Industries Education

Leaders with many talents

Program CEOs combine book knowledge and business savvy

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Print this page by Gary Robertson

Wanted: “Charismatic Presence.”

No, it’s not part of the job description for the next president of the United States, or even for the next pope.

But it is among the characteristics that the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia is seeking in the next leader of its executive education program.

The position, which carries the title of senior associate dean and chief executive officer of executive education, has its counterpart at a number of colleges and universities, and higher education officials agree the post is always difficult to fill because it combines so many different roles in a single individual.

A recent article in a publication of the International University Consortium for Executive Education (UNICON) said the head of an executive education program in a college or university must possess executive leadership, legislative leadership and sales leadership.

Or, as one executive education CEO described it: “I run a business inside a bureaucracy reporting to a politician.”

Big spending on training
Companies spent $171.5 billion on employee learning and development in 2010, a substantial increase from the $125.9 billion spent in 2009, according to the 2010 industry report of the American Society of Training & Development.

Executive education is a much smaller slice. Bloomberg Businessweek magazine has estimated the total at $800 million, according to the UNICON article, and university-based business schools provide about 80 percent of the executive-level training.

The Darden School is one of the leaders in the field, with the Financial Times consistently ranking the faculty team No. 1 (2004-2011).

David Newkirk, who led Darden’s Executive Education efforts for more than six years, and who co-authored the UNICON article, says that customized programs are increasingly important in executive education, alongside open-enrollment programs that build core business skills.

In customized classes, the executive education programs help clients implement strategy and solve their problems. “It’s not unlike consulting,” says Newkirk, a former senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, a leading strategy and technology-consulting firm. 

Since leaving Darden earlier this year, Newkirk has established an executive consulting firm, David Newkirk Consulting.

Newkirk had an unusual start for a business consultant — he was a math and philosophy major in college — although he believes that was perfect preparation for his career.

“It was a wonderful education,” he says. “At a basic level, I had to think with numbers and think with words. That’s a good beginning for almost any job.”

Although executive education programs offer a lot of advice to business clients, Newkirk says they don’t have to include experts on their clients’ businesses. “We don’t teach them about their business, we teach them about management and leadership,” he says.

He gave this example: “Darden does a lot of work with the military. But we don’t need to know how to fly airplanes or pilot ships to be able to instruct on how to lead a big global complex more effectively.”

Newkirk says one of the biggest shifts he’s seen in executive education is that clients are bringing their business problems into the classroom, using those issues for discussion and analysis, rather than someone else’s case study. “You learn better with problems that are current to you,” Newkirk explains.

Of course, he added, clients also expect solutions to those problems.

Although the leaders of executive education programs are expected to have a lot of contacts in various industries, Newkirk wryly observes that you couldn’t make a living selling consulting services only to your friends.

Ultimate facilitator
Trip Davis, president of the Darden School Foundation and senior associate dean for external relations, says executive education program CEOs are the ultimate facilitators. They consult not only with clients to determine their problems but also with faculty to ensure that the university’s training and teaching are appropriate to the clients’ needs.

“Building and managing and growing an executive development business, as part of an educational enterprise, is a wonderful balance of the commercial world with the academic world,” Davis says.

Often, he adds, con­­summating a sale evolves over a long cycle with multiple approval levels. But the reward might be a profitable multiyear relationship.

Patience, perseverance and persuasiveness also are key. Roy Hinton, who leads the executive education program at the George Mason University School of Management, says that to swim among the big fish of the corporate and industrial world, the chiefs of executive management programs must be trusted.

You have to be able to talk their language, understand their point of view and their challenges, he says.  “It’s helpful to have an academic degree but not necessary,” Hinton notes.

A former naval officer, Hinton came to his current position with a deep back­ground in academics and business. He founded a management consulting firm, earned an MBA at Pepperdine University and a doctorate in management from Northwestern Univ­ersity. In addition, he has taught at many colleges and universities, as well as at private performance development and leadership firms.

One of the most valuable lessons that Hinton learned from running a business was, “It’s never as simple as you think it is.”

While some academics believe that the content they offer business clients is the most important element in their success, he believes that context is just as critical.

“You have to know the operating environment in which a manger is making a decision,” Hinton says.

For example, the political climate — especially important in the Washington, D.C., area where George Mason and its principal clients reside — and rapidly changing technology are two factors that always must be considered, he says.

One of the biggest concerns facing executive education is how to deliver learning in the years ahead. “You can find opinions about any concern you have on the Internet, and that presents a challenge,” he says.

Balancing online learning with face-to-face learning is one of the issues voiced by a number of the CEOs of executive education programs.

Like running a business
Jean Gasen, executive director of the Center for Corporate Education in the VCU School of Business, says that running an executive education program is like running a small business. “You find out what customers need, build it and market it,” she says.

Unlike a business school dean whose concerns include fundraising for scholarships and capital construction, the executive education CEO is focused on growing a program and bringing more participants under the tent, she says.

“It’s a lot of relationship building,” says Gasen, who holds a doctorate in educational psychology and once led IT training at McLean-based Capital One Financial Corp.

Like most leaders of executive education programs, Frank Smith, director of management and professional development at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business, has a mix of both academic and industry credentials.

He directed MBA programs at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, but he also worked for IBM for 25 years in education and development capacities and later owned a management consulting business.
Smith says, however, that people who have spent their lives in academia, with no industry experience, can succeed as executive education leaders.

The key requirement is, “You have to be able to relate to business executives. They have to believe you’re on the same wave length they are.”

William Judge, a professor of strategic management at Old Dominion University, observes that executive education is “a huge cash cow for some schools” and is also a wonderful way for faculty members to test drive their research and scholarship.

Judge said that at the University of Tennessee, where he previously taught,  one-third of the budget for the business school was generated by executive education.

A recent innovation in executive education is gaming, Judge says, and he’s already a big player. His change-management simulation, “Power & Influence,” is the second most popular simulation offered by Harvard Business School Publishing. The game puts participants in a simulated environment and teaches them how to bring about change.

Games have a real-world advantage. “You can make mistakes and not lose your job or destroy the organization,” Judge says with a laugh.

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