“I want to create an impact”

Professor Martin Weiss has been a visiting professor since 2013 and was recently appointed professor of Strategy. Before pursuing an academic career, Martin worked as a strategy consultant. What are his areas of expertise, what does he hope to achieve, what drives him and also, what attracted him to our School?

My academic work focuses on business and corporate strategy,” Martin says, and he explains: “Business level strategy is typically concerned with value to the customer, with understanding what creates a competitive advantage and how companies differentiate themselves in order to better compete. As for corporate level strategy, I try to fill the gaps in the overall understanding of how diversification strategies lead to more success, how to manage large portfolios of companies and the logic of mergers and acquisitions.”

In addition, his research extends to examining phenomena affecting the perception of the business environment, particularly uncertainty, dynamism and complexity, all of which have a huge impact on strategic decision-making.

Uncertainty and interconnectedness

The uncertainty of the environment in which managers have to make strategic decisions is currently a hot topic. Martin believes we have to let go of the assumption that a manager is a homo economicus, an essentially rational human being. “Today’s business environment is characterised by uncertainty and rapid change. Managers have to learn to deal with limited information, with biases. A lot of research, including mine, is focused on how people deal with uncertainty when they have to make decisions, which companies and managers make good decisions and which don’t.”

We’re also facing increased complexity. There are more factors to be taken into account when making decisions, and these factors are increasingly interconnected. “Remember Fukushima?” he asks. “No one expected that this event would have such a significant impact on the supply chains of the German automotive industry, but it did. Problems with sub-prime mortgages in the USA have a knock-on effect in the global financial sector as well as in many other industries globally. Seemingly unrelated companies and sectors turn out to be closely connected. This puts our traditional systems thinking, which is often oversimplifying and linear, under a lot of pressure. Decision-making processes are much more difficult nowadays. How are you supposed to decide which is the right way to go, if you don’t really know how everything is connected, if there’s no way to know what the world will look like a couple of years from now?”

A psychology-inspired approach

An interesting development that ties in with this increased uncertainty and interconnectedness, is that we seem to be moving away from what is called a macro perspective on strategy, in which we try to assess which strategy is the more successful one, towards a micro perspective that focuses on the psychology of managers, i.e. how they behave, how they lead their teams, how they implement a strategy. “I’m a big fan of this micro approach that looks at the actual implementation of a strategy rather than purely at its design. It’s an area of knowledge with a lot of untapped potential. There’s still a lot of research to be done, but there are insights we can already put into practice,” says Martin. “Manager always ask me about the right strategy. But we’ve come to realise that it simply doesn’t exist. Managers should chose the one they feel comfortable with, the one they can communicate, and then build their organisation to make it work.

“The internal environment, the competitive environment, the macroeconomic environment … they all have a huge impact on the decisions managers have to make. We have to factor in this complexity, which is why in my research I use a psychological lens to analyse perception and decision-making processes.”

Always up for a challenge

What are his plans for the future? What does he want to achieve? “My consultancy background has strongly influenced my thinking, my research and my teaching. It’s played an important part in bringing me where I am today.” Martin pauses and adds: “I want to leave a mark, create an impact, both as a researcher and as a teacher. Teachers help students advance their lives and careers. In the executive programme you can have an impact, not only on their careers, but also on their companies. I hope to be able to share some of my experience, so that these companies can also benefit.”

Asked what drives him, he replies: “Intellectual curiosity. I’m intrigued by how companies and organisations function and operate, how people respond to my views and comments. I like to be challenged by students and executives, as much as I like to challenge them. And I’m passionate about developing new things, about seeing things through from start to finish. I’m very fond of an environment that is conducive to that and I believe Vlerick provides it.”

Exciting mix

Martin recalls how the School impressed him from the very first day. “I was taken by its exciting mix of teaching and knowledge generation. As a researcher, I always try to keep the practitioners in mind and as a teacher or consultant I make sure to bring views and insights from research. But never before had I seen an environment where this approach is being put into practice so well. And then there are all those extremely motivated and skilled colleagues. Not only faculty members, but programme managers and administrative staff as well. I’m really looking forward to being part of this team.”

  • Assistant Professor of Management, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany (2009 – 2016)
  • Guest Lecturer, Leipzig Graduate School of Management (HHL), Leipzig, Germany (2009–2012)
  • Research Associate, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany (2005–2009)
  • Ph.D. in Management, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany (2005-2009)
  • Summer Associate at McKinsey & Company, Inc., Munich, Germany (2007)
  • Senior Consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, Stuttgart, Germany (2002–2005)

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