INSEAD Participant Interview
Managing Partnerships and Strategic Alliances
Anita Neau Nordstrand
"The programme gave me a good basis for the selection of future partners in the biochemicals area. It helped me understand that strategic alliances with uncommon partners lead to remarkable innovations when one finds the right fit in terms of strategy, resources, organisation and culture."
Where are you now in your career?
I am currently the Director of Strategic Marketing, Innovation & New Business at the Biomaterials Division of the Stora Enso group, a leading provider of renewable solutions in packaging, biomaterials, wooden constructions and paper on global markets. The group has around 25,000 employees in more than 35 countries, and is publicly listed on the Helsinki and Stockholm stock exchanges.
I joined the company last year in Sweden to contribute to the replacement of fossil-based materials by new products based on wood and other renewable materials. My role is to map and understand new value chains for Stora Enso in the biochemicals area, in particular for products that can be made from sugars extracted from cellulosic feedstocks. I also manage the positioning of platforms, technologies and product specifications in those value chains, as well as the growth of the innovation portfolio in the biochemicals area.
My role also includes elaborating and proposing go-to-market strategies and supporting the elaboration of business cases.
What were your key challenges before joining the programme?
The main challenge that I faced before joining the MPSA programme was how to determine relevant criteria for the selection of potential partners in value chains that were somewhat distant from Stora Enso’s current core business. We had started to map the value chains for 20 biochemicals together with an institute in Brazil and I wanted to understand what made a good basis for successful alliances and partnerships, and in particular how to select the companies to work with in these value chains, how to choose the best format for the partnerships and how to evaluate impact of scale for common projects.
What key factors made you join the programme? Did you consider other institutions?
In 2014, Stora Enso had acquired a small-size, highly innovative company which had developed the technology to extract sugars from cellulosic feedstocks and since last year I was involved in the project aimed to prepare for the commercialisation of products made at the plant. I felt that I needed some general knowledge on acquisitions to help facilitate the integration of this new future business and technology in Stora Enso.
I consulted the programmes from several business schools, in particular the ones on M&As and I found the description of the MPSA programme at INSEAD particularly interesting since it was offering a perspective on collaboration that was broader and potentially faster and more cost-effective than mergers and acquisitions. It addressed how to prevent common cultural and organisational challenges in alliances and partnerships, and how to select the most strategically relevant partners, which I found particularly attractive for selecting potential companies to work with in the biochemicals area.
What expectations did you have? Were these met?
I expected a high quality training, specifically designed to address the needs of business individuals and companies and I was very positively surprised to find just that and a lot more. The course was very well organised, encouraging a lot of interactions between professors, speakers and participants. It provided an ideal learning environment for a very intense week of insightful discussions on alliances and partnerships.
What were the key takeaways on the programme?
One of the key learnings for me was that strategic alignment is the most fundamental and most necessary basis for a successful partnership. The collaboration should make sense, bring value and support the strategies of all parties involved. Partner’s interests should be complementary and compatible.
In addition, we learned that defining the governance from the beginning and adjusting it in the different stages of an alliance helps prevent conflicts, manage risks and secure commitment by improving communication flow and allocation of the right resources at the right time.
And last but not least, the programme highlighted the need for trust and sharing when managing interdependencies, and the need to experiment and take co-innovation risks.
Did the programme help you address the challenges you mentioned earlier?
The programme gave me a good basis for the selection of future partners in the biochemicals area. It helped me understand that strategic alliances with uncommon partners lead to remarkable innovations when one finds the right fit in terms of strategy, resources, organisation and culture. It helped me focus on a few key partnerships for Stora Enso in the short term and it provided me with some new tools, not only for the selection and management of future partners but also to address the importance of cross-cultural and cross-functional management, which can really make or break alliances.
Did you benefit from the diversity of participants on the programme?
Participants on the programme came from all over the world and had a broad range of experience in different industries and job functions. This was definitely beneficial for getting a wide perspective on partnerships and addressing common challenges. It led to more insightful discussions and a higher understanding of different contexts.
What did you think of the teaching style and methodologies of the faculty?
I was very impressed by the faculty and how they managed to make us more alert on the critical success factors for collaborating with different types of business partners. They had a wealth of knowledge and experience which was very useful in the analysis of case studies. It was also well reflected in the structure of the course, and was very helpful to get an overview of best practices when setting up alliances and partnerships. I enjoyed the team work, the variety of tasks, the great level interactions during the course and the good atmosphere in the evenings.
Would you recommend this programme to friends or colleagues? Why?
I warmly recommend this programme to friends and colleagues who have an interest in partnerships, mergers or acquisitions. It is a great opportunity to reflect and discuss on common subjects with highly skilled individuals from different industries and organizations in a relaxed, yet highly focused, atmosphere. It gave me a new perspective on collaboration and an extra boost of inspiration for tackling future challenges.
Thank you once again to the INSEAD faculty and team for making this all possible!