Building a CVC Operating Model to Deliver Strategic Value: Maersk Growth
This post provides an example of how a top tier corporate venture capital (CVC) fund delivers strategic value and what other CVC funds can learn from the machinery they have built.
Peter Votkjaer Jorgensen, Partner at Maersk Growth has been a member of the Counter Club for over three years, speaking at events and advising other CVC funds in his capacity as an Advisory Council member. This post is co-authored by Peter and Jannik Pedersen, with participation from Counterpart Ventures.
Before getting into it, below is a short introduction to Maersk Growth, why it exists, and the CVC principles and learnings collected from building and evolving Maersk Growth over the last four years. This post primarily focuses on how we organise ourselves and structure the process for being a successful strategic CVC. This includes a deep focus on how we work with our mother company which might not appear to be focused on the startups we invest in… however, as a CVC, you can only create value for your portfolio if you have a clear strategic logic of how to work with your mother company.
In this post, you will see a reference to our “core” or “core stakeholders”, which means our mother company, i.e. A.P. Moller — Maersk.
What is Maersk Growth?
Maersk Growth is the external innovation arm of A.P. Moller Maersk, the Global Integrator of Logistics. With the mission to digitise, democratise, and decarbonise supply chains, we invest in and partner with talented startups and scale-ups focused on supply chain and adjacent climate tech, including software and hardware.
Our vision and strategy as Maersk’s venture arm is based on creating strategic value for and exploring the frontier of our corporate strategy. We define strategic value as:
- Operational: Enable collaborations that improve the Maersk offering through supplier-relationship with startups
- Commercial: Facilitate collaborations to improve joint value proposition by presenting the startup offering to Maersk customers
- Learnings: Access to insights on new trends and strategic spaces through engagement with our portfolio
- Hedges: Diversify investments to secure optionality in the event of structural shifts internally or in the market
And this can only work if we both give and take in the ecosystem. Hence, we aspire to provide value to startups through the “Maersk Growth ABCDE’s” thereby bringing value beyond the capital:
- Assets: Leverage our large asset base and state-of-art platforms (+450 warehouses, +700 vessels, trucks…)
- Brand: Leverage the power of our global presence and reach of our brand (incl. marketing support through our in-house branding team)
- Customers: Access our global +80,000 customer base and volumes
- Data: Work with our data team, which has data covering 20% of global trade
- Expertise: Tap into our deep industry expertise across our ~100,000 employees
KPIs and Scorecards
Our KPIs/Scorecards are aligned with the ambition of delivering strategic value through paid learning (achieved through financial performance). Conceptually we have divided our scorecard into:
- Value to startups: Including collaboration targets, NPS, off-take agreements (climate tech) and customer engagements as examples of how we translate our ABCDE into value for the ecosystem.’
- Value delivered to Maersk: This includes six sub-categories: core stakeholder NPS, startup PoCs, events, strategic insights sessions and publications, financial metrics and investment targets.
Principles and Learnings from Building a CVC Operating Model to Deliver Strategic Value
Below are the core principles and learnings which Maersk Growth considers critical for building a leading CVC. They outline the strategic logic and experience in creating value for Maersk and the startup ecosystem, which is in constant beta (explained below).
CVC Strategy Principles (P) and Learnings (L):
P: Define a clear ‘why’ and objectives for the CVC’s existence aligned to your corporate strategy. Fewer are likely better since you will need to build frameworks/engagement model around each objective with your core stakeholders, which is a significant task in a, e.g. 100k people org. (see CEM)
- L: The challenge for this is around matching strategy duration, i.e. corporate strategies/priorities changes on avg. every second year, while a fund cycle is 10y. It is instrumental that the CVC leadership understand this and adapt to this evolving “internal” environment to stay relevant and deliver value to the portfolio.
- L: As a strategic investor, you will constantly be challenged on how you create value for the corporate strategy. This can be difficult to articulate if investing early stage with time to maturity for startups. However, the CVC is responsible for figuring this out and articulating/delivering this continuously.
P: Ensure ELT and key executive buy-in to these objectives. This stakeholder alignment should go beyond being a CEO project; however anchored across the executives from whom your strategy is to create value and your need for unlocking resources, for example, PoCs.
- L: Focus on the executives who will need to unlock value-add resourcing, align roadmaps with them and be part of their operating model. Ultimately, you must show how you accelerate or add value to their roadmaps to gain priority.
- L: It is easiest to fight “not invented here” by co-creating investment roadmaps and bringing key stakeholders early in investment assessments/feedback to understand strategic fit and create mutual value realisation roadmaps.
- L: You need leaders who are senior and familiar enough with the core organisation to engage in corporate politics and act on the given mandate. A mandate means nothing if not activated at the right level.
P: Ensure clear demarcation and collaboration with other external innovation functions.
- L: Large organisations like Maersk are constantly evolving, and as the CVC, you will have to continuously understand and adapt to other functions engaging in the external innovation ecosystem. Sitting on the outside creates reactions from the corporate “immune system of change” — as the CVC leadership, you own this relationship. You must drive for clear demarcation and ensure collaboration to avoid ecosystem confusion, reputation impact and efficient cooperation.
- L: Don’t sit too far or too close to the core. A strategic investor benefits from being closer since you rely on key stakeholders taking an interest and sponsoring your work. We sit physically and in the mind of our core stakeholders just down the road (500 meters); this means we can meet at lunch, in the hallway and similar, which creates better relationships.
Organizing and structuring process for strategic value
P: Your organisational structure and operating model should be built to enable your strategy and objectives. For a strategic investor, this means over-indexing on operational portfolio resources and other strategic bridges to the core.
- L: Maersk Growth exists to create strategic value for Maersk. Hence, they have organised for that by doing the following in addition to their strong investment team, which has deep industry knowledge:
i. Build a strong Portfolio Management (PM) team capable of being the human API between the mother company and the startups. Ideally, this team has the following capabilities: a) know the mother organisation well and have established relationships with senior leaders, b) born problem solvers with skills in stakeholder management, strategy understanding/creation and project planning, c) content with being individual contributors (finding these are not easy but instrumental to success).
- To deliver strategic value, Maersk Growth’s PMs have organised themselves by logical components of the Maersk corporate strategy to build expertise and relations with the right stakeholders.
- The PMs are responsible for delivering on the “shared” value roadmap between the corporate and the startup. This roadmap constantly changes when meeting reality, and they will be responsible for finding new paths to value and success.
ii. Build a strategy/insights function that works across the investment and portfolio management units and owns the “core engagement model” to deliver strategic insights to core senior leaders. This is a smart way to deliver value that is not directly dependent on succeeding with PoCs, M&A or similar.
- This team is rigorously analysing all investment data from VC/PE, building data products and writing trends reports to drive strategic discussion with senior leaders. This team also works with the core strategy team, internal consulting unit and M&A team to inject insights and analysis into these areas. In this way, they provide additional value through learning.
- This insights function is multi-directional, i.e., experts on the latest core strategies take part in core strategy reviews and have strong relationships with key decision-makers.
iii. Build a small marketing/branding team to create your CVC brand. They should work closely with the Core to leverage the “branding potential” in having a CVC and engaging in the ecosystem as additional strategic value.
- As a recent example, our marketing team is hosting an AI panel discussion where Maersk’s Chief Data Officer will talk with our leading AI startups and selected leaders while getting exposure to all relevant stakeholders in Maersk — a simple but clear win-win.
P: Design your org. for simplicity and think back from your “customers” innovation needs. If this is done right, it will also create immense value for the startups.
- L: When building our dual investment and venture client set-up, we neglected why we existed (to create strategic value) and based our org. and process on internal conditions rather than on how we could optimise our ability to deliver value. This simplicity mentality can help attract high-quality deal flow and create a unique positioning for the CVC fund.
Core engagement model
P: To create strategic value, you need a strong core engagement model (CEM)/framework to define how you effectively engage with your mother company. This will be in constant beta and adjusted to corporate changes as strategy and organisation evolve, and leaders rise/fall.
WHY CEM: Maersk Growth’s CEM defines the structural engagement with Maersk to support objectives across Growth pillars and enable strategic value. We have two key objectives:
- Structurally engage and provide knowledge/insights to relevant Maersk stakeholders while ensuring quality and meeting core as “One Growth.”
- Structurally collect and synthesise Maersk strategies/priorities into opportunities across areas (e.g., products) to inform Invest and Explore priorities.
- The CEM starts with stakeholder mapping and prioritisation, for which we developed a simple framework to identify the key stakeholders and target their specific needs (2x2 with (1) Level of interest in Growth and impact and (2) Level of decision-making power on Growth’s work). Each product/function has been assigned a Growth Owner to ensure regular one-to-1 (or one-to-many) engagements for strategic priority alignment.
- To accomplish this, the team engages regularly and analyses Maersk strategy assets to inform opportunity mapping and subsequent Triaging2 (internal process)
- To enable efficient PoC decision-making, resource allocation and impact, the team established the Innovation “OpCo” with core leaders (Tech & ex. Platform) to unlock these elements as relevant.
- We leverage our insights engine to bring outside-in data (SC/CT PowerBI tool and trend reports) to drive our engagement and ensure analytical rigour. In this way, we often act as “external innovation” advisors based on our research which helps us build relationships.
- L: Creating strategic value requires significant time/effort from the mother company, e.g. building APIs, doing integrations, capturing learnings and more, besides allocating resources to support. This is constantly conflicting with other short-term/core priorities.
- L: Similarly, creating strategic value requires much work from the Operating/Portfolio team; hence this team needs to be similar in strength and capability to the investment team and cannot compromise on quality.
- L: Seek to understand and design based on your mother company’s operating model and decision process to enhance the chance for impact. For instance, we have designed a mini innovation OpCo with key product/tech leaders using the same decision artefacts (small/reduced format) to make PoC decisions and unlock resources following the overall yearly resource allocation cycle in Maersk.
- L: Understanding business unit strategies, technology choices, and the transformational situation are critical for legitimacy in the eyes of core stakeholders. Similar to the need to play the VC game as a CVC, you must show you understand the mother company context to become a respected partner.
- L: In a 100k + organisation, there will always be more stakeholders/problems to solve than you can address. Prioritise where you engage based on an opportunity to accelerate roadmaps, tech stack maturity and stakeholder relationships (among others).
- L: If done right, there is a lot to be gained from engaging in various strategy dialogues based on you/CVC providing outside-in views from the startup ecosystem. In Maersk Growth, we have been successful in doing so in less than a year, which is perceived to create a lot of value and attention from core stakeholders.
P: For each of your CVC beyond-the-capital value-adds (our ABCDE), you should establish a clear framework/logic for delivery with relevant core stakeholders.
- L: Again, delivering strategic value is difficult. For this reason, we have standardised and established agile frameworks for PoC contracting, cyber reviews, and procurement, and we are in the process of creating a data sandbox strategy.
P: As a strategic investor, you operate in a VC world; there is no CVC world
- L: It is essential to understand how VCs operate, and at Maersk Growth, they have to a large degree, designed their governance to mirror VC’s processes and decision agility.
- L: Apply the appropriate level of DD vis-à-vis investment stage, e.g. a standard corporate enterprise level scrutiny cannot be applied to early-stage investing and use legal counsel with venture expertise (rarely present in-house).
- L: Make sure to find an agile way of activating your corporate resources’ expert knowledge in your investment process, but separate solution assessment and investment decision, with the latter (ideally) — as we have done in Maersk Growth — residing solely with the investment team.
P: As a strategic investor, you cannot lose sight of financial value or risk losing legitimacy and reputation.
- L: Although you can gain strategic value from failures when financial and strategic value is correlated, you will gain the most strategic value from financial successes. At Maersk Growth, we apply three steps in our opportunity assessment: Venture case potential, strategic value potential and ABCDE potential — needing conviction across and strong emphasis on the venture case.
- L: Investing with strong VC partners supports legitimacy and venture case validation. Maersk Growth, therefore always co-invests with VCs and doesn’t lead investments.
P: Expectations toward strategic investors often differ amongst various parties, and general alignment upfront to manage those expectations will be important
- L: Explore value-add and collaboration opportunities as part of the investment process, which at Maersk Growth follows a standardised track, including onboarding Portfolio Management early in the process
- L: Institute a post-investment kick-off process where you go deeper on collaboration, hereunder especially on timing (as long as expectations are aligned, it can easily be 6–12 months out in the future)
- L: Other investors may have to reduce their shareholding to give room to the strategic investor, be ready to be challenged
- L: Be realistic and transparent about value-add rather than under-promise and over-deliver.