Value Creation in Multicultural Setting ... by Dr. Hossam ElShazly,


Dr.Hossam ElShazly,                                        President & CEO of the CPI International Group Switzerland
               With the beginning of this century, the strategic option of doing business abroad and expanding operations to different countries away from the homeland turned to be much of an obligation more than an option.  In the view of the worldwide economic downturn, the price war declared by the Chinese manufacturers everywhere, firms in Europe and other continents moved away from their home headquarters in a trial to either survive the business hit or to maximise the value creation process. 
In this paper, we look at the challenges, opportunities and threats embedded in the strategic decision of going abroad. We will offer a comprehensive analysis to the problem of doing business in a multicultural setting in the view of the model proposed by the CPI International Group Switzerland with business operation and offices on four continents.  We will also explore various literature, work and research done in this area and we will try to offer a better model for the process of value creation, strategic development and strategic execution within this multicultural business environment. 
Attempting to understand the model proposed by the CPI International Group in the view of the strategic methodologies and approaches provided by different research practitioners and publishers in the field, we will analyse the progress of the process of critical action learning, critical reflection, argument development and strategy development in the CPI group. 
Problem Overview 
The Challenges embedded in the process of conducting business abroad are immense. The process involves many factors that make the process rather complex and undefined. Diversity,  cultural conflict,  economic, political, globalisation, business setup; all are factors that intensify the problem and bring many challenges to the process. At the CPI International Group, we are conducting business in three main areas, pharmaceutical, healthcare, renewable energy and education where we are operating in 19 countries on four continents. The company managed via regional managers who report to the CPI headquarters in Switzerland. The challenge of the process involves two arms; the first is the challenge of working with and among different people from a different background, different cultures, and different business environment. The other challenge represented by the cultural gap between employees in the headquarters and others in the operational countries worldwide. This process brings many risks and challenges to the CPI business in various countries, including the risk of business loss, business closure and strategic failure.
The Value Creation Process at the CPI Group - From Blue Print to Critical Action Learning
The conventional wisdom of management education and management training focused on offering participants, and members of the learning set a type of blueprint master plan on how to manage, how to act and how to follow a structured mostly rigid process to achieve objectives. Many scholars including Willmott (1994) discussed these types of traditional theories and explored the deficit and problems raised by these approach in management education. 
CPI International Group is an ideal example to illustrate how traditional management theories are not capable of helping business to achieve objectives or to create value in the multicultural environment. At the CPI Group, the management approach is mostly based on the principles of the blue ocean strategy offered by (Kim and Mauborgne 2005). This strategic approach can be defined as a new mental setup that requires the creation of learning set not only in every department or operation but for every situation. The process is fully customised and completely flexible. Members of the learnings set or the management team gather to analyse critical situations, ask fundamental questions and formulate argumentations to reach a unique methodology, action or strategic approach required for every and each situation. 
Multicultural Business Setting: The Cost and the Benefit
The process of doing business abroad or in multicultural setting investigated by many management thought leaders, researchers and scientists. From Hymer (1960/1976) to (Kostova & Zaheer, 1999; Zaheer & Mosakowski, 1997) a lot of work was done to offer a better understanding of the liabilities, the risk and the cost involved in doing business in such multicultural challenging environment.  However, most of the work focused on the effect of political, economic, geopolitical environmental or mostly external factors influence the process without paying the required attention to the internal business factors influence the process. (Eden and Miller 2001) discussed the process from another dimension when clarified that the negative picture that occupies media and business reports about the process of doing business abroad will not support the required expansion of many businesses to other countries in the view of the economic downturn that hits the entire business world.
At the CPI International Group., we totally realise the extremely high cost of political instability in many regions around the world and particularly in the Middle East. During the last decade, CPI was obliged to close, restructure and move offices and business to other countries, regions and destinations. These decisions were not only the natural outcome of the pre-mentioned political instability but also due to the widespread political and business corruption that prevented the operation from growing healthy in several countries. 
However, our experience at the CPI International Group working in 19 countries and four continents confirmed that there is an unlimited volume of wealth presented in the process of expanding business abroad. Our business operation at the group focuses on three major industries, pharmaceutical, healthcare, education and renewable energy. The three wealthy business sectors require a reliable international network of agents, distributors, strategic partners and investors. At the CPI International Group, we can argue that most of our business is done outside our home country in Switzerland. In spite of the fact that our core technology and business know-how originated from Europe, our centre of profit and value creation remains in the Middle East, Gulf, CIS, Russia and Ukraine. 
The above facts require a new structured Critical Action Learning based strategy and operation to ensure competitive advantage and profit maximisation in the face of the everyday economic downturn in Europe and USA. Torbert (1999) offered a distinguished theory and approach titled ‘’ the Developmental Action Inquiry’’ which is used as a solid base for the CPI Group to face the challenges and obstacles offered by the multicultural business setting. This approach formed the main launch for the established CPI approach and methodology ‘’ALSKLS strategic approach ‘Action Learning - Structured Knowledge - Lead Strategy’’, which I consider as a paradigm- shifting in the strategy development process of the group. 
It is also the life fact that outsourcing is another cornerstone in the CPI millennium strategy established at the beginning of this century. Many of the CPI important activities in departments such as marketing, promotion, logistics, recruitment and project management are outsourced to partner firms worldwide. This successful, profitable business model when applied and executed overseas requires another international managerial mindset corresponding to the one offered by Wienclaw( 2015). 
Building on our differences in more than 19 countries, we are able to create efficient and marvellous permeant learning sets hosted in the CPI Corporate University- CCU. At the CCU, there is a permeant ongoing critical action learning process, where models of success developed and enhanced to form part of the group learning process. Examples and cases of failures are investigated deeply, and solutions are offered as part of the management training curriculum to avoid similar situations in different regions. 
At the CPI International Group Switzerland, we believe firmly in the relation between diversity and innovation Barker(2000), and we strongly believe in the views offered by the UCSF, HR on the importance of diversity as a hub for the qualities offered by different people from different corners of the world. We utilise our extensive management experience in conducting regional critical thinking and critical reflection meetings and workshops. To maximise the outcome of this innovative setup we involve leaders, managers and experts from different background and different corners in the world. In the following section of this paper, I will illustrate more on the techniques and methodologies used in this process inside the CPI International Group and the CCU Corporate University in the firm’s headquarters in Switzerland. 
The Critical Action Learning Model at the CPI
The model of the critical action learning at the CPI offer no difference in its complexity than other models known and discussed in previous publications and literature. It is our argument that the wonderful results achieved within the CPI during the last decades were mainly based on a business model that neither easy to define nor easier to copy or imitate. 
The model depends on the abilities and performance of the people involved and their wide variety of intensive skills in practicing critical action learning, critical reflection and business case development and applications. (Thorpe, 1990) and Revans (1982,p. 545) 
At the CPI International Group, we developed our critical learning model more than ten years ago and which labeled. ‘ALSKLS Action Learning - Structured Knowledge - Lead Strategy’. The model is based on the formation of structured learning sets from the mid-level management team with members from the front line business staff and the higher management. Those learning sets represent the first unit in the development of the business- case package that later turns to be part of the structured curriculum of the programs and the training offered at the CPI Corporate University. The process of the development of such structured work-based curriculum goes back to the first corporate training centre opened by the group in the city of Chur in Switzerland. This centre was the place where our structured knowledge transformed into the structured curriculum by the CPI expert teams, Professors and business development specialists including myself.
One of the very early programs developed using this technique was the MBA program with major in critical thinking. The program was considered as a breakthrough in management education at that time being one of the very early corporate programs structured and developed based on only real business cases with the structured methodology of application and execution. (ElShazly 2005)
At this stage, we realise the importance of various active corporate techniques in coaching, education and training, and we further improved the process of the storytelling as one of the main cornerstones of critical thinking education at the Group. Gold, Holman&Thrope (2002)
The ALSKLS Approach at the CPI Group: When Business Unusual 
It is our argument that the outcome and results offered by the CPI ‘ALSKLS' '' Action Learning - Structured Knowledge - Lead Strategy'' Model worth a comprehensive research and investigations.  We try to understand how this model helped the group to grow from a Swiss pharmaceutical middle size firm established during early 2000 to an International Swiss group hosts seven different firms doing business in more than 19 countries worldwide in the pharmaceutical, healthcare, education and renewable energy business. 
It is with no doubt that the CCU- CPI corporate University played a central role in this story of business growth. At the CCU, we were able to develop curriculums that based on successful corporate experience in specific industries, countries and cultures and to turn these successful models into core parts of the group's strategic- frames and business culture around the world. 
The Processes of critical thinking, critical reflection, productive argumentation and collective innovation formed the reactor where the CPI strategies of success are created. (Boyce,1997; Gabriel,2000;Morgan and Dennehy,1997; Phillips,(1995)  
These processes turned to be part of the daily management life and operation of the CPI group. There are huge numbers of unexpected outcomes occur during the process and represents both opportunities and threats. The ability of the CCU and the CPI teams to analyse these outcomes, to explore the embedded opportunities and to turn them into structured knowledge curriculums that used for the development of competitive strategies is at the core of our successful CPI business model. Smith (1997)  
At the CPI International Group Switzerland, the process of critical thinking is at the heart of the strategic development methodology and the central element in the process of management educations and personal development. ( McPeck,1990; Mezirow,1990; Mingers, 2000; Reynolds,1997) 
It is at the CPI group where we view the process of critical action learning as one of the main strategic tools used in the management of the ongoing transformation and change management processes at the Group. Managing this transformation process,  we are able to refine our business strategic- frames and to offer strategic solutions that enable us to create sustainable value in a multicultural setting. Sull (1999) 
For the complete reference list, please contact Dr. Hossam ElShazly at shazly@liverpool.ac.uk 

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