Participant Story

Kelly Davies

Kelly Davies

Tackling Real-World Business Challenges

  • Role

    Director of Design & Delivery, Bayer AG
  • Industry

    • Biotechnology

Even if a case study didn't reflect my exact situation, the principles it covered were universal.

Kelly Davies, director of Design & Delivery at Bayer AG, is in charge of leading innovation across the company's Nutritionals and Digestive Health units. Among her responsibilities is exploring alternative ways to address unmet consumer needs. Having earned her MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS), she attended the Leading Product Innovation program (now titled Managing Innovation) to build on her education. In this interview, she shares some highlights of her experience in the program.

Did you have specific goals in mind when you entered the program?

I wanted to learn how to approach innovation in a game-changing new way. Companies often get preoccupied in doing what they've always done—driving incremental, marginal innovation or, even worse, me-too innovation. But I wanted to explore how to get to breakthrough thinking. A lot of it has to do with process—including different people than you might first consider, taking time to go through the process rather than rushing it, and asking the right questions. In a way, I actually came here more for the questions than the answers. I wanted to make sure I start asking the right questions in order to get to better solutions that exceed consumer expectations.

What aspects of the program stood out to you?

One thing that stood out was how my recent work experience helped to shape and elevate the way I understood and thought about the cases. It is amazing the difference 10 additional years of on-the-job learning can make when it comes to dissecting an HBS case. In addition, I was surprised that it was a little like riding a bike. This program reactivated lessons I learned and tools I gained from my MBA—they were no longer buried in my memories but came right to the forefront of my mind for me to tap into once again.

In addition, all of the participants were further along in their careers with greater scopes of responsibility. That made it particularly interesting to hear their perspectives, based on their own personal experiences, and how those experiences shaped their views on the case challenges, including what they would have done if they had been in the protagonist's shoes.

Was it helpful to study alongside people with diverse perspectives?

Definitely. I've stayed in a pretty consistent space throughout my career, and it's so easy to get caught up in my own industry. For instance, I haven't been involved in startups or service-driven companies. So, it was invaluable to gain exposure to new ways of thinking about the world and learn how others attack problems. This is a particular benefit of the case method. Any given case might not reflect the exact situation that I find myself in, but it's easy to find parallels and see how the case is relevant to my business. The principles are universal.

Did you experience any "a-ha!" moments?

Yes, I found the ideas in the Apple case around focus and simplicity to be particularly eye-opening. A big company with a growing product line can make shopping complicated for its customers. People today are too busy to navigate huge product portfolios, and one of the keys to success is simplifying things for them. That's the only way to compete with the ever-proliferating small startup brands that are able to craft their portfolios from scratch. So, the challenge is to bring that level of simplicity to more conventional industries that have increased complexity dramatically as they've grown. This also involves getting rid of the noise from a consumer-facing standpoint and seeing what's most important to them. When you’re trying to tell them everything, they can’t hear anything.

How would you describe the value of this program to someone who's considering it?

For me, the value of Leading Product Innovation was that it turbocharged my MBA education. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on past lessons and apply them to today's real-world problems. To make the most of this value, it’s essential to identify the key themes and share them with my organization so that we can all begin thinking through challenges differently than we've done in the past.

Featured Program

Managing Innovation