Joining the WHU MBA Program as a lecturer 15 years ago, German-born Thorsten Truijens offers students a wealth of hands-on knowledge and insights. With a background in banking and then in the automotive industry, he discovered his love for teaching while at St. Gallen. He found that he had a knack for effectively breaking down complicated concepts in a way that others could understand. We talk to him to find out more about his topics of interest, why an MBA can be a transformative experience and the leadership skills of the future.
Why do you feel it is important to have faculty who are actively engaged in research/industry?
As a professor and consultant who has practical knowledge, I give more profound insights into what is happening within the industry, many of which are changing rapidly. Often, managers feel they are in a stable industry and do not anticipate necessary change. This attitude can be fatal in times of disruption. Even a supposedly stable industry like pharma will experience a significant change in the coming years.
We equip students with the tools and mindset to anticipate change and turn it into an opportunity. If you take the panic out of change, something quite productive can grow from it. Moreover, those who are more open-minded to such change are more likely to succeed in the long term.
How do your courses in the MBA program benefit the progression of students and why are they important topics for effective leaders?
My course is Management Accounting. Students do not expect exciting topics in a course with such a name. However, I am trying to position the course on the interface of financial management, strategy, and organizational behavior. For example, it is important to consider how digitalization impacts strategy in terms of financial results. I help to connect the dots for students. It is more than simply a numerical topic; there is a much larger dimension to the course.
As my course is one of the last core courses in the program, I hope to connect different content pieces the students have learned so far, going much further than pure number crunching.
Which research topics/projects are you currently involved in?
I have worked for more than 30 years on consulting projects in various industries ranging from pharma to freighting or automotive. Ten years ago, we would advise a client on measuring performance and calculating product cost, but today that is more minor an issue with digitization and predictive analytics. We do not look so much at how profitable a product or service is today, but rather but profitable a product, service, or customer is over its life cycle - the so-called customer lifetime value.
My big topic is driving companies away from looking at annual results and moving into long-term cash generation. Instead, we assess the whole cycle of the customer, and for that, you need reliable numerical information. AI can help you evaluate the future potential of a customer or a product.
The other major topic is to move management away from analyzing functional or geographical silos, focusing on the overall company perspective. Money can only be earned with an outside client, and large companies focus a large portion of their energies on internal transfer price and cost allocation discussions.
What would you like to tell prospective students about the MBA program?
Having completed my MBA many years ago, I did not realize when I graduated how much it would change my life. I would not have my own company today or be where I am now without it. An MBA opens doors to more significant personal development opportunities than you can imagine when you graduate. Therefore, I would say do not underestimate the value added by an MBA.
What do you believe will be the most crucial skills for MBA students in the future?
If I look back to 30 years ago when I left the bank I worked for; my parents thought it was a terrible idea. They thought I would work my whole life at the bank. After all, banks had a reputation for being highly stable environments. The same applies to the car manufacturer I worked for. Change is happening everywhere, and old business models are under heavy attack as we speak. Obtaining the strategic and organizational toolbox to anticipate and manage change by showing effective leadership must be the crucial objective.