What Should Be At The Core Of A Business Strategy?

Industry insight: Vikram Banerjee, Strategy Lead at Whitbread


Ahead of his presentation at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit taking place in London this October 19&20, we spoke to Vikram Banerjee, Strategy Lead at Whitbread.

Vikram background combines elite sport with corporate strategy, innovation and life as an entrepreneur. Vikram’s unique insight comes from real life examples from his career as a professional cricketer and is underpinned by a CV including Harvard Business School and Cambridge University, as well as consulting on strategic innovation for firms such as ING bank, City of London Police, Thames Water and Mission Foods.Vikram currently leads a strategy team at Whitbread. Whitbread has revenues of £2.3Bn and employs over 44,000 people in the UK across a number of brands, including Costa Coffee, Premier Inn, Hub by Premier Inn. As a cricketer, he has played alongside and against some of the biggest names in the game, quoting bowling at Sachin Tendulkar his biggest honour but facing Shaun Tait the more fearsome!

How did you get started in your career?

My career has followed an atypical path. My first role was that of a professional sportsman, playing cricket for Gloucestershire CCC. Following this very enjoyable time I have never really planned my career; but instead followed passions, gut feel and opportunities for challenge and learning. I have worked in consultancy, in start-ups and done more studies, before ending up here in Whitbread’s internal strategy team.

How do you think the role of a strategist is changing?

Strategy at its core is still grounded in creating competitive advantage. However, the strategic world is moving at quite a pace, as it attempts to keep up with rapidly evolving competitive dynamics. In days gone by, strategy was an internally focused function, using a rigid process and structure, over a long period of time, to create financial deliverables and objectives. This has now been turned on its head as the strategy has to be much more agile, outwardly focused and much more able to engage stakeholders in strategic dialogue both within and beyond the organisation. This involves a much wider scope and complexity of the role beyond pure planning, mirroring the dynamism of the external environment.

What are the most common mistakes planners make when creating a strategy?

Surprisingly, the biggest mistake I have seen is not actually having a strategy. Lots of leaders and managers I’ve spoken to have a ‘framework’, or a set of principles, but not an actual strategy that allows them to move from this framework into action. Another mistake is being too inward looking and rigid in the process, and as a result not being willing to really listen to what your customers need and want and as a result being left behind by the competition. However, this is always a balance and strategy mustn’t confuse itself with marketing strategy and miss out a tailored value chain to establish the competitive advantage.

What are you going to be discussing in your presentation?

Rather than being facilitators of innovation, strategists are too often part of the problem. Taking lessons from Vikram’s unique experience in sport and business we will look at what allows innovation to happen, the different types of innovation which we need to employ, what we are currently doing wrong and the risks this entails. Crucially this will not be purely theoretical session but will give tangible ideas for how we can put in place the systems and culture to enable innovative thinking. We will take each barrier in turn and show exactly how we need to remodel strategy in the midst of an increasingly disruptive environment.

You can hear more from Vikram and other industry leaders at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit taking place in London, this October 19&20.

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