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Open Innovation: Bridging Global Business Development and Experiential Learning

November 20, 2012

Eight years after graduating with her IMBA degree in 2004, Heather Baker Nielsen has worked for Carlsberg Breweries in a number of marketing and business development roles. Headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, Carlsberg is the world’s fourth largest brewer. The company produces and sells beer in over 150 countries, drawing from a vast portfolio of over 500 brands including Carlsberg, Tuborg, Baltika and Kronenbourg 1664. In fact, Carlsberg beers are first or second place in market share in over 20 countries throughout Europe and Asia.  

Heather Baker NielsenWhile in her role as business development director for Carlsberg in Copenhagen (a position she held until she recently relocated to the U.S. as director of Carlsberg USA), Nielsen worked with a business development team to grow revenues through exporting and licensing. That’s why an email from former Moore School international business professor Marty Roth triggered a number of collaborative efforts beneficial to both Carlsberg and current IMBA students.

“We are always looking for ways to provide students with experiential learning opportunities,” according to Roth, chair and professor of the Sonoco International Business Department, who teaches the first year IMBA global marketing management course. “At the same time, more and more companies are using open innovation models to identify and explore new business opportunities. I reached out to Heather to see if we could create a project in which students would tackle an international marketing challenge for Carlsberg that would provide Heather and her team with fresh insights.”

Carlsberg innovation tournament

Intrigued by the idea of having teams of IMBA students develop marketing launch strategies for entering potential new markets, Nielsen and her team signed on as project clients. Following an open innovation model, Roth structured the project so students had the opportunity to engage with the Carlsberg company via a customized case study, embark on their own market research, then develop strategies for launching the flagship Carlsberg pilsner brand in an emerging market. Carlsberg would benefit from the “wisdom of the crowd” – aspiring global managers demographically similar to their target customers.

Carlsberg

The project was structured as an innovation tournament. Teams competed to develop the most innovative launch strategy. Students were judged on the quality of their market research, brand positioning, messaging, media and distribution strategies, as well as their overall presentations. Utilizing the Moore School’s Telepresence technology, each student team made their pitch live from USC in Columbia to Nielsen and the business development team in Copenhagen. Questions and answers followed. After the final presentation, two winning teams were selected by Roth and the Carlsberg business development team. The prize for winning the tournament? You guessed it, a case of Carlsberg beer!

WinnersThe company too was a winner. “The timing was really great,” said Nielsen. “We had been spending quite a lot of time developing plans for this new market. It was really helpful to have fresh sets of eyes look at the market, competition, culture and so forth and explore how to best position our brand. Each presentation offered some new and valuable perspectives that collectively helped us reaffirm certain assumptions as well as investigate different options.”

Extending beyond the classroom

Nielsen’s connection to the Moore School, and the company’s positive experience with the innovation tournament, subsequently led to an internship opportunity. Ian Mackintosh, an attorney who returned to school to pursue his IMBA, joined the Export, License and Duty Free division for a 14-week internship. Mackintosh’s work included building business cases for local manufacturing and importing Carlsberg into new markets. Using tools from his IMBA courses, he developed market attractiveness models based on potential beer volume, brand positioning, distribution channel access, labeling requirements and other factors to help determine which new markets offered the best growth potential. “The internship allowed me to combine knowledge I had gained in marketing, operations, finance and law, and apply it to a global company’s real-time challenges,” said Mackintosh. “I also gained invaluable experience working in a dynamic market. During the internship a competitor announced a major acquisition that caused us to redirect our efforts. I was able to help the business development team be agile in reaching their goals.”

Mackintosh experienced first-hand the challenges faced by multinational firms that shape the management and leadership skills these organizations require. For example, different regulatory and legal systems that make doing business in neighboring countries more or less challenging. Import tax differences, labeling requirements and the influence of trade unions, to name a few, affected the viability of different growth options. Challenges managing across cultures were also prominent. “Working with managers from various Scandinavian countries, the U.S., and others in emerging markets, all of whom are part of a Danish organization, illustrated the complexities of managing across cultures that we touched upon in the classroom,” said Mackintosh. “Seeing these differences play out, and trying to manage them while driving toward our goal of growing the business, gave me new understandings and skills that I’ll be able to apply throughout my career.”

Moore Connections

Driving innovation in business and learning made the Carlsberg tournament and internship a win for all. Such collaborations across Moore School faculty, students and alums bring real world challenges into the classroom, open doors for internships and consultative projects, and provide valuable insights to organizations. “We strive to provide students with the frameworks, concepts and tools they will need to become successful global managers,” said Roth. “Our challenge is to both fill our students’ toolkits and to give them opportunities to apply the tools to business situations they are likely to face. You may understand how a tool works and when to employ it, but actually using the tool in a real market situation provides a much deeper understanding of its decision-making value. With the support of alumni like Heather, we enable students to learn experientially while providing insights that can help businesses achieve their objectives.”

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