Interview with Estelle Métayer


24. 6. 2011

Estelle Métayer

Estelle Métayer is an expert in Competitive and Strategic Intelligence. Her research focuses on how managers, CEOs, and board members build and improve their strategic planning and/or competitive intelligence function to avoid strategic blindspots.

Prior to selling the company in 2004, Estelle Métayer was President and founder of Competia, a leading training organization for executives and analysts in Strategic Intelligence. A former consultant at McKinsey & Company, she gained first-hand practical experience while managing competitive intelligence, business development and strategic planning at CAE Inc. Her career began at ING Bank in the Netherlands and in Poland, studying the financial risks of expanding into emerging countries.

Trained in the Netherlands, Estelle Métayer obtained her MBA and Drs. from the University of Nijenrode. As adjunct professor at McGill University, she teaches with Henry Mintzberg. She is also a guest lecturer at International Masters Program in Practicing Management led by Lancaster University, McGill, the IMB (India) and INSEAD. Estelle is the recipient of the Arista Sunlife Award for „Entrepreneur of the Year – 2000“ and was a finalist in 2001 for the Award „Women of Merit“ from the YWCA.

You can follow Estelle Métayer on her Twitter account Competia. 

I believe that everyone would be specifically interested in the question: how did you get involved in the Competitive Intelligence? What was the first impulse?

After leaving McKinsey & Company, I joined a company called CAE, which was / is the leader in building flight simulators for the aerospace industry. My role at CAE was structure a new department which objectives was to help analyze market information. At the time, the concept of Competitive Intelligence was becoming increasingly understood in the United States, but Canada was still lagging behind. I found the community of Competitive Intelligence Professionals inspiring, and discovered loads of tools that could help me dig much deeper into the understanding of markets and competitors dynamics than a synthesis of press releases or marketing brochures…

You studied at Nyenrode Business Universiteit and Ecole de Management de Lyon. In your opinion, what kind of education is the best one for future CI professional? Our site is managed by LIS students, however, many CI professionals are educated in economics or business area.

Competitive Intelligence Professionals today lack two key skills: first, the ability to analyze the information and derive insights that go way beyond a simple synthesis. Those analytical skills are unfortunately rarely taught to students, especially as the first education level. I find the best analytical minds I have met have spend some time in one of the large consulting firms, which have developed frameworks, analytical methods to analyze sketchy information, and learned to extrapolate from past history. Secondly, CI Professionals need to get better at facilitation – the ability to sit with a management team, walk them through findings of facts, and get them to derive insights and make better decisions. Presentation skills, a good communication background, a solid dose of self confidence is hardly something that is typically taught in MBAs… Again, having worked with client teams in the context of a consulting firm can help. Maybe a degree in education as well?

Which abilities and skills are crucial for the CI professional?

Curiosity, relentless willingness to challenge common wisdom, lack of biase or allegiance to one theory. More practically, a superb understanding of techniques to obtain data (both online or through primary sources), a good toolkit of analytical techniques, excellent written and oral communication skills.

What prepared you most for the job of CI professional?

Without doubt, my work at McKinsey & Company. First, because of the analytical skills acquired while resolving some of the hardest management challenges. Secondly, by providing a solid base in client management, influence skills, and the necessity to dissent.

There is a lot of literature about CI. Which book influenced you personally most and which books would you recommend for students and beginners?

I have enjoyed reading « Strategic and Competitive Analysis » by Babette Bensoussan – the book is somewhat academic, but provides a good start in analysis techniques. Futurethink by Edie Wiener is a mine of inspiration to obtain insights into future trends and think about industries with a new eye. Early Warning by Ben Gilad helps understand areas of possible blindspots. I also enjoyed Blue Ocean by Renee Mauborgne for its simple, yet efficient approach. More recently, the book by Alex Oesterwalder Business Model Generation and Idea Hunter by Bill Fisher have been on my bedside…

Trend spotting is one of your biggest interests, I guess. So my next question is obvious: what are the biggest trends in the competitive & strategic intelligence today?

Good question. I see a raising interest for understanding the customer better – whereas market research departments in the past tend to have “owned” that part of the competitive intelligence field, companies realize that the CI techniques can be very relevant to understanding their customers’ needs, aspirations and drivers. I can also detect a renewed interest in network mapping – through new visualization techniques, and of course the phenomenal potential of social media mining – companies can now map much more clearly connections between people, companies, lobbyists, regulators etc… I am saddened to see the decrease of relevance of the traditional associations which have traditional been supporting CI professionals (SCIP, Strategic Planning Society, World Future Society), and wish there would be a professional networks available to senior executives in this field.

I see a real threat in the social media frenzy: Competitive Intelligence professionals around the world are relying heavily on those sources of information to the expenses of more solid, structured sources of data.

One more question concerning future. After announcement of Fuld & Company acquisition, Johanes Deltl, Managing Director of Acrasio, posted, that he thinks the basic CI services will be provided by Asian players and players in emerging markets, while advanced analysts still remain with the CI experts. „I'am really curious,“ he wrote, "what the next 5 years might bring.“ What do you think? What will the future of CI industry be in your opinion?

That acquisition puzzles me – but one simple explanation might have been to simply allow a founder to retire…

I am not that curious with what the next five years will bring. The world of information aggregators has been consolidating for a while, and will continue to do so, while information brokers continue to be increasingly fragmented as many information professionals set business in units of one. If the recent scandals and wikileaks have taught us, I doubt companies would ever wish to push their eggs in one basket and allow any one research firm to play a significant role – any data leak would be too detrimental… In terms of tools and competitive intelligence software, while US firms has failed to grow and developed “the” product, it seems that now Europe is stepping up with companies such as Digimind or Trivium now expanding into North America as well. I agree that analysis will still remains with the CI experts embedded in the organizations. Most of the value of any analysis in this field resides in getting the buy-in from managers and executives who will have to act on the knowledge gained, therefore anchoring this responsibility within companies.

You are a founder and former president of Competia, former consultant at McKinsey & Company, now teaching at McGill University as a adjunct professor and lecturing at IMD in Switzerland. Your career is just outstanding and you are even a mother with lots of personal hobbies. I am just wondering, how does your ordinary day look like?

Most of my board involved facilitation of board meetings around strategic issues – usually over a one or two day retreats. This leaves me lots of time to work from the office. When I am not teaching or facilitating, I dedicate the morning to preparation of client or course work, research, and publishing. As I am based in Europe, I then typically spend my afternoon in conference calls with my client teams in North America. I dedicate about 2 hours to social media a day (mostly with . Early in the morning, usually before 8am so that I can reach my Asian clients and followers, and later in the evening when North America is at work, and Europeans catch up after work. I dedicate a fair bit of time tin conferences that help me shape my vision of the future: LIFT, Davos, etc… I have the immense luxury of having an almost complete control of my agenda, so typically do not work during school vacations which I spend with my family.

When I teach overseas, or speak at an international conference, then of course this schedule goes out the window and all breaks loose…

From time to time, you tweet about planes and airline industry. Recently I found out, that's probably because you are also a commercial pilot and flight instructor. How did you get involved in such an interesting hobby?

I took my first acrobatic flight lesson while living in the United Kingdom when I was 21. Since then, I always wanted to learn to fly and was privileged to live in Canada for 17 years, which was a paradise for pilots. I got my commercial and flight instructor license while working at McKinsey, which was also a great way to relax and take my mind off business issues. I also find the spirit of pilots inspiring … sky is literally the limit! Finally, there is a very strong link between my interest for strategic analysis, and particularly the analysis of possible blindspots and pilot training – most of a pilot training includes the ability to make the right decision in a few crucial moments – not that different than what an executive or a manager has to do on a day to day basis. Over time, the aerospace industry has developed a keen understanding of biases that can occur when making those decisions, for example when experience can be a disadvantage. A lot of that research and learning can directly be applied to the way executives make that decision.

Thank you very much for your answers.

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Rubrika: Rozhovory

Zveřejnil: Tomáš Marek

Sekce: Profesionál, Podnikatel, Student

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