Execution eats strategy for breakfast

Last summer we did two in-depth case studies for a client about two rapidly growing international asset managers. The central question was: “What do these companies do in order to realise their stellar growth in Europe?”. We were curious too. For four weeks our research team dove into the matter. We studied profit patterns, corporate strategy, marketing, media spending, themes and messages, budgets and FTE’s and finally, the maturity of the marketing departments. Although both of the asset managers clearly made different choices in with regard to above mentioned topics, it was obvious that they had certain things in common as well. Among them, were:

  • A clear and inspiring ambition credible voiced by the CEO
  • Unmistakeable choices regarding who is responsible for what
  • A high level of trust in staff members, including lots of freedom to take responsibility and plenty of room to try out new things

But most of all, a focus on “DOING”. Which reminds us of a bold statement by a prominent board member from one of our clients. During a strategy session held by the senior management, serious discussions erupted the future direction of the company. He remained silent for a while, gazed at his colleagues and then calmly said: “Gents, at the end of the day, one thing is sure: execution eats strategy for breakfast.” And thanks to that, the entire debate shifted from strategy to implementation. Something that proves to be a challenge for numerous companies.

However, not for the two firms we have studied. Both excel at “doing”. Take the example of the smaller one of these firms. With a clear institutional focus, they concentrate on achieving the maximum impact with a limited marketing budget. By developing excellent content and applying smart online marketing techniques they generate free publicity and manage to reach their target audience more effectively. They measure results and use them to continuously improve their efforts to engage clients. Their motto: “Think big, start small, fail fast.” Once they’ve chosen their strategy no unnecessary time is lost to overengineering and excessive forward planning. They focus on action and since mistakes are allowed, employees take more responsibility and become more proactive. They learn every mistake and cover much more ground in a short time. As a result they made a massive transition from ugly duckling into a successful fast growing asset manager in a period of eighteen months.


Concrete example of their execution power is that they restructured a variety of unfocused local websites into one integrated customer journey across multiple geographies, with a new website as the main platform. Completely in line with their new strategy and in a very short time. Within eighteen months a content organization was rigged and capable of providing sales and marketing with a constant flow of memorable content for the relevant target groups.

Simultaneously they developed digital pitch books for the sales force with up to date content developed in only a few months. The frequency of release of relevant content for customers and prospects was increased from 2 times a month to 2 times a day and internally even the largest computer illiterates were trained in the field of content and digital.

Choose, act and quickly find out what does not work and then adjust and follow through. That’s what makes execution eats strategy for breakfast.


Michiel Breeschoten and Vincent Hooplot


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