Should Santa Claus Further his Business Education with an MBA?

mba for santa?

Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Joulupukki. By whichever name you know this jolly embodiment of the spirit of giving, he is an internationally-renowned figure steeped in popular folklore.

Santa’s personal brand is joyful and triumphant

From a business perspective, this has allowed Santa Claus to obtain a personal brand to die for, especially in terms of global market recognition and unquestioned reputation, as one tongue-in-cheek book concept observes. The ‘Santa Brand Book’ reimagines his personal brand as that of a global multinational company using a set of guidelines to facilitate its market presence.

The potential use of the Santa’s personal brand is therefore something that has not gone unnoticed among other companies. Coca-Cola has used Santa Claus as an integral feature of its winter advertising since the 1930s, greatly contributing to his most recognizable visual image today. At the other end of the scale, Greenpeace has just launched an advertising campaign using Santa to raise awareness of climate change and the melting of the ice caps at the North Pole, thought by many to be Santa’s base of operations. However, Lapland is perhaps a better guess at his true home, given the Finnish region’s abundance of reindeer.

Santa as Lapland’s pre-eminent toy industry leader

Wherever he really resides (let’s assume it’s in Lapland for now), the true essence of Santa Claus is today most often associated with the tradition of bringing joy to the world’s children each year in the shape of a toy manufacturing and magical delivery service, ably aided in each area by a team of elves and a flying sleigh pulled by nine reindeer respectively.

This effectively makes Santa a company leader in the toy industry. In this light, what could he stand to gain from an MBA-level business education?

His ‘company’ is clearly unique within the toy industry in its annual delivery challenge of reaching children everywhere in a short space of time - from those close to his headquarters in the Northern Hemisphere regions of Europe, Russia and Canada to those living where huddles of penguins roam across the Southern Hemisphere in parts of Argentina, Chile and New Zealand, via Ecuador and Equatorial Guinea.   

Despite this, Santa’s role should not drastically differ from other leaders within the toy industry. But, rather than leave Santa to toy with the idea of furthering his business education, it seemed wise to source some expert advice and save him some valuable time.

Step forward, Dr. Sinead Roden, senior lecturer in operations and supply chain management at Cass Business School, who agreed to play the roles of the Ghosts of ‘Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come’ all wrapped in one, from Charles Dickens’ classic ’A Christmas Carol’, to assess the modern Santa’s role and suggest what he might acquire from top-level business education.

Cass Business School assesses Santa’s business challenges

Dr. Roden has nothing but praise for the work of Santa and his team of elves describing his annual operation both as ‘exemplary’ and ‘efficient’. However, it’s never a good idea to rest on your laurels in business and the Cass Business School senior lecturer points out some of the major challenges affecting Santa work.

“The challenges are many - increased demand (corresponding to billions of end products) and increasing demand variability from children across the globe increases the complexity of his role. The team in Lapland must skillfully orchestrate their operations and supply chain throughout the year to ensure that the excitable children can wake up to find what they dreamed of following this critical peak period,” says Dr. Roden.

MBA skillset could help maintain flawless customer satisfaction levels

“In such a customer-focused industry Santa must also have a keen eye on toy quality and customer satisfaction!” continues Dr. Roden.

The stakes are never higher than when you risk disappointing children on a global scale. Therefore, MBA-level teaching could help Santa ensure his priorities keep customer satisfaction levels right at the very core.

For instance, Dr. Roden stresses out that in a large production line, the possibility of faulty products or merely that one or two items are carelessly mis-sleighed should be strong considerations.

“Santa is likely to have to carry excess inventory in order to continue normal operations on this important night to avoid stock-outs,” she says, before mentioning that this in turn will impact upon his mode of transport – the sleigh pulled by Rudolph and his fellow reindeer.

There is clearly no suggestion that Santa is currently lacking in leadership skills, but these, “can always be polished and developed,” according to Dr. Roden. This would be another major benefit of any top MBA program such is the importance of harmonious teamwork among Santa’s elves to his operation’s success and to customer satisfaction.

This is not just applicable to the toy industry as a whole but is also particularly relevant to Santa’s special circumstances, in that the team must deal with “dynamic or uncertain environments, and increasingly complex and volatile customer demand,” says Dr. Roden.

Supply Chain Management Programs offer a specialized option

Of course, a program tailored towards Santa’s industry and role may turn out to be the most beneficial. Specific supply chain management programs, both as an MBA or specialized masters’, have become increasingly available for example. MBA specializations in operations management are also well worth considering for any prospective student interested in pursuing a management career in manufacturing and logistics and are one of ten program specializations rated each year by QS.  

Cass Business School has been one of the highest risers in this area over the past year, according to the 2013/14 QS Global 200 Business Schools Report, and recently announced the launch of a dedicated MSc in Global Supply Chain Management (GSCM) to begin in 2014. The one-year course will place operations management alongside topics such as strategic supply chain, global procurement, business sustainability and finance.

“Supply chain management is a core competency and Lapland can’t afford to be without it!” enthuses Dr. Roden, before explaining why she thinks that this specialized master’s would suit Santa best: “Best practice in supply chain management is evolving rapidly and throughout the MSc GCSM, Santa will learn about ‘new tricks’ and innovations in operations management, distribution and inventory management, demand forecasting and supply chain analytics that will help him stay at the top of his game!”

The specialist knowledge offered on a program such as Cass Business Schools’ should ease Santa’s decision-making process and ensure that market fluctuations from one year to the next don’t adversely affect that all-important customer satisfaction. In particular, Dr. Roden points to the benefits of using demand forecasting and suggests that Santa might discover the advantages of procuring some toys from outside his workshop to allow Lapland to “focus on making specialist toys,” without compromising on its yearly output and reputation.

Santa’s elf sector could also benefit from business education.

And what of the elves themselves, the lynchpins of Santa’s manufacturing capabilities? Might they not also stand to benefit from learning some of the key principles of business education?

Dr. Roden, who presented on the subject of supply chain disruptions at a Dublin conference earlier this year, agrees.

“Contingency planning is important and obviously Santa is not getting any younger!  It is a risky strategy to rely on one key actor in the supply chain to deliver at critical times.  This would represent a monumental supply chain disruption if Santa was not able to board that sleigh on Christmas Eve!” she says.

Who knows what kind of effect on Santa’s personal brand a single cataclysmic event such as this might entail. One thing that is certain is that Santa must continuously focus on being prepared for any eventuality and furthering his business education with an MBA or specialized master’s program could only help in this respect.

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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