Category Archives: Business Innovation

10 best ideas from Mike Harris (Days 2-3 as CEO)

Over the past couple of days we have been locked away in a workshop with Mike Harris. [For those that don’t know of him, Mike was the founder / CEO / Chairman of Mercury Telecommunications, First Direct (the first telephone bank) and Egg (the first internet bank); he has been coach and adviser to various telecom and technology giants and startups; and a lecturer on “disruptive innovation” at MIT. Though he has now retired, he’s been persuaded to continue coaching 3 firms, one of which is Redington.]

Here are the 10 best ideas I took away from Mike over the past couple of days (interspersed with my own reflections and lessons):

Continue reading 10 best ideas from Mike Harris (Days 2-3 as CEO)

AltMBA Download

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Yesterday I ran a 90 minute download at Redington covering what I learnt on Seth Godin’s Alt MBA.

20 people attended, some from Redington and some from other firms in the city. For those that didn’t make it in running a second session next Tuesday 18th August at Redington.

I had initially thought about going through all 12 Projects; but thankfully for those attending I managed to consolidate it down to 6 key areas of interest.

They were:

  1. What stopping us…?
  2. Making good decisions
  3. Being more creative
  4. Achieving your goals & dreams
  5. Making change happen
  6. The first step

Some of the lessons I was trying to convey were:

  • Know the change you want to make, who you are trying to change and what change you are seeking
  • Get inside the head of your target person/group. If you want to change, influence or persuade anyone of anything, you need to start by understanding their worldview.
  • Develop a human, charismatic and honest story that will resonate with the people you seek to change.
  • Be vulnerable. This will help your team/group open up and get beneath the surface quickly.
  • Review your boundaries and constraints (most are self-imposed) challenge yourself to think bigger, bolder and make more change
  • Push through your fear (it’s your Lizard Brain). When you feel scared that’s when you’re probably onto something good. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
  • The magic of continuous feedback from people who care. The quicker you send it/share it the more input you can get and the better you can iterate your way to success.

The AltMBA is one of the best learning experiences I have been involved in. It drew on the best of Management School and blended it with the best of Online Learning, as well as the latest Neuroscience to ensure what we learn sinks in, is applied and is retained.  Here’s Seth’s original pitch for it.

The question it raises for me is:

What if we could deliver highly effective training like this to new hires, colleagues, future leaders and clients? What if we could download seriously valuable skills in just a few hours or even days?

If you or someone you know would like to attend this AltMBA Download to get an overview of the content (not so much the format), send me a message ([email protected]) and I’ll confirm details.

Here’s a link to the presentation I delivered: AltMBA Download 12Aug Final

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Can I help you to make change happen?

One way street

As many of you know I’m coming to the end of my one month course – Seth Godin’s AltMBA – which is all about “making change happen”:

  • It’s been a part time, one month long, online course run by Seth Godin and has taken up all my evenings and weekends.
  • It has been an intense, stretching and eye-opening experience (one more week to go).
  • It takes a very different approach of working, learning and collaborating. I think it offers a glimpse into the future of education. I have loved it and have learnt so much.
  • I’ve completed 11 projects over 3 weeks with 25 other people based in France, Ireland, South Africa, Nigeria, Singapore, Boston, New York, California, and India. (It’s taken up every morning, evening and weekend since 15th June).
  • I’m now into my final week with 2 final projects to go.
  • Here’s the application form for anyone interested in applying for a future cohort (you can give my name as a reference): http://goo.gl/forms/RR470HLG9q

For my final challenge (Project 13) I need to organize and run a live event to teach others what you’ve learned in altMBA. Seth’s brief is –

“Not everyone is able to do the course themselves. Sharing is a generous act, a gift. 10 people (minimum) must attend. It can be at work, at a group you’re part of, or for strangers. It can be offered free or with paid admission. But at least 10 people have to come, and you have to be in charge. It needs to take place no more than four weeks after the end of the altMBA. This is the culmination of everything we’ve learnt so far…”

I would really appreciate your input on this. I haven’t yet figured out whether to do this at work, at home or an independent venue; whether to do a 1 hour summary, a half day interactive workshop ora one week series of mini altMBA experience.

My question for you is –

Are you interested in attending? What would like like to get out of it? Who else do you think might benefit?
How much time do you want to give to it?
How deep would you like to go?

Please reply to this message or email me on ‘[email protected] with your thoughts.

For those of you who wanted to read one or two of my AltMBA posts they are all public; but to make it easier I have listed them below (and tried to categorise them):

General Business:

Project 12 – Launching the ‘Future Leaders’ program (3 minute video on helping others to make change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/launching-our-inaugural-future-leaders-program/

Project 11 – Death is not the end it is just a shedding of skin (What if Apple did Savings & Investments): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/death-is-not-the-end/

Project 7 – I have a problem with Hierarchy (Organisational Change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/i-have-a-problem-with-hierarchy/

Business Development/Sales:

Project 8 – We are all in Sales and we haven’t got a clue (Closing the Sale when decisions are irrational): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/we-are-all-in-sales/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 4 – You were right to choose the competition (Understanding worldviews and empathy): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/right-to-choose-the-competition/

Redington/Pensions & Investments:

Project 12 – Launching the ‘Future Leaders’ program (3 minute video on helping others to make change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/launching-our-inaugural-future-leaders-program/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 4 – You were right to choose the competition (Understanding worldviews and empathy): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/right-to-choose-the-competition/

Project 2 – What is the difference between a dream and a goal (7 steps to Goal Setting): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/dreams-vs-goals/

Project 1 – Make better decisions in 5 minutes (using decision trees to decide what to do if a star manager leaves): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/make-better-decisions-in-5-minutes/

RedSTART/Saving/Financial Education:

Project 10 – If you don’t stretch your limits you set your limits (How do our Assets, Boundaries & Narratives limit us?) https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/stretch-your-limits/

Project 5 – Be the change you want to see in your clients (Inspiring change): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/be-the-change/

Project 2 – What is the difference between a dream and a goal (7 steps to Goal Setting): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/dreams-vs-goals/

Personal/Spiritual:

Project 9 – He didn’t belong and that made him sad (How self-imposed constraints kill our dreams/How can we scale/leverage them)?: https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/he-didnt-belong/

Project 6 – Are you a guardian of the future? (Creating a campaign for change – Global Warming): https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/guardian-of-the-future/

Project 3 – 4 strangers, 48 hours and 101 ideas (Using Business Canvas to brainstorm 101 new business ideas) https://altmba.com/miteshsheth/101-ideas/

Hope you enjoy them. It’s hard to believe but each of these was written within 24 hours. I welcome your feedback; it’s a gift!

Don’t forget to send me your thoughts on what you’d like to get out a live event covering the ‘top tips for making change happen’?

Thanks,

Mitesh

AltMBA: Reinventing the MBA

It all began just 4  weeks ago when I received this email from Seth Godin’s blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/05/a-different-way-to-move-forward.html).

Seth has been often quoted saying:

The traditional top-tier MBA takes two years, you usually need to move and it costs more than $125,000. The best business school experience is transformative. It exposes students to a new way of thinking as well as a cohort of fellow travelers, motivated, smart people in a hurry to change things. What’s changed is that access to information is no longer the reason to go to business school. The information is everywhere. Our goal with the altMBA is to assemble leaders (corporate executives, non-profit linchpins, founders, managers and people in a hurry) and to connect them and amplify their work. Without leaving home. In just a month of intense effort. Instead, we’re organized around action, around publishing, around sharing your work and learning from it.

Alt MBA 2

In his blog on 12th May 2015 he announced that he is finally launching the inaugural class of altMBA. It was going to be a real-time, month-long intensive program. This was going to be a small-group process that works online as well as through hands-on projects. The focus of the program was going to be on group work, leveraging the power of collaboration, both by learning from and teaching others.

As soon as I read it I knew I had to apply. I consulted my wife, my friends, my team and my bosses to check I wasn’t being impulsive; but all were supportive. Redington encouraged me to use my current strategic projects for the assignments (as appropriate) and to do the course at work and around my work.

So I applied. It was a very different type of application form and there was a video bio to record too (my first!). 100 people were chosen for the inaugural group beginning in June. I got in. I felt excited, daunted and terrified all at the same time.

Now that it’s really happening, there is a lot of planning and scheduling to do:

  • I will find out tomorrow (on Sunday) from my coach Paul Jun who my learning group of 4 is for the first week.
  • On Monday at 11am (6am EST) I get a prompt with the first 3 projects for week 1.
  • On Tuesday and Thursday I have online study meetings with my learning team from 6pm – 9pm. Sunday we are booked for the all day.
  • We need to submit each project by midnight on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. These are all online and public.
  • We review other people’s projects and give feedback by 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Saturday appears to be the only day off.
  • That repeats again next week and the week after … Until the 13th assignment is handed in on 15th July.

Last week I got a box in the post at work, filled with books. I also received a reading list by email with over 70 books/blogs/articles on it … I am in heaven!

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These are the commitments we have all signed up to:

  • I will do the hard part first.
  • I will embrace emotional labor.
  • I will think of myself as the type of person who can and does.
  • And I will act that way.
  • I will have a posture of generosity. Giving without hope of getting.
  • I will care about people and the world around me…
  • And I will act that way.
  • I will dance with fear.
  • I promise I will continue to keep making change (‘ruckus’).
  • And then I’ll teach someone else to do so, too.

This is a course of the future, for the future. We are using a whole bunch of online tools, many of which I have never used before – Disqus, Zoom, Slack, Feedly, Digg, etc. Other than what I’ve described above we have no idea what to expect, what the assignments are, how exactly we will work together, how exactly we will do them …

This is not for everyone. These first 100 appear to be a diverse and interesting group of people. As it gets closer many people on the course are feeling anxious, frustrated and stressed at the sheer uncertainty. I also feel like that at some level though the experience has made me realise that I am ok with uncertainty, I can handle change and I quite like being thrown in the deep end. This process is about feeling your fears, acknowledging them and facing them. It’s early days though, I’ll keep you posted on our adventures.

Here we go: 4 weeks, 5 coaches, 13 projects, 100 people, 175 concepts.

All our work is public and will be available for review and comment here – https://altmba.com/blog/

My work will be shared here – https://altmba.com/student/miteshsheth/

Wish me luck! See you in a month.

The Inaugural Class of AltMBA 2015 runs till 15th July.

Adapt or die?

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Earlier this week I had the privilege to meet and hear John Peters for the second time in the past 12 months. This time I was determined to make notes so that I could remember his unique lessons (from captivity) on dealing with surprise and change.

“Prioritize your tasks, so you have the capacity to think”.

Who is John Peters?

On 2nd August 1990, Iraq invaded the oil rich sovereign state of Kuwait. By January 1991 Operation Desert Storm went into full effect. Whilst carrying out a dangerous, low-level, daylight raid on Al Rumaylah South West airbase, John Peter’s Tornado was hit by a Surface to Air Missile forcing him to eject over enemy territory. Shortly after parachuting to the ground, the two men were captured by Saddam Hussein’s forces. What ensued was seven weeks of physical and psychological torture. John’s mistreatment was see in the living room of every household as theimage of his bruised and battered face was repeated shown on Iraqi state television. John emerged from his experience in captivity a stronger, more resilient and more confident individual. And whilst one would not ever welcome such an ordeal, he realises that it was probably the making of him.

The big questions he asked us:

  • How are we evolving? All our qualifications and achievements, all our previous experiences got us here. What are we learning today to take us forward tomorrow?
  • How do we remain relevant in a constantly changing world? What did I learn this week? How did I get better? Did I beat my personal best? How did I challenge myself? What did I do outside of my comfort zone?
  • Can people really trust and believe in us? How do we lead? What tone do we set in our business? Do our people know that we will put your life(style) on the line for them?
  • Do we know what we stand for? How do we behave when no one is looking? What can people expect of us when everything is falling apart?
  • Do we look beyond the walls/situation/struggles? Do we create an overall tone that is characterized by hope? Is our passion contagious?
  • How do we deal with failure? Do we hide, lie, acknowledge, learn and adapt? The fear of failure or looking stupid stops us trying, learning, or evolving.
  • How do we make the firm/team culture so compelling that no one wants to leave?

The most important lessons he shared:

His number one lesson about what to do when you don’t know what to do – “Prioritize your tasks, so you have the capacity to think“.

Even our best plans will not go exactly as intended, so how will you prepare for uncertainty and how will you deal with surprise? The challenges, issues and events we will face in the future cannot be predicted but you can determine how you will deal with them. You can only influence your reaction function, tone and culture.

How fast can you learn and adapt? It’s not the big that eat the small but the fast that eat the slow. The speed at which you can complete the circle of design, deliver, execute, learn, feedback… Redesign, deliver…

If you’re working in teams, share, communicate, admit failures and learn fast. “The reason they separate prisoners of war is to avoid them sharing, and learning.”

If we are really willing to be ‘open’ that’s really powerful. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. How much do we reflect and learn?

Manage your self talk; keep positive and keep your head clear so that you can learn; so that you can adapt. You need to control your emotions through your intellect; to ensure you’re emotions don’t overwhelm you; if you move into fight/flight mode you lose 95% of your cognitive ability.

The culture we set of ‘who we are’ and ‘how we behave’ beats planning and strategy every time. Culture is not what you do, but how you do it, and who you are. To manage culture is to manage energy; we need to know which activities block energy, drain or boost energy.

We may think we are in a team, but are we competing against each other or are we completely competing against the people outside? Where do we want to be on that spectrum? Balancing cooperation, collaboration and competition. Red arrows – members are deeply committed to one another’s personal goals and success.

We are creatures of habit. We instinctively learn how to do stuff at a young age and continue to repeat this until its out of date. We all have a success formula that got us to where we are today; however we are not aware of it, we are not conscious of it and we do not evolve it. If we don’t reflect on it and adapt it, we will become irrelevant and ultimately fail.

Human systems are prone to fail; and we are prone to hide it. Even the smartest amongst us surgeons, fighter pilots, etc all do it. As human beings we don’t like failure. We don’t admit to failure. The key to success is to admit your failures. This is a key differentiator.

Leaders find it hardest to identify and admit mistakes; People tell leaders what they want to hear; the fear of failure or looking stupid stops us trying, learning, or evolving.

Maximum performance is right on the edge of failure. You have to keep your company on the edge, failing fast; at max performance. Right before the point of maximum performance, you need to lead with a new system, create what isn’t there yet. If you’re not transforming your team and business you are not a leader.

Companies need leaders because we need to deal with uncertainty; and because we need people to work beyond their known ability/capacity/expectations. Leadership is an attitude, it is a way of life, it is who you are; it is your character.

EEEE:
EDGE: win before you begin, team learning, how fast can you learn;
EXPLORE: experiment and test to fail fast and adapt;
ENGAGE: commit to the success of others;
ENERGY: manage energy not time.

ABC:
Accept the brutal reality (facts do not lie);
look Beyond the walls (otherwise I would not have survived);
Choose your future/make a choice (be completely honest with yourself).

Memorable quotes:

“The key to success is not who you know and it’s not what you know; but what do you do with what you know?”

“How fast can you learn & adapt? It’s not the big that eat the small but the fast that eat the slow.”

“It’s easy like ABC: Accept the brutal reality; look Beyond the walls; Choose your future.”

“Will you choose to compete, collaborate or cooperate? There is real power in sharing lessons, admit failures and learn fast.”

“You need to learn how to control your emotions through your intellect; to ensure they don’t overwhelm you. 95% of your cognitive ability is lost in fight-flight mode.”

“Human systems are prone to fail & we are prone to hide our failures. The key to success is to admit & learn from them.”

Is it possible to identify good fund managers?

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I’ve been involved in identifying, assessing, hiring, developing and managing talented investment managers for most of my career. In 2004, I worked on an initiative, at my then employer, with some organisational psychologists to uncover ‘What are the common traits of the best fund managers?’. A decade later, my current project and the article in this week’s FTfm have brought the question of ‘what makes a really good fund manager’ and ‘is it really possible to identify them through manager research’ back to the surface of my attention. More broadly, I am fascinated by talent, excellence and what conditions help foster a high performance team.  I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences and observations on this subject.

Are manager recommendations from investment consultants really worthless?

I realised early on in my career that the traditional manager research process, as it is most commonly executed, was flawed. So, I have some sympathy with Steve Johnson who writes in this week’s FTfm that “The funds recommended by consultants do no better than any other, and by some measures they underperform the wider market significantly”. He is referring to recent research, conducted on US equity funds, published by Oxford university’s Said Business School. I think he takes it too far in labelling all manager research, done by all consultants, across all asset classes as “worthless”. I don’t agree. I have worked with (and been interrogated by) some great manager researchers, as well as some awful ones, and there are asset classes, strategies and market environments in which good research is invaluable.

It is true that many manager researchers go through the same tick-box exercise of screening out poor past performance, small assets-under-management, new teams, high turnover, etc. It’s easy to ignore funds that don’t neatly fit into a box, in favour of factors that are more easily observed such as business profitability, coherent philosophy, consistent process, risk control, client service and past performance. I can understand why many firms do it this way (it’s easier, more scalable and lower risk), but rigid templates, tick-boxes, rigorous screens and committee decision making kills the best investment ideas for manager researchers (just as it does for fund managers).

Unfortunately, even when consultants conduct face-to-face meetings with fund managers they are not always effective. Fund managers are hugely incentivised to say the right thing and to avoid saying anything that might cause concern. The rewards for getting it right are massive and the cost of getting it wrong is bigger. Fund managers get coached, briefed and trained ahead of due diligence research visits. Only the best communicators are usually presented to researchers. This understanding is so ingrained that roles and promotions often depend critically on communication skills in consultant and client meetings. These many layers of polish take some getting through.

Getting under the bonnet

Over the years my colleagues and I have experimented with a variety of methods to get beneath the surface of managers in face-to-face meetings/interviews:

·  recognising that our main advantage was the power of comparison, we would compare stories for accuracy across different individuals in a team or have face-to-face meetings with all the managers of a particular strategy/sector in a short period of time;
·  leveraging the privilege of being able to interview people at all levels of a company from CEO’s, to fund managers and analysts, to risk managers, operations and support;
·  monitoring what was said in meetings with subsequent on-the-desk research of portfolio positions, key risks, changes to decisions over time and in different market conditions;
·  retaining an element of surprise, visiting managers at short notice (like the Ofsted inspectors that turn up to schools unannounced) and asking to see people who hadn’t been prepared;
·  getting trained in the art of enquiry, asking probing questions around uncomfortable issues, using silences, ensuring that we aren’t just being presented to and focusing the discussion what matters most;
·  forming our own view of third party research, tools and systems, including speaking to the banks/sell-side for their experience of fund managers dealing practices.

One of the most effective techniques I used was to share my research notes with fund managers, appealing to the ‘better angels of their nature’, moving to a much more open and honest basis of engagement.

The common traits of the best fund managers

As I mentioned earlier, I have had the privilege of hiring and managing some amazing investment talent over the years and they tended to have the following traits in common:

·  an ability to make decisions in the absence of complete information (otherwise it can be too late);
·  a natural appetite for taking risk and being at risk (of loss);
·  a clear sense of personal accountability, rather than deferring real decision making to committees;
·  seriously competitive, they compete with some of the smartest people in the world and their performance is visible to all daily;
·  tremendous pride for their craft, they are fascinated by how markets work and evolve;
·  surprisingly imaginative, creative and lateral thinking; they think about “what may happen?”, “what could go wrong?” – which is often the best form of risk management
·  make decisions intuitively, based on years of experience and practice, making it difficult/artificial to articulate how they make decisions, in terms of a clear process. Yet it is a clearly articulated process that so many manager selectors look for.

An aside – The problem with graduate recruitment

Some of the best fund managers I have worked with had not had a conventional financial education. They are not all Maths and Economics graduates. They were not all A-grade/1st class students. They were not all head boys/girls and had not all trained for the Duke of Edinburgh award. In fact for a number of them, their risk taking traits were formed in their early years.

The crazy thing is despite knowing this, most fund management companies only recruit Maths/Economics graduates, who have their sights set on becoming fund managers every year, from the best universities, with the best grades, even though this rarely provides the best material to train a good fund manager.

It’s a real bug-bear of mine as I think investment teams also need to hire fund managers from off-the-beaten-track and seek out those with not only the mental resilience and market savvy but also imagination, risk-taking sensibility and a strong sense of personal responsibility.

Final thoughts

I am a big believer in active management (alongside passive and smart beta management), in particular that some people and teams, in some asset classes and market environments, have the ability to consistently outperform their peers. I have also worked with some great manager researchers and conducted research on asset classes and strategies where good research adds meaningful value for clients. At the end of the day good manager research is not all that different from good fund management.

Going forward, I feel the best consultants will focus their resource and attention on identifying and quickly assessing managers, strategies, or asset classes that have compelling sources of return (to help their clients get in early before the crowd) and even more importantly help their clients get out early enough to not be left with the masses trying to squeeze through a tiny door. Manager research will need to become part and parcel of a good investment process, aligning bottom up with top down, with sole the objective of making money for clients, rather than just picking safe funds and managers.

In my opinion, the best fund managers and manager researchers tend to have one or more of the following sources of competitive advantage:

1.  Information edge – access to better, broader, more reliable or more timely information
2.  Processing edge – ability to sift through data to quickly identify the key issues (qualitatively, quantitative or both)
3.  Decision making edge – ability to make good decisions more often than not (alone or as part of a team) and often in the absence of complete information
4.  Execution edge – ability to access deal flow and the best market pricing, in size and in times of crisis
5.  Resilience / Humility – ability to stick with a good decision in the face of pressure from the business, market or peer group balanced with the humility to know when you’re wrong.

I would love to hear your thoughts (Reply below or to [email protected]sheth.com).

Outcomes revolution in investment management & pharmaceuticals

IMG_0744In this month’s issue of IPE Mitesh Sheth outlines what investment managers can learn from the transformation taking place in the pharmaceutical industry.

03 June 2013

I was recently invited by Sanofi, the fourth largest healthcare company in the world by prescription sales, to talk to 500 of their UK and Irish employees about my experiences with innovation in the investment management industry. As I prepared for the presentation, talked to Sanofi’s leadership team and participated in their workshops, I came to realise the massive parallels between the pharmaceutical and fund management industries. Both industries are in the middle of an outcomes revolution.

Investment outcomes in investment management

I was first drawn to investment management, having been a pension fund consultant and manager researcher at Towers Watson in 2005. I joined David Jacob, head of fixed income at Henderson, determined to design better investment products and solutions for institutional clients. I felt strongly that clients shouldn’t care about index benchmarks, narrow asset class definitions, regional boundaries and deceptive strategy labels (like hedge funds) in achieving their overall investment outcomes – be that income, capital preservation, beating inflation, long-term growth, and so on.

We built a risk budgeting and capital-allocating ‘investment strategy group’ at the centre of the investment process. This allowed us to engage with our clients (and their ultimate clients) around their goals, risk appetite and time horizon in designing and delivering investment outcomes. With a focus on outcomes, we brought together high yield and investment grade analysis, developed market and emerging market analysis, as well as cash bonds and derivatives expertise to give clients access to the fixed income universe against their choice of benchmarks and targets.

I still believe clients should begin with the end in mind. Our starting point should be: where am I today; where do I want to get to and by when; how much risk am I willing to take (what return volatility would be uncomfortable and what’s my maximum drawdown); and what cash flow (or liquidity) do I need along the way. This is true for a pension fund, an individual investor, a family office, a sovereign wealth fund – in short, anyone.

Background to the pharmaceutical industry

The pharmaceutical industry has changed a lot over the past few decades but at its core it still develops, produces, markets and distributes drugs licensed as medicines. Drug discovery and development is very expensive as only a fraction of all compounds investigated are ever approved for human use. To cover these costs a company needs to discover a new blockbuster drug (one which generates revenues in the billions) every few years.

The industry has been growing at a rapid rate since the 1970s, as legislation allowing for stronger patents has come into force in most countries, helping pharmaceutical companies to generate significant profits from their patented products. In recent decades, a handful of large companies have dominated manufacturing of medicine around the world, supported by numerous mergers and acquisitions.

Pharmaceutical companies have been great cash generators for shareholders over the past 20 years, and IMS Health values the global pharmaceutical industry at over $800bn (€620bn). But while healthcare ought to be simple at its core, layers of management regulation, processes, policies, business models and acquisitions have complicated pharmaceutical organisations and the healthcare industry over the years – creating a global problem today that itself appears to defy definition.

Drivers of change

The market capitalisation of the largest pharma companies is expected to come under significant pressure in the coming decade. Over the next few years patent protection on historical blockbuster drugs will continue to run off. Regulators are demanding more affordable and cost-effective therapies. In addition, there is an industry-wide research-and-development pipeline gap meaning there are no big blockbusters on the horizon.

Furthermore, there is a growing demand for personalised healthcare challenging the current business model, with new competitors with new business models emerging and gaining in strength.

To add to its woes, the industry’s image has been damaged by accusations of disease mongering, bribing doctors, false claims and illegal marketing, not to mention the high profile court cases. Bestselling books such as Bad Pharma (2012), Side Effects (2008) and Big Pharma (2006) have built on the public’s impression of big businesses putting profits over patient welfare. Even Hollywood portrays pharma as a global, shadowy force (not unlike the way in which the investment industry is portrayed).

The industry has survived a continuous series of regulatory, scientific, social and political challenges in the past. However, the changes it faces today from regulation, competition, commoditisation, technological advances, austerity and public perception are significant on their own and even more disruptive when considered together, demanding a more radical response.

Parallels with fund management

These forces of change are very similar to those facing the fund management industry (global assets under management are estimated by IPE to be around €39.2trn):

• Historical blockbuster products are being commoditised;

• Intense competition is putting pressure on margins;

• Disillusioned clients and customers are frustrated with fund manager self-interest;

• Regulators are ever more intrusive, demanding more transparent charging, better management of conflicts and clearer marketing;

• Technological development is spawning new products, new business models and new avenues for client communication;

• Economic austerity, low growth and on-going cost cutting mean clients and end-customers want more for less.

Pharmaceuticals, like fund management, are B2B businesses in that the customers are essentially not the end-patients but the intermediaries – the healthcare professionals, doctors, consultants and pharmacists. These intermediaries are facing change and disruption of their own with intense regulation, flat budgets, pressure to cut costs and growing patient demands, much like the pressures on IFAs, platforms, banks, insurance companies, pensions consultants and funds.

With this roller coaster of changes and resultant uncertainty about the future, the only constant that pharmaceutical and fund management companies can hold onto is putting the end-customer (patient) at the centre. Both industries need to transform from being product centric to customer (service) centric; from pushing drugs and funds to helping customers improve their health and wealth.

Pharmaceuticals and fund management are in the midst of an ‘outcomes’ revolution. This is a huge undertaking and it cannot be achieved through a series of incremental steps or a long list of initiatives. Such fundamental changes call for a focused and radical response, leveraging one’s strengths.

Pharma’s response

Historically, large pharmaceutical companies have reacted to market pressures by cutting costs, and on the face of it this time is no different. If you look deeper though, there is a realisation among senior leaders that cost cutting is short term and incremental, and it will not address the fundamental shift they are experiencing in the competitive landscape.

They know that their entire business model needs to be looked at differently.

Sanofi (and the other major pharmaceutical companies) have recognised the need to shift from being a product marketing company to becoming a customer relationship business.

They believe that while having great products was enough to drive success in the past, this nowadays creates diminishing returns. They know that their future success will be determined not just by how many drugs are sold, but how well their products, services, tools and education have helped to improve or maintain a patients’ health and wellbeing.

Their revenues will still come from product sales, but the reason why customers will want to buy from pharmaceutical companies is changing. They need to offer their customers more for less and create an ecosystem of products and services around the end-patients’ health outcomes.

For example, in 2012 Sanofi and Agamatrix launched a new type of blood glucose monitor, which also connects to a smart phone. This allows patients to track glucose levels continuously and give them access to a telephone hotline and other support services, which earns Sanofi considerable customer loyalty. This shift to integrate products with innovative monitoring technology and personalised support services was possible because Sanofi listened to the needs of patients with diabetes.

With any change in strategy it is critical to diagnose your problems honestly and to leverage your strengths to differentiate your business. Pharma companies continue to build a stronger product portfolio through deals, partnerships, alliances and virtual R&D to access a broader universe of research companies.

However, they know not to stop here. Their sales people know their customer and they have unparalleled access and information. The best pharma companies are determined to build on this to be the partner of choice for their customers and to go beyond that in building a relationship with the end-patient too.

Pharma companies are breaking down silos (diabetes, oncology, generics, and so on) to use key account management techniques to ensure their customers do not get lots of different sales reps trying to get a share of their limited time. Instead, they are working on a single point of contact which understands the customer’s needs and offers support, education, services and products to help meet patient health outcomes. They are learning to think and care more about the customer and the patient (their needs, their experience and their long-term relationship) rather than just focusing on the disease, the drugs and their profits.

There is a significant effort being made to transform how medicines are presented, marketed and sold with a better understanding of stakeholder needs, demonstrating clear value for healthcare professionals and end patients. Sales reps are increasingly becoming a conduit of best practice among healthcare professionals, making links and introductions between stakeholders. The best are helping their customers – the intermediaries – deal with their challenges, as well as the steps, processes and tools to get to where they need to.

I am most impressed with the acknowledgement that this requires a major shift in attitude, behaviour, people and culture. Significant training of senior leaders, middle managers and other employees is underway. Employee-led customer-centric innovation is a powerful way of achieving this kind of culture change. In the past pharmaceutical innovation was limited to product development much like in fund management. Pharmaceutical companies are starting to use innovation more broadly across their employee base to improve business efficiency and customer service too. This requires giving employees permission to take risks and experiment with new ways of working without the fear of failure.

Taking a blank sheet of paper to fund management

The vast majority of investment management companies are not structured around their clients’ needs and outcomes. They are built around fund, asset class and regional silos that operate independently with limited dialogue, interaction and collaboration. A handful of houses have created successful outcome teams or divisions – with LDI or multi-asset specialists – though even there the challenge remains to apply this way of thinking to the rest of the business.

Senior leadership in investment management houses does not yet accept that the investment management business model needs to be overhauled. There is no overall drive to move the business from being product marketing to client relationship centric, and no corresponding plan to shift attitude, behaviour, people and cultures. Innovation remains a product manufacturing activity.

As an industry we need to look at the end investors and clients, rather than just being focused on the intermediaries and consultants, and start to ask ourselves how we can work together do a better job for them.

Some of the more dynamic, agile and client-centric investment managers are starting to realise this and are taking it seriously. Here are some lessons we can all learn from the disruption facing the pharmaceutical industry and their response:

  1. Our clients’ focus on outcomes will affect our whole business model not just a single multi-asset product area;
  2. A central risk-management, risk-budgeting and allocation team is essential in responding to clients’ needs and designing/delivering investment outcomes;
  3. Break down silos between funds, between equities and fixed income, between manufacturing and distribution, between back/middle office and the front office and between the corporate/board and the business to work together to deliver better outcomes for the end client;
  4. Focus on our strengths, rather than being all things to all people. Build alliances and partnerships with specialist investment boutiques and complementary players;
  5. Rebuild trust by putting the end-customer at the centre of our business. Help the clients and intermediaries deal with change and work together to deliver better solutions for the end customer;
  6. Train sales people to behave more like well-informed, trusted advisers. They must be able to listen and draw out client’s unarticulated needs. They must be able to offer advice and assistance to help our clients reach their overall strategic goals;
  7. Foster a client-centric, employee-led innovation culture beyond product manufacturing;
  8. Give our employees permission to take risk and experiment with new ways of working, without the fear of failure.

Finally, it is all too easy to stick to what we know and who we know. If the investment management industry wants to adapt, innovate, transform and engage, we need to include people with different perspectives, with different experiences and expertise; intentionally draw on customer insights, employee ideas and other industry perspectives.

I think if senior leaders in investment management commit to becoming fit for the future they will be blown away by how many middle managers, employees and clients volunteer their time, ideas and enthusiasm to solve these complex industry challenges.

If we get it right, our clients will be more successful in meeting their investment outcomes and our employees will thank us for investing in them and for helping them to do the best work of their lives.

Here’s a link to the full article here. 

Investment actuaries in the future

IMG_0781Tomorrow evening (Thursday 6th June 2013) I have been invited to facilitate a ‘blue sky’ thinking session at Staple Inn with some of the brightest thinkers in the city of London to come up with the subjects and themes that should drive the Finance & Investment research agenda for the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) over the next decade.

Whilst a career as an actuary* was recently ranked as the best job of 2013** I think identifying the right research directions is really important to ensure that the actuarial profession remains relevant, forward looking and at the cutting edge of the finance and investment thinking in the future.

I have 3 questions for you (both actuaries and non-actuaries are welcome to respond):

  1. What is the most important thing people gain from the actuarial qualification?
  2. What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing actuaries in finance and investment firms?
  3. What do you think should drive the Finance & Investment research agenda for IFoA over the coming decade?

Please reply to this post or email me on [email protected] with your answers, as well as any other ideas or suggestions by 3pm GMT tomorrow (6th June).

Many thanks in advance,

Mitesh

 

* Actuaries put a financial value on risk – for instance, the chances of a hurricane destroying a beachfront home or the long-term liabilities of a pension.

** The best job of 2013 – CareerCast.com, a career website owned by Adicio Inc., recently ranked 200 jobs from best to worst based on five criteria: physical demands, work environment, income, stress, and hiring outlook. Based on these criteria, a career as an Actuary came out on top. You can find the full ranking here

We can all be more creative

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The BBC’s Kate Dart has written and directed an excellent Horizon documentary on creativity, insight, the brain and how we can all be more creative.

If you’re interested in understanding or developing your creativity I would highly recommend it.

It is available on BBC iPlayer till 18th April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b01rbynt/

Here’s a summary of the main ideas:

The advancement of humanity depends on creative insight and innovation and always has – from the wheel, to mobile phones, medicine and the internet. Our ability to think in novel ways is a defining characteristic of humanity.

The flash of Insight

Insight is a critical aspect of creativity. We all know the moment when we experience a flash of insight, when we figure out a problem or when the penny drops. However, for years creativity has been considered too elusive for scientists to study. Now with better technology and tools scientists are finally able to study creativity more objectively, as it occurs in the brain. They are concluding that we can all be more creative.

Observing the inner workings of the brain shows that we really are thinking differently when we have an insight. During a flash of insight it is the right side of our brain that erupts with gamma waves. Flashes of insight don’t just subjectively feel different, but they are objectively different in the brain.

The creative side of the brain

There is a structural difference between each side of the brain. The left side of the brain is primarily involved with reason, logic and language. The right hemisphere of the brain is more likely to make the connections that lead to insights. The neurons on the left have shorter dendrites while neurons on the right have broader/longer dendrites pulling together more distant unrelated information, finding connections that might not otherwise be made.

Check out this fantastic video on “Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain” pioneered by Betty Edwards, where she shows that anyone can draw if you can turn the left side of the brain off. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctkRwRDdajo

Developing divergent thinking

Creativity and intelligence are related but are not the same thing. Whilst intelligence is primarily linked to quicker thinking, creativity is not. Creativity is not fast and efficient but slow and meandering. Creativity is fostered when we allow our brain to slow down and to try different neural paths, rather than the shortest and quickest pathway from A to B. Partially formed ideas from different fields of experience need to collide with each other to being them into our consciousness.

Top tips for kick-starting your creativity

Creativity exists in everybody. Each second of our day and life is not scripted. We make most of it up. We improvise. We just need to understand our brain better and exercise our creativity regularly.

New, unusual and unexpected experiences boost your creativity because they open up your mind, help you see things differently and make new associations between concepts.

To think differently we need to disrupt our normal patterns of thought, routine or behavior. Just switching the steps of a well travelled routine, or doing something we don’t normally do boosts our creative abilities. When we break well trodden neural pathways, we open new possibilities.

We have our best ideas when we least expect, because ‘mind-wandering’ has always had a strong connection with creativity. When our mind wanders the front part of the brain (pre-frontal cortex) switches off. This is the part that is responsible for conscious self monitoring. When people improvise the same part of their brain switches off – our inhibitions reduce, we are less self conscious, any mental handcuffs come off and ideas flow more freely.

If you’ve been doing mentally demanding work your creative ability crashes. When you allow your mind to wander you become more creative, but that doesn’t mean doing nothing. In fact, the best thing you can do is to engage in a non mentally demanding task (for example, arranging Lego bricks by colour, watering the garden, washing the dishes, yoga, meditating, etc.), which allows your mind to wander and fosters creativity.

The best thing to do if you’re stuck on a problem, is to take a break, go for a walk or shower and then return to the problem. If you’re still stuck – disrupt your routine or try out a new experience. This allows the creative process to kick in.

So we can all be more creative, if we can slow down, let our minds wander, allow different ideas to collide, experience something new or do something differently. 

 

Further reading and videos:

  • Steve Johnson, Where good ideas come from – RSAnimate Video
  • Dr Mark Beeman (Northwest University, Cognitive Neuroscience) – Website
  • Dr Charles Limb, John Hopkins University – see his TEDxMidatlantic talk 
  • Dan Pink, A whole new mind, 2005
  • Dr Simone Ritter, Creativity: the role of unconscious processes in idea generation and idea selection, 2012
  • Robert Ornstien, The Right Mind: Making Sense of the Hemspheres, 1997

Mercedes Benz have captured the difference between the right and left hand side of the brain beautifully in these pictures:

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