Cardinal Health Inc.s prescription for growing pains: Education.
Not only has the company expanded through acquiring and starting a number of separate businesses in recent years, but its all been done within a rapidly changing health care environment.
Given that, and given many of our businesses partner for the greater benefit to the customer, we needed to help people within those businesses look at the world more broadly, says Carole Tomko, Cardinals senior vice president of human resources.
The solution: The Cardinal Leadership Forum, an eight-day executive education program developed by the company and Boston University.
Hitting the books
Cardinal wanted its managers to learn about their internal business partners and to identify business issues those partners and Cardinal customers might face.
We partnered with Boston University, which, frankly, was the only school willing to do customized executive education as opposed to an off-the-shelf program, Tomko says.
Boston University accomplishes that by getting to know the business and its needs, says William J. Bigoness, associate dean for executive learning.
My responsibility is to make sure my faculty gets a basic understanding of the company, the industry that theyre in, he says. You cannot walk into a customized program and not know a reasonable amount about that client: Where Cardinal has come from, what theyre doing today, how they have become successful.
Boston University allowed Cardinal to participate in the design and development of the program, right down to choosing the professors.
We were looking for professors that needed to be more entrepreneurial. We wanted them to be open to being challenged, to not be rigid in their processes, to be flexible, Tomko says.
Cardinal then identified managers across business lines to travel to Boston to attend sessions together. Vice presidents and directors 250 people in all in areas such as sales, finance, operations, human resources, marketing and information technology in Cardinals subsidiary companies and corporate offices are attending the eight-day program in three sessions over several months.
At these education sessions, Cardinal executives are learning how to manage the process of change from a leadership standpoint. Change, Bigoness says, is in fact the impetus behind much executive education.
I think the major driving force here is the rate of change in business industry today is at such an almost breathtaking pace: new knowledge, new technology, new markets, new opportunities, he says, adding that the only way to stay on top is to stay at the forefront of knowledge.
Cardinal executives take classes that also include business principles, such as information technology.
People need to understand the implications of technology not in the sense of how to turn on a computer and do e-mail, but how can technology be used as a competitive edge, Tomko says.
Other topics include marketing and communication with customers.
Mixed in are case studies, where the executives examine various companies to get a sense of how to deal with business issues.
Throughout the course, executives are asked to develop and design a project either to increase benefit to the customer or to reduce internal expenses or help the company operate more efficiently. Some of these ideas have been implemented at the company.
Bigoness acknowledges that programs like the Cardinal Leadership Forum are best tailored for large businesses which can send groups of 25 or so managers. The cost is weighty, too: between $3,750 and $4,250 per person, including room, board, teaching and materials.
On a smaller scale, businesses could participate in what Bigoness calls a consortium program, in which four to five companies could bring in about six executives each. The price range would be the same per person but less per company since fewer people are attending.
Boston University also could send faculty to Columbus for a program at a local company, and the costs would be less.
Bigoness says business owners can check business schools at local universities, the American Management Association and trade associations to determine what other executive education programs exist for their particular needs.
Tomko suggests that any company considering executive education first determine its specific needs.
Why are you feeling the need to put your folks through an education process? Is it really about education? In our case, people needed information, needed to learn about their sister companies, needed business principles to apply to a bigger organization, she says. A small hardware store can send people to all the training in the world, but thats not going to keep the Lowes from coming into your backyard and destroying your market.
Bigoness agrees that any executive education program should be tailored to and linked into the broader mission of the company.
How is this educational experience promoting and moving us forward relative to where we want to be? he says business owners should ask. It takes work to design those kinds of programs. You just cant take [education] as an inherent good. The day and age of that is, I think, past. How to reach: Boston University School of Management, Executive Learning Programs, http://management.bu.edu/exec/index.html, or William J. Bigoness, (617) 353-6791
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter for SBN.