Paul Rumford

Wednesday, 23 November 2005 04:33

New adventures

The business community in the Delaware Valley has long been a strong supporter of quality education for secondary students at all levels. Creating successful business partnerships with education organizations requires four essential elements.

First, businesses need to become active partners based on their core business practices and values. Second, businesses can commit human and other resources to programs that will foster long-term relationships.

Third, by supporting the development of creative programs that help motivate students to learn, they can impact performance in the classroom. And last, business and education can together bring alive the connection of learning, skills development and success in the business world.

In November, a new adventure began with all the elements of a successful business education partnership for students to enhance their understanding of free enterprise and experience the challenges of operating a company. This new adventure came about as area universities partnered with the Chester County Chamber Foundation, area businesses and the Foundation for Free Enterprise Education to host the first annual Chester County Business Adventure (CCBA).

The CCBA hosted more than 60 area high school students. Modeled after the award-winning Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week program, CCBA is a miniversion of these highly successful collaborations between high schools and business organizations. CCBA provided high school freshmen and sophomores with a hands-on experience of actually running their own manufacturing plant with guidance from area business professionals. The student companies competed in a business simulation and a marketing campaign during the four-day residential camp.

CCBA provides youth with an opportunity to learn professional skills required in the workplace, such as how to network, how to motivate others and how to master time-management skills while actively participating in team-oriented activities.

Business adventures are designed to help students learn how to challenge themselves while in school, encourage them to volunteer or intern within organizations similar to their career aspirations and, most important, learn about the career opportunities in their own backyard. It is because of those expectations that the CCBA planning committee decided to customize this business adventure to reflect the career opportunities available to young people in Southeastern PA, showcasing the life sciences industry.

In 1597 Francis Bacon said, “knowledge is power.” In 2005, the purpose of the Chester County Business Adventure to enhance students’ knowledge and skills crucial to a successful future fulfills the connection of knowledge to empowering the next generation of business leaders.

Chuck Rumford is director of corporate programs for the WCU College of Business and Public Affairs. For more information on WCU’s corporate programs, visit training.btcwcu.org or call (610) 425-5000 ext 2695.

Friday, 20 August 2004 11:19

Your input is welcomed

Corporate executives often express frustration with the perceived sluggish pace at which college curriculum changes attempt to keep up with real-world needs.

One of their biggest concerns is that business schools are slow to make modifications that reflect the realities of the business world. A current example is the concern with the lack of coverage of ethical issues as these pertain to business situations.

Criticism directed at higher education's snail-like pace in reacting to the needs of the market is often well-aimed. Many schools do react slowly to change. However, executives may not be fully aware of the reasons for the delay.

Additionally, with a little effort on their part, they can personally affect the pace and direction of change and, consequently, improve how higher education responds to the needs of corporate stakeholders.

The curriculum process
Most university curriculum changes require at least three key decision points. First, faculty within the affected discipline area must support the change since it will impact their courses. At some schools, this is a problem if faculty lack the motivation to change, a full understanding of the issues or hard data reflecting the need for a change.

Second, curriculum change is often a time-consuming process involving approvals of committees containing faculty who are outside the directly affected subject areas. Convincing these folks that modifications are required can be difficult if they do not appreciate the need for change.

Finally, school administrators must be on board with new curriculum proposals, particularly changes that affect faculty positions or increase capital expenditures, such as requiring additional or upgraded facilities. In general, this change cycle from an initial curriculum proposal to implementation of new or updated courses can take one to two years or longer.

Importance of advisory groups
This may cast a gloomy shadow on corporate expectations that higher education is at the forefront of preparing the work force with cutting-edge knowledge and skills. Yet, there is good news.

Most colleges and universities have significantly increased activities designed to build stronger relations with regional, national and international corporations. In particular, there is a strong push among business schools to include corporate personnel in the program and curriculum development process. Many schools have established advisory boards that meet with school officials on a regular basis to examine issues facing the school and individual programs.

West Chester University has done this with a business advisory council made up of executives, business owners and others from large corporations and smaller firms. Such corporate executive groups have become a vital sounding board for initiating curriculum changes. For example, in 1999, West Chester's innovative Technology and E-Commerce MBA program was created and approved in less than six months with the assistance of corporate supporters.

Getting involved
For executives and their senior staff, being involved in an advisory capacity with universities can yield a number of benefits, including:

  • Direct input into program and curriculum changes
  • Exposure to high-quality students and student groups
  • Interactions with expert faculty, including partnering in research programs
  • Access to university resources
  • Association with school officials
  • Networking opportunities with other members of the advisory board

Executives should understand that most institutions of higher education welcome their involvement, especially if the executive is a graduate of the institution or if the executive's firm offers employment opportunities for the school's graduates. Executives interested in being involved should seek out school officials to learn about such opportunities.

While initially seats on advisory boards may be filled, openings do occur on a regular basis. To prepare for a role on the board, executives should offer:

  • To meet on an informal basis with school officials
  • To serve as guest lecturer/speaker or part-time faculty member
  • To give seminars for students and faculty covering important topics
  • To do on-campus job recruiting and interviewing
  • To provide student internship opportunities
  • To provide funding support for school programs

The input of corporate executives into program and curriculum decisions plays a valuable role at many colleges and universities. They will find that their involvement is encouraged and does make a difference.

PAUL CHRIST, Ph.D., is an associate professor of marketing and director of MBA programs at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. For more information on the WCU MBA, visit www.wcumba.org or call (610) 425-5000. CHUCK RUMFORD is director of corporate programs for WCU's College of Business and Public Affairs. For more information on corporate programs, visit training.btcwcu.org or call (610) 425-2695. West Chester University serves the educational and training needs of students and corporate clients from its off-campus, state-of-the-art Graduate Business Center located off the Boot Road exit of Route 202 in West Chester, Pa.

Wednesday, 22 December 2004 10:15

Targeting process excellence

What methodology do top-performing local companies use? What program did Jack Welsh, past chairman of General Electric, credit with saving the company billions of dollars in operating costs, a program he thought so highly about that he required it to be an integral part of the way every division operated?

The answer is Six Sigma.

Many companies are looking lean and competitive these days because Six Sigma is transforming the way processes are aligned with customer needs and expectations. "Sigma" refers to the extent of variation or deviation from an ideal operating target. One example is the number of days it takes for product delivery from the date of an order. If the company is delivering at an average of 35 days from date of customer order, when customers are expecting deliveries in 15 days, the probability is high that many customers will go to a competitor for the same product and service next time. Whereas, in a Six Sigma focused organization, the customer requirement of 15 days is considered up front, and internal business processes are streamlined to meet that ideal operating target.

Although process capability techniques have been used extensively in both manufacturing and service sectors for more than 50 years, a major breakthrough occurred when Motorola applied a common bar of excellence (3.4 defects per million opportunities) to manufacturing and service processes alike in the late '80s.

As a result, improvements of 10 to 100 times in Motorola's business processes were realized in as little as two years. Word spread quickly. Before long, manufacturing powerhouses such as General Electric, Honeywell, Allied Signal and Eastman Kodak were saving hundreds of millions of dollars across their international operations.

Once General Electric Capital began applying the methodology to its 28 service businesses, the results proved without a shadow of a doubt that companies of all types could successfully apply Six Sigma and count on its fact-based, objective application of continuous improvement to not only eliminate errors but to also focus on isolating and rectifying the root causes of errors.

There are operating costs associated with bad quality. Those are due to the quantifiable factors associated with rework, lost customers, extended cycle time and increased work force demands. Many companies operate at an efficiency of a little above Two Sigma, which is approximately 45,600 errors per every million opportunities.

An opportunity is the number of times a mistake can happen with an item under investigation. Operating at an accuracy of Two Sigma, the cost of rework could be very high. That level of inefficiency destroys an organization's attempts to be profitable, presenting a bottleneck to both current operations and new business growth. Six Sigma has a perfection target of 99.99967 percent, meaning there is very little room for error.

These days, if you want General Electric or other true believers as customers, you will be asked if you use Six Sigma. If your company does not, chances are that you will not land the order. Six Sigma-focused companies have so improved their processes that they do not want to introduce an outside margin of error. In fact, Six Sigma has improved the bottom line of companies to the extent that Wall Street analysts are considering the methodology as part of a company's value equation.

So what is the best way to introduce Six Sigma into your company? The answer is to focus on your customers, Six Sigma training and driving improvement into your business.

Chuck Rumford is director of corporate programs for West Chester University's College of Business and Public Affairs. For more information on corporate programs visit training.btcwcu.org or call (610) 425-2695. Thomas Mc Nellis, Ph.D., PMP, CQM, CMPI, is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt trainer and consultant with the Harrington Institute and a trainer for West Chester University's Six Sigma training efforts. He has extensive international experience in the development and implementation of quality programs for major corporations. Reach him at thomasmcnellis@aol.com