[syndicated from my blog at blogs.ft.com/mba-blog]
When it comes to all things ocean, I am the first to admit that I am completely a fish out of water. I was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, went to West Point to join the Army over the Navy and have yet to take the sailing classes on the Charles river, offered free to all MIT students. And while I love to eat fresh fish, especially cooked over a fire or grill, I am just not going to be able to name all 50 plus species of rock fish that populate the coast of California.
Seven weeks ago, I couldn’t tell you what a purse seine or a gill net was, (types of fishing nets) much less the differences between the two. And yet, here I am, trying to help a group of fiercely independent and rugged fishermen with their businesses.
I am currently working with a small group of fishing businesses (fishermen, unloaders and processors), to try to bring a new brand to life. I have certainly been able to bring some basic MBA skills to the table, marketing and brand management having been two of my favourite classes during my first year at MIT Sloan. I have spent countless hours on the phone talking to seasoned brand managers from industries that have similarities to this Californian local, wild fishery, teasing out the key strategies that could help my clients. Diving into their existing market to try to divine exactly what it is their customers love about fish and what it is that should give them a sustained competitive advantage if we can capture it. This is information that these guys cannot readily get on their own. Of course, if they had the time they could work it out, but they spend days out at sea, to bring in the freshest, highest quality catch, in a manner that, surprisingly, is proving to be quite ecologically sound, as well as economically beneficial.
But I digress; that is not the most challenging part. The real meat of this summer position will lie in how well I am able to convince them to trust me, that what I have to share with them is worth their time and effort to put into place. Most of these fishermen have spent their lives on the sea. They have seen increased regulation come and drive out businesses, watching their economies shrink by as much as 75 per cent in 20 years. But this challenge is also why I think we will succeed. The California Fisheries Fund is truly here to stay in these communities. By making investments throughout the value chain and then helping the businesses to grow and thrive, we are earning their trust.