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Embracing Uncertainty

Portrait of Jan Simon, a veteran business executive and renowned professor and lecturer at some of the world's top universities.
Managing Partner | Vonzeo Capital
Professor | IESE Business School
Lecturer | Simon Fraser University,
UC Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge

Key Highlights

  1. Unlocking Purpose-Driven Leadership: Learn from veteran business executive Jan Simon about the transformation CEOs need to undergo, from diplomats and experts to achievers who propel their organizations forward.

  2. Balancing Act: Explore how successful businesses such as Apple, Google, and Netflix balance innovation and efficiency, as Jan Simon emphasizes the importance of both exploration and exploitation within organizations.

  3. Untapped Potential in Asia: Delve into the immense growth opportunities for Entrepreneurship through Acquisition (ETA) in the largely unexplored Asian market, where countries like Vietnam, Korea, Japan, China, and India are ready to make their mark.

From Special Forces to Business Executive

As a young man with an adventurous spirit and a strong role model in his grandfather, Jan Simon embarked on a career in the special forces. There, he learned the value of discipline, duty, and resilience, facing challenges such as parachuting from a Hercules aircraft and making quick decisions in high-stress situations. These experiences shaped his understanding of leadership and instilled the belief that it is crucial to focus on the journey after the jump rather than the jump itself.

Leadership Redefined

As a veteran business executive, Jan believes that CEOs must be purpose-driven leaders and transition from being diplomats and experts to achievers who propel the entire organization forward rather than concentrating on specific domains. Such leaders are more inclined to make decisions that benefit stakeholders, employees, and customers alike.

Addressing decision-making under uncertainty, Jan recalls advice Jamie Dimon gave him about differentiating between good and bad mistakes. Good mistakes arise when leaders have done their due diligence, prepared for potential outcomes, and absorbed the lessons from the experience. Conversely, bad mistakes result from insufficient preparation and consideration.

Striking a Balance

Referencing the work of Michael Tushman of Harvard and Charles O’Reilly of Stanford, Jan underscores the importance of balancing exploration and exploitation within organizations. He points to industry giants like Apple, Google, and Netflix as prime examples of companies that have successfully achieved this balance. The challenge is to find the right combination of resources and strategies for both innovation and efficiency.

Today's dynamic business landscape demands adaptation from companies. Meta, for instance, has faced various challenges but has emerged stronger, as evidenced by its share price. A willingness to put one's ego aside is crucial for fostering collaboration, personal growth and a more rewarding journey.

The Power of the Search Fund Model

In academia, the pursuit of knowledge is valued above immediate financial gain, making it an ideal environment for intellectual growth and innovation. The search fund model, which began at Harvard and later moved to Stanford, is an excellent example of how academia can foster acquisition entrepreneurship and create long-lasting, meaningful initiatives.

In the coming years, the growth potential for Entrepreneurship through Acquisition (ETA) lies in the largely untapped Asian market. With countries such as Vietnam, Korea, Japan, China, and India entering the fray, there is immense potential for growth and expansion. The unique business cultures within these countries will also influence how the search fund model evolves.

New Pathways to Leadership

Another aspect that deserves attention is the career path of CEOs within the search fund model. Traditionally, individuals who join large companies like Procter & Gamble may work their way up to the position of CEO over several decades. However, within the ETA model, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to become CEOs of smaller companies from an early stage in their careers. The challenge lies in nurturing these CEOs as they grow with their companies, similar to how sports coaches progress from junior teams to professional leagues. Encouraging this progression will contribute to the development of a new generation of experienced and capable CEOs who have honed their skills through a career of growth and learning.

Jan believes ETA may be the road to that.

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