Heady success of a corporate guru

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If anybody should know how tough it is to make money in the wine industry, it is Per Jenster. Fifteen years ago, Prof Jenster, now professor of strategic management and marketing at China Europe International Business School (Ceibs) in Shanghai, wrote his first book, The Business of Wine: an analysis of the Global Wine Industry.

Yet the knowledge that, as he concedes, “the way to make a small fortune in the wine industry is to start with a big one” did not deter him from buying a vineyard in Argentina with his brother Lars, a qualified wine-master. And after turning the venture into profit, the siblings published a new tome this year called The Business of Wine – a Global Perspective (CBS Press).

The saga of their 110- acre Estancia Clos de la Tierra Sana, 55km from Mendoza City, typifies the teaching approach of the 53-year-old Danish professor.

He also heads the Centre of Entrepreneurship & Family Business at Ceibs and his experience both informs much of his teaching and explains his fascination with family business.

Working with his brother in four companies – they also have a Danish firm importing generic pharmaceuticals that turns over €10m a year – has been wonderful, says Prof Jenster. “I like the integrity and personal commitment involved in family business,” he says. “The fact that I work with my brother gives me great joy.”

Their partnership has also prompted them to consider one of the biggest challenges that successful family entrepreneurs face: “We have four kids...and we are of course concerned about their future,” says Prof Jenster. “This is also an issue of great concern to many entrepreneurs in China.”

His next book, The Dragon on Fire, looks at the experiences of Chinese and western entrepreneurs in China and how they achieve the transformation from domestic suppliers to international exporters.

This combination of academic work and hands- on business experience is hugely symbiotic, the professor says. “I would not have it any other way. I don’t want to go and run a business. My interest is in strategic issues, not day-to-day management. But I would not want to be an academic without having been involved in strategic decision-making in businesses.”

No academic, he says, could possibly comprehend the human dynamics of a family board, or a family trust, without close-up experience.

Prof Jenster’s entrepreneurial flair has given him myriad examples of first-hand experience to share with his students, and he has helped start 15 small and medium-sized enterprises.

Not every idea works out, of course, even with a management professor on the board. Of the 15, two have gone bankrupt, three have closed down and “some are alive, but not going anywhere”.

Where do the ideas come from? The vineyard was bought in the midst of the Latin American debt crisis, when Prof Jenster, looking south from a teaching post in Brazil, reckoned that Argentine assets were undervalued.

Many other ideas are brought to him by present or former students. From teacher to angel investor in promising projects is a small step, a further example of the symbiosis between academia and entrepreneurship.

Prof Jenster, who worked in a Danish company trading with Asia before taking a masters degree in economics, is an inveterate traveller. After earning a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in 1985, he has spent more than two decades teaching at universities and management schools in the US, Denmark, Switzerland and elsewhere.

Teaching has proved to be a way of keeping in touch with business opportunities and the way the internet is changing the business world.

So how did they make the vineyard profitable, when so many family wineries struggle? The crossover network of academic and business contacts is the key. In its first year, the Estancia sold 100,000 bottles, more than a third of its production, to a Danish co-operative. This autumn it will deliver its first container of wine to China, where Prof Jenster has just signed a new five-year teaching contract with Ceibs. That should enliven the faculty parties.

This is the last in a four-part series. For other professors to watch, click here

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