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Developing tools for making good corporate strategy decisions

Professor Bart Vanneste explains how the Corporate Strategy MOOC will give you a structured approach for making good corporate strategy decisions.

Written by Peter Quinn |

Professor Bart Vanneste
"Corporate strategy is enormously complex. We tackle this complexity by breaking it down into smaller decisions."

Of the many decisions a firm has to make, the corporate strategy decisions are among the most consequential. In a world of high complexity and uncertainty, Professor Bart Vanneste explains how the Corporate Strategy course will offer you tools and frameworks to help guide you through your decision making.

Who is this course for?
The course is designed for a broad audience, whether you’re dreaming of becoming the next Warren Buffett or simply want to make better, more informed corporate strategy decisions.

Corporate strategy is the strategy a firm uses to compete across multiple businesses, so the course will be especially relevant for those working in multi-business firms, those working in single business firms that want to expand into a new business, those considering a consultancy career, or anyone interested in understanding how a firm competes across multiple businesses. 

How do you want learners to think about corporate strategy? 
The aim is to have learners think about corporate strategy in a structured way. Corporate strategy is enormously complex. We tackle this complexity by breaking it down into smaller decisions – into something we can manage – and then by understanding how these different decisions fit together. It’s about giving the learners confidence and a roadmap for the next steps to take.

Is there a particular philosophical approach, or is it more a case of arming learners with the right decision making tools?
The first point to make is that it’s decision based. It’s not about theory, it’s about analysing corporate strategy as a collection of decisions that managers need to take. The second point is that it is applicable. It’s designed to give learners a structured approach so that they can find a solution that works for them in their own context. 

A key insight is that corporate strategies are dependent on the context. If the context changes, then the corporate strategy must change. For example, synergies between your businesses may strengthen or weaken, activist investors may take a stake in your firm, or your firm may become more skilled in alliances. All have consequences for your corporate strategy.

What are some of the tools that learners will gain in terms of strategic decision making?
We look at a different tool over each of the four weeks of the course. In week 1, for example, we look at sum-of-the-parts analysis, which is a tool for valuing a portfolio of businesses. Let’s say you want to compare your portfolio of 10 businesses – you would then compare each of those businesses with another, standalone, business. So you have an integrated set of 10, and each of these components you then compare with a different standalone firm. Ultimately what you want to do is create more value from combining them into one portfolio, rather than having 10 separate businesses. 

In weeks 2 to 4 we look at different decision making approaches to diversification, divestiture and investment respectively. 

What are some of the real-world examples that you draw on to illustrate your points? 
There is an international cohort of learners on the course – from China, India, the US, Brazil, Nigeria, the UK and elsewhere – so we look at examples from across the globe, from LVMH and Fosun to Ferrari and eBay. We look at companies such as Samsung, which is active in multiple businesses – medical equipment, cell phones, cranes used for heavy industry – and examine why it makes sense for this company to have such a portfolio. Similarly, we look at IKEA’s entry into the hotel business – not only why they are doing it, but how they are doing it. 

Bart Vanneste is an Associate Professor of Strategy in the Strategy & Entrepreneurship group of the UCL School of Management. He has published widely, including co-authoring (with Phanish Puranam) Corporate Strategy: Tools for Analysis and Decision-Making (Cambridge University Press), as well as in prestigious journals such as Academy of Management Review, Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal, and Strategy Science. Bart is also active in management education and was awarded the Management Best Teacher Award by UCL School of Management. He obtained a PhD in Strategic and International Management from the London Business School and was on the faculty of INSEAD.