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Darla Moore School of Business

  • Screenshot of Natalia Weisz, Sonoco Visiting Professor


    Relaunching Sonoco Visiting Fellows

Innovative insights on leadership challenges in a turbulent world

Professors and business consultants Roberto Vassolo and Natalia Weisz of the IAE Business School of the Universidad Austral in Argentina have authored a book called Strategy as Leadership: Facing Adaptive Challenges in Organizations, which was published in January 2022 by Stanford University Press.

Their book offers a clear road map plus innovative research to help leaders prioritize what’s important and what’s valued in their organizations. Leadership in general is understudied, especially in an international environment, despite its importance for executives, organizations and companies.

For the fall 2021 semester, the Moore School's Sonoco International Business Department invited Vassolo and Weisz to teach the Global Strategic Management course based on their research and new book. Vassolo was a Sonoco Visiting Fellow while Weisz was a Sonoco Visiting Professor; this husband-and-wife team focused their course material on the essential elements of strategy and leadership and how they are interdependent. The course and their book were based on joint research the two have been working on for the last few years. At IAE Business School, Vassolo and Weisz taught the areas of strategy and leadership separately before joining the two areas in their academic research, subsequent business education course and now book.

The two hope to provide leaders with tools to better answer such questions as, “Which are the typical moments that organizations are at stress?” and “Why do companies fail to set priorities?” Their research highlights that “unpredictability is overrated,” Weisz said. Too much weight is often put on unpredictability, when most changes — recession, long-term prices, industry transition to maturity — are extremely predictable. Uncertainty is definitely relevant, but they find it important to note that companies fail in regular patterns. Understanding this is central for leaders, employees and teams to understand what should take priority and how they can manage their work for optimal results.

They study “evolutionary economics,” which provide broad context for the environmental trends and changes an organization will have to address. These changes are a fundamental source of organizational stress as they inevitably instigate necessary changes in organizational routines, skills and capabilities.

In the book, Vassolo and Weisz present four different strategic leadership challenges using case studies to bring them to life. Strategy as leadership can also be about making small changes, versus always embracing sweeping, overarching changes.

For example, their research indicates that it may not be that the whole organization that is failing, but rather changing a particular facet would make a major difference. Some organizations don’t know what they should preserve, what to manage and what to let go. Strategy is not just a technical exercise — “one and done” — but rather an adaptive process that asks the organization to make choices. Some will thrive on the benefits from the chosen priorities, but others may feel the pain because of the anticipated losses that are  incurred once the priorities have been set.

“Vassolo and Weisz have built a very strong reputation because of their experience with entrepreneurs and corporate leaders in South America,” said Gerald A. McDermott, professor of international business and faculty director of the Folks Center. “They now are sharing their valuable insights with the Moore School. “And it is no small achievement having Stanford University Press backing them.”

Vassolo and Weisz are both professors and researchers at the IAE Business School, the management and business school of the Argentine Austral University in Buenos Aires. IAE is the top business school in Argentina and offers a new double-degree Ph.D program with the Moore School. They were invited to the Moore School for a semester at the invitation of the Sonoco Visiting Fellows program. The two plan to continue their work on strategy and leadership, with the possibility of a textbook and further research to come.

-Karen Brosius, executive director, Folks Center for International Business

Read more IB stories in the February 2022 "The Edge" E-Newsletter.

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