the value of difference was made transparent in the workshops.

I am deeply impressed by this approach that really starts with the people in the company. On the basis of this appreciative process that emphasized the different strength of coworkers the next step was to look for agreement and unity: What should be the values that we all could agree to for our company?

Helmut Lind had the courage to give up his leadership control and put his trust into the collective intelligence of his people by giving them all a say in the development of the banks value statement. The fact that an amazing number of 74% of all coworkers volunteered to participate in the process, shows the high level of engagement the strength-focus process had created.

The values that were the result of this process were robust, credible and emotionally appealing. They were strong enough to enable the bank to decide not to invest in e.g. in risky speculations into currencies or food because it contradicted their value of justice and sustainability. A contested strategy before the financial crises of 2008, a wise decision afterward. And while the banking sector, in general, did not do very well after 2008, Sparda Bank continued to be successful.

4. Link values to behavior

The fourth step towards a successful value statement is making a systematical and constant link to behavior and the management’s relentlessly communication about the values.  We find a positive example of the constant implementation and communication of company values at the hotel chain Ritz-Carlton.
Their 12 service values all start with “I” which expresses personal responsibility and they are all very action oriented and specific for the hospitality business:

Service Values: I Am Proud To Be Ritz-Carlton

  1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
  2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
  3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  4. I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
  5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
  6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
  9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
  11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
  12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.

Source: http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/about/gold-standards

But their implementation and communication effort does not stop here: already when recruiting new employees the values fit is tested. Once hired every new employee gets trained on these values for two days and has to present them by heart in front of their colleagues. In order to integrate the service values in the day-to-day work every morning in every Ritz-Carlton Hotel around the world, a 15-minute work meeting takes place: the round-up. During this meeting the priorities of the day get communicated, the service values get discussed and positive “wow” stories of exceptional examples of customer service are shared. This is the Ritz-Carlton way of using the emotional power of storytelling.

They also go one important step further: They empower their employees to deliver great service by granting every employee a discretionary spending of $2,000 (per incident) to satisfy a customer.

Sounds a bit extreme? Maybe… But Ritz-Carlton seems to be very successful with this highly structured approach for creating a values-oriented corporate culture: Employee turnover is at a very low – 18% versus the industry average of 158%.

5. Leaders must relentlessly communicate and implement values

The fifth and final step towards an effective value statement is making everybody – and especially leaders – accountable for the consistent implementation and communication of values.  The main responsibility for making a values statement fly, lies with managers, of course.

An inspiring example comes again from the CEO of Sparda Bank, Helmut Lind (yes, I admit it, I am a fan….). Since one of the company values is mindfulness, he is giving mindfulness seminars to his coworkers on 24 days every year! A great example of how you can continuously show your coworkers that you are serious about your company values.

Unfortunately, often the leadership of a company comes up with some fancy words and then expect that somehow magically their coworkers will adopt these values and use them as a guideline for their behavior, while top managers hide in the shadow. This is a very efficient way to quickly lose coworkers buy-in into the company values.

Somehow leaders seem to forget too easily that they are under constant observation by their coworkers. If their coworkers do not see that their managers fully embrace the companies values, role-model them continuously, talk about them frequently and convincingly, everybody will forget about the values and follow the cues that the leaders’ actual behavior shows them.

As always also in value management actions speak louder than words. You cannot expect that your coworkers will embrace the value of reliability if you are e.g. notoriously late for meetings.

Furthermore, leaders need to step in if their coworkers disregard company values.  If one of your company values is “Appreciation” and you have a manager who constantly mistreats his coworkers you have to take action, even if this abusive manager happens to be economically successful or a friend of your boss. But holding others accountable for company values and role-modeling them should not only be done by managers but by everyone in the organization.

Summary

In conclusion, even though value statements at the first glance seem to belong in the soft, fluffy and everybody-knows-how-do-it category of management tools, they require in fact rigorous thinking, honest soul-searching, and consistent implementation and communication.

Everybody can come up with a list of nice sounding company values. But if a value statement is not specific to the companies culture, business model and strategy the value statement will not create positive effects like orientation and motivation for employees.

If value statements are not authentic, they will not be credible and create more harm than good. At best, they will be quickly forgotten.

If company values are not emotionally appealing they will not win peoples’ hearts – which actually is the core aim of a value statement.

If company values are not constantly communicated and linked to behavior, nobody will take them seriously.

If managers are not shining examples of living and enforcing the company values, nobody else will do so.

So, yes, you should absolutely have company values and if done correctly your company will profit enormously from such a process, but you have to know that you will open a Pandora’s box if you do not do it with care, conviction, and authenticity.

Related links:

https://culture-officer.fr/5332

https://www.userlike.com/de/blog/unternehmenswerte

https://rctom.hbs.org/submission/the-ritz-carlton-ladies-and-gentlemen-serving-ladies-and-gentlemen/

https://enorm-magazin.de/ein-banker-geht-aufs-ganze

https://www.ecogood.org/de/gemeinwohl-bilanz/unternehmen/portrats-sparda-bank-muenchen-eg/

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo, BSL Professor