A week into the SEP, as infections and deaths spiked around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Commercial flights from the UK were suspended, and London Business School – with a heavy heart – had to temporarily suspend the programme and close the campus. Their first concern was for the health and safety of the students and the pastoral care was heartfelt. I was repatriated back to Pisa on a government-sanctioned flight; I had to quarantine for 14 days and run the business from home. The cohort had set up a WhatsApp group at the start of the course and it was very active during the pause. While it was more social than business conversation, it was a great way to stay in contact with the other SEP participants and feel connected to London Business School at the height of the pandemic crisis and a very difficult time.
For Knauf, the consequences of the Italian national lockdown were serious – essentially, we had to shut down all operations. This meant safely turning off industrial machines, like rotary killers and dryers and industrial heating machines, which we’d never had to do before in this way. We were forced to take unprecedented action; managing shareholder and client expectations and employee safety, while working out what our business might look like once we were allowed to operate again. With hindsight, the prescience of undertaking a programme that teaches about leadership at the very moment of a global crisis is not lost on me – and the course, team and one- to-one coaching, helped to translate in real-time the personal development into practice.
London Business School showed exceptional leadership during this period, pivoting at pace to a hybrid learning model, which was ready to go by September. So, this is how the SEP 100-102 got started again; with ‘roomies’- those who could safely join on campus while adhering to the government guidelines – and ‘Zoomies’, those who had to return to their home countries and couldn’t get back. I was a ‘roomie’, choosing to complete the course in three consecutive weeks. But there were a multiple of different options for participants to choose and the flexibility was greatly appreciated. Delivering this hybrid approach was quite an operation, and thanks must go to the LBS team who made it so smooth as well as the faculty. It’s a big challenge to get right, but between the faculty and the LBS staff, they really hit the mark. One participant was from Melbourne; he worked during the day and logged on every evening for the full three weeks.
I can’t speak highly enough of the faculty who deliver the SEP. There is something exceptional about their insights and the succinct way in which they can make sometimes very complex theoretical material engaging and relevant. Nigel Nicholson, Emeritus Professor of Organisational Behaviour, made us look at leadership in a unique way; he showed us that being a successful leader isn’t about trying to fit a template. It isn’t objective. Rather the opposite – it’s subjective. You must leverage your inner skills and qualities and insights to become the best version of yourself and be authentic. Meanwhile, Henri Servaes, Professor of Corporate Governance and Professor of Finance, was brilliant at breaking down financial concepts for non-financial executives . Dr Ioannou’s classes on strategic sustainability were also memorable.
SEP refreshed my thinking and re-energised my ambition and commitment to my role; it’s given me so much to think about in terms of Knauf’s strategic direction when the time is right. It has renewed my sense of purpose. I feel better equipped to filter out the noise of the day-to-day and delegate operational tasks that I don’t need to get involved in. I feel better able to focus on what is really important. How not to get sucked in again will be the challenge, but the SEP is an investment in yourself, and having completed it, I feel I owe it to myself not to lose the learnings. I now have the confidence to feel like I can have an impact on strategy, impact, innovation, economics, and the behavior of the organisation I’m leading. It won’t be easy; nothing worthwhile is. But I can see more and more those big-picture opportunities and create an exciting vision of the future for my business.