Conny Linthout, Sales Manager with Team Industries, on how the Vlerick learning experience taught her the importance of experience and the need to remain open to learning.
Working in business for many years gives you a depth of rich experience, knowledge and insight that only time can deliver. It can also blindfold you to the opportunities that are out there to do things differently. And to grow. I’d say that this is the understanding – that it’s never too late to try something new – that brought me to Vlerick Business School and the Executive Master Class in B2B Marketing and Sales in 2018.
I’ve been in business for more than 20 years, and last year my eldest child started university. At the same time my boss and I decided I should take the Vlerick programme to refresh my thinking around strategy and marketing in terms of customer value. So I found myself heading back to school at the same time as my son was just starting out. I felt a certain nostalgia for my own university days, as well as a real sense of fear at the prospect of learning again. I was worried that I was too old for the experience. But I was also open to finding out. I joined the programme at Vlerick in May. But it wasn’t plain sailing from the start, however. There were a few bad habits that I needed to iron out at first.
Four strikes and out?
In the Master Class, there’s something that we call the “Champagne Rule.” To encourage us to really immerse ourselves in the learning experience and disconnect from other elements, we’re asked to switch off our mobile phones. If your phone rings during class, you’ll be invited to buy a bottle of champagne for yourself and your colleagues at the end of the programme.
At first, detaching myself from the day-to-day responsibilities of work proved difficult. I had my mobile phone glued to my ear and I just couldn’t let go of my old habits. So very quickly, I found I had accumulated a lot of ‘strikes.’ At one point I think I had four bottles of champagne against my name. Things began to change though. And as the programme progressed, I found myself learning to wait, to listen, to take time and to learn. I began to settle into the learning experience and open up to it – and to new ways of thinking about problems, about customers and about strategy. I began to learn that I could change.
“It’s a year I will never forget.”
Conny Linthout Sales Manager, Team Industries
Change meant rethinking my own approach and challenging entrenched behaviours and tactics. For me, this translated into a tendency to be overly single-minded, or “blindfolded” in tackling sales challenges. Working through case-based problems in diverse groups with classmates from different sectors and industries was eye-opening.
I really learnt something about myself. Comparing my approach to that of my team, I recognised a tendency to run, where others walk. I felt I was blindfolding myself, while I saw my teammates were looking from left to right, taking in more of the context to see the bigger picture. For me that was an amazing discovery. An amazing insight into myself as a business executive. And it opened me up to a new understanding: that there are other approaches that work just as well if not better than yours. And that there is great power in collaboration. These insights have already started paying off.
Both my in-company project and my day-to-day activities since graduating the programme have benefited from new methodologies in market analysis and strategy building. The programme has taught me how to look at things from a multiplicity of perspectives and how to come to conclusions more methodically and build strategies based on deep analysis. This is a completely new kind of thinking for me.
The power of the network
The collaborative dynamic of the programme has also really fortified my business network. Classmates have become friends with whom I can share problems, insights and ideas. We have a very active Whatsapp group where we talk to each other very frequently and share what’s on our minds. The sharing and interchange of experience is key to the programme and its enduring impact.
It’s that understanding that you come into it with your own experience and perspectives to share but also prepared to be open to learning from each other and trying something new. That’s what make the experience so impactful and unique.