Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Help me to help the fight against cancer, and watch me suffer in the process.

Dear friends ,

At some point in our lives, everyone comes into contact with cancer. I would like to contribute to finding a solution. For this I need your support, in exchange you can watch me suffer as I struggle up an Alpe as many times as I can in one day.

In the fight against cancer everyone feels a great sense of powerlessness . Fighting seems pointless. One in three people in the Western world get cancer. I personally came into close contact with cancer at the end of 2012 when my uncle died after a long illness of what began as kidney cancer. The road to the end was very difficult, especially for my aunt. I saw up close how someone who always enjoyed life , was now confined to a bed in his living room. This was his new world.

When I found out shortly after his death, that a team of friends and co-workers in my area still had an opening to join the for Alpe d' HuZes initiative, I instantly joined. Mind you, I didn't even have a bike yet (yes, I am really Dutch) let alone a racebike. I bought one and started training. Together with this group of people, I accept the challenge . 

They have done it before, for me it's the first time. I want will move my boundaries and climb that hill as often as I can. 

I need you to support me in this initiative. Below you can find a link to the campaign page where you can make donations. You can also directly transfer any donations into my account (details below) just make add the description : "Alpe" + your own personalized message. That way I can add that message to the website so you can see that didn't keep it... 

Every little bit helps , large bits of course help more. If you have a company check out the possiblities to sponsor us. For as little as €500 you can have your name on our shirt. How cool is that? 

You can find the website and more about the initative here:


My personal account details are:

IBAN: NL22RABO 0143547437


Thanks a lot for your support!



Monday, May 14, 2012

Self reflection about responsible leadership - part of the MBA

How did TN and GT coursework shape the meaning of responsible leadership?

The TiasNimbas modules and the courses at Georgetown University have formed a framework based on theoretical knowledge for effective leadership. These are valuable tools to reflect and help to act as a responsible leader.

The exposure of different ways of interpreting responsible leadership within a multicultural group has proven to be challenging and dynamic. There are different interpretations between “right and right” and “right and wrong”, and yet few in the corporate world leave time for reflection and discussion on this matter.

Professor Langenbacher put in perspective what we learned in Tilburg during the responsible leadership course. We discussed “subconscious discrimination”, tested our beliefs and the results showed that many of us have a bias toward traditional gender roles. Prof. Langenbacher showed various statistics regarding ethnical background and education, employment success and more. Revealing that this unconscious bias is consistent across society and these stereotypes still dictate the success one has in life. A responsible leader should acknowledge the fact that (s)he has such biases and actively work to mitigate their effect. For example, the judge who treated mostly black men criminal cases spent time in a different court district where many white men were convicted to break through his stereotype. Accordingly, responsible leaders should move in an environment where their biases are challenged.

Prof. Brenkert’s hypothesis, that values are universal and yet interpreted differently, lead to very different customs across the globe. Even though I do not subscribe to the hypothesis, it has helped me to understand what responsible leadership means. It not only means that certain customs are different or wrong in my view, but it also means that sometimes discussing the very basics and understanding why the other person feels that certain customs are or aren’t acceptable. Once the assumptions underlying the actions have been made explicit, except in perhaps in some extreme cases, a responsible leader can act in a way that will mitigate the potential conflicts. A Pakistani classmate experienced this first hand: whenever he was on a business trip to Korea, they did not offer him any alcohol, and whenever the Koreans came to visit him, he did offer them alcohol. I feel that a responsible leader will try to understand others’ customs and culture, values and beliefs and use this to create an environment that nourishes cooperation and progress.

A responsible leader carefully considers the consequences of his decisions to those affected by the decisions. That does not mean that in every case any “harm” can be avoided, but her or his responsibility is to consider that potential harm explicitly. A responsible leader will do so and then base the decision on his/her values. This may in some cases lead to for example lower shareholder return, or people losing their jobs. The key is to ensure that none of the deeper values are violated, interpreted in the stricter sense rather than the lenient one. 

Using reflections on TN and Georgetown, what is the legacy you want to leave as a responsible leader?

What I have learned to understand over the past year is that the effect of actions by a manager or leader is much larger than one may think. In many cases people talk about the influence of companies on society and more. However, a key flaw in those arguments is that an organization is nothing more than people together making decisions towards a unified goal. So even though the influence of one person is relatively small, as a manager or part of cooperation this influence grows tremendously.

This has put the question of “leaving a legacy” in a different perspective. Whereas before I would have believed one can only really leave a legacy from C level or up, now I see that even a middle manager can be influential.

Therefore, the legacy I would like to leave is a dual one. On one hand I would like to be remembered as someone who contributed to the responsible behavior of people in the organizations I did business with/worked for or ran. On the other hand I would like to contribute to society, so that people themselves take more of an active role in being responsible.

The first part is the “easier” part of the legacy, as it mostly involves my behavior and leading by example. The part of creating a greater feeling of responsibility for all those around me, however, is more challenging and will need some convincing. However, one will aid me in achieving the other. The key of creating an environment where people feel responsible is holding everyone accountable for their actions and empowering them to make decisions. We have learned from research quoted in our coursework that people that are in charge live longer and better, so instead of expecting others to act in the “right” way, one should ensure to contribute to this responsible behavior.

An example, mentioned in the discussion with Andy Shallal from Busboys & Poets, was the author’s responsibility to ensure that a contract is understandable and readable. The responsibility of the reader is to read the contract, ask questions and not take a passive role and say: “the author has a moral duty to do what is right” (the way Andy feels it should have been). If my legacy is to be anything, it would to contribute to a society in which everyone is ready to take responsibility. A society in which people read the terms & conditions before clicking “accept” because they are not 17 pages long and written in complicated legal terms, but actually only several rules long and principle based, easy to understand. A society in which people do not sue because they burned themselves on hot coffee, but in which they are careful not to burn themselves because coffee can be hot.

I feel that I have started working towards this with my management project where I will assist ING in expanding their Financial Education program abroad. The main goal of this program is not to make decisions for the clients or people touched by the program, but to provide them with the tools to make the “right” decision. It is then up to the individual to grab that opportunity and use the tools to make those right decisions.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Google wants to grow

Companies often justify growth as a strategy to improve profitability. Growing allows companies to obtain economies of scale and rise on the learning curve. In addition, a larger market share will allow a company to influence pricing more effectively. In economic context it is assumed that companies are seeking to maximize profits. The motivation for growth however is not always as straightforward as managers would like it to be perceived. This paper will discuss several growth strategies and reasons for firms to grow. Once the different strategies have been discussed, these will be applied to Google, based on a recent article that discusses Google’s intention to purchase Motorola. The paper will reflect upon the views that this purchase may be anti-competitive, what Google’s motivation is and whether this strategy will yield the expected results.

A company can grow by doing more of the same (horizontal growth), reducing it’s trading relationships by taking over some of these functions themselves (vertical growth) or start operating in a different market (diversified growth). Depending on which strategy will generate the most profit, a company chooses one or more of these strategies. Growth can be organic, which means the company increases sales from within or growth can be acquisitive. Acquisitive growth is the opposite of organic growth, meaning that a company will buy (and sell) businesses in order to grow.

Organic growth is generally seen as more valuable, as there are some pitfalls with acquisitive growth. For example, DHL grew tremendously by acquisitions only to realize at the end that they were operating as individual companies across the globe, never taking advantage of the economies of scale. A merger or acquisition however does reduce the amount of competitors in the market by definition. This will most likely reduce the price elasticity, decrease the likeliness of price wars and thus lead to more chances of increasing prices.

Horizontal growth is generally related to reducing costs. When a firm increases its scale of operation by increasing capital, this usually leads to average costs to drop. This is often the reason companies decide to merge. As mentioned in the example above, sometimes companies become too large and lose this advantage by losing control and co-ordination. This effect of (dis)economies of scale is shown in graph 1.[i]  Other advantages from horizontal growth come from the learning curve, as shown in graph 2[ii]. As the firm produces more units, average costs drop because the company learns how to produce more efficiently.

Graph 1, (dis)economies of scale                                                          
  Graph 2, learning curve[iii]


Vertical growth is an attempt to integrate value-adding activities into existing activities, such as production of raw materials. This can reduce production costs by reducing transportation and costs affiliated with the transaction. Transaction costs are costs incurred by trading and organizing a transaction. Besides the cost effects, vertical growth can also be a strategic decision. In some cases there may be a hold-up problem, leading to an external producer’s unwillingness to invest in a production facility. This is often seen in the car industry, resulting in the manufacturer producing its own parts. Integration can also lead to a competitive advantage. A brewer can for example buy pubs and promote their beer in these pubs providing higher sales for the brewer. Owning the pubs also gives the brewer negotiating power with other brewers, leading to higher margins for the pubs and in turn again for the brewer. Vertical integration is mostly interesting when transaction costs are high, economies of scale are not of importance for the process or when it creates strategic advantage.

Diversified growth occurs when a company enters different markets and generally tries to obtain economies of scope. Google is a company that has very successfully integrated this concept into their business model. Since their servers and network is up and running for its’ search engine, adding Gmail, Google Docs, and many other services was a logical step. The cost for maintaining these networks together is lower than running these networks independently, and it binds its customers to the company. Diversification also reduces risk. If a company operates in one market, and this market becomes more competitive or irrelevant, than that could lead to serious distress for the company. If the company is also operating in other markets then it could potentially offset these loses by the profits in the other market. Coffee middlemen were an example of those who traded in only one field. When the producers of coffee started trading directly with the farmers, they lost all their business. It must be noted that even though diversification can lead to financial benefits for a company, this does not necessarily hold for the shareholders. Shareholders can easily diversify at low cost by investing in different companies that have a low correlation, following the modern portfolio theory.[iv]

Overall, growth in its different forms should be linked to profit maximization either in the short or long run and must offer revenue opportunities or cost reductions. Sometimes growth is a strategy to diversify against risk, however as stated before this is usually benefits the managers/employees more than the shareholders. Growth is also a tool to avoid ‘shrinking’. When the entire market around a company grows and the company does not, its relative size will be smaller. This may lead to competitors being able to make better use of economies of scale and gaining competitive advantage. A larger company will usually be able to withstand economic turmoil better, because of its stronger pricing influence. Generally, organic growth is preferred over acquisitive growth and management should choose the growth strategies that maximize a company’s profit.

The recent offer from Google to acquire Motorola follows Google’s diversification strategy. The synergy that may be created, if Google and Motorola integrate their businesses effectively, will help to maximize Google’s and Motorola’s profits. The purchase will enable Google to produce tablets & phones directly, overcoming their integration problems. The merger will allow Motorola to compete better with the larger competitors such as Nokia, Apple and Samsung. An article in the Economist substantiates this[v] claim. For the shareholders of Motorola the 60% premium on the stock price seems more than fair, as the average premium paid is around 20% to 25% in Europe[vi].

Reviewing the evidence on mergers and acquisitions[vii] in literature (D. Ward, D. Begg) the stock price for the buying firm often stagnates or even falls post-merger, and the results from the studies show that mergers are not always a good idea as the previous mentioned example of DHL proves. The reason behind the pursuit of this acquisition could be the interest of the managers of Google instead of profit maximization. Manager’s pay tends to increase after a merger. RBS and ABN AMRO are a famous example[1] where the Dutch, British and Belgian states later had to intervene to avoid bankruptcy. The fact that Google’s decision cannot be seen as ‘rationalization’, as it states it will run Motorola independently and thus not sharing any of the supporting functions, hints that the agency theory[viii] may hold here.

Google had been facing patent litigation and issues with the integration of the software with the hardware of the different producers. Motorola owns many patents, which may help Google in court, as Google had no patents before the acquisition[ix]. As mentioned before, owning a handset-maker will allow smoother integration of the hard- and software.[x] Motorola also produces other consumer electronics, suggesting that Google could further broaden its scope. The merger suggests that the integration of software and hardware is more important for tablets and smartphones than it was for the PCs. Apple has always used this approach, which has proven very successful.

An acquisition is by definition anti-competitive, as the number of competitors decreases with 1. In this particular case, it could become an anti-trust issue as Google provides the Android platform to several other producers of smartphones and tablets[xi]. By owning Motorola it will be competing directly with these producers. Google could choose to stop delivering the software or, less aggressively, favor its own hardware, similar to what Microsoft did with Internet Explorer. This way Google could create a monopoly position. Additionally their search engine can favorably show their products, reinforcing this monopoly. At the time of the offer, Google was being investigated by anti-trust authorities for similar actions involving its’ subsidiary, YouTube.

In conclusion, if the synergy between Google and Motorola is exploited, the purchase will enable Google to become a dominant player on the tablet and smartphone market by the vertical integration and economy of scope it stands to create. Google needs remain cautious to not create the impression of being anti-competitive, to avoid litigation and can use Motorola’s patents to settle current litigation issues. For Motorola the merger has specific strategic and competitive advantages. Finally, the merger will allow Google to further pursue its diversification strategy and continue growing.

[i]  Geoff Riley, formerly Head of Economics at Eton College, http://tutor2u.net/economics/content/diagrams/mes.gif
[ii] LE Yelle - Decision Sciences, 1979 - Wiley Online Library
[iii] LE Yelle - Decision Sciences, 1979 - Wiley Online Library
[iv] Portfolio selection: efficient diversification of investments, H. Markowitz, ISBN 0-300-01369-8
[v] The Economist – Schumpeter - http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2011/08/googles-purchase-motorola-mobility
[vi] Martynova, Marina and Renneboog, Luc, Mergers and Acquisitions in Europe (January 2006). ECGI - Finance Working Paper No. 114/2006; CentER Discussion Paper Series No. 2006-06. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=880379
[vii] D. Begg and D. Ward, Economics for business, ISBN 978-007712473-1
[viii] Agency Theory: An Assessment and Review,  K. Eisenhardt, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, (Jan. 89), pp. 57-74, (http://classwebs.spea.indiana.edu/kenricha/Oxford/Archives/Oxford%202006/Courses/Governance/Articles/Eisenhardt%20-%20Agency%20Theory.pdf)
[x] The Economist – Schumpeter - http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2011/08/googles-purchase-motorola-mobility

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You're Probably a Micromanager

Recently read this article, which is really enlighting. Give it a try and you may realize that You're Probably a Micromanager!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is unity the road to success..

One of the top hotels Los Angeles is revamping its wine list and the major supplier in the country offered a large incentive for taking over its suggestions of wines by the glass. The food & beverage (F&B) management team were debating and found that even though there were quite a few good references on the list, it were all wines that could be found all over the region.

Adapting the suggestions from the supplier would enable the operation to create more value for its stakeholders and possibly supply the funds to enhance the product itself.

The same F&B team had discussed recently that all the menus across the city are basically the same. One doesn’t have to look at what’s on the list, and in a culture where the middle class eats out 5 times per week (if not more) that is quite shocking.

Would this send the hotel down the same route, and if so is that something desirable for an upscale operation? The same situation has already occurred in the broadcasting industry, especially the So-Californian radio stations. The successful stations play the same songs, over and over again. It has become so annoying to the general public that even national comedians joke about it on TV. Yet it does not change and their ratings are through the roof. Why? Perhaps because there are no other options or perhaps because it is truly what the majority of consumers want.

Is this the road for the restaurant industry now? Simple dishes, well known inexpensive wines and mediocre service are the new ingredients to success?

Should a restaurateur take the risk and try something completely different, focusing on quality of the products, wines and ensuring that there is diversity it can be very successful. There are still a few restaurants in Los Angeles that do so, such as Terroni’s on Beverly Blvd, where no replacements are allowed and not a single wine on the list is known to the average guest. However the sommelier asks what you like, what you are having and finds a wonderful match to a dish the chef has decided is perfect for you.

This brings us back to the original dilemma… what will the F&B management team choose? Diversity, quality or incentive… Let us know what you think what they should choose and why that would be the best decision…

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quality X Acceptance = Excellence X Effectiveness

The pool at a top hotel in LA has several cabanas. These can be rented for day use, allowing non-residents to use the facilities and it gives a guaranteed seat to residents with a sense of privacy. In order to promote the packages more, last year the Spa Director together with the F&B* Director set-up a program where the cabanas could be rented in packages. 

The packages targeted different groups, included drinks, iHomes and spa treatments. It did not sell. With the new seasons underway new packages were developed. If they can do it in Vegas, it will work in LA too was the approach.

The new concept was segregated per user. One for the business user, one for families, one for party animals and one for the healthy. The entire Food & Beverage department was excited. The Spa Director supported the plans. The names were picked in line with the cocktail menu - cocktails were from different regions in the world and so the cabana packages were given city names. Now it was all about promotion. The plan was given to the PR director to proof read. Instead it was reevaluated by her and the Director of Sales and Marketing. 

They hated it. They did not understand why one package included dinner, a show and entrance to a nightclub. The way it looked was seen as childish. The names were irrelevant. The plans were very daring and out of the box and some resistance should have been expected. The excitement within the F&B department did not spread to S&M. Mostly to blame was the way the program was presented. Instead of setting up a meeting and explaining the idea, an e-mail was sent without much explanation for proof reading. An important lesson was learned; do not assume others who are not involved in  process will understand what you are doing. 

If the team that is to promote the product does not support it, the product won't sell. They will not pull out the same resources as for something they love & support. On top of that, subconsciously they will want to prove they are right that it was a bad idea. The Director of F&B requested for the entire plan to be redeveloped even though he supported it. The decision was based on the below theory:

The new program will be less exciting and less innovative. However it will be presented with passion and conviction. The lesson that everything needs to be sold internally before it can be sold externally was learned. In this case, the price was high. The S&M department no longer have an open mind but a set idea about what they would like to see presented. 

Being the main developer of the program and fond believer of the aforementioned theory, a new program is being developed and tailored to what the S&M department thinks will work. And next time, a formal meeting with a passionate presentation will be arranged before any proof reading occurs... 

* Food & Beverage

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pain, change, results & happiness

After attending a training on change in behavior, it was interesting to see that this had recently applied to myself.

I worked in food & beverage from early on in life and recently I felt it was time for change. Mostly because in my new work environment I could not implicate the passion I have for the product. Suddenly the sacrifices for the job became more and more obvious... It was a strain on my marriage as I was never free/home to do anything as a couple. 

So I decided to apply for business school and use this to open the doors to a different life. The pain from my job had gotten big enough to make a change, so I took the leap, took the GMAT, wrote essays and got accepted. 

Then I got moved to a different department. More food & beverage related, more passionate co-workers and interaction with guests as well as more responsibilities. I even had a regular schedule; starting at 8 AM daily. The pain was gone. My new boss was talking promotion and hinted towards a position that I would love... Was it the right choice to leave now?

A company I worked for loves "7 habits of highly effective people" and regularly trains their managers on the concepts in this book and I attended one too right when this was happening. This training made me realize why  I was motivated to make the change. I also realized that this initial motivation was no longer there, which fueled my doubt. Yet it taught me that even though my motivation for change was the 'sacrifice reward' balance. 

The 'pain' had pushed me to consider change - the fact that the situation changed and the pain was gone did not change the fact that the change stayed what is good for me, my wife, or marriage and our future lives together. Then a friend and co-worker, asked me what choice I had made. She told me to consider the implications of each decision and she asked me what my goals in life are. It was eye opening. I realized my goals had changed but I was still working towards my 'old' goals - I was on the verge of change and clinging on what I had built up. No matter how good I was at what I was doing, staying would not help me achieve where I wanted to go.

The key in this conversation was that she made me realize that in order to be successful you should evaluate your goals on a regular basis. If they have changed, evaluate what you need to do differently to obtain these new goals. Working backwards and inventing everything twice, like most of us do in our professional world, can easily be applied to our private life and will help obtaining that happiness.