- Programme studied: Global Executive MBA (TRIUM)
- Year of Graduation: 2012
Meet our new Alum of the Month, Ivo Knottnerus. Ivo completed the prestigious TRIUM Global Executive MBA in 2012 and pivoted away from banking to entrepreneurship by co-founding an airline company in Turkey. After this, he worked for companies specialising in customer engagement and built a rewarding career specialising in this area. He currently sits on the boards of several start-up companies as a non-executive board member and is a Vice Chair of the LSE Alumni Association. His biggest passions in life are coastal and offshore yacht sailing.
Tell us about your career journey since graduating from LSE? How has the programme you studied helped your career since you graduated?
I think I can say that the TRIUM EMBA helped change my career. I had just left a 15-year banking career which ended because of the financial crisis in 2008-2010 when I enrolled in the TRIUM Programme. I realised I wasn’t a banker but rather someone who enjoyed developing businesses and products. Until then, I had only developed business and products within the comfort of large multinational banks, and after I left and embarked on my EMBA, I came across an opportunity to become an entrepreneur bringing my transferrable skills from my banking career and becoming the CFO. Of course, being in a start-up, you do much more than only the role you have on paper, and there I discovered my passion for everything related to the customer.
How did your time at LSE influence your career journey?
I already had an international career before studying at LSE. I was living in Istanbul, Turkey at that time, but I really did not know much about international politics, all the different forces in the world and how they (try to) balance each other, globalisation, the EU, etc. I dealt with this by just doing my job, to the best of my ability and intuition, but I didn’t quite realise how it was all connected. It was only through the teaching at LSE that I realised that we live in such an interconnected world - with all its pros and cons. I guess we quickly came to realise that in the pandemic as well, where a few supply chains had some hick-ups because of global interdependencies.
Your career has centred on customer experience and digital transformation, can you share with us what your area of expertise is and the work you have been involved with?
After my studies at LSE, I slowly rolled into the world of customer engagement, CX and digital transformation, and started working for some of the world’s most influential loyalty brands, e.g. at IAG Loyalty, which is the customer engagement company of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus and Qatar Airways, and later at Sainsbury’s Nectar, the UK’s number 1 one loyalty programme with 19 million members. After that I had a chance to work for a company that designed, signed, built, and implemented different customer engagement programmes across six different verticals, and some of the programmes we worked on were AMEX Membership Rewards Switzerland, Nestlé’s Nescafé, Dolce Gusto Premio Members Club, P&G’s Pampers Club, Air France / KLM’s Flying Blue, AON’s Well-one, Irish Life’s My Life, Jumeirah Hotels Reward Store, Lufthansa Miles & More etc. I was also part of the team that developed PointsPay – the PayPal of Loyalty Currency, still a ground-breaking product in the industry today.
What makes you so interested or fascinated in customer experience and digital transformation?
The reason why I am fascinated by customer experience and loyalty is because they are such important topics in any organisation. For example, both Bain & Co and Harvard Business School state that “increasing customer retention by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. Research found that existing customers are 50% more likely to try new products and spend 31% more, on average, compared to new customers. And believe me, for some organisations such as eBay or Amazon this is much more. Plus, they freely promote your brand or product for you. The whole business world seems to be focussed on winning new customers all the time, which is very expensive to achieve. If they only realised that their existing customers hold so much unlocked value… well there are people who are doing PhDs on this, and write books about it, but this is exactly why I love these topics.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career, and what have you learned from it?
Being an entrepreneur has by far been the most difficult challenge in my career, especially when an industry you are trying to enter is heavily regulated by the government and the company is at times underfunded, which in today’s world is very difficult to imagine when you hear all these great stories about the millions of funding companies receive. Believe me, that’s only a fraction of the reality. Many companies struggle to attract investment, and there are equally many that are just burning investors’ cash. I learned from first-hand experience that cash flow is the most important because when you come to a point that it is unclear whether you can pay your employees next month’s salaries, entrepreneurship loses all its romance and becomes a hard and stressful job!
You have a number of passions outside work, can you share with us some of those passions/extra circular activities and why these are important to you?
I love giving back to the university that gave me so much in the first place, and I am a mentor in the LSE’s BME Mentoring Programme and Vice-Chair of the LSE Alumni Association London. I quite enjoy being involved in these activities voluntarily. It gives you lots of interesting opportunities to network, it’s rewarding, and you stay involved with the university’s current developments. However, apart from all the above, my biggest passion in life is coastal and offshore yacht sailing and I am a certified RYA Yachtmaster.
What is one piece of advice you would share with current students or recent graduates looking to follow in your career footsteps?
The career path for everyone is different, and it took me some time to understand that myself. I think until you are 30 you should change jobs regularly, especially if you are not exactly sure what your passion is or in which industry you’d like to work. I think it is overrated to stick to one industry or job, and you should get a feel for what is out there, experience different company cultures, for-profit or not for profit, etc. I would also say that a career change is possible, even at mid-career, and I am a living example of that. You just need to be prepared to make sacrifices, e.g., in salary or responsibility and be patient.
Share with us your fondest memory of the Department of Management.
My fondest memory must be the amazing professors that taught us, such as Robert Falkner, Michael Cox, Saul Estrin, Simon Hix and Matt Mulford. Their teaching was hugely inspirational and opened the world of Global Politics, Globalisation, Economics, the EU etc. to me. But let’s not forget the lovely staff of the TRIUM EMBA, who was always there for us whenever we had a question or needed something, which happened often with 65 people coming from 40 different countries being in London at the same time!
Find out some more information about our TRIUM Global Executive MBA.