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Posts tagged ‘MBA’

What is an MBA?

I’ve had two interesting discussions over the past few weeks, the first was with a human resources professional at a blue chip company and the second was with a managing consultant at a big four consulting firm.

On both these occasions I found myself explaining in detail, what is an MBA. I was surprised by this. However, since then I have started asking people about their understanding of this degree and the more people I ask, the more it seems that most people have heard of this degree but few people understand the components of an MBA. I’ve therefore taken the opportunity to present the components of an MBA in a clear visual format in order to give a better understanding of this degree.

Here it is. If you have any questions I’d be delighted to answer them.

What is an MBA? This is based on my MBA at the University of Southampton, UK.


How to present a strategy visually: try a “Strategy Canvas”

Getting buy-in for a new strategy is difficult. Often we present vast swathes of data, colourful graphs and pages of text to convince our audience of how brilliant our strategy is and to show how much hard work we have done. To communicate strategy effectively however, it simply needs to be clear and concise. So, how can we best present a clear strategy and communicate it to an audience?

Strategy Canvas for Southampton MBA Strategy Project (Bally Shoes case study).

A well-known phrase in the UK is, “a picture paints a thousand words”. In this regard, one of my favourite ways to communicate a strategy is using a strategy canvas. Steven Yeo, COO of HPS Pharmacies in Australia, and fellow MBAer, introduced it to me. We were taking part in the European Summer School of Advanced Management (ESSAM), in Aarhus, Denmark. Steven suggested that we present our new strategy to our client, CBMI, in the form of strategy canvas. I’d never heard of this approach at the time. However, every time I’ve presented a strategy canvas since, it has proved to be a winning formula. Hence I’d like to share it with you.

ESSAM G14 Consulting Team (L-R Steven Yeo, Phil Hatcher, William Ellis, Ivan Christiansen, James Burrows) 

The concept was developed by Kim and Mauborgne (2002) and published in the Harvard Business Review under the title, “Charting Your Company’s Future”. The study focused on helping a team of senior executives from a struggling firm develop a new strategy. The new strategy resulted in an increase of overall revenues of over 30%.

Drawing a Canvas

So how did they do it? Firstly, Kim and Mauborgne, gathered the senior executives together and showed them how to draw a strategy canvas. They were asked to select the most important value drivers for the firm, or “factors of competition”, placing these criteria on the x-axis. On the y-axis was a scale “high or low” denoting how much the firm invests or provides (in terms of price) in this area. Once the criteria had been selected, the strategy canvas depicting the firm’s existing strategy was drawn.

Add Competing Strategies

Next, on the same canvas, the senior executives were asked to draw the strategies of competing financial services firms. The completed canvas showed in simple graphic form how their company’s offer differentiated, or was similar to, their competitors.

Get Customer Feedback

Kim and Mauborgne’s next step for the senior executives was to ask customers which of the criteria (x-axis) on the canvas were important to them. This gave insight into the areas which a new “customer focused” strategy should concentrate. Combining the two sets of data enabled the senior executive team to create a new strategy that was both customer focused and differentiated.

Create Differentiated Strategy & Communicate it

Having created the new strategy, and a strategy canvas to go with it, the senior executive team then used the canvas to communicate the idea to the rest of the firm. The strategy canvas was widely circulated, pinned on notice boards etc and became a reference point on which investment decisions were made.

Strategy Canvas (Kim and Mauborgne, 2002). This example from their paper shows the old and new strategy devised by the team.

I’ve used an approach similar to this many times. I find it a great way of presenting a strategy in a simple format. Kim and Mauborgne’s 4 step process of how you can create a strategy canvas is presented below. Following this I’ve shown you the strategy canvases of two case studies in which I’ve used this technique.

Kim and Mauborgne (2002) 4 step process:

1. “Visual Awakening” – shows your current strategy in relation to your competitors
2. “Visual Exploration” – ask your customers what is important for them, explore new products and services, which factors can you change?
3. “Visual Strategy Fair” – Get feedback on potential strategies from customers past, present and competitors if needed. Using this feedback you create your new strategy.
4. “Visual Communication” – show a before and after profile on the same graph to show your audience where change is occurring. Any changes in the business have to fit into this new profile.

Case Study 1: CBMI (ESSAM consultancy project)

Strategy canvas for CBMI (dark blue line) presented by G14 Consulting at ESSAM 2010.

We presented a “visual awakening” strategy canvas to the team at CBMI (dark blue line). Our aim in this consultancy project was to look at ways of creating additional income streams for the business. Our canvas showed how CBMI and competitor innovation networks had different business models and offered diverse customer value propositions. CBET (green line), a Canadian entity, exhibited best practice networking amongst the analysed group and arguably provided a source of value that enabled CBET to charge its members and therefore provide incremental income. The canvas clearly showed CBMI in which areas it could improve.

Case Study 2: Bally Shoes (Southampton University MBA Strategy Presentation)

Strategy Canvas for Bally Shoes Case Study: Southampton MBA Strategy Project.

A further example when I’ve used a strategy canvas was for an MBA project based on an IMD case study of Bally shoes. Here we presented our findings on the strengths and weaknesses of the shoe retailer in relation to its competitors. The strategy canvas enabled us to present the relative strengths of Bally (red line) in the areas of Distribution & Retail and Quality. However it also enabled us to highlight the company’s relative weakness in the area of Style, Marketing & Comms, Supply Chain and Customer Service.

In conclusion, this is a flexible way of presenting strategy and showing the conclusions of many data sets in a simple picture. I recommend Kim and Mauborgne’s paper: it’s a good read and presents additional simple tips on creating winning strategies. Next time you present a strategy, consider using a strategy canvas. I’d be interested to hear how you get on.

Further Reading:

Kim, W. & Mauborgne, R. (2002) “Charting Your Company’s Future”, Harvard Business Review, June.

Kaplan, R. & Norton, D. (2000) “Having Trouble with your strategy?  Then map it” Harvard Business Review, September.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Why change isn’t always good.

My editor has a complaint. “William! So far all your articles seem to be about change being a good thing. Perhaps try and give a more balanced view and show examples of when change hasn’t worked”.

It is always good to get feedback even if it isn’t necessarily what you want to hear. My editor makes a good point. I have written a fair amount about the benefits of change and it is true change isn’t necessarily good.

I therefore considered this constructive criticism on my morning walk along the banks of lake Zurich before settling down once again to my MBA dissertation. I didn’t come up with a suitable example for the blog of change being bad. Of course there are lots of examples of change being bad in everyday life, but I couldn’t think of a nice, personal, interesting example.

My morning walk along the shore of Lake Zurich

My friend and former colleague Rob was arriving from Milan that evening. I decided to ask him. Over a beer, while waiting for the Yorkshire pudding to rise we discussed when, in our former workplace, change had been bad. After racking our brains for an hour we still hadn’t come up with a good example. Exasperated Rob said, “we didn’t change anything that didn’t need fixing; the changes we made were necessary”.  He’s right; in the words of an old English saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Change usually has a cost but it is the human element too that is usually most problematic and often overlooked. Change is generally traumatic for people. I admit I’m unusual, I find it exciting but for the majority of people, this isn’t the case. Change needs to be carefully managed and only carried out when the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I hope you find this graphic detailing the transition cycle useful for better understanding how people react to change.

The Transition Cycle (Williams, 1999). Edgar Meyer lecture notes (see note).

This is a slightly more complex graph than the negative response to change graphic that I published earlier in the year. Here we see the various personal outcomes of change and just how traumatic it can be –sometimes people don’t recover and end up leaving the company.

Note: The transition cycle – a template for human response to change (Williams, 1999) reprinted from Dr Edgar Mayer’s MBA lecture on Change Management at the University of Southampton, UK 05/05/2011.

Pimp Your SWOT: 2 Steps To A Customer-Focused Strategy

On a consultancy assignment in Denmark last year my team gave the company’s directors a shock; a good shock. Our findings helped form a great strategy for the company and drive it to further success. Here’s the team.

ESSAM G14 Consulting Team (L-R: S. Yeo, P. Hatcher, W. Ellis, I. Christiansen, J. Burrows)

SWOT’s are pretty misaligned, they’re seen as a chore, most of them are done badly and most people mistakenly think they’re easy. However, they can be very usefuI; here’s an example and a top tip, which will make you look good and give you a much-improved strategy.

Completed your SWOT? Now check with your customers.

On your next strategy review, once you’ve completed your SWOT, ring a few of the firm’s customers, it’ll only take a few minutes and see if they agree with your findings. If they don’t; review and improve it.

On the Danish consultancy project, having spent many hours with our client thrashing out a SWOT, we decided to call the firm’s customers. This was a truly eye-opening moment. Astonishingly, the customers had a markedly different view of the firm’s strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats. For instance, the customers were unaware that the firm offered consultancy and project management of R&D projects, with a distinctive competency in the pure bio energy context. This was a unique competitive advantage of the company and yet their customers were unaware of it.

The 2 Steps To A Customer-Focused Strategy

Companies need a customer-focused SWOT

The customer’s responses helped us create a much improved business plan and identify new revenue streams. In addition, the customers were delighted to hear from the company and valued the interaction. Once again this goes to show that companies need to be customer centric. As the management guru Drucker wrote “[…] it is the customer who determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper” (Drucker 1954)”. Unfortunately, far too often as Jack Welch noted  “everyone has their face toward the CEO and their ass toward the customer”.


It’s pretty simple really: before taking action on your SWOT, it’s a good idea to speak to your customers.

Further Reading

Denning, S., (2011) “The Alternative To Top-Down Is Outside-In” Forbes, 2/13/2011 (Online) Available: [Accessed: 18/10/2011]

Drucker, P. (1954). “The Practice of Management”. New York, NY, HarperCollins.

Ellis, W. (2011) “9 Reasons To Harness The Power Of Testimonials” (Online) Available: [Accessed 18/10/2011]

Does a picture paint a thousand words? Here’s an infographic of my cv via

Click on this link to see the full infographic of my CV: – William Ellis, BA (Hons), PMP.

Infographic of my CV using

Trying to make your CV stand out from the crowd is difficult. So why not try a visual representation?

This infographic was created using the ( website. It’s very easy to use particularly if you have a Linkedin profile. All you have to do is link the site to your Linkedin profile (enter your username and password) and it will automatically create an infographic such as this. You can then use the sharing tools to post your infographic cv to your blog, Linkedin and Facebook profiles.


I’d be interested to hear your views on the whether you think that a visual representation of a CV is useful? In particular, it would be great to get feedback from those in HR or the recruitment industry. Of course, any tips for my cv are most welcome too.

Are You an Adopter or a Laggard? Roger’s Technology Life Cycle: Embracing the Future.

Roger’s technology life-cycle

Roger’s technology life-cycle showing move from my current position (x) of “late majority” to “early adopter” (graphic: BlueSkunkBlog, 2011).

Technology, love it or hate it; it certainly makes life easier.

Hydra, Greece.

I was recently on holiday on the small island of Hydra in Greece. Although the house in which I was staying did have running water and electricity, the drinking water had to be drawn each morning from the well outside. This involved letting the bucket down on a long, long rope into the depths of the well and then hauling up the full bucket before siphoning the water into containers. It took a long time and it was hot, hard work. What amazed me was how many of the locals were doing the same. Even more surprising was the fact that nobody had installed a pulley to help draw the water. The application of a little technology would have made the whole exercise so much easier.

My MBA studies have caused me to reflect on my views on technology. They made me realise that I was starting to fall into the criteria of the “late majority”. Throughout the course and in particular in my last module “the Application of Management Skills” I saw how once great industries had failed to keep up with technology. To remain relevant and innovative we must constantly scan the horizon for new technologies that may change or influence our industry. The example of Brooklands (the original formula 1 UK race track) which quickly became obsolete due to lack of improvements shows just how quickly a business or an industry can become obsolete.

The same goes for us all. The diagram above shows my intended progress from technophobe (ish) to technophile. Starting this blog has been another small step in the right direction.


The author


Firstly, welcome to my blog, it’s great to have you here.

I’m always looking to make new contacts and share ideas so please feel free to get in touch or share your thoughts.

About me

I’m an Executive MBA student from the University of Southampton in the UK and I’m currently writing my dissertation on social media marketing.

Why a dissertation on Social Media?

Before starting the MBA I wasn’t exactly a keen on social media, I didn’t even have a Facebook account, let alone Linkedin. I suppose a lot of that may have been due to the fact that I was living in Guernsey, the Channel Islands where everyone knew everyone, you hardly needed to tell more people what you were doing.

Of course, now I realise that social media is about so much more than letting people know what you are doing. It’s about connecting people with diverse passions, learning about different perspectives and sharing ideas. This is pretty exciting. Whereas before the days of Web 2.0 we might tell a couple of friends what we are interested in, now at the touch of a button we can theoretically reach millions, if not billions of people.

This is having a huge impact on companies across the world. Not only is social media changing the way we communicate with each other, it’s also changing the way companies communicate with us. No longer are we happy to just accept what companies tell us or be spammed by their marketing material. In fact, we trust the information companies give us less than the reviews of total strangers. Strange but true.

My dissertation research is focusing on the development and use of social media marketing and its use in academic and learning environments. I’ll be surveying the websites of Europe’s top 40 business schools and looking at their use of social media. I’ll then survey MBA students, past and present and see how they like to be marketed to. Following an analysis of the results, I hope to make recommendation to my business school (University of Southampton, UK) on possible ways to improve their social media strategy.

If you have any ideas, which you think might be helpful, please feel free to get in touch either by Linkedin, via my Twitter feed or leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you.

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