Interview with Stefan Verhauwen, a Blue Ocean Strategy expert

As described by its authors, one of the most recent and widely spread business strategies, the Blue Ocean Strategy, “is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand. It is about creating and capturing uncontested market space, thereby making the competition irrelevant. It is based on the view that market boundaries and industry structure are not a given and can be reconstructed by the actions and beliefs of industry players”[1].

TIP-IM with a Belgian expert in BOC.

Stefan Verhauwen has a technical and financial background, and based on his experience in operations, sales and project management, he is specialized in capex, purchasing and logistics. From an academic perspective, he holds the following diplomas: Master in Applied Business Economics and Finance, MBA, Ir. Electrotechnics and CIPS.

Stefan is a member of Blue Chain, a group of trade-oriented experts in supply chain with a broad view on customer demand and characterized by a pragmatic approach and empathy.

TIP-IM: You give workshops on the "Blue Ocean Strategy (BOS)". Can you explain this further, and why do you think this approach is an interesting strategy?

SV: There are two interesting aspects to the Blue Ocean Strategy. Firstly, the strong visual aspect of the business strategy with the value curve. The value curve is based on the perception of the customers of the company. What value are you offering to your customers and what is the difference with other market proposals?

This strategy distinguishes itself from the classic approach, namely that either very high prices and luxury products have a high profit margin or that very low prices penetrate the competitive market. The Blue Ocean Strategy starts from value for the customers and expands to all aspects that customers find important (e.g. service, accessibility and after-sales). As a company, you ensure that you can distinguish between the aspects or values that customers consider important and constantly invest and focus on them. The second aspect is that everyone within the company understands the strategy of values. So BOS is not only a refresher for the management to say "beware, this is what your customers want," but also a means of communication to everyone.

TIP-IM: This approach can also be particularly motivating and encourage creativity within the company, right?

SV: Definitely. The advantage is also that truly everyone within a company, from the reception to the management, can have the same view about the strategy and, above all, can apply it. It has a lot to do with the modern vision of management. Everyone is involved; it's not a top-down process anymore but anyone can drive the strategy in their role.

TIP-IM: Can you give some striking examples of companies that have successfully applied the Blue Ocean Strategy?

SV: The 2005 book[2] is full of examples of companies that have successfully applied this strategy. However, the danger often lies in the following: as start-ups, they are in the blue ocean anyway. After all, you don't think about competition, but how to optimally put your own services out in the market. In growth, however, companies are creating their own red ocean. RyanAir, for example, as a low-cost company, has also decided in their growth strategy to land at more expensive airports, and this way, has created its own red ocean. Many companies here have to start thinking about whether they are not going too far from their DNA to acquire market shares.

TIP-IM: What is your view on the "project economy" and temporary higher profiles that are hired in companies? Is this in line with The Blue Ocean Strategy?

SV: I absolutely believe in the continuous evolution towards project economy. I personally go even further and replace the word ´project´ with ´program´. I go to companies, present a program with a turnaround time, activities, deliverables and milestones. These programs allow to remain focused, even if in operationally very busy environments. Companies realize that they need to change, but you can only bring about a change with the help of external energy. With someone who has a focus on those topics. However, in Belgium in particular, many companies still have to cultivate a culture of openness towards specialized experts.


[2] Blue Ocean Strategy

Book by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim

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