ACE Academy: Connecting Growth Strategy with Capabilities Development
Alticor Corporate Enterprises (ACE) is a division of Alticor, the $11-billion parent of Amway, a leading direct sales business operating in 80 countries and supporting a network of three million independent business owners and 14,000 employees globally. As an investment company for Alticor’s non-direct selling businesses, ACE seeks growth through strategic acquisitions, bolt-on investments and expansion of markets of innovative companies—primarily in the health, wellness and beauty industries. Today ACE manages a portfolio of businesses including two “platform companies:”
Gurwitch Products, a luxury cosmetics and skincare company that develops and markets premium product lines under the brand names Laura Mercier® and Re´Vive®; and
Metagenics, a leading manufacturer and distributor of medical foods and nutraceutical products and programs available through trained licensed health care professionals.
ACE worked with the leadership teams of both portfolio companies once they were acquired to set ambitious growth targets. Because Alticor is a strategic investor, ACE also maintained a philosophy of partnership and support—assisting in the development of strategy, helping optimize the operations of the firms and providing resources to support the management teams in achieving their growth aspirations.
However, in the early years of building its portfolio, ACE was facing a few key challenges. First, each company had different operating philosophies and cultures and therefore different approaches to strategy development. Second, both had experienced a number of changes in senior leadership and were in the process of strengthening and expanding the team that would be responsible for the next phase of growth. Additionally, each of the companies lacked development resources, training and expertise that would be available to much larger, multi-billion dollar businesses.
ACE realized that to achieve growth objectives, the leadership teams of both portfolio companies would need to be supported beyond day-to-day operational assistance. Both companies needed assistance with their growth strategies and the CEOs of both firms realized that they needed to up-skill their leadership teams and give them the tools and training needed to succeed.
ACE reached out to Clareo for a solution to this challenge. Clareo had become a trusted partner to ACE, assisting with its own portfolio & growth strategy, market analyses, M&A strategy and intellectual property and licensing strategy. ACE leadership knew they could count on Clareo to bring innovative thinking and approaches and that Clareo’s mission of growth and capabilities development was in line with the ACE culture and operating philosophy.
“Clareo has been a trusted partner to Alticor and ACE. Clareo earned our trust over the years by combining leading academic thinking and a powerful global network, with practical approaches that ensure results and buy-in. They know our business, and know how to get things done.” - Jim Weaver, Vice President and Managing Director, Alticor Corporate Enterprises
Jim Weaver, Vice President and Managing Director of ACE, had a vision to create a summit, similar to what leading venture capitalists organize for their portfolio companies—a learning environment, one that was experiential and applied, where each of the companies could work on aspects of their strategy during the program and come away with practical outcomes. He coined the program “ACE Academy.”
However, to get there Jim realized he needed to first create and instill a unified approach to strategy, common language and unified planning process. ACE Academy, the applied learning environment, would be the venue in which strategy would be reviewed, tested and evolved—and where management could grow in the process.
Connecting Strategy Development with Capability Development
Clareo supported ACE in three distinct ways. First, Clareo worked with ACE and its portfolio companies to define an annual planning process and create a common approach to strategy planning based on leading practices.
Second, Clareo applied the framework and tools, working with both Gurwitch and Metagenics to develop a robust vision, direction and 5-year strategic plan for their respective businesses. The Clareo team brought leading approaches to bear, including its Ecosystem Analysis, to ensure that all factors were considered and growth strategies were founded upon a robust assessment of the market. Clareo also ensured buy-in by conducting working sessions with the leadership teams and regular reviews with ACE to ensure that buy-in became one result of the work effort.
Finally, Clareo worked with each of the leadership teams and with ACE to identify and define the issues and growth challenges that were common to the two companies in order to help set objectives, themes and learning modules and desired outcomes from the ACE Academy program.
ACE Academy Program Design
Clareo designed the format of ACE Academy to be experiential and applied. The four-day program involved learning modules related to overarching themes, such as:
Year 1: World-Class Execution Year 2: Building & Leveraging Winning Brands Year 3: Leading Change
Each of the two leadership teams came prepared to share a distilled version of their strategy along with key issues and learning outcomes they were seeking. With that in hand, the program involved a mix of plenary sessions with application breakouts in which the leadership teams broke into groups to discuss insights, define implications and apply them to their business.
The Clareo team led the program design, incorporating external thought leaders, academic experts and practitioners; and designed and led breakout sessions using frameworks that helped ensure the insights were captured and applied to the leaders’ businesses. Clareo also planned and led an off-site experiential learning program designed to add creativity and tie the themes together.
Over the years, both companies have achieved sustained revenue and profit growth and are developing leadership positions in their respective businesses. The growth strategies Clareo helped them create have provided a roadmap and brought discipline, focus and direction for the future. ACE Academy played a pivotal role in the strategy development and change process.
ACE Academy itself has been an enormously successful program. Now entering its 4th year, it has become an integral part of the annual planning cycle—a seminal point where leadership comes together with investors to learn, grow and advance their strategies. And it helped strengthen the capabilities of leadership in a practical, applied way.
“ACE Academy is helping our new management team to take great steps forward. It helped us pull together as a team, build alignment, and advance our business.” - Fred Howard, CEO Metagenics
"I've been to many leadership programs at leading institutions, and this is among the most effective I've attended to date. [ACE Academy] helped us build a roadmap for going forward and strengthened our team." - Claudia Poccia, CEO Gurwitch
ACE Academy also enabled Alticor Corporate Enterprises to strengthen its partnership with portfolio companies and be seen by them as a trusted, value-added investment partner.
“ACE Academy is an impactful and meaningful program—one that is playing a key role in helping to propel our portfolio companies into the future.” - Jim Weaver, Vice President and Managing Director, Alticor Corporate Enterprises