Keeping current Featured

8:00pm EDT September 29, 2005
In an effort to keep current in today's ever-evolving business world, a growing number of executives are exploring executive education programs. When discussing continuing education, it is important to note that there are two distinct categories that fall under the umbrella of executive education, says Andre van Niekerk, the dean of the School of Business at Woodbury University. The first are executive programs, typically classified as executive MBA programs which can last up to two years. The second kind is executive education, traditionally offered as short one- to 10-day programs <\m> either customized for a company, or already existing as an offering from a business school.

Smart Business<$> spoke with van Niekerk about the importance of lifelong learning and what CEOs should consider when determining how to develop programs for their companies.

Why is it imperative for CEOs to continue their education?First, it guards against them getting stale. Second, it develops specific new perspectives, skills and acumen that are necessary in the workplace as [CEOs] advance in their careers. Third, it develops a stronger and wider network: as they rub shoulders with people in these programs, they hear other points of view and they are able to create network capability. Fourth, it increases their general awareness and knowledge of new discoveries in the fields of business.

The fifth item is it avoids what I call the closed-loop feedback, where they rub shoulders only with other executives in their particular industry. The last one is it broadens their understanding of how others approach similar problems and challenges.

When looking for an executive education institution, what are some key factors to consider?

The first thing to consider would be the program content. When you look at something like this, you want it to be rigorous and the content to be rich. Next, what are the faculty credentials? I mean not only the academic strength of the faculty members, but also their real-world experience and consulting record. Class participant strength, I think, is a key factor in these programs, so you want a range of industries represented. Also, it is important to have a variety of industry connections maintained by the business school; you want meaningful breadth and depth of people to interact with in class. Finally, you want connection and continuity between class sessions over the span of the program. The best programs have assigned class advisers who meet with the students throughout the length of the program and provide insight and counseling.

How should a CEO weigh cost-benefit ratios in any executive education program?

My view is that any financial cost must be viewed as either a personal or a company commitment and investment. It's not just the cost of the program. It is also necessary to view the time it takes away from family or the workplace. It is important to understand your own motivation -- do it for the right reasons.

It comes down to what I call the value equation. Basically, the value equation of something in business, or in any investment in life is: value = quality + service / price. In other words, the value received is a factor of the quality of the program, plus the level of service and support received from the program, all divided by the price of the program.

How can executive education strengthen the leadership and decision-making capabilities of key executives?

In general, key executives become more informed. They are more sensitive to human differences, therefore they deal more appropriately with human issues. They become more familiar and focused on the personal qualities of leadership and learn how to apply these to their everyday management role. Also, they become more aware of, and sensitized to, possible ethical lapses that may easily be overlooked in the course of their daily grind. As a result, they become more responsible and accountable as corporate citizens.

How can a CEO or business leader customize an executive education program that meets their company's needs?

They can ask a school to design a customized program for them. Then, discuss their overall and specific needs so that a customized program can be well targeted, with realistic expectations and desired outcomes. Executives should provide strong support for such a program, even attending some, if not all, of the sessions. Last, describe to all the participants how it will further the mission of the organization, how it may increase profits and how it can enhance the overall working relationships internally as well as with clients.

What are the benefits of an in-house customized program versus a case-by-case external program?An in-house customized program is geared quite specifically to the needs of a company or organization, and the educational principles and themes are applied to specific internal issues. From an external perspective, you usually have a generally designed program and then the company tries to fit their individual needs to the program.

The benefits of the first are that it is more customized, more focused and very specific to the company. The advantages of the external program is that the organization can choose from a program that meets most of their needs and allows participants to rub shoulders with other students from different industries.

Andre van Niekerk is dean of the School of Business at Woodbury University. Reach him at (818) 252-5284.