IMD International

How teams can benefit from the Advanced Strategic Management program

November 27, 2014

Many companies send executives to open programs at business schools to benefit from the networking, among other reasons. Toyota Financial Services, the financing business of Toyota automobiles, wanted to leverage this networking benefit and outside perspective for a select number of its leaders. At the same time, the company wanted to have a customized approach to address specific leadership objectives. They accomplished both through a unique set-up centered around the Advanced Strategic Management (ASM) program.

"Our 16 market CEOs only meet together during our bi-annual CEO conference," explained Charlotte Carpenter, Toyota Financial Services' HR and Training Manager for Europe and Africa. "Besides that event, they are by themselves in their country. We wanted to bring some of our leaders together, build their relationships, provide them with a unique experience to hear new perspectives about leadership and strategy, and glean best practice from an outside point of view."

As they considered different executive education providers, Carpenter and her colleagues met with IMD professors in Lausanne. After that meeting, they were convinced that working with IMD was the right option.

"We could tell right away that the standard was fantastic," she recollected. "It quickly became apparent that IMD not only had the academic credentials and theoretical expertise, but also the practical, real world business relevance that we were looking for."

Carpenter and her colleagues worked with IMD to create a unique collaboration that offered the best of an open program coupled with some add-on customized sessions, entitled 'Advanced Strategic Leadership Diploma' (ASLD). Four different CEOs from Toyota Financial Services took part in ASLD, consisting of two open programs - ASM and High Performance Leadership (HPL) - top and tailed with bespoke modules and an interim between ASM and HPL. Throughout the duration of ASLD, the executives worked on specific challenges they had in their market and presented these to Toyota Financial Services' top management in the final bespoke module 'Bringing it all together' led by Professor Arturo Bris (formerly the ASM program director) and other faculty members.

Team impact
Alexander Koloshenko, President of ZAO Toyota Bank, wasn't thrilled initially about taking part in the ASLD program and stepping away from his numerous responsibilities on the job. Looking back now, this is laughable to him, considering how his experiences with IMD were transformative. Part of the impact was the bonds he formed with his CEO colleagues around Europe.

Through the ASLD program, Koloshenko and his Toyota Financial Services colleagues were challenged by each other, IMD faculty and fellow participants about how to address specific business challenges. From the outset of the program, the participants took part in an exercise in which they needed to study the environment around them and consider how changes and disruption impacted their business. They were also presented how these changes could be tackled using different frameworks and tools.

"Back at the office, I never took the time to really step back and think about the opportunities around me," he said. "This exercise was a unique way to look at this. It gave me the opportunities to get a sense of the big picture opportunities."

Koloshenko's colleague François Martines, CEO of Toyota Financial Services in France, echoed this sentiment. Martines used five different frameworks presented during ASM to take on an innovative new approach to expand Toyota financing options to used car sales between private parties.

"Nobody thought this was possible," he said. "This was innovative and different as previously financing only occurred on sales at dealerships. With the support of frameworks learned at ASM, I was able to bring on the team so that they could all see the opportunities. This became the market's business plan."

The approach worked and the plan was adopted. Toyota financing in the French market now applies to private party sales.

The ability to gain an outside perspective has changed the way the CEOs approach strategy.

"You have to consider your environment and what is happening or you miss opportunities," Koloshenko said. "Now, as a result of the program, we have systems in place to evaluate the changes in our market that allow us to make more informed decisions."

Martines notes that as a result of this type of learning, deep and meaningful bonds were formed among the Toyota Financial Services' CEOs who took part in the program.

"When we meet together at our company events, there is a clear difference amongst us," he explained. "We are all using the same tools. We have the same foundation in analyzing, thinking and presenting."

"I really didn't know them so well before the program," added Koloshenko. "The IMD experience allowed us to form a unique way of communicating. We come from very different countries and backgrounds. Now, despite cultural differences, we have formed an efficient way of communicating with one another. With just one word, we know what the other person is thinking."

This dynamic has certainly been noticed from afar. Carpenter, from her offices in Epsom, Surrey, UK, notes that the four executives are "working with colleagues and different companies in new ways to create joint strategies. They are building relationships and developing people."

Individual leadership
The leadership emphasis during the program was life-changing for the CEOs, both personally and professionally.

Martines previously took pride in being a strong leader who makes decisions and takes definitive action. He approached the program open to change, and left the program with a new view of leadership.

"I discovered in the course of the ASM retreat to the mountains that I was not being an authentic leader, both personally and professionally," he said. "I came away from the retreat knowing I needed to change as a leader."

A seasoned and long-time business executive, Martines adapted a new leadership approach. The impact back at the office was immediate. Colleagues quickly saw a different type of leader.

"My colleagues noticed a big change, even if I am still not perfect," he said. "My style changed – more sharing, listening and an open mind. It is not enough for me to say 'I am the boss, I have a vision and go execute'. I used to view sharing as weakness. Not any longer. There has been a big change."

There is also a big difference to how he views himself.

"I prefer François now to the François before IMD. Before, I was not fully happy and satisfied. Today my satisfaction comes from what others are doing, not myself."

Koloshenko had a similar transformative experience. He had been able to accumulate significant knowledge and experience throughout the years, but felt it was all disjointed. During the ASM program, everything clicked for him in new ways.

Particularly poignant was the ASM leadership journey exercise in which Koloshenko and his fellow participants shared various aspects of their personal journey.

"It was the first time that I ever took the time to sit and reflect on what I had done in my life. What did I do wrong? What were my greatest achievements? What was I sorry for? The participants on the program and the professor leading the exercise (Shlomo Ben Hur) challenged me and gave me feedback. It was a real eye opener that enabled me to see myself as a leader in different ways."

The late hours in the office and numerous business trips meant significant time away from his family. Koloshenko had various regrets about this, and was able to put this difficult dynamic into new perspectives through this exercise and the entire ASLD experience.

"After this program, I was more open in describing my emotions with my family," he said. "We are much more connected as a family from an emotional point of view."

This is just one aspect of his life that is now more inter-connected as an executive.

"Before, everything in my life was just separate pieces. They were never aggregated into one big picture. After the IMD program, the puzzle came together. My family and business lives became part of a bigger picture. This has impacted me as a leader."

The leadership changes in the CEOs have been noticed from various departments throughout Toyota Financial Services' network.

"Everyone involved in HR and Learning and Development at the company has seen the difference in the way our CEOs are working," Carpenter concluded. "They have clearly grown in how they approach strategy and in their leadership capabilities."

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