Leading the way

After three years as senior vice president and CFO of ITT Educational Services, Kevin Modany is tackling a new challenge as the company’s president and COO.

Modany was elected to the position at the end of April, and has gained valuable knowledge and experience, but he says he still has a long way to go.

“Over the last several months, I got in about the 10,000-feet level — I will go deeper into the execution of our strategies as soon as I can,” Modany says.

ITT, a provider of technology-oriented postsecondary degree programs, runs 79 ITT Technical Institutes serving more than 40,000 students.

Modany says new programming, expansion into new markets and a strong brand name are all components of the company’s growth plan. But his biggest focus will be on leveraging the talent of the employees through open, direct communication.

Modany strives to provide clear expectations, set goals and objectives, provide regular feedback and let employees take ownership of the process at the company, which had 2004 sales of $617 million. He says without committed, passionate people, no strategy will succeed.

“Our people represent one of our biggest advantages,” he says. “I really believe that we have a significant number of passionate people, people who are committed to helping others reach their dreams. The way you leverage those people is how you will develop growth opportunities. Distance education, running new campuses and learning sites are part of the picture, but people are the key.” Staying in touch with more than 6,000 full- and part- time employees requires a lot of effort and technology, but it is vital to keeping everyone working toward the same goals, Modany says.

“You have to build a team atmosphere to be successful,” says Modany.

Smart Business spoke with Modany about the challenges of gaining the trust of employees and about identifying growth opportunities for the organization.

How are you executing the transition into your new position?

Thankfully, I’ve had the last several months to get my arms around the organization, as a result of the previous president leaving. For the next several months, I will be assisting with the transition of the new CFO, then I’ll be able to focus on operations.

I will be working with the leadership team on the execution of the business strategy. I will be kicking up the strategies to put us in a position to be successful.

I’ve had the luxury of the last several months to split my time between the CFO role and operations. The transition had already begun. Now I’m working with the (new) CFO to get him up to speed. Once he’s comfortable, I will take the time to dig deeper into the operations of the company.

How do you gain the trust of other executives within the organization?

Since I have been with the company going on three years, it gave me the opportunity to work with them and build their trust. It takes a long period of time.

As an internal candidate, I have had the opportunity to build relationships, which I will continue to build on, which is important. You have to have a team effort. You need everyone working in unison. You can’t have that without trust and open communications with all of them. I really feel it comes down to communication. You have to explain clearly your expectations, then set goals and objective measurements. You measure success and failure by those and get agreement by making sure the goals are achievable, and the person owns them and so does the team and the company.

The results are open, direct, honest communications. You get their views on performance and their contribution so far. Employees appreciate that — that builds trust. You have to stay consistent and don’t waiver. Building trust drives everyone toward the same goal. Everyone is working a piece of the puzzle.

When you lay all the pieces out on the table, you get the completed puzzle.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned at ITT, and how will it help you run the company?

There are industry-specific questions I am learning to answer. This business is more complicated than it seems. There are a host of regulatory requirements and people/human resource issues. Having respect for that helps you manage it.

The people involved have a passion for education, and that is a vital ingredient. You have to believe in what you’re doing — it’s almost like a calling. If you have that in the people you have involved, you will be successful. I have to look for that passion in the people we hire.

Once you get involved in this business, you either fall in love with it or you don’t like it at all. People fall in love with the belief that they can help others. People who aren’t committed like that don’t stay in the business long.

What are the most important skills you’ve gained in the last five years, and how will you leverage them in your current position?

I’ve learned how you manage people. You treat them with respect and by being open with your communications and creating an environment where they can be successful. Our human capital is our biggest asset, and one which we need the most.

Over the last five years, I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject of management and have experimented with different techniques, but learning by doing is really the best way. You learn quickly what you do right and wrong. Having that external information, plus experience, helps you to become a better people manager.

What are your biggest challenges in your new position, and how will you meet them?

I have to go back to that same issue: people. My challenge will be to clearly manage and motivate people so that they are all driving toward the same goals and objectives. We want to deliver the highest quality results to students and businesses employing our students.

We are in a service business, and that requires open, direct communication. I’ve found that most people want to do a good job. They ask questions like, ‘What is my role?’ ‘What do you expect?’ ‘How will we determine whether I am doing a good job?’

If you can get people to take ownership of that process and accept and understand realistic goals, that is half the battle. Then you need to provide regular and consistent feedback about what changes need to be made. You need to provide resources for them to do a good job. Most people want to do a good job; it is our responsibility to get them there.

With employees across the country, how do you effectively communicate your message?

We use almost every communication media known to man. We have face-to-face meetings. A group of managers oversees the campuses, and they visit our headquarters regularly. We also regularly communicate through e-mail, conference calls, Web conferences, as well as training initiatives. All of these are linked together with a consistent message based on our initiatives.

The mantra of our business, everything we do and say is about quality, compliance and customer satisfaction. If you talk to all the employees, 99 percent could tell you those three core principles of the company. We communicate them on a regular basis.

How do you identify growth opportunities?

We have identified several strategies that I have to execute, so most of the strategies are already in place. There is a tremendous gap when it comes to distance education. We need to provide flexibility for prospective students, which increases access to education. We initiated a strategy to provide that but we need to continue to do so in a more significant way.

We are also adding different programs to our offerings to differentiate ourselves. Recently we added programs in criminal justice and business administration. We also added a program for business accounting technology. These new programs are a big part of our growth plan. Any new product would have a technology base, but we are exploring new categories, for example, health care.

In the longer-term, the international market is of interest to us. We have relationships with vendors in India and China for revenue-sharing to explore the marketplaces and how to deliver appropriate programming for the market. We feel that is a way for us to expand and explore those geographic areas.

We also plan expansions in our current markets through marketing additional locations. We plan to open three or four additional locations per year. We have full campuses, as well as satellite campuses that are about 25 percent the size of our full campuses. We plan to open three to four of these campuses each year as well. These satellite campuses have provided us with another vehicle, a learning site, offering students more flexibility.

Most of our students are working adults, and we want to provide a site close to work. I have input developing the growth plans, and my role is to execute them.

How to Reach: ITT Educational Services Inc., (800) 488-8324 or www.ittesi.com