Blueprint for a more strategic market approach

Our Masters students in International Management & Strategy carry out market research in India and China for Hamon

How does a cooling tower engineering company stay competitive in a fast-changing global market? “Thanks to this in-company project, Hamon now has a strategic view of the different sectors: which ones are easy for us to access, where we need to invest in new technologies or adapt to new regulations, and whether it’s profitable for us to do so.” Bernard Goblet, Hamon’s CEO at the time, and the three Masters in International Management & Strategy (MIMS) students involved, Sven, Nicolas and Louis, reflect on a project that took them to India and China.

When Nicolas VerschuerenSven Van Overloop and Louis Vandendriessche decided to do their in-company project (ICP) for the Belgian engineering company Hamon, they knew nothing about cooling towers. “We all have a background in economics, so we spent the first three days on a crash course in cooling tower construction, air quality and heat recovery,” Nicolas recalls. “It was really weird how we were immediately sucked into the company.”

"Grasp the technology"

Bernard nods: “If you want to understand the market Hamon is operating in, you have to fully grasp the technology as well. For the in-company project itself, I think it was also important to have a well-defined framework, so that you would feel a sense of responsibility and could really own it. And I must say you did that very well, not just in Belgium but also in India and China.”

"Making the shift to a futureproof approach"

The three MIMS students’ assignment therefore met a real need at Hamon, as Bernard explains: “We were very good at capitalising on market opportunities, dynamics and market leads. But that was quite an opportunistic approach and it wasn’t futureproof. A large proportion of our market share was still in the coal business, but what if we wanted to shift to the gas and oil markets? What technologies did we need to invest in and what certifications were required?”

A game of two halves

The project was split into two parts. “In the first phase, we worked with an interim manager to analyse Hamon’s global market and we devised a customer survey,” says Sven. “We then spent a fortnight in Mumbai and a week in both Shanghai and Beijing interviewing Hamon customers and prospects. We asked them why they would choose Hamon or one of its – often local – competitors. What did they think of the pricing and after-sales?”

“For the in-company project itself, I think it was also important to have a well-defined framework, so that you would feel a sense of responsibility and could really own it. “
Bernard Goblet, Hamon’s CEO

Buy-in from local teams

Fortunately, the students could rely on the full support of both the interim manager and the local teams in India and China. “The local teams were well aware of why they were losing out on major contracts,” Louis recalls. “The price difference between Hamon and the competition was no longer in proportion to the difference in expertise. The technology has become much simpler and more standardised in the past few years, opening up the market to local low-cost companies. The local teams immediately bought into our project to inject a new lease of life into Hamon.”

Huge market potential in Asia

What was the actual outcome of the project? “Our global market research showed that Asia had huge market potential, which is why we went to India and China,” explains Nicolas. “But the customer interviews we conducted locally painted a different picture. Hamon was generally regarded as a high-quality player, but if the company didn’t change, it might as well forget about the Indian and Chinese markets.”

Dynamic view of various sectors

For Hamon, the students’ recommendations provided a blueprint for a new, more strategic market approach. Bernard explains: “Their report contained a dynamic view of various market sectors: current volumes, market trends and how Hamon should tackle the market. I reviewed their report with our people internally and put together an action plan with clear KPIs. Instead of chasing all the opportunities in the market, we now have a strategic view of the different sectors: which ones are easy for us to access, where we need to invest in new technologies or adapt to new regulations, and whether it’s profitable for us to do so.”

In the meantime, Hamon has filed for another in-company project with Vlerick students. Deliverable of this project is a business plan for an innovative product that has been developed in the UK. What is the market potential in the rest of Western Europe? And how should Hamon target that market? To be continued.

Future career impact

For the three students, this in-company project was part of their Masters in International Management and Strategy (MIMS). How did their MIMS fit into their career plans?

Nicolas: ‘This ICP was right up my street’
“I did a Bachelor’s degree in Economics at Maastricht. The year after that I did two internships in trading and marketing. For my Master’s degree, I opted for the MIMS. I’ve always been interested in international strategy, so this ICP was right up my street. Thanks to Vlerick, I have a better grasp of what’s going on around me in my professional life. The environment, the simulations and the people definitely helped me land my current job as pricing and top-line consultant.”  
Sven: ‘The world of start-ups and scale-ups opened up’

“My father is an expat and I’ve lived abroad all my life, so I’ve always been fascinated by international affairs. After doing a Master’s degree in Business Administration at Ghent University, I wanted to specialise in strategic consulting. MIMS ticked all the boxes. I followed quite a regimented study schedule for the five years I was at uni, so I relished the opportunity to do more project work and sharpen my soft skills at Vlerick. I used to think that if you wanted to work abroad, you had to get a job in a multinational. Vlerick helped me discover the world of start-ups and scale-ups, and opened my eyes to the opportunities there too. I now work as a business consultant for an IT company in Ghent. It’s a fairly small outfit but has a large international client base.”  

Louis: ‘I discovered my passion for FMCG’
“After graduating at K.U. Leuven, I still missed the balance between the theoretical and practical side of the business world. At Vlerick, you’re surrounded by people who are eager to learn and willing to connect, which changes your mindset. Also, the global immersion trip to China and Japan allowed us to explore some great companies. But what really changed my life, is that I discovered my passion for fast-moving consumer goods. I’m currently doing a commercial traineeship at brewery Alken-Maes, where I can combine that passion for FMCG with my passion for beer.”  

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