A New Strategy Seminar for the Brussels Region
This academic year, I was fortunate to start teaching (one of) the Seminar(s) of Strategy to the Master Students in Business Engineering and I have proposed them to develop a strategy for the Brussels Region.
Why ? I wanted the students to experience that they can integrate and apply the disciplines of their program to have an impact in a place that matters to them. I also remembered Pierre Gurdjian talking about the role of the “university in its city”. Eventually, I thought Brussels would provide a playfield for interviews, to gather unique insights and to be creative by connecting these dots.
So we started with 8 teams of 4 students ; to who I gave the following guidelines:
Firstly, think about what justifies a city positively and develop your own vision to enhance it. Do not hesitate to take a specific or focused vision rather than a comprehensive one. This is your “True North”, your compass, your foundation.
Then, work-out a strategy to achieve the vision. That is : Run a diagnostic of the situation. Generate innovative value propositions. Map relevant groups of people into “segments”. Describe value propositions-segments fit. Use or develop analytical frameworks to prioritize them. Etc.
Eventually, present a social entrepreneurship project that would contribute to one of the prioritized axes of your strategy.
We relied on various pedagogical methods. Besides teamwork and fieldwork, most sessions started with an external guest speaker and, after the break, focused on coaching. Thank you to our inspiring guests :
A. Marino (Founder of Happy Hours Markets a business serving the City),
B. Clerfayt (Minister Brussels-Region),
B. Moritz (Pr. in Urban Design),
F-X Catelein (Strategy Advisory, Managing Director of Roland Berger),
M. Grandfils (Managing Director of LabBox, a Mobility Incubator),
O. P’Tito (Dir Bxls-Formation).
Coaching consisted mainly in teams working together during classes on specific questions, then we compared their progresses and hurdles and each team gets out with its next steps to progress. They continue outside the classes and pitch portions of their work in the next classes to get feedback. At the end of the course, the various teams have presented their final results before the class and before a panel, that was composed this year of Augustin Wigny (investor in social entrepreneurs), Daniel Verougstraete (entrepreneur) and Sophie De Jaer (Brussels Finance).
Key takeaways from the work of the students included :
A range of visions : a city exists to connect people, to enable development, to promote multiculturality, to protect people from various sources of vulnerabilities, to manage mental wellbeing, etc. Awesome to hear the new generation does not lack ideals for living together.
An application of strategic frameworks to progress in a non-business environment. 2x2 matrices proved useful when axes are well-chosen and scores can be explained rationally 😉 !
Projects that would make Brussels a better place : reverse coaching from the youth to the elderly; recovery of clean energy from the movements of the citizens; participative democracy; etc
Eventually, I asked feedback to the students and I am left with the following concluding remarks :
Coming to agree on a vision was initially uncomfortable and the students would have liked more guidance. However, once this was agreed, it proved both useful and interesting to drive a strategy and a project that contribute to the students’ self-developed “true north”. Should we not encourage students to develop more often their own (moral) compass to navigate in the (business) world ?
When given a multi-disciplinary team assignment, it may be unclear how the teamwork could be organized effectively. Who does which desk research; and which fieldwork? How do we organize our analyses ; and our creativity sessions ? How do we build our story ; and our presentation ? Of course the students learn-by-doing and they are very keen to experience it ; but maybe the whole curriculum could also draw best practices and feedback from their teamwork experiences to improve these skills ?
Students went “in the field” to get insights, test how their strategy and project could positively impact people living close-by, as well as their whole city. Although they experience they could meaningfully contribute to this purpose, many students admitted that at the end it even confirmed that they would prefer to start their career in a business environment, and serve (international) business stakes. As a society, are we not missing an opportunity to attract great capabilities ?
To be followed with session #2 next year… !
Fabian Seunier is Group Head of Venturing at Aliaxis, with a journey made of rich previous experiences: BCG, ING as Vice President Corporate Finance, EIB, Senior Director Mergers & Acquisitions at UCB, Advisor to KOIS in India. Fabian graduated from the Université Catholique de Louvain in Business Engineering (LSM) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) with a Master in Finance & Economics.