Articles from Cass Knowledge

Understanding strategy on the Cass MBA

Professor Robert M. Grant of Bocconi University in Milan, who visited Cass this month as a guest lecturer of Strategic Management, literally wrote the book on strategy.

As the author of our strategy textbook, Grant is a global thought leader in strategic management. He has faculty experience at London Business School, Georgetown, California Polytechnic, University of British Columbia and University of St. Andrews. He also gained his PhD at Cass Business School and is currently a visiting professor.

Grant’s lecture discussed the merits of resources and capabilities analysis. This was a particularly insightful lecture to receive directly from Grant, as he is globally recognized for his advocacy of the resource/capability-based approach to strategy.

Grant was one of the first to question the traditionally held view that a firm’s profitability is primarily derived from external industry forces. His textbook advocates for forming a strategy founded upon a firm’s internal resources. Grant’s lecture was a remarkable opportunity to hear his rationale firsthand.

We prepared for the class by completing a resources and capabilities analysis of Cass Business School’s MBA program. This was an interesting application of the learnings we acquired from reading Grant’s textbook. It also developed a unique perspective into how Cass differentiates itself within the larger MBA landscape.

The lecture began by discussing the origins of the “resource-based view” (RBV) of the firm, which Grant developed after noting that empirical evidence did not consistently support the view that external forces drive profitability. We noted examples of failed firms who unsuccessfully chased industry trends and successful firms that followed their unique capabilities into new, more profitable market spaces.

We then applied our discussion and our prepared R&C analysis to a class-wide discussion of Cass’s resources and capabilities. We first identified resources and capabilities that dictate success within the larger MBA industry and then rated Cass’s positioning relative to the one-year European MBA market.

The conversation was spirited, with each of us expressing our views as to what is most important about an MBA degree and where Cass’s strengths lie. By selecting an industry that each of us felt such a personal investment in, Grant was able to illustrate the challenges of removing subjectivity and emotion from resources and capabilities analysis.

The reality was that each of us selected Cass for a specific reason and we all felt that our personal reason represented Cass’s most important strength. It was only after Grant and our professor, Dr. Paolo Aversa, reminded of us of the importance of backing each of our opinions with data and fact that we began to develop a cohesive ranking system.

Of course, a comprehensive resources and capabilities analysis should take weeks, if not longer, to conduct. A two hour simulation of the process primarily served to demonstrate just how difficult assigning consistent quantifiable valuations of individual resources and capabilities can be.

Nonetheless, I found the activity to be eye-opening. I had read Grant’s description of the process and seen its practical application to specific business scenarios in our textbook. Yet, to be guided through the development of a strategy framework by the professor who developed the framework in the first place is an opportunity few students receive.

The Financial Times ranked Cass MBA first in the world in corporate strategy in 2017. In just a few short weeks of strategy coursework, I am beginning to understand why.

Dr. Aversa develops his teachings using insights from his own research as well as that of the leading minds in strategy management. The fact that he has been able to coordinate regular visits from someone like Robert Grant is a testament to his department’s focus on thought leadership when developing curriculum.

I was impressed not only by Grant’s logic when promoting his RBV framework, but also by his willingness to share his insights with students here at Cass. Clearly, his professional objective is to both develop new strategic insights and to pass those insights on to a broad generation of future business leaders.

As someone who is particularly interested in a career in strategy, I found these insights valuable in my personal professional development. In addition, I look forward to having the opportunity of sharing with potential employers the fact that I received strategy instruction from Professor Robert Grant, who wrote the book on the subject.

Joseph CassidyFull-time MBA (2018)