17.02.2022 Human Resources

Having your cake and eating it: 50 years in the making - The youngest DBA in town

Robert Stoll, DBA student at Business Science Institute

Interview with Robert Stoll, Business Science Institute Executive DBA student.

1. What were your reasons for enrolling on the Executive Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) programme at Business Science Institute?

This is my third attempt at obtaining a doctoral degree. The first attempt for a PhD at Saarbrucken University was brought to an abrupt end in 1974 (yes, your senses have not let you down: this was almost 50 years ago!) when my father unexpectedly died, and I was suddenly forced to take over the family business. Then in 2014 a small investment fund was supposed to take a stake of 40 % of the four subsidiaries of Stoll Group along with the day-to-day governance. This would have left me time to work for a PhD at the Université de Toulon et du Var, in France. But at the last moment, the deal fell through so I had to continue pedalling full-time on my treadmill until the autumn of 2019, when I was tempted to sign up with the Université du Luxembourg.

But I happened to read Professor Kalika’s book “How to successfully complete your DBA.” This opened my eyes to a more pragmatic, ground based and therefore extremely attractive alternative to a PhD.

I was sold and I have not regretted it ever since.

2. What is your thesis topic, and why did you choose it?

Can a “Patriarch” transfer his SME to an outsider and reconcile two objectives, namely maximize the selling price whilst also ensuring the sustainability of his firm, the achievement of his life with its ethical and cultural values? Is a new paradigm conceivable? Could it lead to a spectacular rebound of the firm’s life cycle and ideally to Schumpeter’s (1942) “gale of creative destruction”?

The combination of both an “Owner Buy-out” (OBO) and a “Leveraged Management Buy-out” (LMBO) -classically with the input of financial engineering and a small amount of cash from investment funds- is a recent and academically little researched transfer model.

Statistics show that increasingly often, entrepreneurs’ children refuse to take the family business over from their parents. Too often the owners will then procrastinate and let their hitherto healthy companies decline, wither away and ultimately fail.

Others are simply sold off to competitors or investment funds which will strip their assets and lay off jobs.

The macro and micro-economic costs as well as the social ones are often colossal.

What a waste!

3. What do you expect to achieve as your main research findings for your thesis?

I hope to show that under certain conditions, the OBO + LMBO model will allow the Patriarch to “have his cake and eat it.” In other words, he will be able to achieve a very satisfying financial reward for his life’s work; I call this a “hard” value. Furthermore, by empowering his former “intrapreneurs” to become capitalistic entrepreneurs, the Patriarch can sustainably transmit a large part of his cultural heritage, his “soft” values.

The case study of one of my companies illustrates that this model can indeed work.

However, I believe the classical OBO + LMBO model is too complicated, too expensive, and too risky in the perception of the Patriarchs of most SME’s.

Can I simplify it sufficiently to make it attractive to many of them?

The role of investment funds must be questioned. What value do they really add and at what costs?

With the benefit of hindsight, it appears to me that on balance, I would have done much better with what I now call the “OBO + LMBO + KISS” paradigm, i.e., one that does away with investment funds. Of course, this raises other questions, but I am optimistic that answers can be found.

Hopefully, it will be possible to apply this new paradigm to a proportion of the 450.000 SME’s which, according to the European Union, must be transferred every year.

4. As an experienced and senior manager, what is the added value of the DBA? 

For many senior managers, the vision of turning their experience into knowledge and sharing it with others is far from an idle slogan.

For me, it has been – first of all – a fascinating and very fulfilling journey into my past. Rethinking what went well and not so well, analysing and understanding the reasons why, has been a revealing – though sometimes painful – experience which a hectic day-to-day “shooting from the hip” way of life has prevented me from seeing for far too long.

These insights can then be a practical guiding light for my future.

Ideally, the DBA’s task will also consist in sharing this knowledge with other managers in diverse ways: publishing his thesis, authoring articles, speaking at conferences, mentoring, etc.

5. What is the impact of your DBA on your personal and professional life? 

A DBA comes with a great deal of work and – there is no free lunch! – a very considerable opportunity cost.

The challenge comes with a commensurate intellectual satisfaction.

The required level of abstraction is rejuvenating and reminds me of my days at university.

For me it is also a practical gamechanger.

I am sure a DBA can be a source of inspiration for many managers, their careers, their companies as well as their personal lives.

Communicated by Business Science Institute

About Robert (to his friends “Boyo”) Stoll:

Boyo Stoll describes himself as a seventy-three-year-old youngster.

Born in London (a short time ago!), he was brought up in Luxembourg before obtaining an MA in Philosophy and Economics at Trinity College, Oxford, and an MBA at INSEAD.

A convinced bachelor, Boyo was conquered by Nicole and pressganged by his mother-in-law who, in no uncertain terms, made it clear that he and her daughter were going to marry very quickly. Since then, Maureen – at three months, an early born baby – has grown quite a lot and has married Stefan. Big disappointment! They have both turned bad: instead of joining the family businesses, they have become medical doctors. However, the family dog and cat and both grandchildren are great!

Nicole, formerly a far left-wing psychologist from Heidelberg, has somehow morphed into a highly successful businesswoman.

She claims that starting to work on a DBA at the age of seventy-three is a sign of advanced masochism…

And Boyo is certainly giving his supervisor, Professor Jean-François Gajewski a hard time!