Busi­ness to­mor­row

Train­ing com­pany on rapid in­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion

Finweek English Edition - - Business Strategy -

THE BUSI­NESS TO­DAY GROUP, started 28 years ago and op­er­a­tional in more than 30 coun­tries, plans to be truly global and have a net­work of in­ter­na­tional busi­ness part­ners in 50 coun­tries next year. Those are bold plans dur­ing an eco­nomic cri­sis would be the im­me­di­ate re­sponse to such a state­ment.

How­ever, Busi­ness To­day co-founder and CEO Peter Knox says: “What could be more im­por­tant to com­pa­nies dur­ing tough eco­nomic times than that their work­ers un­der­stand the con­cept of profit? Usu­ally train­ing is one of the first ar­eas where cor­po­ra­tions cut costs: we’ve been re­tained while oth­ers were cut. We haven’t slowed this year and over the years growth has been steady. In fact, 2009 will be a record year in South Africa and Bri­tain.”

Al­though Knox and co-founder and chair­man Gra­ham Cousins be­gan work­ing to­gether in 1981, for the first eight years the firm was a mish­mash of busi­nesses that in­cluded a gold mine and a trans­port busi­ness. Only later did it re­alise busi­ness sim­u­la­tions was the real win­ner in its sta­ble. Knox (55) and Cousins (62) formed the busi­ness while par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Com­rades ul­tra-marathon. “We’d met be­fore but sort of put the whole thing to­gether run­ning to­gether. I wasn’t talk­ing much af­ter the first hour though,” says Knox. While Knox is more hands on, Cousins is the vi­sion­ary. “We don’t dis­agree on much, but his ap­petite for risk has cer­tainly al­ways been big­ger than mine.”

Busi­ness To­day teaches busi­ness and fi­nan­cial skills to em­ploy­ees at all lev­els in a com­pany – from ex­ec­u­tives to mid­dle man­age­ment to en­try level – through a range of ex­pe­ri­en­tial broad-based busi­ness sim­u­la­tions. “It can be called a game – but there’s no dice,” says Knox who, with Cousins, has de­vised close to 150 sim­u­la­tions in in­dus­tries rang­ing from un­der­ground min­ing to pay tele­vi­sion and in­sur­ance to re­tail. Busi­ness To­day custom de­signs sim­u­la­tions where the de­vel­op­ment team spends be­tween three to six months at the com­pany (de­pend­ing on the com­plex­ity of its struc­ture), where they gather in­for­ma­tion and con­duct in­ter­views. Clients in­clude Goodyear Dun­lop, Toy­ota, Royal Bank of Scot­land, Nestlé, Voda­fone, Daim­lerChrysler, Roche, SABMiller, An­gloGold Ashanti, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever and John­son & John­son.

Says Knox: “We’ve been able to ex­pand rapidly, thanks to the work we’ve done for multi­na­tion­als in SA, which then spread the word to HQ.” Train­ing ses­sions can take place over one to four days: make it too short and the im­pact of busi­ness cy­cles can’t be in­cor­po­rated in the game.

Knox says con­trary to what of­ten hap­pens at mo­ti­va­tional or train­ing ses­sions – where once ev­ery­body is back in the of­fice on Mon­day it’s busi­ness as usual – with the Busi­ness To­day sys­tem com­pa­nies can au­dit par­tic­i­pants’ per­for­mance on the job post­train­ing ac­cord­ing to spe­cific cri­te­ria.

“Our method­olo­gies make the sim­u­la­tions par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to for­mer Com­mu­nist coun­tries where work­ers’ mind­sets still have to be changed,” says Knox. “We’re par­tic­u­larly strong in Rus­sia and for­mer East­ern Bloc coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ro­ma­nia, Bul­garia, Ukraine, etc. We also set up a joint ven­ture in China a year ago and the In­dian busi­ness is six months old.” Out­side its ful­lyfledged offices in Bri­tain, Aus­tralia and SA, and the joint ven­ture in China, Busi­ness To­day’s pres­ence is via an agent that pays a li­cence fee (20%) to the com­pany. Of its roughly R50m turnover, half comes from its in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tions.

Busi­ness To­day’s com­peti­tors fo­cus mainly on com­puter-based sim­u­la­tions. “While the ad­van­tage of com­puter sim­u­la­tion is that it can be quickly in­stalled, such pro­grams don’t give par­tic­i­pants the big pic­ture or fa­cil­i­tate team play that well.” The staff com­ple­ment is 30, with 25 in SA. Knox is mov­ing to its of­fice in Bri­tain to boost its sim­u­la­tion mak­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. “Apart from lan­guage, other cul­tural as­pects have to be built into the sim­u­la­tions in other coun­tries.”

Peter Knox (left) run­ning the board-based sim­u­la­tion train­ing, now run in over 30 coun­tries.

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