Businesses are Gaining the Advantage Through Global Executive Education Programs [ by William Atkinson ]
Richard Castagna, assistant vice president of operations for the southern region of Union Pacific Railroad (Spring, Texas), has a commitment to life-long education. After Castagna received his bachelor’s degree and was working for the railroad, he returned to school to get a master’s degree. “I realized that getting the master’s really opened up a lot of opportunities for me in the railroad,” he states. He then recently decided to return to school once more, this time to get his Ph.D. “I don’t believe the Ph.D. will open up that many more opportunities for me or lead to significantly more compensation,” he admits. “However, I wanted to pursue the degree for two reasons.” One is that he might want to do something with it when he retires, such as teach or consult. “More important and more immediate, though, is to directly help the railroad,” he states. Castagna currently has 402 managers reporting to him.
Castagna elected to enter the “Ph.D. in Business for Executives” program at Oklahoma State University. The program, launched in January 2012, currently has 19 students, takes three years to complete and has a new class entering each January. “It is aimed primarily at people who already have a master’s degree and want to further their learning related to the latest in business research, to help them do their jobs better,” explains Ramesh Sharda, Ph.D., who actually has four different titles at the university, one of which is director, Ph.D. in Business for Executives program. “The program’s goal is to narrow the gap between academia and business.” Students help the faculty learn about the problems that their businesses face, so they can work together and develop research that will have practical applications. In fact, one of the things that differentiates OSU’s program from many others around the country is its strong emphasis on research.
To make sure that it is responsive to students, when the program finds that a significant number of students are interested in a certain topic, such as international trade, it will offer a specific doctoral seminar in that area.
Graduates receive a Ph.D. in business administration, similar to what other full-time, on-campus students receive, except that this program offers the executive research option.
What Castagna has learned at OSU is having an immediate impact on his job. “The coursework isn’t designed to teach people to become Ph.D.s so they can go on and teach other people to be Ph.D.s,” he points out. “The whole purpose of the program is to focus on practical research that answers some questions on operations management, organizational structure and that kind of stuff.” This lets him come out with some action items and activities that will directly help the railroad now.
These days, Castagna spends time reading Journal of Organizational Behavior and Journal of Management Science. “You don’t see a lot of this information in trade journals, such as Railway Age and Progressive Railroading,” he points out.
A primary focus of the OSU program is on root cause analysis and problem solving. “This provides a huge benefit to me, because it helps me look at things in different ways,” says Castagna. “Over the last few decades, we have seen management initiatives come and go, such as Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, lean, and so on. There is nothing wrong with these. However, you have to ask: What is the underlying research behind it? What is the data? How do you interpret it? What do you do with it?” Castagna has access to reams of data every day on performance and different things that the railroad does. What he wants to know is how to look at this data objectively. What is the right way to sort it? Classify it? Compare it in ways to go beyond the typical Total Quality Management type of problem-solving?
“The information I am learning helps me in the short term, and I believe it will benefit the company in the long term,” reports Castagna. For example, he is introducing a performance variability initiative, designed to try to reduce the variability in the day-to-day performance and operations of trains—“all the goofy things that happen every day and cause you to scratch your head and wonder why,” he says. “The more consistent we can become, the happier our customers are going to be.” Another benefit will be the ability to reduce costs, because the later a train is, the more the railroad’s costs increase. “What I’m learning is how to look for commonalities that will lead back to a root cause, so we can eliminate rework, eliminate double-handling and so on,” he notes.
In one class this semester, students formed into five-person teams. Castagna’s team began working on an engagement study, talking about the “factors of engagement.”
“We wanted it to target the front-line employees,” he explains. “We didn’t want to interview our own employees, because they know we are their bosses. So, we swapped companies and interviewed each other’s employees.”
Some executives believe that employee problems are unique to their industry. “What we found out was that, when you get right down to it, pretty much all people in all companies worry about the same kind of stuff,” he states. What kind of day am I going to have? Does the company care? “This was an eye-opener for a lot of people in the class,” he notes.
Castagna entered the OSU program with some preconceived notions. However, he ended up facing the unexpected. “Time is a huge challenge,” he states. “You don’t get a Ph.D. by loafing. The enormous amount of work, especially reading, takes a lot of time.” Having the master’s degree has helped, though. “I feel sorry for the son-of-a-gun who just got a bachelor’s degree trying to attack this,” he adds.
The Krannert Executive Education Program at Purdue University offers degree programs, certificate programs and custom programs. Within the degree programs are options for an Executive MBA or Global MBA. “Rather than having students focus on a certain area, such as accounting, finance or marketing, we cover all of these areas,” explains Aldas Kriauciunas, executive director. “In our experience, the reason global executives succeed relates to their ability to address challenges in a number of different areas.”
Purdue’s program offers a blended approach of online and in-class learning. Students come to campus about once every three months and work in teams on different types of projects. “When they come to campus, they work together and focus on interactive assignments,” Kriauciunas continues. Students also engage in online discussions when they are not on campus. Students in the Executive MBA program come to campus five times. For the sixth meeting, they take a trip to China. “In the Global MBA program, we have partner schools in Brazil, France, Netherlands, Germany, Hungary and China,” adds Kriauciunas.
One satisfied alumni is Noel S. Paul, global program leader with Eli Lilly & Company (Indianapolis, Indiana). “Part of my job is seeking talent for our U.S. and global markets,” states Paul. When he was looking for an advanced executive education program, he wanted one that would allow him to expand his knowledge of different areas of business, such as marketing, finance and operations theories and principals. “I also liked the idea that the program had a strong international flavor to it, with a focus of teaching leaders to be able to operate in a global environment,” he says.
Another feature that attracted him to Purdue’s program was the idea of being able to work with other business professionals who had already learned a lot. “I wanted an environment where we could learn from each other,” explains Paul. “Since that time, I have been able to apply some of these principles in my various roles.”
Another executive program with a strong emphasis on global leadership is offered by Duke University. Duke has an Executive MBA program. Within that is a program for senior executives called the Global Executive MBA, which has been in operation since 1996. It is aimed at senior executives who either have global business experience or are being prepared for that type of position. “It is consistently ranked in the top 10 of executive MBA programs internationally,” reports John Gallagher, associate dean, Executive MBA Programs.
As part of the program, students travel to a number of international locations. “The program is designed such that students can live anywhere,” he reports. The current class, in fact, has students from 29 different countries. Students can attend classes in Durham, Shanghai, Bangkok, London, St. Petersburg (Russia), New Delhi and Dubai. “The curriculum has been redesigned to speak directly to global business requirements,” adds Gallagher. “For example, a course on institutions that regulate global trade.”
Gianna Venturi, a UK-based regional HR director for Kimberly-Clark International, entered the program in early 2011. “The global nature of the program made sure we were outside of the classroom, learning about real business where it happens in different parts of the world,” she reports. “In addition, the program structure allowed me, not living in the U.S., to participate in the program while continuing my career. Two weeks away every three months works well.”
Venturi pursued the advanced program because she wanted to gain more general business knowledge to assist in her future career with the company. “The company agreed that the benefit of the knowledge would be an advantage to them, too,” she concludes.