Living Case on the Verbier Festival

The Verbier Festival was presented as a Living Case to ten MBA students at the Lorange Institute of Business in Zurich.  The case study was assembled by Christian Thompson and Kim Gaynor and presented by Martin Engstroem and Georges Gagnebin.

by Christian Thompson*

At the heart of the Living Case were the challenges faced by the Verbier Festival as identified in the Must Win Battles initiative.  Our challenges were presented to the students and they were left to make their own conclusions as to how these challenges should be addressed.

Chinese pianist Yuja Wang at the Verbier Festival

The students were divided into two teams and were mentored over two weeks by two American professors of the Lorange Institute of Business, Ian Williamson and Marcus Stewart.  Each team prepared a presentation which focussed on the Must Win Battles challenges as well as some key questions. The key questions were:

ARTISTIC : The festival performs 90% live classical music and is a training ground for up and coming professional classical musicians. Do you think that « single focus » festivals such as ours have a future ? In this multi-channel world, should we be rethinking our model and adding other kinds of music or performance ? Will the audience of tomorrow get out from behind their iPads long enough to attend a live performance of classical music ? How do we stay relevant in the 21st century ?

FUNDRAISING: What would be the principal attractions of the Verbier Festival to a corporate donor? Why might an individual give to the festival? Can you think of ten things which the festival could give in return for a sponsorship or donation which would be attractive to sponsors and donors?

INFRASTRUCTURE: There is no professional theatre in Verbier and the VF must build a temporary structure each summer. There is a shortage of offices, rehearsal rooms and hotel rooms for festival activities and for the development of future activities. What are the risks facing the VF in the short, medium and long term by staying in Verbier? What would be the risks of deciding to move the festival to another location?

MARKETING: The Festival struggles to remain visible outside of the short period before and during the festival. What creative ideas do you have to get the media interested in the festival outside of this period? What other actions could the Festival undertake to remain “top-of-mind” amongst its existing and potential audience members? How can we ensure that the festival remains among the “Must Attend” events in the summer cultural agenda amongst opinion leaders and other VIPs?

ORGANISATION:  The Verbier Festival is a Charitable Foundation with a budget of CHF 7,8 million and 14 permanent staff.  An overseeing board of 13 members meets 6 times per year.  In your opinion, what is the best model of governance for the Verbier Festival ?  Where should responsibility lie for strategic decisions and for operational decisions ?

 The Academy Board: Bob Boas, Karl Dannenbaum, Martin Engstroem, Bernhard Hahnloser, Frans Helmerson, James Peterson, Costa Pilavachi, Doreen Tabor
Christian Thompson (right, pink shirt)

Several stakeholders (staff, board, Amis&Devleopment Board) of the Verbier Festival were represented at the final presentations on 12 May 2011 by Philippe Calame, Stephen de Heinrich, Martin Engstroem, Georges Gagnebin, Kim Gaynor,  Guido Houben, Jean-Claude Marchan, Yves Paternot, John Porter, Dororthy Yeung and myself.

Thank you to both teams of the case study for their high commitment!  The document with the solution of both study teams can be downloaded.

* Christian Thompson is Academy Director & Special Projects of the Verbier Festival

The Lorange-Verbier Festival Case Study


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