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Mastering the challenges of innovation

Innovation is key when it comes to staying relevant to customers and keeping ahead of the competition, but can innovation be learned? Our renowned faculty of the new Winning with Innovation Program (February 12 – 14, 2019) provides valuable insights about the triggers of innovation, innovative thinking and its connection to new technologies.

The Winning with Innovation Program equips professionals with the best practice guidelines and tools they need to meet disruptive challenges and initiate and lead innovation-driven organizational transformation. Under the leadership of faculty director Professor Dr. Serden Ozcan, Associate Dean for Corporate Connections, Otto Beisheim Endowed Chair of Innovation and Corporate Transformation at WHU, these Professors will prepare participants to master the challenges of innovation:

  • Professor Dr. Holger Ernst, Chair for Technology and Innovation Management at WHU
  • Professor Dr. Stefan Spinler, Director of the Kühne Institute for Logistics Management at WHU
  • Professor Dr. Arnd Huchzermeier, Chair of Production Management and Director of the Center for Collaborative Commerce at WHU
  • Professor Dr. Dries Faems, Chair of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technological Transformation at WHU

Can innovative thinking be learned?

Professor Ernst: Sure, there are established best practices of innovation management that can be learned and implemented in any organization. Companies with excellent innovation management grow faster and have a higher contribution to their profit than companies with poor innovation management.

Professor Spinler: Yes, but it requires not only creativity, but also recognizing unmet customer needs to be disruptive and successful in creating innovations. Especially short-lived technology solutions require devotion and a strategic focus within the process of innovation.

Professor Huchzermeier: Definitely, but you need a total quality management philosophy in your organization or else you will fail. Typically, innovation is a learning and search process by many people, which needs to be coordinated well.

Professor Faems: Yes, but it is important to make a clear distinction between "inventions" and "innovations". Although inventions can be an important input for innovation, we speak of innovation only if companies are able to translate such inventions into concrete products or services that bring added value in the form of financial and/or social benefits.

What is the trigger for innovation? Is there a trigger at all?

Professor Ernst: In some companies, a crisis can trigger innovation. Innovation leaders, however, have a culture and strategy in place that makes innovation an on-going priority. These firms know how to continuously reinvent themselves, stay on top of the competition, and avoid a crisis.

Professor Spinler: In my view, the trigger really is fulfilling customers’ needs through leveraging technology.

Professor Huchzermeier: A customer interface that monitors a business unit’s strategy success and allows market or customer feedback to be continuously channeled back into the organization are prerequisites for a strong innovation process.

Professor Faems: It is important for companies to anticipate or react to disruptive changes in their environment. This requires investment in innovation projects that enable research into new resources and capabilities.

Is innovation always connected to new (digital) technologies?

Professor Ernst: Not always, but digital technologies are and will continue to strongly affect all facets of innovation. Innovation leaders embrace the opportunities of digital technologies to create new products, services, and business models pro-actively.

Professor Spinler: Digital technologies can mostly be easily adapted and scaled fast which makes them prime candidates. In addition, they help to better understand the customer and their needs through uncovering patterns in customer data.

Professor Huchzermeier: Digitalization is here to stay and drives firms’ productivity. While automatization is on the rise in almost any industry and globally, humans are the scarce resource to develop smart products and services for the future.

Professor Faems: The emerging variety of digital technologies is affecting many industries. To survive, it is important that existing industry players respond to such disruptive trends.


Participant Perspective: a Reflection on the General Management Plus Program

A field report by Marianne Ohm, Managing Partner of codiviti UG and participant in the 6th General Management Plus Program.

During module 2 of the GMP+ Program, the program participants and the local team of the learning center met virtually to reflect on the first months working together and define how to go on. The following part will outline the second module from the participant perspective, how it was conducted and how it helped the team grow.

Participants using Zoom as virtual communication system

Yesterday, the whole team came together on Zoom – our virtual communication system. We were located all around the world, but virtually connected through in a video conference. The whole team means that there were 15 people in the call which can be very challenging. Two of our coaches were with us and guided us through the module. The week before, we had also done a great job on setting up a schedule for the topics we had decided to talk about. This helped a lot.

Since I have never worked in a virtually connected team, the GMP+ Program helped me to get a better understanding of how to handle such situations well. Reflecting on the past months since the kickoff, we all agreed that we would have to improve our communication and collaboration to make the team work together better. We gathered everyone’s opinion (yes, of all 13) on what had worked well and what we wanted to change concerning our past teamwork. One of the most difficult challenges was to get every team member to attend the calls on a regular basis. Thus, one of our main goals was to get “the big call” at least once a month scheduled. Another important part of Module 2 was to set up teams and assign them to one or two business units.

Participants in action

Looking back, it took a lot of effort to check updates like call minutes, recordings, comments and e-mails in our collaboration and communication tools. Some weeks, I had invested 15 hours, in other weeks only 4 hours into our business impact project. Working for the purpose of good education is always a great motivator and I had the feeling all participants tried to do as much as possible for this great purpose. The challenge for oneself is to stay up to date, to be involved but still use the full team power and manage your time well.

Concluding, Module 2 was a true motivation boost for our project. I felt a new team spirit with the local team from Sri Lanka. I enjoyed seeing that we were all really trying to make this work, even though it was not easy to have everyone on track and understand each other’s behavior coming from different cultures and work environments. With our newly setup rules and teams, we were able to make important decisions regarding our project, create our business plan and pitch it to an investor.

Marianne Ohm is 27 years old and has been into various fields of voluntary work for almost 10 years. She is CEO of codiviti UG and regularly gives lectures on topics such as future skills and programming. Her hobbies are meetups, reading, crafting and strength training.


A full success: Campus for Corporate Transformation 2019

On September 25, the 2nd WHU Campus for Corporate Transformation took place at the WHU Campus in Düsseldorf. Top-class speakers shared their practical experience on the topic of "Agility and Growth in Volatile Times" with around 100 participants.

In his welcoming address at the beginning of the conference, Professor Dr. Serden Ozcan, Associate Dean for Corporate Connections and Chair for Innovation and Corporate Transformation, was pleased that, for the second time, some of Germany's most experienced and well-known executives met at the WHU Campus for Corporate Transformation to discuss current issues in the field of corporate transformation.

The conference aimed at creating a comprehensive picture of the current digital transformation based on the speakers’ different perspectives. For example, Olaf Koch, Chairman of the Management Board at METRO AG, gave insights into the CEO's perspective on corporate transformation. In his presentation, Koch showed how METRO has succeeded over the past 13 to 14 years in responding to changing customer needs and completely renewing and restructuring the company's business model and portfolio. The biggest challenges, he said, were, on the one hand, the changed information and shopping behavior of the customers as a result of the introduction of mobile end devices in 2007. On the other hand, international growth has forced the company to adapt to the individual needs and markets of other countries.

Sabine Bendiek, Chairwoman of the Management Board at Microsoft Germany

Sabine Bendiek, Chairwoman of the Management Board at Microsoft Germany, addressed the challenges facing her industry in her presentation: in the IT sector, more and more value is placed rather on innovation than on tradition. Andreas Neumann, Member of the Board of Managing Directors at Boehringer Ingelheim, on the other hand, described the tightrope act of a family-owned company as neither forgetting one's own tradition nor losing touch with modernity. WHU alumnus Julian Deutz, who works for Axel Springer SE as CFO, shed light on the financial aspects of corporate transformation. He showed how the company was able to transform itself from a publisher of mostly German print media to an international company with a revenue of about 74 percent of digital products.

The event concluded with two plenary debates and the closing words by Professor Dr. Stefan Spinler, Director of the Kühne Institute for Logistics Management at WHU.

Next year's topic for the Campus for Corporate Transformation will be "Leading Corporate Transformation in an Uncertain World." Save the date: September 23, 2020.


Digital Transformation in the Corporate Finance Function: WHU offers new Executive Education Program

Düsseldorf, September 16, 2019. WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, in cooperation with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), is offering a new program in its Executive Education portfolio from October 28 to November 19, 2019.

The intensive four-day program consists of two in-class modules designed for finance executives wanting a more in-depth understanding of the corporate finance function of the future. Professors, renowned experts from the field and CFOs will provide inspiration and advice to participating executives along with practical, applied case studies and plenty of opportunity for a lively exchange of ideas with colleagues on their way to digital transformation.

Gori von Hirschhausen, PwC Europe Finance Consulting Leader, says: "Digitalization is everywhere now. To take advantage of the opportunities as well as master the associated challenges, it’s essential to have a holistic view of every dimension of the finance function’s operating model. This is where our program takes you – starting with the conception and design of future-oriented financial functions to concrete advice for realizable operational implementation".

"The corporate finance function is being changed fundamentally by digitalization. Our program supports participants in developing the necessary knowledge and skills to create their own "Digital Roadmap" which also addresses the requisite paradigm shift in corporate culture that goes along with it” adds Professor Dr. Martin Glaum, Chair of International Accounting at WHU.

Due to the highly practical nature of the program and the opportunity to apply relevant concepts to a company-specific digital roadmap, the program provides real added value for both participants and their companies.

More information and registration at:


Negotiations Program: Interview with Prof. Dr. Lutz Kaufmann

Prof. Dr. Lutz Kaufmann is a professor in the Supply Chain Group at WHU since 2001. He is teaching in the Negotiations Program which was designed to equip participants with the skills necessary to manage negotiations successfully, even in the most challenging situations. In a short three-minute FAQ he gave us answers to some relevant questions regarding the topic of negotiations and the offered program.

What are the most common reasons for failure in negotiations?

  1. Taking the setup as a given. Why not change stakeholders, topics, or the sequence of the talks?
  2. Thinking in compromises. Why not using intelligent deal designs where the parties can keep their different views?
  3. Trying to trick the other side. Why using tactics from largely irrelevant contexts, like buying a car, a house or freeing a hostage?

What are negotiation techniques and why are they relevant for businesses?

These are strategies for jointly solving a problem without being sentimental about the business relationship. Negotiation skills are relevant simply because conflict is a growth industry.

How will this seminar benefit me?

Participants will move beyond win-win or win-lose categories. They will be able to (re-)shape negotiation setups, achieve agreements while the parties still disagree, detect tactical and psychological tracks, and deal with complicated personalities and power constellations.

How is the program constituted?

Negotiating and swimming or tennis have one thing in common: you only learn it properly by practicing it. Therefore, this program is designed as one big ‘experiential learning’ event.

Become a successful negotiator yourself and register now for the Negotiations Program at WHU.