Over 40 years ago, Klas Mellander created Decision Base, Celemi’s first business simulation. 7 years later, he and two friends, Krister Nathanaelson and Margareta Barchan, founded Celemi over beer and peanuts at a Café in Amsterdam. Today Celemi has a global presence with solutions in over 70 countries, but how did it all get started?

Read our interview with Klas Mellander below to hear more.

 Tell me about how it all started.

Klas Mellander: Well it was 40 years ago, I got a call from a client since many years: “We have an embryo for a business game… can you see how it could be developed into something useful…?” I was thrilled… And it took not much to agree on a kind of premise for the whole idea: It doesn’t matter how well you understand the lines and figures in the Balance Sheet… that in itself does not make you a good decision maker. You need to practice. It is as simple as that.

Don’t overestimate people’s knowledge. Don’t underestimate their capabilities.

Before I had even started to think about possible solutions I had a vision for the final product in use: six teams, six companies, of 3-4 people in harsh competition for orders over 10 years – i.e. two days.

The vision was not hard to conceive… Making it come true took a little more effort(!).

What is the secret behind the lasting success? What did you do right?

KM: Hmm… there are probably three key things:

First: We needed a relevant, robust, credible and simple enough conceptual model of a business… We didn’t need to look far… it was already before our eyes: what could be a more accurate model of a real world business than the Balance Sheet itself.

Second: The idea was to make the simulation as simple as a game of chess… and as difficult: Few objects, simple rules… So, we worked on the physical representation… a bird’s eyes view of a manufacturing site (the “chess board”), and a few well defined objects such as products, production equipment, markets… (the “chess pieces”). Thanks to my colleague Eric Giertz, an expert in the subject matter, we were able to achieve what we were striving for: simplicity and accuracy.

Third: Representation the monetary numbers – the values? We had a few ideas including coins of different colours – green for cash, blue for raw material… We soon realized that it would be too messy… and, more importantly, it actually was not necessary: One type of coin was all we needed. You know, a value is a value is a value whatever object it is attributed to. As we use to say: “You cannot compare apples and oranges” – which is mostly true, with one important exception: Accountants can, and should… that’s their job, that’s what business finance is all about.

That insight, by the way, inspired the title of a series of less complex spin-offs of Decision Base some years later: “Apples & Oranges”, initiated by Norsk Hydro.

And don’t forget… “Working capital” had become a major issue at the end of the 70’ … and that’s even more so these days.

And later, talent management became a hot topic… Right? Is there a similar story behind Tango?

KM: Yes, in a way. I was on the advisory board for an L&D business where I met Karl-Eric Sveiby. He told me about his groundbreaking views on Knowledge Management… as you said, a hot subject at the time: “Making the invisible balance sheet visible”.  I told him about Decision Base… Then we looked at each other and said with one mouth: “Shall we dance?” … “yes, let’s tango!”  It took a few years.

And next…?

KM: One of the early adopters of Tango was PriceWaterhouse. They loved it! So, when they merged with Coopers & Lybrand to become PwC, they asked us for a simulation mimicking their Project Management process. It resulted in a quite intense two-day learning experience – today owned by IBM.

They also wanted a short version, a kind of demo-version to use with their clients. This then was our springboard for creating a generic version. And thanks to Joanne Flinn… a highly regarded thought leader in the field… A year or so later… Cayenne was born.

Finally: Some say that our business simulations serve as a rehearsal of future behavior while having serious fun… Do you agree?

KM: Yes. Spot on!

Today, over 5 million participants have experienced the excitement of a Celemi learning solution. Contact us if you’d like to hear about how we can help with your workplace learning needs.