• Leadership

Leading to Impact Business Performance

Swarovski and Ashridge establish 'leading' as an activity as opposed to 'leadership' as a hierarchical position

Wednesday 06 July 2016


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The partnership between Swarovski and Ashridge Executive Education was recently awarded the coveted EFMD Excellence in Practice (EiP) Gold Award for Organizational Development. The award was given for the creation of a new Leadership Academy, as well as a set of live-business interventions which are addressing emerging organizational issues.

Like many companies Swarovski has undergone a period of immense change and growth over recent years. By 2015 the company reached net sales turnover of €2.32 billion, and has become a global brand with a large international footprint, 2,480 stores and 24,000 employees.

Swarovski now operates as a portfolio of businesses, the largest of which, in terms of revenue, is the Consumer Goods Business, which co-exist within in a complex organizational matrix. This complex structure, combined with the rapid growth of the last 15 years and historical hierarchical culture, has typically created the conditions for silo thinking and internal competition for resources and talent instead of agility, customer-focus and innovation.

Added to this, Swarovski faces a number of challenges in the markets it serves, which are both fast changing and global. Crystal production capabilities in countries such as China have expanded alongside digital selling channels, and there are multiple new competitors in the premium branded jewellery sector, presenting a real threat to Swarovski’s global competitiveness, market share and historical USP of crystal production.

Realising that the development of stronger leadership capability and organizational agility was essential to mitigate these risks and ensure the business is sustainable for the future, Swarovski engaged Ashridge Executive Education to help the business develop both its leadership capability and its organizational culture.


The partnership began with a consultation process with 40 leaders across the organization.

“We shared a strong sense that for leadership to be ‘done well’ the current leadership culture needed to be properly understood – not just by us but by the business. So we set about first un-covering what kind of leadership existed at Swarovski – and what kind of leadership was needed going forward.” Sophy Pern, Corporate Client Director, Ashridge.

The partnership was developed through a focus on collective leadership, collective inquiry and shared learning, underpinned by the following principles:

  • Being a leadership journey, not a destination
  • Inquiry, discovery and conversation, rather than ‘teaching’
  • Taking risks and experimentation – ‘learning laboratories’
  • Building emotional connections
  • Bringing-in the whole system – goals/challenges/ organisation dynamics
  • Developing collective leadership

The success of the partnership can be measured not only by its EFMD recognition but through a number of progress and impact measures that showed that new ideas, performance improvement, culture and behaviour change were observed with impressive speed from the outset.

Petra Lockhart, VP Global Learning and Development at Swarovski, said: “We are thrilled to be recognized with this award for the wide impact the Swarovski-Ashridge partnership has, on both an organization and individual level, which has exceeded all expectations. This has been achieved by the OD orientation, focus on mind-set change and culture, addressing of live issues, growing ownership for change across the business and the development of leaders who understand, and feel accountable for, the collective needs of Swarovski.” 

The changes affected through the Ashridge-Swarovski partnership include:

  • Establishing greater accountability, entrepreneurship and innovation across the leadership pipeline
  • Changing the leadership focus to what’s right for all Swarovski businesses and markets – not just the individuals or individual businesses which make up Swarovski
  • Generating significant improvements in performance, retention and promotion
  • Supporting the implementation of structural changes
  • Addressing slow, complicated and ineffective decision-making
  • Deepening the Corporate Social Responsibility story
  • Strengthening Swarovski’s internal expertise on key topics
  • Exploring key gender issues and opportunities
  • Strengthening relationships and collaboration across the organization
  • The success is the result of a strong and trusting relationship between Swarovski and Ashridge at all levels of the organization, unusually high levels of top leadership buy-in, and an approach framed by a deep knowledge of organizational as well as leadership development.

“The partnership has met Swarovski’s most pressing and emerging needs, and is putting our organization in a far stronger positon, better able to adapt to a fast changing market and remain highly relevant to our consumers.” Michael Gambs, Director Global Leadership Development, Swarovski.

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Hult Ashridge Executive Education helps organizations around the world improve their leadership talent, strategic thinking and organizational culture.

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