In 2017, the co-founders of BlaBlaCar—the world’s largest long-distance carpooling company—reflected on the evolution of their venture and the way forward. BlaBlaCar had reached critical mass and size; yet staying still was not going to be enough to be relevant and competitive in the hyper competitive sharing economy sector. The co-founders felt that the time was now to capitalize on the trust that the platform had built with its members and explore adjacent opportunities. The options in front of them represented a wide variety of ways to grow but how should the team prioritize and figure out which of the opportunities represented a viable business strategy for their company?
In 2016, JCDecaux was number one in the world in outdoor advertising. This was a far cry from the situation in 2003; at that time, JCDecaux had been unseated by Clear Channel from the number-one spot that it had held for decades, and it was fighting for second place with OUTFRONT (then owned by Viacom). Over the 12 intervening years, JCDecaux had doubled in size, building leadership positions in China, Japan, Latin America, Africa, and Russia, and in 2010, it had passed Clear Channel to lead the industry once more. Now, co-CEOs Jean-François Decaux and Jean-Charles Decaux were looking for new ways and new places to grow. After the company overtook Clear Channel in 2010, Jean-François had indicated that he believed that another doubling in size was feasible, but it would probably take a major acquisition to do so. And JCDecaux faced more pressing short-term issues. The contract for London bus shelters that the company had won with much fanfare in August 2015 was behind schedule. To make matters worse, the United Kingdom’s June 2016 “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union cast a shadow over the project, and the markets reacted negatively. By the start of November, JCDecaux’s share price had fallen 21% since the beginning of the year. Just what the economic uncertainty of Brexit would mean for global outdoor advertising in general, and U.K. outdoor advertising in particular, was not clear. Doubling in size in such an environment appeared a daunting task.
Royal DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma was pondering the challenges of shifting DSM’s global organization from the constant transformations of the past 100 years to creating organic growth. When Sijbesma took the helm as CEO in 2007, he further pushed and completed the company’s final moves away from commodity chemicals and toward more sustainable businesses whereby DSM could create value with differentiated offerings. Sijbesma emphasized innovation and moving into “sunrise” businesses that would fuel future growth by playing a positive role in the broader society. Sijbesma asked himself, did DSM’s current portfolio in life sciences and materials sciences provide sufficient growth opportunities to sustain consistent and superior performance? Would DSM’s 21,000 employees worldwide embrace the DSM Strategy 2018: “Driving profitable growth through science-based sustainable solutions,” anchored via the Lead & Grow support and development program for key managers of the company? Should DSM continue making moves in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to complement organic growth, or could its growth goals be achieved by focusing on organic growth for now, followed later by M&A activities again? What new markets should it look to in order to ensure sustainable growth? Sijbesma felt that after a decade of transformations (divestments and acquisitions), it would be healthy for the company to focus fully on organic growth for several years. During that period the company had already indicated it would divest three of its major holdings in joint venture (JV) companies, which would generate the financial capacity for M&A activities again in later years. In the meantime, Sijbesma wanted the company to prove it could grow organically as well.
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Vincent Dessain, a Belgian national, is the Executive Director of the Europe Research Center (ERC). Vincent has extensive management and business education experience. He is a co-author of two books in finance, a book chapter on intercultural management and a co-author of a wide variety of articles in academic journals, case studies and course development notes (cases can be found on https://cb.hbsp.harvard.edu/ or here). He is a frequent guest speaker invited by academia, business and government to speak on topics in management and education.
Prior to his appointment at the Europe Research Center, he was Senior Director of Corporate Relationships at INSEAD in Fontainebleau and elected as the representative of the INSEAD administration on the School’s Board of Directors. Earlier in his career, Vincent has been active as a management consultant with Booz-Allen & Hamilton in New York and Paris. His field of consulting was international market entry strategies, financial products, strategy, negotiation and implementation of cross border alliances, financial restructuring, mergers and acquisitions. He has also been active as a Foreign Associate with the law firm Shearman & Sterling in New York in Banking and Finance and as an Advisor to the President of the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium.
Vincent speaks five European languages (French, English, German, Dutch and Italian). He holds a law degree from Leuven University (Belgium), a Business Administration degree from Louvain University (Belgium), an MBA from Harvard Business School (Boston, USA), and a PhD in management and communication from Université Paris VIII, France, on corporate social responsibility.