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May you live in interesting times

Posted by: Maria
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2011 was a year of change for me – I finished my first year at LBS, changed my job, moved to a new apartment and got married. As I am embarking on my second year at LBS, I’ve started to reflect on the personal changes I’ve gone through, but also on all the “interesting times” through which our world seems to be going as well. This is quite a a substantial topic, of course, and I’ve been finding it hard to summarise all my thoughts in one ultimate conclusion. So I’ve decided to take it step by step.

I came across three pieces of content this week, which shaped my thoughts on the framework I might use for my reflections, as well as kicked off my thinking around the changing ways in which companies, from both the B2C and B2B sectors need to understand and engage with customers.

The amazing and very insightful presentation that gave me a framework to think about the “perfect storm” that is disrupting the business world today, and shaping the one of tomorrow can be seen here: http://www.slideshare.net/fredwilson/carlota-perez-talk-at.

Keeping this framework in mind, I came across two articles this week, which further shaped my thoughts on the challenges shaping the busines world today.

The first article was in the Wall Street Journal and looked at how retailers are trying to reach a “new” breed of consumers who cut back during the recession and have no plans to start spending again (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904563904576588964006576034.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLE_Video_Top). The other article, from Reuters, discussed the overwhelmingly growing volume of customer data on websites like Facebook and Twitter, and how marketing executives are finding it hard to realise its potential (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/11/socialmedia-ibm-idUSL5E7LA3JO20111011).

To me these articles mean the following:

- Companies need to be even more targeted in their marketing efforts as more and more segmentation will be needed to ensure that the rightly priced products are targeted at the appropriate customers

- Analysing unstructured data (i.e. data created and shared on sites like Twitter and YouTube, or e-mail) will be key to ensuring that companies understand the needs and expectations of all customers, as well as that they segment them more successfully

- The tech industry is entering an era of change where companies like HP, IBM, SAP, etc. should be looking for ways to quickly fit their offerings for purpose, learning from successes in the B2C sector and implementing them in the B2B one

I am sure there is much more to say on this topic, but for me the overall takeaway is the impending need for quick and deep changes within the corporate world for which some organisations may not be prepared. This definitely points to “interesting times”, but also times of opportunity for those who are persistent and focused on the long-term.

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Добро пожаловать в Москву!

Posted by: Maria
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The first-year mandatory international assignment (part of the Executive MBA curriculum) is, in my opinion, one of the best points about studying at LBS. It’s been a month since I came back from Moscow and I still keep remembering the great times we had there (most of them will remain a SEMBA secret forever, of course!). Of course, everyone in the Moscow intake had their own reasons to be there – after all, we could have chosen Argentina, South Africa, India or China instead.

Well, having been there I think Moscow was an excellent choice! For me, it was all about combining fun with getting to work on a consulting project for a Russian-based company, and in the process learning more about working culture in Moscow. Apart from the amazing variety of fish dishes Russians have, there were not many surprises. In fact, being in Moscow reminded me a lot about Bulgaria – where I come from originally. Similar architecture, office culture, food (apart from all the fish!), beautiful women… ;) Surpsises aside, Moscow exceeded my expectations! From our adventurous pick up from the airport in an old Russian bus (can’t remember the make, but see picture), to the stunning hotel in which we stayed (one of the seven skyscrapers that Stalin built to rival New York), to the many sleepless nights, to the AMAZINGLY delicious pancakes at café Pushkin, to the great metro stations (see picture), to the great team that we met at the Audit Group (our assigned Russian company) – the whole experience was a blast and it truly gave me a flavour of what it is to live and work in Moscow.

Of course, now that the fun is over we’ve started working on our report submission for the Audit Group, which focuses on organisational change and employee engagement. It is the hard part of the international assignment, but is giving me a great learning experience that I know I will remember for a long time.

So if you are thinking of going to Moscow one of these days – don’t think twice! You won’t regret it and you will have the time of your life.

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One of the best benefits of studying at LBS is the access you get to a tremendous amount of events and conferences where you get to meet and hear from business leaders from all over the world. On Monday, I had the opportunity to attend an event from the Up Close series where Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games spoke about the vision and brand behind the London 2012 Olympic Games.

It is very embarrassing for me to admit that before going to hear Mr Coe speak, I had no idea that he won four Olympic medals and set eight outdoor and three indoor world records in middle distance track events. That’s impressive! But even more impressive (at least to me!) was Mr Coe’s speech where he focused on what differentiated London’s bid to host the Olympics compared to other great cities like Paris, Moscow, etc.

He talked a lot about building a competitive advantage by having a sustained, long-term vision and ensuring that you leave a positive legacy behind. If I understood him correctly, Mr Coe argued that London won the bid not because of being a great city with good infrastructure, but because his team was able to clearly articulate what the Olympics would do for people in the UK, such as encouraging children to get into sports and delivering the first fully-sustainable games in the world.

This line of thinking was not completely foreign to me. In fact, I think there is a movement going on today where in a changing world that is exceedingly complex, interconnected and unpredictable, businesses are realising that building resilience for tomorrow requires a focus on sustainability instead of on short-term gain.

Similar to Mr Coe, leaders at the recently held Davos also argued that a key challenge for forward-looking business leaders in 2011 and beyond will be to find the right balance between long-term value creation and pure profitability. This, they said, will require some “soul searching” for a lot of companies and continuous focus on operating as a valuable member of society, instead of just a product or service provider.

I agree and I think that as a result, businesses will also need to realise that they cannot operate in isolation and that leadership today means managing a range of complicated relationships in order to successfully address complex issues. Taking this stakeholder approach to sustainability will not be easy for many. But those who are patient and put the right resources and dedication in place to master it will benefit from continued growth and enjoy a unique competitive advantage in the new market reality.

What do you think? Is the sustainability movement building momentum and are businesses ready to navigate successfully through a complicated sea of stakeholder relations?

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What I’m looking forward to on the programme

Posted by: Maria
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There are a lot of things to look forward to on the EMBA LBS programme – the 8:15 a.m. Financial Accounting class on a Saturday after a gruelling night out with your classmates, the next Statistics assignment, which makes you know more Excel than you ever wanted to, and of course the many nights when you wonder how did you end up closing the Windsor yet again. But on a more serious note, one of the things I am really looking forward to on the EMBA programme is the international assignment. Working while studying is definitely a good way to go if you want to immediately put the theory you’ve learnt in practice. And for me the international assignment is just another, great way to do exactly that in a somewhat risk free environment. Of course, you also benefit by getting to do that in another country of your choice, which is a good challenge in itself. So I chose Russia. I think the Russian market is fascinating and I am looking forward to getting a taste of how businesses in Russia operate. I am excited to have the opportunity to be challenged with a real-life business situation and to hopefully, together with my group, find a sustainable solution for the company that will be assigned to us. Of course, I also cannot wait to taste real Russian vodka, but that would be another experience to (hopefully remember!) to tell about…..perhaps during one of those nights at the Windsor!

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