Egypt: No hugs in mixed-gender greetings. Mexico: Double cheek kissing may be expected. The culture surrounding professional practices varies around the world and knowing those differences creates respect for the faculty and staff of the Center for Executive Development at Mays Business School, which provides custom programs for large, multinational firms such as Halliburton and KBR, as well as smaller organizations, like Houston Area Community Services.
Fully one-half of the center’s corporate clients are international. “They’re from all over. From Latin America, from Africa,” said Ashley Hilgemeier, program manager for the center. “This week alone we have people from Indonesia, Scotland, Brazil, and different parts of Europe.” Depending on the location and class size, frequently Mays faculty travel to present a course rather than bring the participants to campus, traveling to destinations such as, Russia, Egypt, Canada, and Malaysia.
The three-week course taken by Craig Anderson has attracted law enforcement officials from across the state to the Center for Executive Development.
“It’s great because it gives us a chance all around the world to showcase Texas A&M, which many of the participants have never heard of before,” says Ben Welch, assistant dean of education for the center and clinical professor of management at Mays.
Housed at Texas A&M University, the center is a big business: in the 2008 fiscal year, the center’s revenues exceeded $3 million, touching 1,222 participants at seven organizations through 60 weeks of programs (some programs run consecutively). All of this is accomplished with a small staff: five full-time employees, one part-time (Welch’s position is divided between the center and teaching in the management department at Mays), and a handful of student workers.
No matter where, people are the key element
“The key factor that we see in executive ed is the commitment that the employees have to be here,” says Welch. “They have a sense of humility and a great desire to learn everything they can.”
Welch sees the mission of his center as being closely aligned with the purpose of a university: outreach and education to many audiences, bringing the latest research to the business place where it can be applied. The CED routinely covers topics such as marketing, finance, and effective communication with its management clientele, incorporating information and examples specific to each company.
“Our purpose, our mission is to provide customized training in the area of executive education. We find out what our customers need and then pair our best faculty with them to meet those needs,” says Welch. “We cover all the disciplines.” Depending on those organizational needs, the center occasionally invites top faculty from other colleges within Texas A&M, as well as experts from beyond the university.
The center uses a variety of techniques and approaches to provide customized training in the area of executive education.
The center is focused on building the human capital of an organization, says Welch. “Your human capital is so much more important than your [financial] capital within the business, because it’s your human capital that creates your sustainability within an organization.”
From Halliburton executives in Russia to golf course managers for the military, the center’s staff sees a wide range of businesses represented in their classes. The common denominator among them all is leadership and maturity: most have a college degree and a minimum five years of supervisory experience; some have advanced degrees and have been with their companies for more than 25 years. “They bring a wealth of experience to the classroom,” said Welch, contrasting the executives with the undergraduates he also teaches.
Depending on the business location, it can be very expensive for a company to contract with the CED staff for this specialized training, so participants are handpicked by their organizations to participate. The average class size is 30.Â Programs last from three days to three weeks, with the average being one week.
“In an economy where there’s such an economic downturn, what the company is saying to this employee is, “we believe in you and we believe in your contribution to our success,'” says Welch. “The company is making a financial contribution to that individualâ€¦the company expects to see a return on investment. They want to see how it will change them as a manager and leader.”
Cindy Bigner is Halliburton’s director of human resources for the Eastern Hemisphere. She’s spent 18 years with the company, the last two in Cairo, Egypt. Staff members from the CED traveled to work with her and others in her area for a recent program. “We have seen tremendous value from these courses and from having them both in College Station and within the regions of Eastern Hemisphere,” she says. “Every person who takes a CED course, without fail, tells me that it is the best course they have ever taken.”
“The training with the CED has played a part in many opportunities for me within Halliburton,” said Bigner. “It has shown me most of all how much the company cares about employees’ growth and development.”
No matter the location, language barriers are not usually a major concern, says Hilgemeier. Most of the participants speak English, as it’s increasingly becoming a business necessity, especially within the leadership of the company. The international aspect brings with it other challenges, though, as the staff must be sensitive to the customs of a wide variety of people.
Closer to home
Patrol cars cruising down dark alleys. Officers on foot, pursuing dangerous criminals. These are the images that come to mind when most imagine a career in law enforcement, but what about the less glamorous tasks? Financial spreadsheets? Scheduling?
Craig Anderson was a sergeant with the College Station, Texas, police department when he first came in contact with the CED. Anderson liked his job, but knew he wanted moreâ€”he wanted to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant.
Mays and CED faculty members, such as Clair Nixon, hold classes in College Station and around the world.
Not everything he needed to know for promotion could be learned on the job, said Anderson, such as how to create a budget or interact with the media. “As police officers, as we go through our careers, we need executive training to improve our skills,” he said. To achieve that end, Anderson took part in a three-week course offered through the CED that was tailored to Texas law enforcement officers.
The course was challenging, but Anderson says it was worth it. “It helped me out on things I needed to know so that I could move into a leadership position,” said Anderson, who made lieutenant shortly after completing the program.
In his current position, Anderson is often called on to speak publicly on behalf of his division. “The training has helped me develop leadership skills so that people can have confidence in the police department…I’ve taken those tools I learned in the classroom and applied them to my career,” he says.
Anderson’s advancement is the sort of story that excites Welch. “It’s all about people development,” says Welch. “We want each of [our participants] to feel that we have developed them as a leader.”