Cesare Mainardi speaks to a group of students in an auditorium

Ex-CEO of Booz & Co. shares strategy and consulting insights with UF MBA students

Cesare R. Mainardi, ex-CEO of Booz & Co. met with UF MBA students at University of Florida Warrington College of Business to speak about the latest trends in the management consulting industry and how winning companies are closing the gap between strategy and execution.

The UF MBA Strategy & Consulting Club invited Mainardi to share insights regarding his experience leading a major management consultancy firm during one of its most challenging times in history.

Mainardi is a current professor of Strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Prior to that, he was the Chief Executive Officer of Booz & Company (now PwC’s Strategy& and formerly the commercial business of Booz Allen Hamilton).

The 2-hour event began with a detailed discussion of the research and client engagements that led Mainardi to design the intuitive and highly effective approach to corporate strategy known as Capabilities-Driven Strategy. Mainardi shared how he used this framework to help clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage and significantly improve the execution on their strategic goals. He discussed a few of the major themes in his latest book: “Strategy that Works.” Most memorably, he covered the “The Five Acts of Leadership.”

Using the “Five Acts of Leadership” framework, Mainardi explained why companies waste so much time and money in strategies that never come to fruition and provided a roadmap to what they should do instead. The Five Acts are summarized below:

  • Rather than focusing on growth, commit to an identity based on your unique capabilities. Profitable growth opportunities will reveal themselves once you are truly differentiated.
  • Stop pursuing functional excellence; translate the strategic into the everyday. Endless benchmarking will only lead you to the same place as everyone else. Design and build a handful of distinctive capabilities that actually deliver your strategy and then scale them across the organization.
  • Do not reorganize to drive change; put your culture to work for you. Rather than fighting your culture, identify and leverage the critical behaviors and traits that make you unique and drive your success.
  • Going lean across the board is a strategic sin; only cut costs to grow stronger. When faced with challenging financial situations, most companies cut costs across the entire enterprise. Instead, they should do a careful assessment and reduce expenses in areas that are not core to their strategy while investing those savings on their critical capabilities to fuel growth.
  • Stop trying to quickly react to market changes; shape your future by acquiring a deep knowledge of your customers so you can predict what they want before they even know it. Constantly advance and evolve your capability system and realign your industry around your strengths.

To solidify the students’ understanding of the “The Five Acts of Leadership,” Mainardi challenged them to apply the lessons to a real-life case scenario. The case client was Mainardi himself as Managing Director of the North America business of Booz & Co. in 2008. Back then, the business was struggling after it was spun off from its parent company Booz Allen Hamilton. The job of the students was to recommend a course of action that would turn around the North America business. Using the frameworks that they had just learned, the MBAs were able to craft a strategy that was very similar to the one Mainardi actually implemented in 2008. The Capability-Driven Strategy approach helped the business go from 4% to 17% annual revenue growth for seven consecutive years.

“This event has truly impacted the way we look at strategy in the MBA program. It’s not every day that you get to talk to and ask questions from an ex-CEO of a major consulting firm. So many of us have worked for companies that have struggled with their strategy execution… it was mind-blowing to hear Mr. Mainardi expose many of the mistakes that we all have seen business leaders commit.” – Israel Moleiro, President of the Strategy & Consulting Club, MBA ’20

“Mr. Mainardi’s expertise in corporate strategy is unrivaled and hearing him speak will be one of my most memorable experiences during the MBA. So often, we see companies overextend their strategy without fully understanding where their competitive advantage lies. Mr. Mainardi showed us the value of deeply examining an organization’s capabilities and of re-focusing efforts to leverage them.” – Kyle Sherrin, VP of Professional Development, MBA ’20

Mainardi concluded the conversation by mapping out the difficult strategic decisions that he had to make when he eventually became global CEO of Booz & Co. in 2012. Most notably, he elaborated on the management consulting trends that led him and the board of directors to sell Booz & Company to PwC in 2014.

During the Q&A, Mainardi imparted his wisdom to the MBAs looking to build a career in management consulting. He shared the main insights he had learned during his 30+ years as a consultant as well as offered practical advice on how to balance a demanding career while living a fulfilling life.