Executive Education participant on his life-changing experience at Cambridge Judge Business School
Preparing your business for success in the new global economy demands innovation, strong leadership and a willingness to look beyond the business models of the past. The Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP) at Cambridge Judge Business School offers delegates a unique chance to immerse themselves in a challenging programme away from the demands of their organisations, and in a learning environment second to none.
The programme has proved invaluable to Paul McDonald, Managing Director of the Dairy division at Avon Rubber plc, who recently opened a successful subsidiary in China.
The ALP was a life-changing experience,” he says. “For any business leader who wants to manage in the new global economy, it will serve as a fundamental building block. You’ve still got to go out and make the changes happen, but the knowledge, understanding and contacts list you get from the ALP makes it significantly easier. It gave me the confidence that I could do it.”
The ALP is a concentrated three-week programme aimed at seasoned general managers and senior executives, and attracts delegates from a wide range of industries and from many different parts of the world. Course content is split into three broad themes: making sense of turbulent times, taking the lead through innovation and leadership in action.
Throughout the programme, delegates benefit from the input of world-leading academics, both from within the School and from other faculties and departments. The University’s strong links with the cluster of international technology businesses in the region – informally known as “Silicon Fen” provides another valuable source of expertise.
For McDonald, the ALP supplied a new clarity of perspective over the realities of globalisation. “Everyone talks about the new global economy, but very rarely do we understand why it’s coming,” he says. “The ALP gets to the very heart of those questions and challenges. It really makes you understand and appreciate the global macro-position, and how you need to look at tailoring your business model in advance of some of these changes.”
The lecturers manage to present complex world issues in a very simple manner, and you start to realise how naive and complacent you’ve been to these factors going on. They presented the global financial crisis in a way I’ve never seen in any documentary or media article, with inside knowledge and simplicity that really made you understand just how vulnerable your business is in the world, and how connected that world is.”
During the programme, McDonald became more and more convinced that expansion into the Far East and other emerging economies was an absolute necessity for Avon Rubber – even though the Dairy division of the 128-year-old company holds a leading position in more established markets.
He says: “We’ve made dairy liners, which interface between the cow and the milking machine, for more than 85 years. In Europe today we manufacture about 55 per cent of the European requirements for these dairy liners, and 70 per cent in North America. We’re very, very dominant in those two key markets. But we’re also cognisant that there’s a significant expanding population and an emerging requirement for these products in Asia, India, South America, and even in developing economies such as Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
What the ALP made clear was that in these different markets, you need a different business model. If you just take a Western business view and try to impose it on China, it’s not going to work very well.”
Within two weeks of leaving Cambridge, McDonald had taken his proposal to start a Chinese subsidiary to the boardand gained approval.
Once the subsidiary had begun trading at Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone in Shanghai, success was equally swift to arrive. McDonald says: “The business broke even within seven months. People say that you’ll struggle to make money in China, but that isn’t true if you put the right infrastructure and people in place. “We started trading in February 2012, and we were trading at about £100k a month within four months. Now we’re trading at almost double that. So it has offered significant growth opportunities to our business. In the next five to 10 years, I believe it will be a £10-15 million sterling business that we will have achieved.”
Avon Rubber is now researching the possibility of starting a subsidiary in South America, with India likely to be the next target market. And in helping him gain the confidence and local knowledge to follow this course, McDonald believes that the quality of attendees on the ALP – and the great diversity of their backgrounds – was almost as significant a factor as the expertise of the lecturers. He says:
These are people that have been at the very height of their game and the pinnacle of their global careers, who come back and share their worldly experience with you. It gives you exposure to people that you’d very rarely meet in normal life.
“On the course that I did, there were 15 attendees, only four who were English. There was a very global feel to the demographic of the attendee list. I very quickly acquired an international network of trusted friends, and it was great to be able to leverage their understanding and ideas.”
For all McDonald’s achievements in China, he believes that the advantages of the ALP will permeate far beyond the process of breaking new markets. “If all I’d received from the course was this confidence to go and make China happen, it would still have been an overwhelming success and justified the investment. But that’s probably just five per cent of the benefit that my company will receive from my attendance on that course,” he says.
Above all, the ALP has made me a more worldly manager, it has given me better clarity of thought and an appreciation of the challenges of running a global business in multiple regions.”