INSEAD Participant Interview
Competitive Strategy Programme
Don't Lose Sight of the 'Basics'
Past participant Waki Kawamoto explains how INSEAD’s Competitive Strategy Programme helped deepen her understanding of competitive and industry dynamics, challenge her thinking and take her capabilities to the next level.
Where are you now in your career?
I have been in the IT/telecommunications industry for about nine years now. I’ve spent seven of these working with Verizon in direct sales/account management, managing some of our Fortune 500 global customers. During my first four years in this field, I worked mainly with customers in Japan. For the past three years, I have been working mainly with American and European companies out of our Singapore office.
What are the main challenges you were facing in your role, prior to joining the programme?
As part of my job, I build account strategy plans with my team, which includes solving customers’ challenges and aligning our approach with broader corporate strategies. A key challenge for me was conducting effective strategic account planning while meeting sales targets. I was looking to understand how other people work on strategic sales planning; what are the things they consider, what are the challenges that they face? And how do they overcome those challenges?
What were the key factors that made you decide to come to the programme? Did you consider other institutions?
For many people, INSEAD is a dream business school to attend. I was no exception. I’ve always wanted to take part in a learning experience at a top school such as this. It was also highly recommended by a colleague.
What kind of expectations did you have? Were these met?
I was looking for something different. I wanted to go beyond what I could find in a textbook and what I could learn from our company training. I wanted lots of interaction and lots of new information, as well as tactics to help me think outside the box. I also wanted to be surrounded by highly qualified and competitive people with valuable insights on the subject matter.
Did I get that? Yes. Many of our classmates were business owners, C-level executives, or people with the ability to make a difference within their company. The atmosphere was definitely right. And the fact that the professors gave us real business examples and case studies to work on made it all the more captivating.
What were the key takeaways on the programme?
The three-day session was rich in information. A key takeaway for me was that in the end there is no single right answer to a given problem. Business is dynamic, constantly changing and transforming, and it’s important to consider all the available information to make the best decision. I also learned that errors and failures are just as valuable lessons as successes; it’s important to understand why things don’t work out, and then use that experience for better strategic planning.
Did the programme help you address the challenges you mentioned earlier?
The programme served as a reminder to not lose focus of the overall business strategy. Our day-to-day tasks take so much of our time and attention that it’s easy to forget the basics; controlling the supply chain, reading financials effectively and identifying trends in data and information. The case studies were particularly helpful in linking it all together in a compelling way.
Did you benefit from the diversity of participants on the programme? (Diversity of job functions and industries)
Definitely. I was quite impressed and surprised with the diversity of participants, who came from all over the world. There were people in government organisations, from small- and medium-sized businesses, and executives from giant corporations. Industry-wise, there were people in IT, fashion, consulting and even cigar manufacturing!
It was an enriching experience to work and learn with such a diverse group of like-minded individuals. I also learned a lot about myself in the process; how I contributed to group projects, how I thought I knew things that others knew better and how I became friends with people I had just met.
What did you think of the faculty, their style and teaching methodologies?
Overall, I found the professor very kind, knowledgeable and open-minded. He shared great knowledge from his years of experience as a consultant. The case studies were particularly interesting, as they showed a very real side of business that we don’t often see; what the CEO of a failing business goes through, what he/she must do to solve issues and what it takes to solve problems big and small.
Would you recommend this programme to friends or colleagues? Why?
I already have. My company sponsored me to take this course so I had to review it during a sales team meeting. I shared how great it was to be with diverse classmates, I explained the quality of the learning materials, as well as the thought-provoking discussions with the experienced professor.