BMGI and Heidrick & Struggles Join Forces with Local Business Leaders


David Silverstein addresses local CEO’s at a breakfast meeting with Heidrick & Struggles

How tough is the life of a CEO these days? 

Remarkably so, especially if you live in South Africa.  “It’s a difficult environment worldwide for executive leaders, but in South Africa, things are even more acute.  In many ways, local CEO’s are facing a perfect storm of circumstances – if you consider low economic growth, political volatility, high unemployment, power shortages, devaluing currency,  and labour unrest, among others,”said Robyn Imray, Partner, Sub-Saharan Africa, of Heidrick & Struggles.

Heidrick & Struggles partnered with BMGI last week to host two breakfast meetings attended by a number of South African CEOs. Discussions about strategy were catalysed by BMGI founder and CEO David Silverstein, drawing on material from his book “Three Steps Ahead”, as well as “The CEO Report,” which was produced by Heidrick and Struggles and the Said Business School at Oxford University.

The CEO Report, which is based on over 150 interviews with CEOs of multinational companies, revealed that the demands placed on modern business leaders are changing significantly.  The core question the Oxford study sought to answer was: how do senior executives develop the competence to lead in a changing world? Continue reading

CNBC Africa profiles BMGI Global CEO on next steps thinking

What has happened in the markets lately is too complex to explain. This is why you need to be Three Steps Ahead“. On this episode of  CNBC Africa’s Moneymakers, Bruce Whitfield chats to David Silverstein, CEO of BMGI Global, to explore the philosophy that “If we don’t think three steps ahead, we forfeit the opportunity to manage the future.”

BMGI Global CEO David Silverstein on CNBC Africa’s Moneymakers

Briefing SA Executives in Keeping ‘Three Steps Ahead’

Currency weakness, plunging commodity prices, stock market volatility, global economic uncertainty and local labour unrest all add up to one thing for South African business leaders: how do we implement a strategy that will hold up in a climate of such uncertainty.

If ever there was a time for cool heads and clear thinking, it is now.  For some local business leaders, though, expert help is at hand.  David Silverstein, founder and CEO of global management consulting firm BMGI and author of the book Three Steps Ahead’, is in South Africa next week to participate in a series of meetings and business breakfasts with senior corporate leaders on precisely this topic. 1991-three_steps_ahead_front_cover-bmgi

The breakfast discussions will be held In partnership with global executive search firm Heidrick and Struggles, with Silverstein leading discussions around planning and implementing strategy in times of uncertainty. Continue reading

David Silverstein’s Seven Trends for 2015 – and Beyond

David SilversteinThe one thing that is certain about the future is that it will be uncertain.  Given that business strategy is all about the future, one key component of a successful strategy is to become more successful than your competitors about predicting what is going to happen in your particular environment.

A key component of business strategy is the study of societal trends across the world. Combining insight with trends, companies can do a better job of exploiting future potential.

David Silverstein, BMGI’s founder and CEO, draws upon his extensive research and more than two decades of experience when he advises on innovation and strategy.   To assist his clients, Silverstein has identified seven trends that the world will encounter in 2015 (and beyond), trends that will have a far-reaching impact on businesses and lives.


As the economies of the world become more and more interlinked, distant geopolitical events become increasingly relevant at a local level. Because global politics are so uncertain at present, businesses need to increase the weight they give to political risk when thinking about their future.  What ultimately happens internationally is often determined by a small number of individuals who are driven primarily by economic advantage.

Example: the sudden and precipitous fall in the oil price has altered the economic profiles of countries, companies and individuals.  Continue reading

Innovate by all means, but first select your innovation growth strategy

Successful innovation by businesses in South Africa is key if the triple challenges of low growth, high unemployment and poor international competitiveness are going to be beaten.  This is the view of Dimitri Markoulides, a senior consultant and Innovation Practice Lead with international management consulting firm BMGI.

‘Businesses need to be successful innovators if they hope to grow and compete nationally and internationally,’ he says.  ‘But most businesses know that.  It’s not a new concept.  There are two problems, however: the first is formalizing an innovation growth strategy and secondly there is the need to settle on the approach on “how to innovate”.  While it is easy to talk about the rewards of innovation, implementing a successful innovation strategy is not simple.  You need a properly structured programme, which is what we offer.’

Why does innovation often not work in the South African business environment, even though most businesses realise how important it is?  According to Markoulides, it is usually because they select an inappropriate innovation strategy.  ‘Companies often focus on becoming more efficient in their processes (EFFICIENCY INNOVATION), or simply replace one product with another in the market (SUSTAINING INNOVATION).  These strategies may improve cash flow and profitability, but are normally not truly innovative.’


BMGI teaches companies EMPOWERING INNOVATION, which in essence provides a solution for a target market that was not able to afford the original solution; and TRANSFORMATIONAL INNOVATION, where the entire business model is adjusted to meet new market needs.

Really innovative companies are not scared to change their entire business model when needed.  This may be the creation of a totally new product as the result of new technologies, or backward integration into their supply chain, or forward integration, where they become their own customers.  This type of innovation has seen the most dramatic growth of businesses across the world, creating companies that have become household names.

‘We believe that innovation in South Africa has, generally, become stuck at the efficiency and sustaining levels.  It is our aim to take our clients into new levels of innovation, encompassing both empowering and transformational innovation,’ says Markoulides.

This is where BMGI’s Certified Innovation Champion Programme comes into focus.  The company offers local businesses a successful, road-tested programme that takes the idea of innovation and makes it a usable and reliable business tool that can transform a company.

BMGI has developed the Certified Innovation Champion Programme to allow companies to innovate successfully.  One of the key components of the programme is identifying ‘change champions’ within an organization, individuals who are specially selected and specifically tasked with driving and implementing innovation through a well-defined process.

Central to BMGI’s programme is the use of Rapid Innovation ‘events’ to teach members of innovation teams, under the leadership of innovation champions, how to move an innovation idea forward.  These events are termed ‘Structured Ideation/Concept Team Events’ by BMGI.  ‘We work with the champions and their selected teams in a way that allows them to learn how to implement innovation,’ explains Markoulides.  ‘It is practical and goal-directed.  Innovation is a skill like any other and needs to be taught by experts and learned by willing and motivated participants.  We teach what we call the four D’s.’

Firstly, the company needs to DEFINE the need for change.  ‘It could be a new market opportunity, a new territory or a competitive threat,’ says Markoulides. 

The second ‘D’ is DISCOVER.  The team lays out a variety of possible solutions through various ideation and provocation techniques to meet the innovation opportunity.  The solutions are evaluated and the best ones defined as the ideal.

Next comes DEVELOP Phase.  Team members create concepts and develop ideas specifically designed to achieve the solution required.  Ideas are integrated so as to secure a realistic model/product that will solve the problem.

Finally, the DEMONSTRATE phase arrives.  This is where the team puts the ideas into practice by building a working model of the product or service required.

Innovation is like any sport, the harder you work at it the “luckier” you become. No organisation will come up with radical breakthrough ideas if it does not practice innovation- it’s a lesson learnt back in the days of Edison’s Idea factories.

If this trend takes hold, then many of the problems inherent in the South African business environment could become things of the past.

Africa: Next Stop for Global Manufacturing, or Terrible Mistake Waiting to Happen?

BMGI Global CEO David Silverstein  was recently in South Africa connecting with clients and the business here. His presentation on Connecting the Dots resonated with the
audience attending our Power Breakfast and stimulated him to write about Africa in his Dave’s Dots blog post.

africa-151585After spending a week in Africa (working), I met up with my family in Europe. The kids had never been and we thought it time to expose them. I won’t recount our whole trip, but if you’ve never been to the beaches of Normandy, move them to the top of your list. The WW II history is fascinating, but so too are the many medieval villages superimposed in the same place. I can’t imagine a place with more history spanning so many diffferent eras.

Today’s dot is my thought on Africa’s dilemma that became very apparent to me while there.

Read more here

Top Ten Problems Faced by Business

We never like to rely on one source to fuel our analyses of the problems facing business today, so we’ve integrated our own interviews with corporate CEOs along with other inputs, research and thinking to create this list of the top 10 problems for businesses to solve in 2014.

1. Uncertainty

All human beings, but it seems business leaders in particular, find great discomfort in uncertainty. Uncertainty in the global economy, uncertainty in the credit markets, uncertainty in how new regulations will affect business, uncertainty about what competitors are doing, and uncertainty about how new technology will affect the business—these are just the start of a never-ending list. The bottom line is that uncertainty leads to a short-term focus. Companies are shying away from long-term planning in favor of short-term results, with uncertainty often the excuse. While this might feel right, we believe that a failure to strategically plan five years into the future can end up destroying value. The problem to be solved, therefore, is to balance the need for a more reactive, short-term focus with the need for informed, long-term strategies.

2. Globalization

maidis_world_globeIn interviews conducted by BMGI, seven of 10 Fortune 500 CEOs cite the challenges of globalization as their top concern. Understanding foreign cultures is essential to everything from the ability to penetrate new markets with existing products and services, to designing new products and services for new customers, to recognizing emergent, disruptive competitors that only months earlier weren’t even known. The problem to be solved is to better understand international markets and cultures through better information gathering and better analysis of what it all means.Similarly, the incredible degree of government intervention in nearly all major economies of the world is leading to much greater uncertainty (see No. 1 above) in the global marketplace, making international operations ever harder to manage.

3. InnovationAnonymous_light_bulb 2

Interestingly, we haven’t found that many companies are looking to create more innovative cultures. At least not the big companies (Global 1000) anyway, though that changes some as companies get smaller. This finding was a big surprise when we did our first studies in 2009 and little has changed since. It seems big companies are struggling with innovation and a better innovation process is at the top of the agenda for most CEOs, but the idea of a more innovative culture appears too frightening to many. The problem to be solved is how to become more innovative while still maintaining a sense of control over the organization.

4. Government Policy & Regulation

A changing regulatory environment is always of concern in certain industries, but uncertain energy, environmental and financial policy is complicating the decision making for nearly all companies today. It’s true that things seem to have settled down over the past couple of years, but have they really? We find that they haven’t; it’s simply that dealing with an unknown regulatory environment is fast becoming the new normal and companies are deciding to get on with it—whatever “it” may be—despite the angst. Whether a demand from customers or shareholders to become more “green,” the threat of increased costs due to new carbon taxes, constant talk of changes to corporate tax rates, or the impending healthcare mandate for businesses in the US (postponed until 2015), much is unsettled. The problems to be solved are to understand the meaning of regulation and government policy in your industry, its implications for your business, and to develop the skills necessary to deal with it.

iPhone4-201110285. Technology

The pace of technological improvement is running at an exponentially increasing rate. While this has been true for several decades, the pace today makes capital investment in technology as much an asset as a handicap because a competitor may wait for the next-generation technology, which may only be a year away, and then use it to achieve an advantage. Of course waiting to be that competitor can be equally risky. What’s a CEO to do? Similarly, the ability for even the best of technologists to stay informed about emerging technology is in conflict with the need to master a company’s current technology. The problem to be solved is to develop a long-term technology strategy while remaining flexible enough to take advantage of unforeseen technology developments.

6. Diversity

A particular subset of human capital planning is found so often in our research that it is worth its own mention. Diversity brings many challenges, as it makes it far more likely that people do not agree, and the lack of agreement makes running a business very difficult. At the same time, the lack of diversity within many large company leadership teams leads to a narrow view of an ever-changing and diverse world—contributing to groupthink, stale culture and a tendency to live with the status quo for too long. The problem to be solved is to first define what diversity (and we’re not talking about satisfying government statisticians) really means in your company, then foster the expansion of differing ideas and viewpoints while ensuring a sufficiently cohesive environment that efficiently gets things done.

7. Complexity

There’s no doubt that life and business have gotten more complex, even as certain tasks and activities have become easier due to information technology. The pace of change is quickening. The global economy is becoming still more connected, creating a much larger and more diverse population of customers and suppliers. Manufacturing and services are increasingly targeted at smaller, specialized markets due to the flexibility that IT provides in these areas. The 3D printing revolution is a perfect example. We know from our knowledge of the patterns of evolution that, in reality, systems tend to become more complex as they evolve, then become simplified again. The problem is how to develop better systems-thinking capability so you can design your business models, processes, products and services in a way that minimizes unnecessary complexity.

8. Information Overload

It is said that the only true constant is change, and in today’s world nothing is changing more, or growing faster, than information. A March 2010 estimate put global Internet traffic at 21 exabytes—21 million terabytes. By 2016, global traffic will reach 1.3 zettabytes, according to a report released in May 2012. Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created. The ability of companies, much less individuals, to consume and make sense of the information that is available (and necessary) to make good decisions is becoming a nearly insurmountable challenge. The problem to be solved is to deal with this mountain of information with both technology and human know-how, then to convert this information into valuable knowledge.

9. Supply Chainschain-153596_1280

Because of uncertainty in demand and the need to stay lean, companies are carrying smaller inventories than ever. At the same time, uncertainty in supply, driven by wildly changing commodity prices, an apparent increase in weather-related disruptions, and increasing competition for raw materials makes supply chain planning more challenging than ever. Smaller suppliers that, five years after the global financial crisis, still struggle to get the credit they need to keep up with their larger customers’ demand exacerbates an already unwieldy situation. The problem to be solved is to develop a supply-chain strategy that not only ensures the lowest costs, but also minimizes the risk of crippling supply-chain disruptions.

10. Strategic Thinking & Problem Solving

While the first nine biggest problems faced by business are a direct result of research, the 10th is really BMGI’s own conclusion based on the prior nine. The lack of sophisticated approaches to information acquisition, analysis and the development of unique insight leaves many companies at a disadvantage; they lack a long-term strategic imperative and instead jump from one strategy to the next on a year-to-year basis. Everyday problem-solving competency among today’s business leaders is also limiting their ability to adequately deal with the first nine problems. This is why corporate managers tend to jump from one fire to another, depending on which one their executives are trying to put out, and in many cases the fast-changing business environment is what ignites these fires in the first place. So what is the problem to be solved? We believe, to navigate the future, companies must resolve that strategic thinking and problem solving are the keys to successful business, then develop a robust capability at all levels.

Download our shareable graphic demonstrating these problems here 

Does your business need some advice in tackling some of the above issues? Contact BMGI and see how we assist businesses with strategy, innovation, change management and operational excellence by visiting You’ll also find a host of free resources for business problem solving at


How to make changes that get you somewhere

Lewis Carroll, of Alice in Wonderland fame said, “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as you currently are.”

If that’s the case, it’s hardly surprising that on the whole, changeMagic Wand doesn’t happen, fails or takes a lot longer than expected. A lot of business managers today are looking for a “magic wand” effect to reprogramme the business DNA, wipe away problems, create new markets, develop new products and reposition the business for the future all in one shot. Continue reading

Supervision: the most important level of management

By Stan Shaw

Here’s a simple but often overlooked business success strategy: Get your first line supervision right and you potentially have the best management level in your organisation. That’s because effective supervisors can respond much quicker to sub-standard performance and resolve process issues.

Weekly, and even daily feedback is too slow. The most productive companies monitor performance on an hourly basis while the very best monitor an on-going basis. This requires a supervisor that can develop supervisory skills to an extent that they become sub-consciously habitual.

This all sounds great, but have you asked your supervisors or team leaders what supervision is and how they go about it? Don’t be surprised at the variety of answers that range from the vague to the convoluted, and herein lines the problem. Continue reading

Economies of scale, when do they stop being so?

By Stan Shaw

I read recently a piece of work done by a colleague that talked about a client’s business model not working for them. What came through a couple of times were references to economies of scale, e.g let’s do more but make it bigger, consolidate and have bigger office capability; gain economies of transactional scale; purchase more and get economies in our purchasing power. The list went on and on…

If a business model is built on economies of scale, and that model is acknowledged as not working, you would expect them to look at making a change in some way, right?

Continue reading