My HEC Paris Journey, Part III: It's All About Strategy

Written by Azat MardanOctober 18, 2019

It’s time to write a new blog post about my experience in the HEC Paris Master of Science program. I’ve taken two new courses: Business strategy and Strategic Management of Innovation. They were somewhat related which was good for building a broad knowledge, because several concepts and topics were used and discussed from different angles in both courses. When I was a schoolboy, I liked strategy games like chess, Civilization and Command & Conquer. I had to balance building roads and factories with investment in defense and military troops. As with these games, in business it’s all about the strategy.

Let me first tell me about the Business Strategy course.

Business Strategy

The Business Strategy course was a great overview of how management consultancy works that is identify competitive advantage and pick the right strategy for the company. The strategy is all the choices that the company and its employees must make. Often times there is no right or wrong answer in a vacuum (without considering the industry and competitors) for things like pricing, choosing the target audience, accounting for learning curve, growing organically or going big fast. The external forces in the industry must be considered. For some companies offering a low price product can provide competitive advantage via economy of scale (Walmart). While for other companies, offering the high-priced product can provide competitive via differentiation (Whole Foods).

We covered several frameworks like SWOT, 5 Force model, BCG model, VRIST. The key take away is the industries are not equally profitable. In other words, some industries are a highly profitable such as soda and pharmaceuticals while others are less profitable such as an airline industry. You might think of this courses more for bigger established companies for conglomerates, but you can apply a lot of the thinking to a start up to choose better more competitive strategy (like Southwest did).

The professor had the management consultancy background. The course was straight to the point without wasting anytime on unnecessary information. The live session was had interesting real life case study. Throughout the course, I was remembering two books about management consulting that I’ve read. First is The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business which gives a good history of the biggest and most respectable consultancy firm the main service of which is the business strategy. The second book is The Management Myth: Debunking Modern Business Philosophy in which the author debunks some of the management theories including Taylorism and In Search of Excellence. You would never think about the management consultancy in the same way after reading this book.

Strategic Management of Innovation

The Strategic Management of Innovation course is about how to innovate strategically. We covered topics such as buying patents from universities, incentives, Technology S-curve, competence destroying innovation, segment zero competition, dominant design, standardization, platforms, opened versus closed, networks, and the dangers of going first to the market. The main takeaway of this course is that certain things that the mainstream perceives as undeniably good that is being the first mover and growing big fast would not guarantee the success just by themselves.

There were a few tips applicable to startups such as picking the right location for your new venture. Also, the course is applicable to executives and consultants too big or more established companies.

And as far as choosing the location for the startup, it’s better not to located in a hub of companies in your similar niche, so called agglomerate areas. Are your chances to start a tech company in San Francisco and Silicon Valley lower than in Milwaukee, WI or Dallas, TX? Maybe yes considering that R&D costs would be lower, employee loyalty would be higher and you would not be biased or demotivated by the bubble think of The Silicon Valley. In the book The San Francisco Fallacy: The Ten Fallacies That Make Founders Fail author and serial entrepreneur shares that he would have never started his company RightSignature if he were in San Francisco and knew about the major established competitor DocuSign. Instead, the author just built tool in Europe, made it a successful company and sold it a few years later.

Both of these courses were supplemented with two live sessions with the professors.

Live Sessions

The live sessions are optional and there are recordings to watch later. However, I attended all four sessions and greatly enjoyed the interactive communication with 30-40 of my classmates and the professors who gave us additional insights, answers and materials not covered in the self-paced prerecorded videos. The students joined from the USA, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The live sessions along with the Slack community, forum discussions, and peer-reviewed assignments give the feeling that you are really connected to the classmates because you see their work, challenges, and learn from years of their experience in various industries, companies and countries. It will be close to impossible achieve the same level of productivity, effectiveness and convenience with the traditional physical approach to the study.

I’m looking forward to the next courses, projects and assignments!