Senior Innovation Consultant, Board of Innovation
AGSM MBAX (Technology) 2020

Tell us about your current role?

I partner with global organisations to design and implement innovation strategies that challenge the status quo.

My recent projects include the co-creation of an innovation strategy and investment framework for a top European bank; the design of an entertainment platform that brings together local indie content and blockbusters for a global media leader; and the pivot to renewables made by a Japanese energy giant to support their vision for growth and innovation in funding practices.

As a consultant I have the great luxury of disagreeing with popular wisdom, of challenging 'corporate mythology' and of breaking down silos. I enjoy challenging clients in a playful, constructive environment that helps them uncover ways in which innovation can contribute not only to their bottom line but to the world. I am also lucky to be able to do this in a multicultural setting where I can speak four languages every day!

How would you describe what you do (what you ‘make'), your specialist skill?

Pattern spotting is my greatest skill. I can connect dots across tech, consumer trends, employee satisfaction surveys, regulatory changes and provide a global picture to uncover new opportunities for innovation that may not be salient to an industry insider or line specialist. I am not swayed by management fashions, but look at any challenge or opportunity from multiple perspectives, analyse it and come up with an action plan.

How has your leadership style changed or pivoted in the midst of the unprecedented uncertainty we are now facing?

It might sound odd, but this is a time that allows us to break all conventions and reinvent the world. As far as my leadership style goes, I usually take a neutral stance and facilitate discussions. I think the moment you take a stance of visionary leadership and point a very clear direction, you're missing out on a lot of opportunities and alternatives. With what we're experiencing, I find myself pivoting more and more towards inspirational leadership. I think we need to bring inspiration back. Unprecedented times call for more enthusiasm towards major changes, so I'm taking an active stance in my communications and actions around the things that are important to me - international development, sustainability and innovation.

How have you responded, adapted or innovated as a result of this new world reality?

At Board of Innovation we pivoted towards virtual delivery of our services back in early March. We've seen feelings of hesitation become more prevalent. There's a lot of uncertainty, not in terms of company missions, but in terms of the external market and company budgets being cut. People that used to have millions to spend on product development and capability building, now find themselves with budget freezes or managing large budget cuts.

We've been helping our clients focus. You have to focus on what really matters, go back to the basics and push forward. A lot of things have changed, but your company mission hasn't. You still need growth and you still need to move forward. At Board of Innovation, we look at what's working and what's not with each company, comparing the data across the entire product and innovation portfolio to make a viable business plan. Data is a really good cure for panic.

I've also been mulling over quite a few ideas for the post-crisis world, and how I can personally help the recovery by contributing my digital innovation experience to international development programs. There are quite a few opportunities where I can volunteer as digital coach for emerging world businesses, and I believe this is one of the greatest contributions I can make getting new businesses fit for the digital age in developing countries.


What was the catalyst for your response?

I am comfortably sitting at home, working from my living room in Brussels' Euro quarters with counterparts in other developed countries. This is a luxury that most do not have in the developing world. Innovation was already challenged there, with incentives for new businesses patchy and considerable regulatory mazes in most places. I cannot fix that. But what I can do is help entrepreneurs in developing countries get their ideas, products and services on the global market via digital platforms. I have extensive expertise in digital innovation, business modelling and marketing, which I want to contribute to relaunching developing economies.


What were you able to tap into from your AGSM qualification in this new world reality that's been most useful / impactful?

The concepts and models I've found most useful came from my Implementing Strategy, Sustainability and Leadership courses, though most of the curriculum blends in to support these areas. I am a more versatile leader due to my AGSM experience, and able to combine ideas and ways of innovating from around the world into my practice. Thanks to the AGSM program I can bring together the concept of ‘Alibaba villages' with the ethical aspect of analytics and a long-term perspective on inspiring change and attracting wide support from stakeholders. I think one of the most important aspects of my AGSM experience has been enriching the frames I use when considering an issue. I started the program with a few, and graduated with a wide diversity of possible viewpoints, not to mention the consideration for each of them.


What are you most optimistic about over the next few months?

Innovation for growth, particularly through public-private partnerships. Personally, I'm excited for the digital transformation that we'll inevitably see. I am most optimistic about rebalancing between the public sphere, private capital and government involvement. I think innovation relies on partnerships, and these can only work long-term when all stakeholders' interests are represented. I am hoping that the post-crisis landscape will bring more balance and transparency.

​​I am a more versatile leader due to my AGSM experience and able to combine innovating ideas from around the world into my practice. Thanks to the AGSM program, I can bring together the concept of ‘Alibaba villages’ with the ethical aspect of analytics and a long-term perspective on inspiring change and attracting wide support from stakeholders.

Catalina Panoiu
Senior Innovation Consultant, Board of Innovation
AGSM MBAX (Technology) 2020

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