Alumni Profile: Dr Staffan Canback (DBA, 2002)

30 October 2015

Alumni Profile: Dr Staffan Canback (DBA, 2002)

After completing his DBA with Henley Business School in 2002, Dr Staffan Canback went on to found and run the management consulting firm Canback & Company. In July this year, the firm was purchased by The Economist Group to form EIU Canback.

In this article, we speak to Staffan about setting up his own company, what the future holds for EIU Canback and the role his Henley DBA played in getting him where he is today.

After completing his DBA with Henley Business School in 2002, Dr Staffan Canback went on to found and run the management consulting firm Canback & Company. In July this year, the firm was purchased by The Economist Group to form EIU Canback.

In this article, we speak to Staffan about setting up his own company, what the future holds for EIU Canback and the role his Henley DBA played in getting him where he is today.

 

Could you briefly outline for us what EIU Canback does?

We are a management consulting firm similar to McKinsey or the Boston Consulting Group. What distinguishes us is that we are anchored in management science and are exceptionally analytical. We make good use of predictive analytics, which allows us to reach conclusions faster and at lower cost than our competitors.

 

What gave you the idea to start the company?

I was a partner at McKinsey many years ago. I learned to speak the language of senior management but did not learn much about analysis. At Henley, my dissertation work built the analytics part. My idea was to combine the two. To be ‘managerially relevant – analytically robust’.

 

How big a role did your DBA play in your decision to start the firm?

The Henley DBA was all-important in making the decision to start the firm. Henley taught me the scientific method and introduced me to statistical analysis techniques I had heard of, but never used.

Moreover, at one of the Henley workshops I remember seeing that older entrepreneurs do better than young ones. This is because of their richer experience and accumulated judgment. I felt this was true for me.

 

You recently sold the company to The Economist Group, was this a difficult decision?

Selling the firm to The Economist Group was an important, but not difficult decision. I knew I had to exit at some point in time. After all, we all get older. I wanted to find the best possible owner. This meant not selling to a large consulting firm, since I feared being absorbed into such a buyer with no hint of my legacy.

I also wanted an acquirer with a world-class reputation for integrity and honesty. The Economist Group certainly has this reputation.

Finally, I wanted the buyer to complement us. The Economist Group and the EIU does this almost perfectly. They have the global reputation, strong convening power and marketing skills that we lack. We have an exceptional understanding of emerging countries and a consulting approach second to none. Together, this is highly synergistic.

 

Now that you are working with The Economist Group, what are your ambitions for EIU Canback in the future?

I will continue as the managing director and look forward to continuing to grow the firm. My colleagues and I have an earn-out target and we intend to hit the upside of this. Hopefully we will succeed. So in one way it is a continuation of what we have been doing for eleven years; on the other hand, it is an exciting new environment with more expertise and resources at our disposal.

 

What sort of challenges does EIU Canback currently face in the market?

We have two key challenges. First, we need to become well known outside our existing client base. Our current clients hold us in exceptionally high regard, but potential new clients do not know this. We need to broaden our reputation. This also means building new offices, starting in London.

Second, we need to find exceptional talent. We are doing this well at the junior consultant level, but have not yet found a way to attract senior consultants. Most senior consultants we interview are not interested in predictive analytics and our quantitative approach. They grew up in a different era when generalist skills were enough to sustain a consulting career. We need to be able to find the few senior consultants who have the skills, and the interest, to work with analytics, yet can relate to top management.

 

Why did you decide to study for your DBA?

I was a partner at McKinsey when I applied. I longed to learn about more rigorous analytical techniques and the scientific method, since I had not been exposed to this during my career.

I also had a strong interest in a specific research topic: diseconomies of scale in large corporations. I brought the topic to Henley and it was accepted as the basis for my research. With this, it was an easy decision to make.

 

Why did you choose Henley Business School?

I was well established in my career when I applied; thus, I did not want to make a career break. Henley offered the opportunity to do the doctorate on a distance-learning basis, yet with the highest academic standards. Henley’s adherence to the highest research standards won me over against the alternatives.

I also fell in love with Greenlands the first time I arrived.

 

If you had to sum up your Henley experience in one sentence, what would it be?

Henley provided an exhilarating learning experience that allowed me to dig deep into my favourite research topic, while providing the flexibility I required to continue in my career.

 

Is there anything else we should know about you?

I am a shallow person, to paraphrase Hugh Grant in About a Boy! I try to live as uncomplicated a life as possible and take things at face value. It has served me well so far.

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