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Private Providers Put Emphasis on Real-World Results

February 2, 2007
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When Time Warner, Inc., the world’s largest media company, decided it needed help turning its creative product and talent managers into corporate leaders, it had its pick of custom executive education programs offered at some of the finest universities and colleges in the country. But Time Warner, with $43.6 billion in 2005 revenue, chose a private firm instead of an institution of higher education, opting to put its managers in the hands of Mercer Delta Consulting.

    Over the past few years, private, for-profit companies like Mercer have moved aggressively into the field of executive education, offering a real-world alternative to the traditional academic style. Schools pitch themselves as repositories of knowledge. A company like Mercer pitches bottom-line results in a sort of boot-camp approach to teaching managers how to become action-oriented leaders.

    "The way business schools have touted themselves is that they have cutting-edge research from the best teachers and professors," says David Dotlich, president of Mercer Delta Executive Learning Center. "Who cares? At the end of the day, if an organization is not transformed it is irrelevant."

    Ironically, Mercer Delta Learning hires many of the same college professors to teach its courses. But Dotlich says Mercer’s overall approach is different, combining classroom instruction with coaching and corporate analysis to ensure that what’s learned gets applied. Dotlich says that Mercer is able to use its consulting abilities to enhance its education offerings.

    Dotlich himself started out as a University of Minnesota business professor before taking a series of corporate jobs, mostly in human resources with an emphasis on executive development. In 1998, he and two partners founded CDR International, a global executive development firm, and began offering custom executive education courses in direct competition with universities. Mercer acquired the company in 2004 and Dotlich has been running the operation for Mercer since.

    Unlike schools, Mercer offers no general, open-enrollment courses that teach broad management topics. Instead, Mercer Delta Learning works directly with CEOs and corporate boards to craft education programs that are designed to help a company build a better leadership pipeline.

    The latest twist involves Mercer not only training managers to be leaders but also helping corporations select the best candidates to train. Mercer’s consultants evaluate a company’s management team, assess talents, determine which managers possess the most potential, then use custom programs to train and educate those selected few. "I don’t know a business school in the world that does that," Dotlich says.

    The Mercer approach helps a company replenish its leadership pipeline, he says. Because its education classes are stocked with carefully selected managers, graduates are more likely to use their newly acquired knowledge and skills to change and improve their companies. And that, Dotlich says, is what executive education is all about in the end.

    Dotlich says companies ask for three things: "Tell me what the frontier is, tell me what the best practices are, help me change," he says. "The provider who does that the best will grow the fastest."

Workforce Management, January 15, 2007, p. 22 -- Subscribe Now!

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