INSEAD Participant Interview
Learning in action to make better decisions
There’s a temptation when you are planning for the next business cycle to focus on headcount; to fixate on sourcing and recruiting the “missing talent” that will deliver the necessary value to drive growth. But might there not be other, more strategic areas for development to explore that align better to your goals, your market or your business as a whole?
This is the intuition that led Thierry Larenas to INSEAD’s Financial Analysis for Non-Financial Managers in 2021. It’s also one of the concrete takeaways that the programme delivered, he says.
Larenas is Head of International Project & Service Management with the CHG-Meridian Group, a leading non-captive tech and financing organisation that advises corporations on technology infrastructure management in 28 countries. He found his way to INSEAD initially in 2019, when he completed the Leading Across Borders and Cultures programme. Financial Analysis was a natural next step in his INSEAD journey and part of his quest to “acquire a little missing acumen” as part of his personal leadership development.
“I have a tech background and have predominantly worked in engineering services and product management, and while I have built up solid understanding of the principles of finance over the years, I was missing the language as well as the finance perspective I wanted to execute my role more effectively,” says Larenas. “I was really excited to take the Leading Across Borders and Cultures programme, and I was confident that INSEAD could deliver what I was looking for in this programme too.”
Taking a programme amid ongoing Covid-19 restrictions meant learning online and via virtual sessions. This was in no way a deterrent, he stresses.
“Postponing or waiting to have an on-campus experience didn’t appeal to me, largely because I felt that this programme would involve a lot of personal preparation and thinking offline, as well as good deal of number crunching. And in fact, the programme was so well structured, encouraging us to make really efficient use of the preparatory resources, that the virtual sessions with faculty and peers were actually very impactful and dynamic.”
One of the most impactful elements of the programme, he says, was the Applied Learning Project or ALP – a team-based exercise that takes new ideas, theories and approaches and let you apply them to a real-world business challenge affecting participants and their organisations.
“My ALP could not have been more relevant to the realities of my work. When we are looking at areas to potentially add value for our clients, there are complex trade-offs that we need to negotiate. We need to explore whether it’s worth investing in a specific quality initiative, be it around tools, processes or people. Also we need to figure out which priority the initiative gets comparing the return on investment against alternative initiatives.”
Applying the programme learning in the moment, and being able to simultaneously mine a rich diversity of perspectives and expertise from fellow participants as part of the ALP experience created what Larenas calls a “real live challenge, leaving your comfort zone” – an opportunity to explore the different dimensions of potential initiatives from a more informed perspective all within the “safe space” of the learning context.
“The ALP and the programme in general really give you a learning in action experience that has an immediate and tangible impact on your decision-making. You are challenged and supported to look at all the dimensions of decision-making and to really dig deep into the strategic and finance concerns and outcomes. As a result, your ability to make strong strategic decisions is just instantly enhanced.”
Coming away from the programme, Larenas says that this is a major eye opener and an enduring takeaway for him.
“I think the experience really helps you to judge if something is worthwhile or if it’s actually working from a financial point of view. In my business – and others – there’s an almost knee-jerk dynamic in budget planning around how overworked or overstretched teams might be that takes the focus immediately to headcount. The programme teaches you to stop and think really strategically about where it’s best to invest and where your ROI is going to be highest, instead of just always saying ‘I need more people.’ And that’s an enormous, tangible benefit.”
Larenas’ ALP has been well received within his organisation, he says. And it is yielding growing interest; so much so that several senior management colleagues have expressed their own interest in taking the programme in the near future.
“Financial Analysis gives you the tools, the language and the confidence to work with balance sheets, income statements, cash flow and working capital. You master the financial KPIs and you come away feeling substantially more comfortable with the complexity. But perhaps more than that, you emerge from the programme a better decision-maker. And for that reason, I would recommend it to anyone.”