Tag Archives: Business Leaders

Painting by numbers

Business Leaders in non-Business Places (BLiNBP) is a program aiming to spread business insight and expertise, by placing prominent members of the business world in non-business areas. We catch up with Michael during his time at the Royal British Gallery

Michael is the COO of a global logistics company, with an MBA from Harvard Business School, and 30 years of management experience. As part of BLiNBP, Michael has taken a six month sabbatical to work at the Royal British Gallery, the UK’s largest public art collection, with full responsibility for the future direction of the Gallery.

“When I arrived, the place was in a state of uncertainty,” explains Michael, “with funding and visitors at an all time low. My job is to get us out of that rut. I actually didn’t really know much about art, when I joined, but if there’s one thing I do know it’s organizational change, so I was quietly confident”

The first major change was with regards to real estate.  Despite the Gallery being, in Michael’s words, “a vehicle for displaying paintings”, Michael identified that only a small proportion of the available wall and ceiling surface area was actually being used for that purpose. “I mean most of the place was just plain old white paint, which is no good to anyone. I saw that as an opportunity for a quick win, and we made a pretty penny selling three quarters of the Gallery to property developers, fitting all our paintings into a fraction of the space and dramatically reducing overheads.”

This not only saved money, but also made the visiting process much more efficient. “Instead of wasting time looking at the same paint you could see in your own sitting room, not an inch was wasted, with canvas next to canvas next to canvas,” beams Michael.

Buoyed by this positive start, Michael quickly dug into the interest ratings for each and every painting in the Gallery. “What I found, to my surprise, was that 80 percent of customers were coming to see only 20 percent of the paintings – a classic 80:20 ratio.”

Michael saw only one logical response to this, which was to “cut the long tail”. “It is unfathomable, in the era of Big Data, for such a tail to exist,” Michael told HBR. “Why are we showing things people don’t want to see? And on the flip side, why were we not showing more of the popular paintings? For example, Dutch car rental firm Van Go’s paintings were an incredible draw. Why didn’t we have more of them?”

After speaking with his Accounts department, it became clear that Dutch Van Go paintings were rather expensive for the cash-strapped gallery, as well as being in short supply. However this was nothing that Michael hadn’t seen before. “It was like Finance hadn’t come across outsourcing! I’ve worked with difficult Western European factories before, and the only sensible reaction is to ship the work off to China.”

Which is exactly what Michael has done. Taking the gallery’s “Sunflowers” as a prototype, Michael has commissioned 200 exact copies of the painting, due to arrive at the start of next week. “The quality of the work is incredibly high,” explains Michael. “You can barely see the Made in China label in the bottom right.”

So Michael is confident that things will finally turn around: “By my calculations, these paintings should boost visitor numbers by 200 percent per annum, but the sky is the limit. Van Go’s Sunflowers is currently our most popular painting, so imagine what will happen when we have 201 of them. I cannot wait!”

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VP goes back to the classroom

Business Leaders in non-Business Places (BLiNBP) is a programme aiming to spread business insight and expertise, by placing prominent members of the business world in non-business areas. This is John’s story.

John, 45, is VP of a Fortune 500 Company, with more than 20 years of management experience, and multiple books on business strategy to his name.  A keen supporter of the programme, he took 4 weeks out of his busy business schedule to work as a nursery teacher at Bilstock Junior School, responsible for a class of 15 pre-school children.

“I wasn’t fazed at all upon arriving,” reports John.  “I have taken over business units of more than 100 grown adults, so the idea of taking over a class of toddlers was child’s play, if you’ll excuse the pun!”

John swiftly put into action the principles that he had applied in his business career, generating a list of KPIs, carrying out a SWOT analysis on each member of the class and identifying key learning milestones that would need to be met.

As is always the case when a new leader comes onto the scene, there were some hurdles to be overcome. “A lot of the team-members kept asking where their mothers were, which was pretty unprofessional,” John explains. “The previous Team Leader even appears to have had a mid-afternoon nap policy, which was a huge waste of class time.”

John soon put these issues to rights, and felt that great progress was being made. “Words learned per day was up 37%, and we were soon counting up to 20,” reports John. “I was quite smugly satisfied with the changes I had managed to enact in just one week.”

However soon it became clear that all was not well. Despite the colourful nature of the classroom, Google this wasn’t. John was very concerned: “It was apparent in week two that morale was not high, and that soon trickled down to negatively impact productivity.  Sean wasn’t even able to distinguish between turquoise and sky blue!”

John was at a loss for what to do, having been so high after week one. What had gone wrong? What was wrong with his 5-day plan?  It was only when he was sitting down with Jessica, previously one of the class’s most precocious performers, that it became clear.  “We just want to have fun,” sighed the 4-year old.  “Miss Richards used to let us have fun.”

“It was a kind of Eureka moment for me, really,” John recalls. “I had gone full speed ahead with my plan without even considering our overall strategy, what business we are actually in. I was acting like we were a Learning company, when we are really a Learning through Fun company. I had forgotten half of what we were!”

Having had this realisation, John quickly went about bringing the fun back to the classroom. Toys were brought front and centre of all learning activities, and nap-time was back on the agenda. The change was instant and profound. “Laughter returned to the classroom, and our KPIs went through the roof. Sean even started writing Haikus!”

The four weeks quickly passed, and it was with a heavy heart that John left Bilstock, with the irony being that the teacher had very quickly become the student. “I like to think that I brought some new things to the classroom.  My “Always Be Colouring” initiative, for example, was a great success,” said John. “But the lessons that I have learnt at Bilstock will stay with me for the rest of my career.”

John was quick to put in place his new learnings upon returning to his job, redefining his company’s go-to-market strategy.  “I had forgotten how important it was to remember what business you are in, I had to hear it from the mouths of babes. We have changed our strategy, and have seen dramatic growth as a result.”

John is still in touch with his class: Jessica is now a non-Executive Director on the board of his company. He naps regularly, and has “never felt better. It’s like an afternoon energy boost!”

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