Strategy & Operations Club
By Eric Goodman, MBA Class of 2017
On April 4, 2017, the Strategy & Operations Club held its annual forum, titled “Decision Making in Dynamic Industries.” The event consisted of a 45-minute panel discussion with panelists from BritBox, PepsiCo, and La Colombe Coffee, moderated by Stern Strategy Professor J.P. Eggers, followed by a keynote speech from Scott Pollack (Stern BS ’03), VP of Services & Business Development at WeWork.
Professor Eggers guided the panel discussion through key strategy topics from social media engagement, five-year planning, innovation and operational tasks, to worst case scenario planning and understanding which business unit in the company drives “strategy.”
Of particular note was the manner in which the “worst case scenario” differed from company to company. Britbox General Manager Emily Powers (Stern MBA ’08) noted that the firm, a joint venture of BBC and ITV, is still a start-up and that many start-ups don’t last very long. “We’re lucky we have two corporate parents, because it’s a different game when you’re a small player,” said Powers. She added that it’s important to know whether it makes sense to do another iteration of the service or to slim down the bundles on offer.
Meanwhile, one of PepsiCo’s directors of corporate strategy, Steve Gibson (Stern MBA ’12), delved into an entirely different set of risks. Because Pepsi has been functioning as a major conglomerate for decades, many processes and redundancies have been put in place to identify and quickly react to risks. He noted that even with these in place, “there is still a need to be reactive and make change if it’s absolutely necessary.”
For La Colombe and its Director of Business Development Trever Houghton, the company is dealing with bets on new capital expenses that have the potential to scale the business, but for which associated operational costs still need to come down. “I literally look at it every day” said Houghton.
Social media strategy proved another interesting topic of conversation. Multiple panelists noted how social media, while it remains a great channel to connect with customers, is also a huge sounding board for unhappy customers as well. Powers noted how important and challenging it is to balance building a relationship and brand identity through social while also managing customer support. Gibson noted that millennials are only 25% of PepsiCo’s consumer base and, as such, social media, while important, is not necessarily the best way to reach a large part of their customer set.
Scott Pollack of WeWork was wide ranging in his keynote address – moving from the start of his career journey at Stern to his role at WeWork. Watching the company’s meteoric growth firsthand (WeWork expanded nearly 100-fold since 2011), Pollack offered tips on “How to Maintain Sanity when Growing Crazy Fast, in 3 Easy Steps.”
1) Your Mission is Your Lens: Even when expanding into new cities and markets, stay true to the core business tenets that have made the company successful to begin with.
2) Dance with the Culture That Brung Ya: In the case of WeWork, that meant keeping true to a work-hard, play-hard culture and not losing sight of what made people enjoy coming into work in the first place.
3) Expect and Accept Change: For growing organizations, whether nascent start-ups or semi-established companies, it’s critical to avoid complacency, and continued flexibility is key.