Cher Min Teo (ILF2014)


Institution: Harvard Business School
Building & Sustaining Comp. Adv.

For the past three years I have been Nova’s Singapore Operations Manager. Nova is an Adelaide headquartered professional engineering services company that has traditionally provided engineering consultancy to a range of industry sectors including defence, utilities and rail. Over the last few years, Nova has diversified into civil aerospace design and established a seed office in Singapore to understand and explore the potential of the Asian market before making a decision if a subsidiary should be established.

The company’s forays into the Asian market had been the result of business development and past relationships with the current customers in Singapore. In order to build a sustainable business and capitalise on the growing Asian market, it was clear to me that I needed to gain a better understanding of business strategy to be able to take what is successful for the company in Australia out into the new Asian market.

Application Process
The application process was straightforward and involved two stages of application that are submitted through the Industry Leadership Fund’s website, and a final stage involving an interview with the ILF Board members. The second stage of the application process was more thought provoking and involved, and provided a good opportunity to clarify thoughts and linkages between the training to the business and social context.

The ILF Board interview was conducted in as casual a setting as an interview of such nature can be, and I was interviewed by the South Australian business leaders Geoff Vogt, Bernie Kavanagh, Colin Peters and Mark Canny. The overall experience was surprisingly informal, although it does help to have a very clear idea about what one’s career development plan and aspirations are.

Training Program Selection
I selected the course “Strategy: Building and Sustaining Competitive Advantage” from the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program. The Harvard Executive Education courses are residential courses that are quite intense and based on the case study method. The course is created as a leadership development program to provide the tools for developing and implementing business unit strategy and action plans for execution. Each course is typically attended by up to 120 participants globally. This is particularly relevant for growing Nova’s business internationally.

Although there are other business strategy courses available in other Australian and international business schools, the Harvard course is particularly useful due to the global nature of the participants and the breadth of experience that is represented. The learning value of an executive education course is partly contributed by the faculty, but more importantly by the participants.

Training Experience
I undertook the course in May 2015. The course was conducted over six residential days at Harvard Business School, and was beneficial in several aspects.

There was a strong emphasis on the use of case studies. The case studies are first discussed within the assigned living group of seven to eight people, who will stay within the same group throughout the course. This provided a more intimate setting where the case studies can be discussed in a more in-depth manner and different perspectives clarified.

The case studies and lectures covered a broad spectrum of topics involved in competitive business strategy. The course is structured such that the participants will need to dedicate the time to derive the maximum value out of it and work disruptions need to be minimised.

The calibre of the participants is very high, and this provided a wide range of different experiences across different industries and countries. There were ample opportunities to get to know other participants at a personal level and share experiences openly across a large number of topics and issues, although the duration was probably too short, compared to the longer general management courses, to build long lasting personal relationships for future networking.

I completed the training course with a number of different goals identified to achieve in Nova’s business, and much better equipped to understand strategy and the competitive dynamics of the environment that Nova is operating in. The program emphasised the structured way of thinking and executing business strategy, and provided the tools for me to systematically work through the Asian strategy.

I have no hesitation recommending the Harvard Executive Education Programs to others, although the learning value to an individual will be higher if they have some management and business experience themselves, as the problems described in the case studies will resonate, amd stronger and deeper lessons can be drawn with more business and management experience.

I would like to thank the ILF for the generosity and this opportunity. From the time I applied for the ILF grant in mid-2014 to the completion of the training in mid-2015, I contributed to setting up Nova’s Singapore subsidiary, and we are now on track to developing Nova’s business using Singapore as a base. I am sure that the training has provided me with the tools to help build and execute the global strategy for our business.

Cher Min Teo