MBA@UNC Global Immersion: London - Day One

MBA@UNC Global Immersions are offered four times a year as unique opportunities for students to travel to major international business destinations with their fellow classmates, participate in engaging discussions with their professors and elite industry leaders, as well as apply what they have learned to real-life problems they now have the knowledge to effectively overcome. At the London immersion, MBA@UNC students participated in one of two tracks: Globalization Strategy or Consulting. Through the course of the first day, MBA@UNC students learned all about how to embrace the move from the Information Age to the Agile Age, the finer points of strategic communications in a global setting, and how Virgin has created consistency across a diverse set of businesses.


Session One: Agility in the Global Marketplace

During the first session of the day, Professor Julian Birkinshaw of the London School of Business talked to MBA@UNC students about transitioning beyond the Information Age. Here are some facts you should know about Birkinshaw:

  • Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London School of Business
  • Ranked 39th in the 2013 Thinkers50 of top global management thinkers
  • Main area of expertise: strategy and organization of large companies
  • Regularly found in major international media outlets, including CNN, BBC, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post & Businessweek

When discussing transitioning beyond the information age, Birkinshaw stressed that having too much information or too heavy a reliance on data can create a deficit of attention. When we overemphasize logic, we risk falling into sterile decision making. So what must we do to revitalize our decision making process? Birkinshaw said that leaders should embrace the move from the Information Age to the Agile Age, where action and conviction become key sources of advantage. Here are three of his practical thoughts on leadership in an agile world:

  1. Gain a fresh perspective – see the business through your employees’ eyes
  2. Understand your biases
  3. Experiment


Session Two: Communicating Strategically in a Global Environment (Panel)

After Birkinshaw’s session, a panel took over consisting of Jonathan Doorley, managing director of Sard Verbinnen & Co; Sinead Finlay, communications director of XL Catlin; and Louisa Bartoszek, director of media relations of BNY Mellon. For some background on the trio:

  • Doorley is the managing director and co-head of the London office of Sard Veribinnen & Co, a leading strategic and financial communications firm. He earned an MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler and has significant experience in advising on cross-border engagements throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East. Doorley (featured on the left) led the panel.
  • Finlay (featured in the middle) is responsible for her company’s external communications activities across Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Northern Africa.
  • Bartoszek (featured on the right) oversees BNY Mellon’s corporate media relations in Europe, Middle East & Africa. She has strong credentials in corporate communications, media relations and crisis management across international borders.

The panel discussed some of the finer points of strategic communications in a global setting, including:

  • Dealing with sensitive topics and crisis communications
  • Dealing with the ups and downs of social media:
    • The need to be able to post and respond in real-time while ensuring the appropriate approvals are in place
    • Leveraging photos whenever possible, but with the appropriate consent and permission (without slowing down the process)
    • The challenges of managing today’s company, where every employee has access to social media
  • Drawing the right lines with media and with a company’s senior leadership
  • Sensitivities in communicating across borders (cultural and geographic)


Session Three: Virgin: Beyond Globalization

The panel came to a close and Virgin took over (Peter Stephens, partner with Virgin Management Limited, that is). For more on Stephens, he's:

  • Partner and global head for Telecoms & Media Investments for Virgin Management Limited
  • Responsible for the growth of the company’s telecom and media properties around the world
  • An MBA graduate of UNC Kenan-Flagler

Stephens delved into the Virgin brand and global strategy. He first shared the unique history of the Virgin brand and how the company’s roots (and founder Richard Branson) shape their companies when entering new sectors. Then Stephens discussed how Virgin’s various businesses within sectors work together.

Virgin businesses (which aren’t 100% owned by Virgin Group) still benefit from Virgin Group’s brand building initiatives, Stephens said. So what are some of the ways Virgin creates consistency across a diverse set of businesses? According to Stephens, employees come first. Creating the most desirable workplaces across all businesses has helped attract top talent. In addition to focusing on their employees, Virgin’s relentless focus on key values influences the experiences each business creates, and helps to forge a consistent brand identity. Then there’s the tone of voice Virgin has adopted – friendly, witty and straightforward. The tone places an emphasis on staying true to oneself. Hiring the right people is critically important in achieving this.


The Case Competition: Caesars Entertainment UK & Case Overview

Meanwhile for MBA@UNC students in the Consulting track, it was case competition time. Dr. Paul Friga and Steve Beisser of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School presented the overall framework for the weekend’s case competition.

To prepare students for the case competition, Peter Turpin, venue director of The Empire Casino (Caesars Entertainment’s flagship UK property); Mike Rothwell, managing director of Caesars Entertainment UK; and Sarah Sculpher, group marketing director of Caesars Entertainment UK; then took over to introduce Caesar’s Entertainment UK. They presented a chance for students to understand the differences between UK gaming operations and U.S. operations. This presented a great construct for the case, but also for international business at large, where seemingly similar businesses may have considerable differences below the surface.

Later in the evening, Peter Turpin led students in the Consulting track on a site visit at The Empire Casino. Students gained additional insight into their project with a behind-the-scenes tour and additional details regarding their case.


Thames River Cruise

After an incredibly engaging day, all students experienced majestic London by water on a Thames River dinner cruise. As in all MBA@UNC global immersions, the social aspect is vitally important to students, giving them the chance for additional time to network and unwind. Relationships forged in the online classroom are solidified at immersions.