The 'cool' factor

1462.jpgFebruary 2008 | By Pablo Triana, Professor and Director of the Centre for Advanced Finance at IE Business School.

Although recent chaos in the markets brings back memories of past investment fads that ended in tears, this time itâ??s different. Hedge funds and derivatives have had some positive effects on finance markets and the economy.

Investors who seek fashionable products have been successfully persuaded over the last few years to invest in hedge funds and credit derivatives. Although the chaos that currently reigns in our markets reminds use of investment fads that went wrong in the past, this time there is a key difference, namely the fact that recently promoted strategies had a positive impact on financial markets and the economy in general.

In recent months, we have been bombarded by headlines like “Disappointing hedge fund returns”, “Hedge funds collapse”, “Problems with CDOs”, “Losses in CDOs”. If you allow me a certain amount of nostalgia, I feel myself transported back to 1989 (when I was a bit of a wild teenager) or 2000 (when I was a postgraduate student who wanted to continue being a bit of a wild teenager). In those days, as today, investments that appeared to be unquestionably “cool” suddenly became a source of misery. The must-have assets (junk bonds and dot-coms) became a death-trap for many of those who blindly obeyed the dictates of fashion. In their desperate attempt to become a member of the cool set, those investors paid a very high price.

Hedge funds and credit derivatives symbolise the trendy investments that were the (partial) disasters of our time. The modern, chic destination for your money. Unavoidable for those who did not want to be pointed out as old-fashioned and off-track. In recent years, the prevailing atmosphere seems to have been one of glorious exaltation of those with sufficient vision for transferring millions to increasingly complex financial structures and funds, together with the unlimited ridicule of those who, inexcusably, failed to jump on the train of new trends. Not very different from the days of junk bonds and dot-coms. In much the same way that a young woman is made to feel uncool if she does not buy her clothes in Zara or Prada, investors have been made to feel desperately off-track if they did not have positions in hedge funds and CDOs.


Managing a changing planet

1443.jpgJanuary 2008. By Santiago Iñiguez de Ozoño, Dean, IE Business School.


Firms are facing a raft of changes brought about by the tension between globalisation and diversity, which could generate new sources of business.

One of the most famous sentences attributed to Heraclitus, the flagship philosopher of ancient Greece, is “everything flows, nothing stands still”. To illustrate his statement, he explained that nobody can bathe twice in the same water of a river because the current flows constantly. Similarly, the circumstances that surround us are constantly changing, in the same way that nature and our very lives change. Indeed, the phenomenon of change is a reality and represents the starting point of the strategic analysis of business. Strategists explain that enterprises do not operate in paradigmatic environments, where the references are static (e.g. the field of exact science), but rather they operate in changing environments, which justifies the need for frequently reviewing the strategy of any business and the suppositions on which it is based.

One of the aims of business schools is to train managers and entrepreneurs to understand the phenomenon of change and know how to adapt and take advantage of the business opportunities that arise from it. Today, the IE Business School Annual Alumni Conference is being held in Madrid under the title of “Managing a changing planet”. During the day, which is to bring together 1500 executives and entrepreneurs from 30 countries, the participants will debate on some of the matters which will most probably affect business activity in the coming years. They will lead to important business opportunities, such as new energy sources, the need for exploiting natural resources in a framework of sustainability, the challenges facing demographic development and the new world order that will come from the tension between globalisation and diversity.


Keys to the success of Chupa Chups

1442.jpgJanuary 2008. By Ramon Diaz Bernardo, Professor of Marketing at IE Business School.Many think the success of the original lollipop company, Chupa Chups, is because they were the first to put a sweet on a stick. But the real key to this success story is good marketing.

The success of Chupa Chups is, as almost always, the consequence of various concurrent factors. Therefore, it is not easy to identify one single reason why Chupa Chups is today a large enterprise. Searching for the common denominator of these factors, I consider it reasonable to say that the key to the success of Chupa Chups lies in the fact that they have been very good at marketing.

Why does the key lie in marketing? Because, in my opinion, the company´s success can be summarised by examining how it has very efficiently managed for famous Ps of marketing: product, pricing, promotion and placement.

When we speak about product in marketing, we referred to something tangible, i.e. the product itself (in this case, a sweet on a stick) and to something intangible, i.e. the brand name. The product designed by Bernat in the 1950s was undoubtedly an innovation in the sweet world, but what I consider to be the radical innovation was the development of the brand name associated with the product. Bernat was a visionary when he realised that a somewhat undifferentiated product such as a sweet could be given a brand name and differentiated.


Spain´s role in the relations between Asia and Latin America

1440.jpgJanuary 2008. By Gonzalo Garland, Professor of Economic Environment at IE Business School.

Some analysts believe Spain is playing a key role in building relations between Asia and Latin America. That may be so, but we need to examine some aspects of this role in greater detail.

Recently, certain analysts have commented on the possibility of Spain becoming an important player in the relations between Asia and Latin America. They talk about a “triangulation” between the three geographical and economic areas that can be compared with Spain´s role in the European Union in the relations between the latter and Latin America. To a certain extent, it could also be compared with the important role Spain plays in the region when the interlocutor is the United States. However, there are significant differences that question whether or not Spain´s role can be so relevant in the case of Asia as it has been in the past in the cases of Europe or North America.

No one doubts Spain´s importance in the region of Latin America due to its history, language and culture and to the presence of Spanish enterprises in the local countries. In the European context, this clearly gives Spain and Portugal a privileged position as interlocutors for these countries in the context of the Union. The idea of the Ibero-American summits followed by the creation of the Secretaría General Iberoamericana (SEGIB) constitute two indicators of this trend. We could say that even the geographical location of the Iberian peninsular in the context of Europe makes the relations “natural”. Indeed, some European enterprises with interests in the region manage their operations better from the Iberian peninsular.


FUND MANAGEMENT: Real life gets in the way of BSM certainty

The following article was published in Financial Times on December 10, 2007 and written by Pablo Triana, Director of  the Centre for Advanced Finance at IE. If you wish to learn more about our finance related programs, please visit

The recent debate on the Black-Scholes-Merton options pricing model continues to make waves. Research by veteran option traders and authors Nassim Taleb and Espen Haug claims that BSM was not really an original invention, that its real-world popularity has been greatly exaggerated, and that there may be no mathematical models behind option prices, with simple supply-demand interaction claiming authorship instead.
Such bold statements, while a welcome contribution to the search for truth, may deprive us of something that seemed valuable. BSM, for all its flaws, offered quantifiable light where before there was only unknown darkness. By “losing” BSM, we would lose such certainty, albeit misplaced.
The most obvious certainty that the model offered was a precise number for the value of an option. This it did in a quite ingenious way. Everyone would tell you that an option should cost money because it gives you the right to enjoy a potentially large pay-out while limiting the possible losses if things do not go your way. But who ensures that that right has value per se? That value is supposed to come from the probability assigned to the option expiring in-the-money. So who guarantees that the probability of making money on the option is non-zero? Who can honestly claim to know the exact distribution governing financial assets? Pricing options based simply on probabilistic assumptions sounds a bit fishy.


Where business and politics meet – an interview on strategy

Strategy is an essential ingredient of business success. But a number of scholars now assert that strategic planning is, in most cases, incomplete. David Bach, Strategy Professor at IE, is one of them. He believes that companies need to give equal weight to how they are managing relationships with governments, regulators, non-government organizations (NGOs), the media and society at large. Bach has been researching nonmarket strategy for a number of years and teaches a required course on the subject at IE. Bach grew up in Germany, studied in the US and has worked with McKinsey and the Global Business Network as well as with Political Intelligence, an international lobbying consulting firm. In this interview, Bach tells how he came to believe that nonmarket strategy is essential for future corporate success.

David, you are one of a handful of people in the world studying nonmarket strategy.Why does this field interest you?
I see it as a very under-studied field. More than that, people in both academe and business seem to determine competitive advantage as a function of market matters per se â?? products, customers, market share and the like. But a number of us around the world are trying to elevate the importance of nonmarket strategy. Increasingly competitive advantage can be built or lost outside of markets. That means there are huge opportunities for companies here but also immense dangers to anyone focused purely on the market side.

A firm not only maintains relationships with its customers, suppliers and competitors (what we can refer to collectively as the â??market environmentâ?) but also maintains relationships with governments, regulators, non-government organizations (NGOs), the media and society at large â?? whether it wants to or not. So, yes, anyone can be affected by nonmarket forces and in very consequential ways.


Social Impact Management at IE

Since its inception, IE Business School’s commitment to society has permeated every aspect of the school, as reflected by core program content, electives specialised in the field of corporate responsibility (CR), consolidated initiatives like the Chair in Corporate Ethics, funded by the IE Alumni Association, or the IE code of professional conduct, the result of…


For a couple of years already IE publishes each month the academic newsletter IE Focus with the latest articles of IE professors and associates. The topics covered reflect the variety of expertise of the IE faculty and their close links to business. It gives also a very good insight into the academic approach into our…