Master Strategy Day 2023: Reimagining the Henri IV Building

MSD ‘23D Fontainebleau winners

We were all very surprised to learn that the cultural heritage site we would be focused on for Master Strategist Day (MSD) was right in our backyard – the Château de Fontainebleau! While many students walk past it every day, there was much to be learned about the buildings, the gardens, and its history to create an effective strategy for the 21st century.

To discover more, virtual reality technology was used to take us inside the château, the gardens, and the Henry IV building. This allowed us to really understand the estate and its environment. During a briefing from the team at the Château de Fontainebleau, we learned about their successes, failures, and goals for growth.  

The mission of the château is to preserve and raise awareness of its cultural heritage. Currently it faces a series of challenges. There is a growing tendency to portray museums and châteaux in a negative light because of their carbon emissions and their responsibility for climate change. Global instability has heightened the need for the château to remain agile given its existing fragile economic model.

The château needs to become more financially autonomous from the State and increase revenue flows. And, more specifically, resources such as the Henri IV wing remain unused or underutilised.

We were asked to come up with a broad strategy to make the chateau financially sustainable and explain the associated economic logic, while giving particular attention to what might be done with the Henri IV buildings. Our team then began discussing how we were going to tackle the case, taking these challenges into consideration.

Our team

The five members had known each other for about one month before MSD. In typical INSEAD fashion, we were a diverse group with varied professional backgrounds: 
•    Alex (USA) – Operations and Learning & Development at Whole Foods Market
•    Imran (Bangladesh) - Investment Associate at an emerging-markets-focused fund
•    Florencia (Chile) - Strategy Consultant at SummaPartners
•    Neel (India) – Senior, Product and Strategy Manager at Orowealth (now Incred Capital)
•    Sabri (France/Morocco) – Private Equity Investor focused on Africa

While we had many differences, we entered MSD with a common goal: to have fun and learn from the experience. The fact that we felt comfortable enough to suggest ideas, pose questions, and raise issues among ourselves helped us approach the case with a unique lens.

Our strategic options

We spent the first few hours debating what the château wanted and outlining what we thought made it special. We then began brainstorming. Most ideas were ridiculous and impossible, but it was from them that we were able to build the strategic options ultimately presented.

After much thought, we consistently came back to the history of the château, and specifically of the Henry IV buildings. Having previously been used as kitchens and pantries, we wanted to tap into this by incorporating food and cooking into our main strategic option. We also saw that it would give the château a unique opportunity to attract people visiting not just for the day, but for several days or weeks at a time. 

We decided the best plan was a culinary institute located inside the Henry IV building. This would be a great point of differentiation from its competitors, would attract people of all demographics, and promote the history of the site. The chateau could leverage its extensive gardens and open space to plant fruit and vegetables for the kitchens, and could incorporate vertical farms in unused spaces in the building. The food produced could be sold at the château and to sell picnic packages in the gardens.

MSD Chateaux

Presenting our plan  

When the time came to present our ideas, we were given wonderful advice by our MSD mentor from Bain & Company who helped us emphasize the most important elements of our strategic options and provided a more focused framework to utilize when presenting. We were thrilled to be chosen as a finalist, and it was rewarding to share our ideas with the team at Château de Fontainebleau and the judges.  

Working in such a short amount of time to create realistic yet creative strategic options for the château was difficult, but was an invaluable experience from which to learn and grow. There were so many fantastic ideas suggested by other teams and it will be exciting to see how the château leverages these insights to appeal to wider audiences. 

We are grateful to the donors of the Hugo van Berckel Award and Moondance Foundation for their generous support.