Stelios Leontios, Commercial Director at INVE Aguaculture, on the transformative power of the Executive Master Class in B2B Marketing and Sales [Video in the article]
Going back to school after a 26-year career in sales and marketing wasn’t my decision alone. I have three remarkable women to thank. First there’s Marion Debruyne, the dean of Vlerick Business School, who had a vision of customer innovation that coincided completely with my company’s needs. Then I have to acknowledge programme coordinator, Elke Vijverman, who made it effectively impossible for me not to take Master Class in B2B Marketing and Sales.
The third woman is my wife, Ellie. It was Ellie who wouldn’t let me quit the programme back in May 2018 just as it was kicking off. And it wasn’t easy. Being a student again in your mid-50s can be challenging. You develop beliefs about how entrenched you are in your thinking and in your ways of being, and there were many times at the beginning when I almost left. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Ellie, though. Because today I rank the decision to take the Master Class among the best of my adult life.
Imagining the future
I joined the Executive Master Class in B2B Marketing and Sales at a critical point in my career and in my company’s strategic direction.
INVE is a pioneer in managing the healthy growth of fish and shrimp farms and hatcheries. Ours is a relatively young and immature market with a cap on the number of potential customers. Over the last couple of decades, we’ve grown together with our clients and we’ve forged genuine customer intimacy. Last year we recognised that we faced a new challenge to build things further. We wanted to come up with innovative technologies and solutions that will help our customers grow.
In tandem to this, I felt a real need to consolidate my own understanding of the business and emerging market opportunities and to verify that I was on the right track.
I have an academic background in engineering, and I’d grown up inside one company, building up my business skills from within over the last 26 years. I realised I needed more tools and a more structured way of thinking and implementing if I was to continue growing with the company.
A beautiful package
Business is moving so fast and thing are changing constantly – strategy needs to be flexible enough to adapt to shifting circumstances on a weekly basis. At Vlerick, you get the expertise and the insight of faculty and your fellow participants to plant your feet firmly on the ground. It’s like having a third eye on the future. You gain amazing clarity on the issues and real insight into how to approach them.
So, in this sense, the Vlerick Master Class represented a beautiful package – a solution that conflated all of our needs, while giving us sort of “crystal ball” with which to explore the future for our businesses.
One of the chief takeaways of the programme is understanding how to reboot our approach to market analysis to help us look forward to new opportunities. Any company will likely tell you the same thing: you get to a point where you think you know everything. You lose sight of the importance of objectivity when you’re defining your customer needs and potential solutions.
A really important part of customer innovation is rethinking all of this, and discovering the right questions and surveys that you need to put to your clients if you’re going to unearth and correctly identify the key issues. It’s absolutely fundamental to building an effective strategy for the future.
Looking into the mirror
For me personally, the learning journey has also had more nuanced outcomes. The blended format of the programme, with on-campus sessions interspersed with in-company time, meant I was able to keep one foot on the ground at all times, bridging both the academic and the practical. And seeing concepts come to life in practice has had an enormous impact on my own self-confidence – verifying both what I knew from my 26 years of experience, and what I was learning through the programme. It’s a little like looking at yourself in the mirror.
At first it can be frightening, and you need to put aside what you believe you know and open yourself up completely to new ideas. But if you can do this, the benefits to you, to your leadership and to your business are boundless.
“Behind every successful man are three extraordinary women.”
Commercial Director at INVE Aguaculture
Vlerick is thoroughly up to date and forward-looking. And the Master Class has empowered me and my company to shape the future for ourselves and our customers. For that I have to thank the school, and the three extraordinary women – Marion the dean, Elke our programme coordinator and my wife, Ellie – for opening the door and showing me that learning actually never ends.