Andrew Downs (ILF2013)


Institution: Harvard Business School (USA)
Course: Owner President Management Program

How I became an Industry Leader Fund recipient
I have been aware of the Industry Leaders Fund (ILF) and its charter since it was founded. Anthony Kittel, who was a previous grant recipient, spoke very highly of the course he chose – The Harvard Business School Owner President Management Course (OPM). After expressing interest in the same course with Geoff Vogt of the ILF, it was suggested that I should apply as soon as possible to gain the maximum advantage from the course. This was something I was planning to do when I had the time and money, and business conditions were not so demanding, but after some careful consideration I soon realised that I could not afford to let the opportunity pass me by. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the ILF Board for awarding me a grant.

The application process
The on-line application process was straight forward. The questions targeted what the fund is all about: how you can be a better leader and provide benefits to the state of SA, the company you work for and yourself professionally. In my opinion, answering these questions only make you more determined to be successful. The final stage of the process is the interview with ILF Board members who themselves are leaders of industry. The question and answer session really enables you to articulate why the grant is so important to your leadership aspirations.

Why I chose the HBS Owner President Management course
Harvard Business School is recognised as the number one business school in the world. As I researched OPM, I discovered participants represent a broad range of industries and organisations, and hail from countries around the world. This global diversity not only empowers you to negotiate, compete, and conduct business across borders, but also maximises your exposure to successful business practices, and enables you to expand your professional network with accomplished business leaders worldwide. Based on my role in SAGE and the vision of how the company will grow, I felt that OPM was the best for me to strengthen my leadership.

About the course
OPM is designed with business owners and entrepreneurs in mind. The selection criteria are for those involved in running a business with revenue greater than $10 million, and a significant equity stake in the company. Presented as a three-week session each year over three years, OPM provides the skills, tools, and network you need to become a more accomplished leader.

What I learnt from the course
I have only completed the first three-week module of the nine weeks, but the experience was life changing in many ways. The OPM48 program had 168 participants from all over the world representing many different businesses from diverse industry sectors. The on-campus experience builds strong relationships as you study, attend class and socialise together. My living group consisted of seven other business owners from Russia, Mongolia, Singapore, Brazil, India, Portugal and the US. Using the proven HBS case study method, we would individually read the cases and then work as a group to answer questions and share opinions prior to attending the lectures.

The lectures are delivered by world class professors who are leaders in their respective fields of expertise. The importance of reading and having a deep understanding of each case study prior to the lecture is very important as you can be called upon to contribute at any time. It is the “showman” performance of the professor and the class participation that make for a great learning experience that is very enjoyable. The areas of study included Global Markets, Finance, Innovation, Talent Management, Negotiation, Marketing and Strategy.

The number one take away for me was the importance of getting your strategy right first and then creating a framework for execution in all areas of your business to achieve your goals.

The value of the contacts I made
It is amazing to share the OPM experience with so many like-minded peers who are all there to learn from the program to emerge as stronger leaders. I found the group inspirational in the common theme of investing in their futures by looking to capitalise on business opportunities and turning challenges into strategic advantage. I have already connected with a number of OPMers to look at business opportunities for SAGE, I look forward to the OPM alumni remaining connected.

The benefits to me personally
I would never have thought that after studying at TAFE over twenty years ago and running SAGE as a self-taught MD that I would ever experience Harvard Business School. The program has enabled me to reflect on my leadership and put in perspective what has worked in the past. By applying new knowledge and frameworks, I will be transformed into a more confident and stronger leader for the future.

The benefit to SAGE
The OPM experience could not have come at a better time in SAGE’s history. There are many challenges running a business in the current environment as the Australian economy transforms itself. As a leader, I will look to create a strategy that turns challenges into opportunities to enable a bright and prosperous future. Part of the OPM program (called OPM@work) is to create or transform a business using the Harvard framework. I have already selected a project and have started work on the strategic plan ready for module two in March 2015.

Plans to share knowledge
I am happy to share my experience of how the ILF grant has impacted on me both professionally and personally. In time, I hope to demonstrate the positive outcomes to SAGE as a direct result of the OPM program, and the benefit to the broader SA community and economy. Once again I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to the ILF for making this possible!

Andrew Downs