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.

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!

Swiss Education, Global Connections.

One of a very select group of Mauritian students (currently numbering one!) that has studied at BSL, Ravi Pariah joined the full-time MBA program in 2014. With a background in architecture, he took the decision to add to his practical abilities with business and management skills. Following a relocation to Switzerland, he enrolled at the school keen to build both his career and connections in a new part of the World.

MBA alumni pic“I was aware of the small class sizes before I enrolled and that was a big plus for me as the interaction between classmates promised to be a great benefit. I was also pleasantly surprised at the level of contact we had with other students across all classes as well. Of course, it was mainly fellow MBA classes that enrolled in the intake before or after mine, but the School as a whole has such a warm family feel that you soon get to know most of your fellow students.”

However, it is not only the camaraderie and connections that occurred during the study but also after graduation contact remains strong between BSL alumni. “It is a wonderful thing really, the global nature of the student body means that you can usually meet up with BSL people wherever you are.” He continues. “A few years ago I was traveling to Thailand, a country I did not know well at all. I reached out to the School to ask if they had the contacts for any former BSL students who were in the country. They were kind enough to send out an email on my behalf and through that, I was able to connect and meet socially with Alumni. In fact, one had graduated back in 2001 but still kept in touch with the school via newsletters and the like. It was great to meet up and compare notes of our experience.”

“I am also part of a WhatsApp group chat that is made up of MBA students from the spring and fall intakes of 2014 and some of the guys who started in 2015 also; there are over 30 people in there so there is always someone who is around. In my last role, I was traveling to LA quite often and decided to reach out on one occasion to see if anyone was going to be in the area. By coincidence a graduate from a later year from Germany was going to be there on Business at the same time, so we met up for dinner.”

In his new role, Ravi will be based solely in Geneva, but is still keen to ensure that he keeps his BSL connections “I understand one of the BSL group members has just opened a hotel and resort in beautiful coastal surfing areas in Costa Rica, so it may be time to connect!”

Empowering the societal transition

Impossible transition?

The daunting scale of societal transition we face in the next decade or two, to avert major disruption or even collapse of our complex civilization, makes most of us feel helpless and discouraged, leading to denial (Trump & Co), action paralysis (many European governments) or over-simplistic “solutions” with marginal impact (please recycle your PET).

How can we positively engage citizens and corporations to act with the required speed and determination?

The recently concluded BSL course “Implementing Sustainability Strategy”, as a mini-trial, offers hope. With nine participants, at least as many nationalities between us, a guest speaker, and myself as a learning facilitator, our management experience ranging from basic materials and finance to software and humanitarian operations – we co-created a 3-day piece of this journey together.

Preparation

To prepare, a few hours of reading and thinking before class helped participants catch up to the latest knowledge and insights. Additionally, answering a few questions helped crystalize one’s thoughts. Finally, in the classroom: rearranging furniture so we are all seated around one big table; then sharing interests and expectations.

Discovery

We quickly moved beyond alarming images showing the climate or biodiversity urgency, air or plastic pollution, and scientific papers explaining the foundations. It was important to put current developments in a proper context – which is the basis of any serious understanding.

We went on a “discovery journey” from the Big Bang (looking into energy, entropy, and life), the evolution of homo sapiens (power of storytelling, oldest remaining human civilizations, agricultural revolution, enlightenment, industrial revolution), economics (concept of GDP, neoclassical, environmental, ecological and other flavors, need for growth, the myth of decoupling, rebound effect), technology (coal, oil, Haber-Bosch, green revolution, absolute and practical limits, technology as master or servant?), finally reaching societal changes (poverty, consumer society, industrial food). Interestingly, most fundamental questions like “What’s the purpose of society” are rarely asked and almost never collectively answered.

Barefoot economics

A useful tool on this journey is Manfred Max-Neef’s “Barefoot economics”, which the author himself condenses in 5 brief yet deeply insightful statements:

  1. The economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy. 
  2. Development is about people and not about objects. 
  3. Growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth. 
  4. No economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services. 
  5. The economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.
BSL post

Process of Personal Transition, John Fisher, 2012

Application to business

Back to the classroom, back to the companies we work for: it was time to apply this broader understanding. After the usual impact, materiality and lifecycle analysis, we tried a novel approach, asking the questions “Why does this product exist at all?” and “Which human needs does it satisfy”, based on Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs model. A lower-impact solution is then sought that satisfies the same needs. This iterative process works best if part of a broader employee and management engagement process, which we also practiced.

Additionally, our guest speaker Mark Posey shared his extensive experience of how this all came together in real life at Schindler. The discussion lasted three hours including lunch, time very well spent.

Throughout this intense course, to keep everyone engaged, we tried to maintain a good rhythm, alternating videos, reports, class discussion, scientific articles, teamwork and presentations, short explanations, and individual reflection.

Ecosystem services experienced first hand

Ecosystem services are benefits humans derive from biodiversity, such as provisioning (food, medicine), regulating (flood protection, climate), cultural (meaning, heritage, relaxation) and supporting (soil formation, nutrient cycling). Every class day, just before sunset, feeling totally exhausted, we went for a 40-min restorative nature walk. As a result, the long evening group assignment went until 21:45, yet we were fully motivated. What better way to experience the value of cultural ecosystem services?

Feeling empowered

If we could somehow combine a deep understanding of the current situation and how we got there, a humanist vision of society based on human thriving over generations, a determination to experiment in different local contexts, a shared success metric based of high human development and minimal environmental impact, and finally inspiration of past cases of mobilization to face big challenges (example: a short BBC video) – we might actually feel empowered to start the transformation.

This is precisely what we did on a tiny scale at BSL.

Sascha_NICK Author: Sascha Nick, BSL Professor

12 Images of an effective learning environment

For quite some time, I have been thinking about the characteristics of an effective learning environment. My objective was to compile a list of ideas in response to the question “What makes a learning environment an effective one?”

Recently, I read the book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert. First published in 1980, this book includes Papert’s arguments in favor of using computers as a learning tool in an educational setting. Being an education theorist, Papert characterizes the essential properties of an effective educational system. I was amazed at how close the ideas presented by the author were to my experiences as an educator. Therefore, I thought it was time for me to present the twelve images that characterize an effective learning environment as seen by Papert and experienced by myself.

  1. In an effective learning environment, learning occurs naturally as a byproduct of the learners’ interactions with their surroundings, without the need of structured teaching (e.g. lectures, presentations), similar to the way a child learns to talk or walk. In such environments, learning occurs through embodied experiences that engage a full range of human sensitivities in an interactive and spontaneous way.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the educator focuses on creating personally meaningful and intellectually coherent learning experiences for the learners. In such environments, learning is not separate from reality. The learners are thereby not left alone in making sense of what they learn and are guided by the educators in their journeys of reconciling, accommodating and assimilating new knowledge within their existing intellectual structures.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners and educators both challenge themselves by venturing into the unknown and going into a space that is out of the boundaries of their comfort zones. They give themselves permission to fail and learn from their failures. In such environments, exploration, failure, and discovery are key ingredients of the learning process.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners make the newly acquired knowledge and ideas their own. They deconstruct what they learn into fundamental ideas, reshuffle and combine them in new and innovative ways and generate a personalized way of applying and communicating what they have learned.
  1. In an effective learning environment, theoretical knowledge is a means to amplify and expand the learners’ intuitive understanding of their surroundings. In such environments, not only does theoretical knowledge not oppose the intuitive insights of the learners, but it also serves as a mechanism through which the learners can enhance and refine their intuition, and subsequently their creative capacity.
  1. In an effective learning environment, interaction, communication and collaboration amongst the learners and between the learners and the educators are facilitated and enriched. In such environments dialogues are viewed as a free flow of meaning and knowledge is viewed as a means of creating harmony between the learners and their surroundings.
  1. In an effective learning environment, measuring learning provides an opportunity for more learning, rather than hampering it. Therefore, the learner’s understanding of a subject matter is not merely judged as “right” or “wrong” but considered, by the educator, as a powerful starting point and a foothold for designing further learning.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learner and the educator’s roles are interchangeable. In such environments, learners learn from their peers, realizing that the educator’s role is not exclusive to the educator and that they themselves can be sources of inspiration when it comes to knowledge acquisition and development. Educators also realize that to be an educator is synonymous with being a lifelong learner.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners learn from the educators not by “what they say” but by “what they do”. In such an environment, the educators are the embodiment of the ideas that they want the learners to encounter, and they look sensitively for conflicts between what they preach and what they practice (i.e., their stated and revealed preferences).
  1. In an effective learning environment, both the learners and educators think about the ways they think and learn about the ways they learn. In such environments, every topic provides the learners and educators with an opportunity to become a better learner and thinker by reflecting upon their assumptions, mental models and cognitive heuristics and biases.
  1. In an effective learning environment, learning is an interdisciplinary undertaking. Meaning that, boundaries between different disciplines fade and that learners and educators are encouraged to transfer insights from one field of inquiry to another. In such environments, the focus is on creating connections between seemingly different ideas.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the fundamental assumptions underlying what constitutes an effective learning environment are continually challenged and critically reflected upon. In such environments, education is viewed as a fluid and ever-changing phenomenon that should dynamically adapt to cultural, pedagogical, scientific and technological developments.

I hope these 12 images can give you a bigger picture of an effective learning environment. While compiling this list, I quickly realized that each of these 12 images deserves a more in-depth treatment. Therefore, my intention is to elaborate on every point and exemplify it with instances and cases from my own learning design activities. So, stay tuned for the next entries in this series. Meanwhile, if you think some more ideas need to be added to this list, please do not hesitate to leave a comment. I would also be happy to know which of these images resonated most with you.

arash golnamAuthor: Dr. Arash Golnam, BSL Professor

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

Four Reasons why Corporate Value Statements don’t work

« Excellence », « integrity » and « communication » These seem to be the most popular buzzwords in corporate value statements.

I roll my eyes as soon as I see these values anywhere. Why? I will give you four reasons why they make me nervous:

1. One size does not fit all

First of all, values like excellence, integrity, and communication are way too generic. They could be adopted by any organization. Who would be against excellence, integrity, and communication? But are they really specific for the company and its culture or business model? Probably not! Excellence can mean many things to different people. It certainly makes a difference what we mean by excellence whether you are working in a bank or a hospital.
Integrity? It means that you always stick to your moral principles no matter what the benefit might be if you break the rules. This value, too, needs a lot of definition and soul searching before a group of people like a company can agree what it really means to them: When is a gift a bribe? How do we deal with confidential information?  Can I be friends with a supplier? Etc.

Pic Blog Corporate Values prt1 Yes, way too often value statement are empty word bubbles! Please avoid that. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash 

 

2. The true colors are always shining through

Second, often companies succumb to the temptation to choose values that sound appealing but are too far away from their corporate reality and somehow hoping that the simple act of proclaiming that value it will become a reality in the organization. For example, when companies put “communication” in their value chart they wish to express with this value, which is not even a value but an activity, that they want everyone in the organization to cooperate effectively and openly with as little political power play as possible. Wishful thinking in many cases!  Of course, the people in the company know this and react with cynicism.

You cannot declare that your company cherishes collaboration, open communication, and teamwork when in reality your corporate culture is driven by fierce internal competition, politics and monetary incentives only. What we need is an inside-out approach. You have to do your internal cultural homework before you go into the world and brag about what a wonderful company you think you are.

Values statement will never work, if they are only the icing on the cake, they have to be the very foundation of a corporate culture. Within the icing-on-the-cake approach, the top management comes together and agrees on some fancy sounding words that are then communicated to the lower ranks. This does not work. It is like putting on makeup without washing your face. Or like learning some moves and gestures to appear more self-assured without doing the hard internal work of personal development.

France Telecom had to learn this the hard way in 2008, when they got hit by a series of over 30 employee suicides: victims stabbed themselves in the middle of company meetings, jumped out of the window at work and left goodbye letters that clearly stated that they killed themselves because of the pressures and fears at work. At that time France Telecom was in a difficult transition from a state-owned company to a player in the highly competitive and dynamic international telcom market and could not fire employees with a public servant status. Therefore, CEO Didier Lombard had introduced a merciless shake-out project that aimed at demoralizing employees in order to make them leave the company “voluntarily”.  As a reaction to the suicide series, Lombard said that this “fashion” of suicide should stop and that the media coverage created an effect of contagion. The waves of public outrage went high, Lombard had to leave and is still today on trial for harassment. Of course, at the same time, France Telecom had a value statement that said that the well-being of their employees was very important to them.

It is clear that after a disaster like that it will be very, very hard to ever make coworkers believe in the beautiful words of a value statement again. This is one point that is often ignored when companies initiate a value management project: If you screw it up, credibility is lost for a very long time, if not forever. At the same time, it is true that values can and should be aspirational. You can use values as part of a change program. But if you do that you have to make clear that you know that you are not quite there yet and prove that you have measures like training, organizational redesign or new performance standards in place to get there.

3. No Emotional appeal

Third, if values are too generic and unrealistic they do not create any genuine emotional response or connection for the men and women in a company who know the true colors of their organization all too well.  Of course, client orientation is important, but this is not a value that would deeply resonate with the hearts of employees. This is nothing that makes people get out of bed in the morning and go to work with joy and anticipation.

How can you make corporate values emotionally appealing? Not easy, but it helps to always start with a motivating overall purpose of the company that goes beyond the profit motive. Humans always yearn for meaning in their life. As philosopher and Holocaust survivor Viktor Fraenkel famously put it: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

This human desire for meaning is nicely illustrated by Harish Manwani’s (COO of Unilever) TED talk in which he tells the story of his first day at the company where his boss asked him why he was there. Manwani answered: “To sell lots of soap!” and his boss said: “No, to change peoples lives!”, because the original purpose of Unilever was to improve hygiene in order to help prevent contagious diseases. Clearly changing peoples lives is more emotionally appealing than selling lots of soap, right?

4. No link to everyday behavior

Forth, very often values statements are not linked to behavior. They get developed, glossy brochures rolled out, employees (maybe) read them, laugh bitterly because they are so unrealistic and cheesy and then they forget them because nothing happens that would link these values with the behavior of managers and employees. The mere proclamation of value buzz words will never, never, never influence people’s behavior. How people in an organization actually behave is the ultimate proof to the value pudding. Without this link to behavior, a value statement loses all credibility and disappoints all expectations that unavoidably come up when a company opens the value Pandora’s box.

And by the way, these three values, excellence, integrity, and communication were the corporate values of Enron. And we all know how this ended: In jail, bankruptcy, and shattered hopes. Somehow Enron had managed to win prizes for their value statement, but it definitely did not keep their top management from cooking the books and inciting their employees to cut-throat business behavior with the help of an inhumane incentive system.

In a nutshell, ever so often value statements do not go beyond orgies of humanistic prose in shiny brochures that nobody can take seriously. In extreme cases, they are a more or less random collection of buzzwords sound like this hilarious song by Weird Al: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyV_UG60dD4

On the other side, of course, values are important for companies in our highly volatile, complex and ambiguous times. Old-school management that works with order and command is too rigid for this new fast-moving world. The younger generation of corporate coworkers is looking for more freedom, more fun, more autonomy and more purpose in their jobs. Here a corporate culture that is driven by values and a purpose that goes beyond simple profit maximization creates a positive appeal for future coworkers, higher levels of motivation with current coworkers and a more inspiring and more flexible way of decision making. Ideally, instead of applying rigid rulebooks, controls and processes, coworkers decide on the basis of common values.

So how can you come up with a value statement that will actually have these positive effects instead of creating cynicism and ridicule?

Stay tuned for my next blog post and on the five steps to make the value statements work.

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

How business – and the world – benefit from intrapreneurship

intrapreneurship

Image credit: Emily reider on unsplash

I recently co-designed and co-facilitated an MBA elective on the subject of ESG (Environmental and Social Governance) and Sustainable Investing at Business School Lausanne.

Teaching an elective to MBA students at BSL was a great opportunity. And to be honest, initially I was not at ease, as it was completely out of my comfort zone. But I ended up doing it – and I totally loved it!

The point is that this experience made me realize (again!) that as an entrepreneur (and freelance-on-a-mission as I like to define myself at the moment), stepping out of your comfort zone and nurture your positive mindset are essential if you want to change the world for good.

This is also true within companies: if you want to change the status quo, stepping up, daring to be visible and stepping out of your comfort zone are skills to be developed.

Why is intrapreneurship key for companies – and the world?

According to the Intrapreneurship Institute, there are 3 enduring benefits of intrapreneurship within organizations: new products and services, growing employee satisfaction and market share increase.

Letting employees experiment and “train” their intrapreneurial mindsets and skills, letting them “fail often and fast” (as we say in the start-up world) are key for agility, adapting to increasing VUCA environments and thus, long term business success.

During the MBA elective, we pushed students out of their comfort zones, “sparking” their entre- and intrapreneurial mindset through a hackathon: learning and applying new tools and frameworks in a short period of time and pitching a project “for good” with positive social or environmental impact to (fictional) potential investors or board of directors.

A call to action for business

Let your employees “train” their intrapreneurial mindset and skillset for a positive impact initiative they care about! It will not only motivate them to follow through if it’s a cause they truly care about, it will also enable them to train these skills so that they can use them in their daily jobs. A win-win for people, planet and profit!

marena eirichAuthor: Marena Eirich is a CSR consultant and creator of teams4purpose, a program that helps organizations activate positive impact from within. She is a graduate of the Diploma in Sustainable Business from BSL and HSG.