INSEAD has helped me enact a change in myself, in my life attitude
Boris Colruyt, CFO of Asia Pacific with global footwear giants, Birkenstock, chose the Leading Digital Marketing Strategy programme to complete his Certificate in Global Management. What he wanted was a learning experience that would make him a “better overall leader” What he got was something life-changing.
How do you deliver innovative marketing strategies and measure performance in the digital environment? It’s a challenge; and even more so when you are the Chief Financial Officer of your organisation. So says Boris Colruyt, CFO Asia Pacific with global footwear brand, Birkenstock
A seasoned business leader with more than two decades of corporate financial experience, Colruyt has come to a realisation in the last few years: to keep pace with change and fully leverage innovation, you have to build new understanding and new skills. You have to expand your vision and acquire new dimensions to leadership. And you should have fun doing so.
It’s this realisation that brought him to INSEAD in 2019 to embark on the Certificate in Global Management. In 2020, he completed the third and final programme to obtain his Certificate: Leading Digital Marketing Strategy (Live Virtual).
“I’ve led the financial aspect of the business in Asia since 2017. In this time we’ve seen a huge amount of innovation in business, driven by digital technologies. I knew I needed to invest in my own understanding and development to keep track of this kind of change and to leverage innovation in all of its forms, in order to really manage complexity at different levels. INSEAD was an obvious choice – a world-class school offering programmes calibrated to address these needs. The school had also come highly recommended to me by an old classmate and squash friend!”
Colruyt chose the Leading Digital Marketing Strategy, he says, to accelerate his understanding of change at a conceptual level to better apply the frameworks and tools practically. And as a finance expert, he had never studied marketing.
“There was plenty going on in my sector and region that was changing the game, but I also wanted to address areas of my own expertise and knowledge that I felt were limited. I’m not a marketer. I was looking to build up my skill set to lead things like budget management and performance measurement within the digital context. Basically, I wanted to be a better overall manager.”
He also wanted it to be fun.
“Learning is about exchange as much as anything else. It’s about interaction and sharing ideas. I was looking to pursue a programme that gave me access to like-minded managers in my region, who were looking at similar challenges.”
Going into the programme in 2020, of course, meant learning in a completely virtual environment. While this didn’t come without its challenges, he says, the experience was more “efficient” than the face-to-face dynamic.
“When you’re looking to learn dynamically, exchange ideas and build that network, the ideal thing is face to face. But learning online has its own advantages in terms of time management and efficiencies. It might take a little longer to get to know each other, but in fact the networking element is just as possible – it’s just as rich. The secret is being really prepared ahead of each session: putting in the preparation upfront, so that you get the most of the conversations and exchanges that you have with faculty and peers in live virtual sessions.”
Colruyt developed an approach to his own learning that served his purposes well; a method that he believes would work for anyone who, like him, is looking to get the very most from the learning experience as a busy executive.
“INSEAD programmes give you a framework of articles and materials to read. Before each programme and ahead of each live session, I ensured I had not only read the materials but summarised the key points in a power point. This worked as a kind of guiding star for me. It meant that I had conceptualised the key ideas and was armed with knowledge before going in to explore them. There was more efficiency and less friction to the learning – the classrooms and dialogues really reveal the ideas and just spit out so much more.”
Using this approach, Colruyt has been successful in capturing actionable and highly valuable insights from the programme: “Aha moments,” he says, that have significantly enhanced his own skills, tactics and methodologies as a leader.
“INSEAD faculty are adept at peeling away the complexity of things and helping you see how to put ideas into action. The sessions with professors and peers have broadened my understanding and given me new, strategic perspectives on key areas of my role, from putting together budgets using economic value models to managing people. I have come away with a better approach for managing complex conversations and the unintentional frustrations within and between teams. The programmes have given me that unique chance to step back and see different perspectives, which is so key in a role like mine.”
The Leading Digital Marketing Strategy programme in particular has given Colruyt the inspiration to experiment, and to try new approaches that might yield stronger outcomes for his organisation.
“There was so much richness in the programme, particularly in the group work sessions where we looked at things like digital tools like Google Trends, Digimind and Flourish. It was such an eyeopener to see how much relevant data could be analysed and summarised into relevant knowledge on what happened last week 'in the real world.’ Now, just three months after the programme, I'm providing resources and funds for our head of marketing to team-up with Digimind, as an experiment to see how we could map social media activities within the entire region as starting point. From there we’ll continue to create other small experiments and channel the learning into becoming more effective & efficient marketeers. All in the spirit of a good today, and a better tomorrow.”
For Colruyt, the INSEAD experience has been one defined by quality: from the rigour of faculty, to the agenda of each programme, to the reading list, right through the INSEAD pen he has proudly kept since leaving the programme. It has also instilled within him an appetite for life-long learning.
“INSEAD has helped me enact a change in myself, in my life attitude. After 15 away from university, I now read and absorb new ideas on a daily basis. I get regular input and feedback from my INSEAD network that helps keep the learning alive and enjoyable. It has changed me.”