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Alumni Stories · Leadership - Strategy

How to develop a holistic approach to business strategy

The story of Advanced Strategic Management (ASM) alumna Denise Beachy
August 2014

“Devising a great strategy will only take you so far. The ability - IMD Business School to execute and lead a strategy is the key differentiator. A great strategist also takes the time to teach strategy in the organization. It requires a holistic approach.”

These are the words of Denise Beachy, president of Hemlock Semiconductor Group (a subsidiary owned in majority by U.S.-based Dow Corning Corporation). Beachy credits the IMD Advanced Strategic Management (ASM) program for instilling this mindset.

An American with experience living and working abroad, Beachy wanted to attend a school outside of the U.S. to hear fresh and new approaches to strategy development. IMD was highly recommended by her HR director and she ultimately decided that ASM was the strongest strategy program that best fit her needs.

Beachy was not disappointed in this decision to enroll in 2013. She has used her learnings directly from the program, first in helping her business unit, Strategic Feedstocks, to devise a strategy that is now in the execution phase.

The insights on leadership – and particularly the sessions led by Professor Shlomo Ben-Hur – were impactful. “If I had to summarize ASM, it is giving us the capabilities to be strategic teachers as well as true leaders,” she said. “To be strategic you have to be a leader and to be a leader you have to be a whole person. Linking those together is very critical.”

After completing the program, Beachy brought this leadership mindset to a series of strategy workshops with her team. To facilitate the process, she particularly drew on Professor Albrecht Enders teachings related to value creation and the strategy diamond. While Beachy was familiar with these tools, the way they were presented and pulled together was new and enlightening. She has since been promoted from business VP, Strategic Feedstocks, to president of Hemlock Semiconductor.

“I used the course materials in these different workshops. The frameworks helped us address our objectives, business unit expectations, industry forces and other pertinent issues related to our business. We walked through the strategy diamond piece by piece.”

One component of the company’s strategy development was related to Brazil. Fresh off of hearing global viewpoints at ASM, Beachy was able to drive her internal team (primarily American) to think outside of their paradigms and see issues from a Brazilian point of view.

“The awareness level is critical. You don’t want to have meetings related to strategy and everyone shares the same opinions and thinks the same. You want to drive discussions that force people to think outside of the box and see things from others’ perspective. I was able to bring in this mentality during our strategy creation process. This wasn’t necessarily new thinking to me, but the program reinforced this message and gave me the confidence to keep pushing this way of working.”

After the workshops, Beachy wrote a white paper highlighting options, three different strategy models and recommendations. This paper was presented to Dow Corning’s executive strategy council. The council ultimately decided on a course of action articulated in the proposal.

“The caliber and quality of the strategy we developed was much higher because of my experiences at IMD,” Beachy recalled. “The time frame it took us to understand our options and make recommendations was much quicker and crisper because I knew the steps I needed to make.”

Beachy’s colleagues echoed this sentiment. She received feedback that the strategy options and recommendations presented were among the most comprehensive and thorough in the company’s history. Beachy is pleased with this initial progress, but cognizant that strategy development is just one part of the equation.

“We are in the execution phase – that is half the battle,” she said. “This requires leadership, change management and communication skills.”

This holistic approach to strategy was instilled throughout the program, according to Beachy. Key to the process was the way all IMD professors worked as a team and weaved each other’s ideas together as well as the activities that took place outside of the classroom.

She offered the following advice to future ASM participants: “Be ready to give 100 percent of your time when you are there. You won’t get out of the course everything you should if you don’t give your full attention. The return will be magnified if you can unplug and fully engage.”

Beachy’s Dow Corning colleagues likely would agree – they are reaping the benefits of new approaches to strategy development and execution since her return from Lausanne.

“ASM is like going out on a balcony and taking a look at the big picture landscape,” Beachy concluded. “It was important for me to get outside the U.S. to hear a different view and have a holistic experience that I think is beyond what typical business schools are offering. The program is perspective changing and broadening.”

Watch Denise Beachy and other ASM alumni share their experiences in the Participant Perspectives Video.