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Universities Welcome Former Business Leaders to Lead Executive Education Programs

December 29, 2006
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More and more business professionals are finding their way into positions of leadership in university-based executive education programs.

    This brings an interesting set of business skills with academic knowledge together to help shape the way in which upper-level managers and organizational leaders are being developed. This change may be warmly welcomed by CEOs and their senior human resource executives as the primary people charged with assembling and developing highly effective executive management teams.

    Traditionally, executive education programs at major colleges and universities have been led by academics. That leadership role now appears to be evolving. The real-world pressures of global competition and bottom-line performance are placing demands on universities that can clearly be understood by those who have been in the corporate trenches. And universities and colleges have opened their ranks to individuals with extensive business experience. This new combination of talents could prove highly efficient, effective and practical.

    Consider this: In the past several years, a number of the nation’s top university-based executive programs have placed former business leaders at their helms.

    The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, for example, searched for and found a former consulting partner based in London to head its executive education program. David Newkirk, Darden’s CEO of executive education, was with Booz Allen and American Express before moving to academe. Booz Allen is one of the world’s leading consulting firms, with more than 18,000 employees.

    "I had a corporate career, a consulting career, and now I am starting my third act," Newkirk says.

    Babson College, a leading provider of executive education located in Wellesley, Massachusetts, named Elaine Eisenman as the head of its program. Eisenman is a former senior vice president at American Express, where she helped to redesign the company’s human resources function.

    Other colleges and universities—such as Harvard, Penn State, Dartmouth and the University of Western Ontario--have also sought executive education leaders with similar credentials.

    As executive education moves forward, business experience allows program leaders to bring a more practical, real-world perspective to the entire process. These individuals truly understand the issues that companies are dealing with because they have dealt with them themselves. Business people have had firsthand dealings with the corporate decision-making process and know it intimately. This provides them with a well-grounded sense of how to assess markets, the consultative sales process required, and how to work on "corporate time" to be responsive to client needs.

    While the placement of executive education leaders with faculty or administrators who have had a strong research, teaching and consulting background is still alive and well, former business executives are now stepping forward and making the transition. Only time will tell whether the current openings for leaders of executive education programs at both Notre Dame and Georgetown will be filled by business or faculty appointments.

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