Feb 20th 2012, 17:17 by B.R.
THE world of retail is polarising. Nowadays, it seems, there are only two options if you want to sell your product: you can be a commodity or a luxury. Which makes life difficult, you might think, if you are a toilet-paper manufacturer with haughty aspirations.
Not so. INSEAD has written a case study looking at Renova, whose big idea is black toilet paper.
The INSEAD case study documented how Renova, a privately-held European paper products company headquartered outside of Lisbon, Portugal, managed to differentiate itself from its international competitors, transform white toilet paper from a commodity into a premium product, and then enter new business sectors through innovative marketing. The result was “Renova Black,” the world's first black toilet paper, which rapidly shifted from a novelty item to a luxury fashion item. Equally rapidly, the company moved from supermarket aisles into boutique hotels, fashion shows and the headlines.
INSEAD's study won an annual competition run by ecch, an online depository of such works. The French school is the first non-American institution to win. Pierre Chandon, one of its authors, reckons that writing case studies for business-school students is an evolving art. Whereas a few years ago teaching material was primarily paper-based, he says, they are now “multi-sensory, multi-media super-productions”. In the Renova case, he goes on, “INSEAD created video interviews of consumers, company executives, and opinion leaders with computer animations and sent out product samples to instructors.”
There is a whole other world, right there. For a start, who are these toilet-paper instructors? And how exactly does one qualify to be an "opinion leader" in the field? On second thoughts, I don't want to know.
“The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means of education. “– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am a big fan of Professor Henry Mintzberg of McGill University. Mintzberg is, in my mind, one of the few academics that understand just how managerial skills and more importantly, how leadership skills, are developed.
Mintzberg decided to break from the tradition of business academic research. Instead of developing theories about management and then going out into business and testing them (often times finding just the data to prove a point), he went out and watched and studied what managers actually do all day long. Then he based his conclusions and insights on these actual observations (The Nature of Managerial Work, 1973). And what he found was striking. Most managers don’t spend much time really moving the business forward and actually spend a great percentage of their time not managing. And he finds that traditional MBA programs don’t develop management skills (let alone leadership skills) at all (Managers, not MBAs).
To sum up his 40+ years of work observing managers at their jobs and especially his research into how to best develop management and leadership skills, he is noted for this rather profound insight:
“Basically my objection is that MBA programs claim to be creating managers and they are not. The MBA is really about business, which would be fine except that people leave these programs thinking they’ve been trained to do management. I
think every MBA should have a skull and crossbones stamped on their forehead and underneath should be written: “Warning: not prepared to manage”.
And to me case studies are the worst form of preparation for real management or leadership roles. And here is a case in point. I call it “Case studies gone bonkers”!
Black Toilet Paper?
Recently, INSEAD, one of the top ranked global graduate business schools, was awarded first prize for the best global case study, as awarded by ecch (European Case Clearing House). Here’s the press release:
INSEAD Wins Top Global Case Study Award
Marketing Case Study of Portugal’s Renova Black Toilet Paper is #1
A INSEAD video case study focusing on the marketing strategies of Portuguese paper company Renova has won the overall global award for the best case study. Renova differentiated itself from its peers – some of whom are international paper companies such as Georgia Pacific – through innovation…and the creation of Renova Black toilet paper, launching the rolls from supermarket shelves into fashion shows and designer boutiques.
Am I the only one who has a problem with this? It may be technically a great case study about product differentiation. But really! Is this what we want our managers and leaders of the future to focus on? Creating “Black Toilet Paper” to make more money!
We have a world of social problems from lack of food and mass starvation in numerous countries, to a growing population of people in abject poverty in the US and other rich nations, to problems of pollution created by businesses themselves. And we are asking our future leaders to learn about how to make more money by turning toilet paper into a fashion item?
Why not focus this raw, energetic young talent on solving real business problems, like sustainability, alternative non-polluting technologies, recycling that really works? There are hundreds of better topics to study, learn about, glean sound business principles from that will help improve the world we all have to live in. Black toilet paper as a fashion item is not one of them.
If this is what they promote as the best case study, then MBA programs are in worse shape than I had imagined. I can think of more socially beneficial and entrepreneurial ways to use the $100,000-$170,000 it costs for a top MBA degree these days!
John R. Childress
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.
See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.
John also writes thriller novels: novels.johnrchildress.com
About johnrchildressJohn Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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