On March 22nd, IMD and Visa organised a joint business forum and networking event hosted by Visa Europe. The event was opened by Fiona Wilkinson, Senior VP of Corporate Communications at Visa who greeted the many participants and talked about the importance of Customer focus and innovation, subject of the main presentation.
IMD director, Lynn Verdina-Henchoz, then warmly thanked Visa for their active collaboration and introduced Dr. Seán Meehan and the topic of the evening. Seán, who is the Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management, joined IMD in 1997 having spent the earlier part of his career in professional services. At IMD he works with global clients to help them enhance their customer focus, a topic that dominates his teaching and research agenda. In 2005, “Simply Better: Winning and keeping customers by delivering what matters most” which he co-authored was selected as the American Marketing Associations award for the most innovative book of the year. With “Beyond the Familiar – Long term Growth through Customer Focus and Innovation” published in March, the authors extend their argument looking in particular at the relationship between (uncommon) customer focus and (all too rare) successful innovation and their (often misunderstood) enablers of long term organic growth. At the event, Seán presented some of the book’s key findings.
Seán talked at some length about Apple’s successes, in terms of long-term revenue and profit growths which elude many other organisations. He demonstrated that Apple has achieved this not by establishing new product categories or new inventions, but by deep customer focus and continuous product improvement. Indeed, one could say Apple is a user-centric fast-follower and an aggressive incremental improver. He shows how Apple is true to a practical framework for long term organic growth presented in Beyond the Familiar. He provided examples of many other companies, such as Aggreko, Infosys and Proctor & Gamble to explore each of the interrelated and interdependent elements: clear customer promise, extraordinary levels of customer trust, relentless continuous improvement and (all too rare) successful innovation – all of which are enabled by an open organisation. He argued that it is a mistake to look down on incremental improvements in favour of more radical, breakthrough innovation. Apple, for example, widely regarded as the most innovative company in the world is not in fact a pioneer. He explored why openness is so problematic and offered practical advice to counter the opposing tendency thus avoiding developing an arrogant dimension leading to misinterpretation of customer needs and attitudes.
In the ensuing Q & A session, the question of whether Apple had reached this tipping point of arrogance (and thus becoming less client-centric) was discussed. The future will tell.
The evening ended with a very pleasant cocktail organised by Visa and discussions went on late into the evening. Several participants sent their thanks and comments the next day: “It was a pleasure to attend last night’s illuminating event and I much enjoyed Sean Meehan’s speech”
At IMD Seán currently leads marketing courses in Program for Executive Development, Orchestrating Winning Performance and runs customised programmes for some of the world’s leading companies.