CEIBS Global EMBA 2020 Capstone Project Review – Year-long efforts bear fruit

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The Capstone Project is an integral part of every Global EMBA student’s learning journey during their time as CEIBS. It requires them to bring together everything they’ve learned so far during the programme, while contributing their own unique abilities to their chosen project team. Not only that, students must also maintain their focus, energy and motivation to drive the project forward across an entire year. With this year’s Global EMBA Capstone Projects recently concluded, we asked seven students to share their thoughts on reaching this milestone in their CEIBS studies.

A pet project with a difference

Project Sponsor Company: DhohOo

Aim/Challenge: How should the DhohOo brand enter the Chinese pet care market?

Project Spokesperson: Laure-Cecile Lafond-Fenonjoie, Co-Founder & CEO, Yedao Group

Overview: One of the few industries to emerge from the pandemic stronger than before, pet care is yet another example of how attractive the Chinese market is to established Western consumer brands. DhohOo is a young but extremely dynamic pet care company born in France in 2018. Until now, its focus has been outside of China, but the Chinese market size of 350+ billion RMB has prompted DhohOo to expand its presence here.

The group’s subsequent proposals range from targeted engagement on key Chinese social media platforms, to the development of new sales channels such as vending machines and convenience stores to stock strategically viable products suited to the Chinese consumer audience.

Laure-Cecile Lafond-Fenonjoie

Laure-Cecile Lafond-Fenonjoie

This was a very interesting, extremely intensive year-long project. I won’t downplay the fact that the current travel restrictions and complex international business climate made it a tough process at times – you have to pull together to keep yourselves motivated and keep the project moving forward. Still, it led to an incredible outcome, because we were able to make such a difference for a young pet brand with so much potential. We all greatly enjoyed the Oral Defence Panel too, which was the cherry on top! In fact, one of our most rewarding meetings was with an alumna examiner after the project – she had so many useful insights to share.”

Capstone Project Group - DhohOo

A recurring theme across interviewees’ responses, Laure-Cecile encourages future Capstone groups to choose their teammates carefully:

“Think very carefully about team composition. Make sure you have complementary personalities as well as skillsets – you need to get along because it’s a major effort you’ll be pushing through the full year. Of course, we’re all busy, so you need to make sure you are happy and excited about the prospect of meeting up regularly, and willing to put the time in.”

Keeping your balance with a foot in two worlds

Project Sponsor Company: Elica

Aim/Challenge: How should a foreign firm (Elica) position itself in China, while operating with two different brands, given the successful track record reported abroad?

Project Spokesperson: Gennaro Buonomo, Operations and R&D Director China, Elica

Overview: Elica is an Italian listed company that has been highly successful in manufacturing and selling range hoods and cooktops with high-quality Italian design and finish. The Capstone team’s aim was to revitalise the flagging fortunes of the company’s Chinese venture, where both the original Elica brand and their locally focused brand – Putian – are underperforming.

Capstone Project Group - Elica

Their main proposals feature a significant drive on brand awareness – achieved through multiple low-cost tactics and channels – better leveraging of the well-respected Elica brand, and a framework-based re-evaluation on how to boost short-term product sales.

For Gennaro, the project’s outcome went well beyond his initial expectations. The group’s deep analysis of the company’s Italian and Chinese prospects led them to a clear, cohesive assessment of its most valuable resources that could be exploited to gain a competitive advantage in the market. This formed the basis of their strategy and subsequent proposals.

Gennaro Buonomo

Gennaro Buonomo

“As we live in a VUCA world, unexpected changes, mainly in terms of organisation, have represented the biggest challenge our group had to deal with. Changes in the top management, both at the Head Office and locally, have added an additional layer of complexity. Although the Head Office Team confirmed their support and commitment, locally, the project has been seen as a threat rather than an opportunity. We have endured ups and downs, and it was not always easy to keep our momentum. Nevertheless, we didn’t give up, and are confident about the value of our analysis and related suggestions.”

Old Masters, Fresh Beer

Project Sponsor Company: Old Masters

Aim/Challenge: Building a fresh craft beer business

Project Spokesperson: Li Haining, CEO, Ecohealthergy Technology

Overview: Craft beer is booming in the Chinese market, particularly in Shanghai where its ‘trendiness’ is driving interest among consumers. For Li Haining’s team, the challenge lay in helping family-owned brewery Beijing Gleckes to leverage its established reputation for masterful beer brewing to launch a new craft beer brand that could cut through the ‘new market noise’ and grab consumers’ attention.

Capstone Project Group - Old Masters

From branding to pricing strategies, the team have created a comprehensive vision for Beijing Gleckes to follow as they wade into this highly competitive and demanding F&B market segment.

What is Li Haining’s advice for building a successful project? Always think ahead.

Li Haining

Li Haining

“It is very important to think ahead and find a project that allows you and your team to progress from inception to tangible results within a year. Site investigation and offline discussions are also essential. A good project coordinator, plus a good project topic, is the key to success.”

Understanding a company from the ground up

Project Sponsor Company: HashKey

Aim/Challenge: How can HashKey identify a niche market among competitors?

Project Spokesperson: Deng Chao, CEO, HashKey Capital

Overview: Few emerging sectors are as fast-paced and free-flowing in their development as that of blockchain technologies. HashKey Capital, led by its founder and CEO, Deng Chao, is an institutional asset manager that invests exclusively in blockchain technology and digital assets – an ultra-competitive financial pursuit where practically every deal is open to runaway success or marked failure.

Capstone Project Group - HashKey with Prof. Viktar (middle)

Capstone Project Group - HashKey with Prof. Viktar (middle)

HashKey is a young company established amidst the first bloom of various global blockchain investment megatrends in 2017. For Deng Chao, this Capstone Project provided a perfect opportunity to take a holistic look at his company. With the help of his teammates, the group has managed to deliver a set of far-reaching proposals to shape HashKey into a much more competitive and agile version of itself. From its organisational structure and lead generation to deal creation tactics, and HR and remuneration policies, the project aims to grow HashKey into an industry benchmark.

Deng Chao

Deng Chao

“The whole Capstone Project was like a thorough and detailed physical check-up of my company, with each member acting as skilled physicians, and together they developed a very effective prescription for HashKey’s long-term health and stability. The project has been eye-opening for me as no aspect of it was wasted. Thanks to the effort of each team member, I gained a deeper understanding of HashKey’s inherent strengths, weaknesses and potential that I would never have been able to achieve on my own. Crucial to this was the Oral Defence Panel, because we had to vigorously defend our analysis and proposals against our extremely knowledgeable professors and guest panellists. This wasn’t like reading from a script; it tested our ability to fully demonstrate that we believed in what we had created.”

Positioning a new vaccine in a crowded market

Project Sponsor Company: Walvax

Aim/Challenge: Developing a marketing strategy for Walvax’s upcoming HPV vaccine

Project Spokesperson: Tong Xin, Director of R&D, Walvax Biotech

Overview: Walvax is a high-tech bio-pharmaceutical enterprise that has successfully developed and launched seven vaccine products under its belt. Tong Xin’s team took on the challenge of developing a comprehensive marketing strategy for Walrinvax, the eighth vaccine in the Walvax product range.

Capstone Project Group - WALVAX

After a thorough assessment of the HPV vaccine market, as well as Chinese public attitudes towards the virus itself, the team proposed (among other actions) a systematic education campaign to increase awareness of HPV and the importance of vaccinating. Soon enough, their suggestions were adopted by Walvax, and the company’s marketing team put the data and proposals of the project team into practice.

Tong Xin

Tong Xin

“For us, the most challenging aspect was collecting the data necessary to unlock our full understanding of the market. So, make sure you have a good strategy for both data collection and analysis. Right from the start, you also need to set realistic but proactive timelines for each stage of the project. We were lucky to have our project manager Lily Shen, who had a firm grip on this. We made sure that each team member had clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This helped us a lot.”

Keep on Trucking through the challenges

Project Sponsor Company: Scania Group

Aim/Challenge: Scania’s premium positioning and business model transformation in China

Project Spokesperson: Sasha Bilousov, Credit and Finance Director, Leasing, Scania Group China

Overview: China has one of the largest and most dynamic heavy-duty truck (HDT) markets in the world, with annual sales regularly topping 1 million units in recent years. Scania, a global HDT powerhouse, is a market leader in the premium end of the market. As the Chinese heavy truck is getting more advanced where local brands constantly update their products, it creates both challenge and opportunity for automotive multinational companies that requires local industry knowledge and firm grips of customer needs.

Capstone Project Group - Scania Group

Sasha’s team come up with a series of proposals designed to reposition Scania’s China resources on the most profitable areas of the business, laying out a pathway for a comprehensive revamp of the company’s after-sales services. They also outlined the benefits of creating a new ‘Masstige’ (mass + prestige) truck brand designed to appeal to the growing segments of the Chinese HDT market.

For Sasha, the Capstone project experience highlights the importance of situational awareness and situational leadership in the face of highly complex business challenges.

Sasha Bilousov

Sasha Bilousov

“Always start with ‘why’. Present to your team members openly and transparently what your personal inspiration is, then create goals that will help align everyone’s passion and let you follow your path together. The most challenging but exciting part of the project was to get the team together and establish the right pace and spirit for us all to enjoy. We were a very diverse and experienced team spread across three countries and four locations. Still, I hope all my team members share the opinion that we approached the project with a good spirit. Managing a diverse team is not always an easy task, but we agreed that situational leadership allowed us to lead and practice our skills.”

3D printing the future of pharma

Project Sponsor Company: Triastek

Aim/Challenge: Formulate a sustainable business model for Triastek

Project Spokesperson: Vivian Wang, VP of Portfolio Management & Alliance Management, VelaVigo

Overview: 3D printing is on the cusp of completely revolutionising several major manufacturing industries, and for pharmaceuticals, it presents an opportunity worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Triastek is the first Chinese pharmaceutical company focusing on the R&D of cutting-edge 3D printing medical technology, and is expected to become a world-leading pioneer in 3D printing pharmaceutical techniques.

Capstone Project Group - Triastek

Despite its remarkable technological edge, Triastek has been exploring appropriate business models for commercialisation. Through SWOT and other analytical models, the team has identified the key short, medium and long-term opportunities for securing sustainable revenues for Triastek.

For Vivian Wang, commitment holds the key when it comes to making Capstone a success.

Vivian Wang

Vivian Wang

“It’s all about commitment. When building the team, we certainly aim for diverse talent and backgrounds, but the one thing in common is that everyone must be committed and accountable for their contribution. This was clear from the outset, we never worried about it, and having established that sense of commitment early on was a big boost for us. It meant that we all knew our roles, we knew we were there for each other, and we knew that everyone believed in the project and was doing their best not just for themselves, but for their teammates.”

Capping off another successful year

Sincere congratulations to all the Capstone groups who successfully completed their projects this year. Once again, the diversity of industries, aims, challenges and solutions presented across the range of this year’s projects highlights the relevance of the Capstone process and its significance to the Global EMBA programme.

Writer: Tom Murray    Editor: Effy HE, Michael Thede