Robinson Reflections: Luis Planas

Luis Planas MBA '77, Finance

Luis Planas
MBA ’77, Finance

As a boy, Luis Planas wanted to be a doctor. His father was one of a handful of doctors in their town on the eastern end of Cuba and the only one that delivered babies. Luis even remembers wearing a white coat and carrying a small medical bag when he tagged along with his dad on house calls. His childhood memories are of an idyllic and limitless life, of horseback riding on his grandfather’s farm, of delivering food baskets to those in need. And then everything changed in 1961.

Luis was ten years old when he left Cuba for the United States, alone. His parents, recognizing the changing political climate in their country, made arrangements for Luis to live with friends of the family in Miami, Florida. At the time, his parents told him it was an educational opportunity that would last only one year and so Luis agreed to go.

To this day, Luis has not stepped foot back in Cuba, and though Luis and his younger brother were reunited within a year after arriving in Miami, it was a full five years before he saw his parents again. He recognizes that coming to America at such an impressionable age largely shaped who he is today. “Whenever I think about this decision that my parents made for my benefit at the time, it always gives me courage to move on.” And that’s exactly what Luis did: he moved on.

His first job was delivering papers for the Miami Herald. By the time Luis was 12, he and his brother were living with their cousin in Miami. Luis took on the paper route to help out and hasn’t been without a job since.

Sometime in high school Luis decided he was more interested in business than medicine, and he graduated with a BBA from West Georgia College in 1972. His intention was to become a certified accountant, so he answered a blind ad for a junior accountant position in Atlanta and later found out that the position was at The Coca-Cola Company. “I was very surprised. I had not purposefully set out for a job with a big company, but everyone knows The Coca-Cola Company, and the temptation was just too great, so I took the job,” recalled Luis. “That was my first job after graduation, and I stayed with the company for thirty-five and a half years.”

Although he started out in the accounting department, within six months Luis moved into the purchasing department. He enjoyed the work so much that he gave up his dream of becoming a CPA and instead went back to school to earn an MBA in finance. He enrolled part-time at the business school at Georgia State, which allowed him to continue working at The Coca-Cola Company while pursuing his graduate degree.

Georgia State University

There were challenges associated with attending night school. In addition to giving up his weekends for schoolwork, Luis remembers that traveling for The Coca-Cola Company posed certain trials – often his wife, Abrenda, and their two young sons would take Luis to the airport for a work trip, and then swing by the GSU campus on their way home to turn in his homework and pick up new assignments. “I don’t think I would have stuck it out without their incredible help and understanding,” he said. But he regrets that there was no foundation for a lasting connection to his classmates since night school, combined with a busy family and work schedule, offered no time for socializing.

However, the academics were just what Luis wanted. “Academically, I had to step up. I think Georgia State, even in the early 70s, was a challenging step up in the quality of work I was expected to turn in.” Luis remembers that most of his professors taught part-time while moving forward with their own careers in Atlanta, something Luis really appreciated since they brought real-world experience to the classroom. “These dedicated professionals were so supportive and encouraging to me; they made it easier for me to get my degree and prepare for a great career.”

Learn more about Luis Planas and other Robinson College alumni in the Robinson Reflections series.

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Robinson Reflections: Gabriele Zedlmayer

In the span of a couple weeks, Gabriele Zedlmayer traveled to Dubai, Riyadh, Johannesburg, and Rome, with a stop in between at her home in Germany and her office in Switzerland.

Of all those destinations, though, few are as dear to her heart as the one that started off her round-the-world jaunt: Georgia State’s campus in downtown Atlanta.

“It is a warm feeling to come back,” she says. “There are not many places I have gone back to after many years and thought, ‘Wow, this is something truly special.’ I’ve always loved Atlanta — I’ve loved the people, the Southern hospitality, the fact that I was given chances I wouldn’t have gotten someplace else.

Zedlmayer was the keynote speaker at the Robinson College of Business’ inaugural Global Business Forum last fall. As Hewlett-Packard’s vice president and chief progress officer, she was able to offer numerous insights from her own experience as to how technology and a focus on social responsibility can help today’s business students further their own careers.

A Warm Welcome, Far Away From Home

Zedlmayer smiles as she recalls how her own business training began early, courtesy of her large family — she was the fourth of six children, five of them girls. “Early on, if I wanted to get anything done, I had to use good persuasive skills, good negotiation skills,” she says. “I had to learn to be persistent.”

She followed in the footsteps of an older sister who had earned a scholarship in Germany and used it to attend Agnes Scott College in 1975. “I thought this was a great idea, to come to the U.S. and get exposed to a different culture, a different educational system, a whole new way of life,” Zedlmayer remembers. “And people here were so friendly and welcoming. I decided I wanted more of that experience, so I wanted to study in the U.S. more than just the one year.”

Georgia State provided an affordable place for her to continue her studies, so she came here to earn a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages, graduating in just a year and a half.

“There were not that many international students in ’79, not like today,” Zedlmayer recalls. “And the experience at Georgia State was somewhat different from Agnes Scott, because it is a much bigger place, and I had to find my way around. But I had fabulous professors who really took me under their wing and showed me how to get around in this place. They really explained to me, this is what you need to do, here are some additional opportunities you can pursue.

“The personal relationships I was able to build in spite of this being such a big place really made such a big difference for me. I had to prove myself, but Georgia State gave me the opportunity. I don’t know that every place would’ve done that.”

Global Travels and New Frontiers

Zedlmayer went on to earn her M.B.A. in Miami, but she says she didn’t necessarily have a plan for what she was going to do next. “Thirty years ago, you could go into business without having a real master plan in place — you started with a multinational company and built a career there. I don’t think that exists for young people going forward,” she observes. “Now it’s a time you really have to invest in yourself. Now you have to have more of a plan, but it’s also a flexible time, a time that requires openness to change. I think employers increasingly look for people who shape their own jobs and shape the skills that prepare them for those jobs.”

Zedlmayer worked for Eastern Air Lines for a while in the United States, then returned to Europe to work for a startup called Compaq. She describes it as “a golden time” and “the ride of a lifetime,” but also as “a bit of a shock” when Hewlett Packard acquired Compaq in 2002. Instead of panicking, though, she started researching what was different about HP’s environment and corporate culture. “Sustainability” was a term that kept popping up.

“Sustainability was really part of HP’s DNA,” she says. “When it came to environmental and social programs, I knew that was the job I wanted. So I started working toward getting that job.”

Today Zedlmayer leads a team of experts around the world in working with customers, governments, and nonprofits to create sustainable solutions to various social and environmental issues. Some of them have immediate business implications, while others, such as education, affect HP more in the long term. But they’re all vital, she says, both to HP’s continued to success and to the good of society as a whole.

Inspired by the way technology has transformed her own career, Zedlmayer has made science, technology, engineering, and math education a particular passion of hers. “It’s our responsibility to make STEM education something that kids love, that inspires them, that they can play with,” she says. “The future of economies around the world depends on whether we can get more kids interested in STEM education. The more work we do with personalized learning, the more we will keep the children with us.”

As sustainability only increases in importance for companies around the world, Zedlmayer is thrilled at the opportunities HP has given her in that arena. “It’s not just an opportunity, it’s a must. It’s something we have to do today,” she says. “I’m glad to be in a space that I think is going to be absolutely critical going forward.”

gabriele-zedlmayer

Gabriele Zedlmayer, Vice President and Chief Progress Officer, Hewlett-Packard Corporate Affairs
United States

Learn more about Gabi Zedlmayer and other Robinson College alumni in the Robinson Reflections series.

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Don’t Skimp on Talent Management in a Downturn

As leaders have steered their companies through this economic downturn several familiar tactics have been deployed.  A common move has been to cut costs – many firms have and many more will as an effort to hunker down and focus on the core business.  Others, like Oracle’s Larry Ellison, will see the tough times as having created a buyer’s market and will look to make acquisitions on more favorable terms than could have been had months ago.  Still others will look for ways to forge alliances, to innovate, or to otherwise shore up their competitive position.

Regardless of the plans leaders develop to forge ahead the single critical success factor is how well the company understands, develops, and then deploys talent.  The cleverness of the strategy developed to lead the company out of the downturn is irrelevant if there isn’t a team in place that can execute.  Here is the complication – when the competitive dynamics and the broader economic conditions have changed this quickly and dramatically it is critical to understand just what your team can do.  No company is playing the same game – or the game the same way – as they were just a few years ago. How well boards of directors and CEOs recognize and respond to that will determine how quickly and how successfully they bring their company through the downturn to leverage today’s improving conditions.

The challenge faced by leaders today is that two characteristics of the downturn make it likely that talent management issues have not been given proper priority.  First, because virtually all companies include some degree of cost-cutting in their plans for moving forward many are often too quick to identify succession planning, employee development, and similar talent management investments as targets for saving – it becomes “something we can’t afford to do right now”.  The problem with this strategy is that this may be precisely the time that investment could yield the best return.  How much experience does the management team have in managing in hard economic times?  How deep is their understanding of the impact fundamentally different market conditions will have on the business?  What previously unforeseen competencies have become critical for your leaders?  How can you develop these competencies without investment?  As conditions improve, how can we be sure we have the talent on board to take full advantage?

Second, the turbulent business climate leads to a turbulent labor market.  When employees view their company’s situation as tenuous they are likely to consider an exit on their terms rather than waiting to see if the situation improves.  Of course those most likely to leave are the most talented – they are the ones that will most easily find other opportunities.  For buyers of talent there is an incredible opportunity in the labor market because of this churn.  Buyers face a challenge in sorting wheat from the chaff as individuals look to leave companies with futures perceived as bleak or are cut loose – some time back, for example, J.P. Morgan made available the entire top management team of Washington Mutual.  For those struggling companies retention becomes an enormous challenge – and it may be one that only can be overcome with investment in talent.  And as conditions improve and hiring begins, pent up interest in new positions will lead to turnover.

For these reasons, this is not the time for Boards and CEOs to let off on succession planning and talent management but instead to double down to ensure they have the requisite sets of skills and experiences to be successful in navigating this downturn.  Specifically, succession plans need to be revisited – the future that a candidate was being prepared for has fundamentally changed.  Consequently what was a “ready now” successor may now face a significant gap in their preparation.  And smart buyers of talent may find some great values on the marketplace – but those can only be properly recognized when a clear understanding of what the company needs and what the candidate can do exists.

 

About the Authors

Nathan Bennett, PhD

Nathan Bennett, PhD

Nathan Bennett, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He specializes in leadership and strategy execution, managing innovation and change processes, top management team dynamics, and contextual influences on individual behavior in organizations. Nate has published in numerous widely-read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. He is co-author of the 2006 Stanford University Press title “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and the 2010 book “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Professor Bennett received both his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Applied Research from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in Management from Georgia Tech.

 

Taylor Griffin

Taylor M. Griffin

Taylor M. Griffin is a partner and COO of The Miles Group.

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Who Is Looking Out for No. 1?

Serving a company as CEO is undoubtedly a unique opportunity.  And with the opportunity come truly unique challenges.  Some, like the pressures to produce consistent growth, are quite familiar.  Others, like how to develop strategies to survive and thrive in a global recession, are still being understood.  Whether the challenges are new or familiar, it requires a lot of grit to take them on day after day.  From what we’ve seen, the job has become only more grueling over the past decade.  To a degree much greater than ever before, CEOs are marked executives.  And their isn’t much reason to expect the scrutiny with which they’re viewed will lessen.

This circumstance raises important questions:  Is your current CEO – is anyone, for that matter – equipped to deal with all the woe and intrigue that comes with the job?  Are things evolving in a manner that may make the job unattractive enough so that – even with an astronomical paycheck – truly authentic, capable leaders are turned off?    And finally, what can boards and CEOs do to minimize the stress connected to the job as it is today?

What’s making the job tougher?  Here are just a few from what’s become a familiar list:

  • Political forces:  increasingly active government oversight and regulation
  • Economic forces: finding growth in a global recession
  • Social forces:  demands for greater transparency, increased concerns for socially responsible corporate behavior, distrust of institutions, generational gaps in the workforce and their workplace value systems
  • Technological forces:  dramatic rise of various social media platforms to track and hold companies accountable

And, granted, sometimes business has been it’s own worst enemy.  Who can forget the scolding auto executives received after travelling in private jets to DC for their Congressional testimony.  Not a week goes by where headlines don’t express outrage at what’s seen as outrageous compensation.  And finally, stories of what is at least bad judgment from CEOs like Mark Hurd and Brian Dunn don’t help.  Bad optics.

So CEOs face a tough situation – political, economic, social, and technological forces are interacting in new, often unpredictable ways.  The resulting volatility, complexity, and ambiguity create a situation where the pressure CEOs face is daunting. The demands on the CEO continue to increase – and CEOs can only spread themselves so far.  If you are a CEO, investors, analysts, government officials, regulators, NGO’s, customers, suppliers, partners, are among those who all want a piece of you – and they aren’t just in your town – they are all over the globe.  It’s a rare person who easily and comfortably moves around the world and engages with such varied constituencies in an authentic and meaningful way.  And all this is taking place in an environment where the role is faced with increased scrutiny.

How should your company be handling the increasing complexity of the CEO position?  First off, boards have to be sensitive to these demands when they select and appraise CEOs.  Perhaps they should recognize that CEO tenures will likely continue to shorten and as a result their succession planning and talent development processes may need to produce qualified individuals at a higher rate than in the past.  CEOs themselves have to make sure they invest necessary time in staying well under the crush of these wide-ranging demands.

That said, it’s troubling that recent reports suggest workplace changes are actually aimed at increasing the load carried by the CEO. We refer here to the recently reporting findings that fewer companies are deploying a COO – a second set of hands – and relatedly, that CEOs report an increase in the number of their direct reports.  Each of these trends leads to the conclusion that in an increasingly demanding time, more is being asked of already heavily burdened CEOs.  With these decisions, boards and CEOs may be unintentionally exacerbating the situation.

If there was ever a time that called for a number two – a COO – this is it.  The tendency in crises to want to centralize control – what we see now – is natural.  But this isn’t a crises; this is how it is going to be going forward.  None of the forces noted above are slowing down.  Companies need to be structured to match the complexity of the business environment and a COO provides a step in that direction.   It’s time to look out for number one by providing them a number two.

About the Authors

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Stephen A. Miles

Stephen A. Miles is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Miles Group. Previously, he was a Vice Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles where he ran the Leadership Advisory Services within the Leadership Consulting Practice and oversaw the firm’s worldwide executive assessment/succession planning activities. With more than 15 years of experience in assessment, top-level succession planning, organizational effectiveness and strategy consulting, Stephen specializes in CEO succession and has partnered with numerous Boards of global Fortune 500 companies to ensure that a successful leadership selection and transition occurs. Stephen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Business Administration both from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada; and a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria.

nbennett

Nathan Bennett, PhD

Nathan Bennett, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He specializes in leadership and strategy execution, managing innovation and change processes, top management team dynamics, and contextual influences on individual behavior in organizations. Nate has published in numerous widely-read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. He is co-author of the 2006 Stanford University Press title “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and the 2010 book “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Professor Bennett received both his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Applied Research from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in Management from Georgia Tech.

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Achieving Leadership & Innovation Success Through Constant Education

*This week’s post was originally printed in ‘The Exceed Report: a J. Mack Robinson College of Business/Executive Education publication’

PG43-Kat-Cole

Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon, Inc.

An Interview with Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon.

Kat Cole talks about the strategies and skills needed to effectively create and manage change in a brand that has had success in over 52 countries and continues to roll out successful new multichannel opportunities.

Kat Cole is the president of Cinnabon, Inc., which operates more than 770 franchised locations worldwide and is the market leader among bakeries, serving cinnamon rolls and a variety of other baked goods and specialty beverages. As the president of Cinnabon, she is a member of the leadership team within FOCUS Brands Inc., which is the franchisor and operator of more than 2,200 ice cream shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafes in the United States and around the world.

Cole has more than a decade of multi-disciplined experience in change management, culture, communications, service, training, sales, restaurant operations, and brand and organizational leadership and is a sought-after featured speaker and panelist on these topics. She has created relevant, cost effective training and development programs and is widely known in and outside of her industry for mentorship, management and leadership development.

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Interview with Cinnabon’s Kat Cole continued

*This week’s post was originally printed in ‘The Exceed Report: a J. Mack Robinson College of Business/Executive Education publication’

PG43-Kat-Cole

Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon, Inc.

An Interview with Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon.

Kat Cole talks about the strategies and skills needed to effectively create and manage change in a brand that has had success in over 52 countries and continues to roll out successful new multichannel opportunities.

Kat Cole is the president of Cinnabon, Inc., which operates more than 770 franchised locations worldwide and is the market leader among bakeries, serving cinnamon rolls and a variety of other baked goods and specialty beverages. As the president of Cinnabon, she is a member of the leadership team within FOCUS Brands Inc., which is the franchisor and operator of more than 2,200 ice cream shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafes in the United States and around the world.

Cole has more than a decade of multi-disciplined experience in change management, culture, communications, service, training, sales, restaurant operations, and brand and organizational leadership and is a sought-after featured speaker and panelist on these topics. She has created relevant, cost effective training and development programs and is widely known in and outside of her industry for mentorship, management and leadership development.

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Cinnabon: Building Global, Multichannel Success

*This week’s post was originally printed in ‘The Exceed Report: a J. Mack Robinson College of Business/Executive Education publication’

PG43-Kat-Cole

Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon, Inc.

An Interview with Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon.

Kat Cole talks about the strategies and skills needed to effectively create and manage change in a brand that has had success in over 52 countries and continues to roll out successful new multichannel opportunities.

Kat Cole is the president of Cinnabon, Inc., which operates more than 770 franchised locations worldwide and is the market leader among bakeries, serving cinnamon rolls and a variety of other baked goods and specialty beverages. As the president of Cinnabon, she is a member of the leadership team within FOCUS Brands Inc., which is the franchisor and operator of more than 2,200 ice cream shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafes in the United States and around the world.

Cole has more than a decade of multi-disciplined experience in change management, culture, communications, service, training, sales, restaurant operations, and brand and organizational leadership and is a sought-after featured speaker and panelist on these topics. She has created relevant, cost effective training and development programs and is widely known in and outside of her industry for mentorship, management and leadership development.

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The future of executive education continued

Real Executive Education: Lead innovation and growth, or else…
Adaptive leadership and strategic innovation are the hottest topics in executive education today. A recent IBM-sponsored survey of 1,541 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders worldwide reported “that events, threats and opportunities aren’t just coming at us faster or with less predictability; they are converging and influencing each other to create entirely unique situations. These first-of-their-kind developments require unprecedented degrees of creativity—which has become a more important leadership quality than attributes like management discipline, rigor or operational acumen.” Successful organizations are those that have learned to integrate creativity and innovation with leadership and strategy.

Relational Executive Education: Working together to deliver results
Organizations are demanding that executive development programs deliver immediate business results.  They want their employees-participants to acquire the knowledge, skills, and creativity needed to lead the company into uncharted territory while simultaneously solving strategic problems. To achieve these dual objectives, executives are working more closely with business school professors to both design and teach programs. Future executive education programs must offer the right balance of theory and practice.  Theory without practice is irrelevant but practice without theory is unsustainable.

On the technology front, top business schools around the world including the Robinson College of Business are embracing the concept of “flipping the classroom” where the lecture portions of the content are delivered to participants before the program via pre-recorded webinars. Then the face-to-face part of the program is devoted to discussing and applying the frameworks and models to real-work projects.

Developing your leadership skills is the best way to accelerate your career. The most effective way to make your organization better is by helping others develop their leadership skills too.

An English nobleman sought to reward a selfless, heroic Scotsman who saved his son from certain death. The humble Scot refused any reward. The lord, sensing greatness in the man, insisted. When the Scot refused again, the nobleman said “Alright, but let me pay to educate your son the way I am educating my own.” The Scot accepted. His son went on to make one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time. When the lord’s son lay dying from infection, the Scotsman’s son’s discovery saved him. The Scotsman’s son? Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin. And the nobleman’s son? Winston Churchill.

Our world needs more great leaders and courageous innovators. Steve Jobs said it well: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” But John Quincy Adams said it first and best: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

About the Authors:

Steven D. Olson, Ph.D.Steven D. Olson, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Steve is an award-winning teacher in the College’s executive education, EMBA and Executive Doctorate in Business programs. He is an expert in fuses theory and practice in leadership, innovation, and environmental sustainability. Steve advises leaders in some of the most successful organizations including the U. S. Marine Corp’s Officer Leadership Academy. He was also the co-founderand managing partner of Generative Consulting, a leadership development firm whose clients regularly appear on Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Steve earned a Master’s Degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. from Emory University.

Daniel L. Stots, M.S.Daniel L. Stotz, M.S., is Senior Director of Executive Education and Lecturer at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Dan has 18 years of experience designing senior-level executive development programs that integrate the topics of leadership, innovation and strategy. He plays the lead role in working with senior executives to design customized executive education programs that accelerate the leadership development process. His current and past clients include Cox Enterprises, the FBI Crime Labs, GE Energy, Georgia Gulf Corporation, McKesson Technology Solutions, NCR Corporation, Regions Financial, Rollins Inc., and the NASA Johnson Space Center to name just a few. Dan earned a Master’s of Science in Management from Colorado State University.

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The Future of Executive Education

What do great leaders have in common? They never stop learning. For great leaders, development lasts a lifetime and draws upon surprising sources, far beyond their day-to-day worlds.

But great leaders don’t keep learning just for their own sakes. They know in their bones that the measure of their success stands or falls on the caliber of the leaders they grow. So they do their best to inspire every person in the organization to develop their potential greatness. And great leaders never let a high-potential employee get away. They trust their eye for talent and they challenge the most, those they believe have the best inside.

What does the future of executive education look like?

In the past, all too often, executive education served as a nice diversion. A little learning, a few rounds of golf, shopping and sightseeing, and then back to the grind. No more.

If the future is here, but just unevenly distributed, then what does the future of executive education look like?

First, it’s radical. Full-on. Bring your whole person or don’t come. As the Marines say, “The way we train is the way we fight.” Executive education of the future will feel more like simulated battle than like death by PowerPoint.

Second, it’s real. Program participants won’t be allowed to come back to work without ideas and tools they can use immediately. Forget stale case studies about another firm’s challenges or problems. Tomorrow’s executive education will be all about your organization, your challenges, and your problems.

Third, it’s relational. The world will belong to those who can sense, create, relate, engage, inspire, motivate, and challenge. No matter what you’re learning, if you’re not learning to bring out the best in others and the best in yourself, then you (or your sponsoring company) are wasting your money.

Radical Executive Education: The key to keeping the very best of the best

The retention of top talent has become equally important, if not more important, than the development of top talent. Senior leaders are now believers that it is their employees — rather than new products, services or technology — that will drive the future growth and success of the company. The book “Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down”  by Vineet Nayar provides important lessons on how one CEO used the Employees First, Customers Second (EFCS) approach to transform their company from a slow-growth bureaucracy into a marketplace powerhouse. Sending high-performing, high-potential employees to executive education programs is a great way to retain them because it is both a tangible demonstration of the company’s ongoing investment in their future, as well as a “thank you” for past contributions.

About the Authors:

Steven D. Olson, Ph.D.Steven D. Olson, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Steve is an award-winning teacher in the College’s executive education, EMBA and Executive Doctorate in Business programs. He is an expert in fuses theory and practice in leadership, innovation, and environmental sustainability. Steve advises leaders in some of the most successful organizations including the U. S. Marine Corp’s Officer Leadership Academy. He was also the co-founderand managing partner of Generative Consulting, a leadership development firm whose clients regularly appear on Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Steve earned a Master’s Degree from Yale University and a Ph.D. from Emory University.

Daniel L. Stots, M.S.Daniel L. Stotz, M.S., is Senior Director of Executive Education and Lecturer at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business. Dan has 18 years of experience designing senior-level executive development programs that integrate the topics of leadership, innovation and strategy. He plays the lead role in working with senior executives to design customized executive education programs that accelerate the leadership development process. His current and past clients include Cox Enterprises, the FBI Crime Labs, GE Energy, Georgia Gulf Corporation, McKesson Technology Solutions, NCR Corporation, Regions Financial, Rollins Inc., and the NASA Johnson Space Center to name just a few. Dan earned a Master’s of Science in Management from Colorado State University.

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Is your board about to pick the wrong CEO, continued

#3 Does the CEO Have Too Much Say?
In some cases, a CEO is too influential on the board. This influence may have been earned through years of success, as when the CEO has become an icon of industry (e.g., Jack Welch). In other instances, the dual role of Chair/CEO provides that individual a great deal of power in all board matters, including succession planning. It wouldn’t be fair to say that heavy CEO involvement inevitably leads to a poor choice as a successor, but it is reasonable to hypothesize that allowing the CEO to dominate the process is an abdication by other board members of a key responsibility.

THE RISK:

Allowing the CEO undue influence in the succession process risks keeping the focus on the past versus the future. What CEO doesn’t want to cement his or her legacy? “Handpicked” successors can work if there is a long preparation with full vesting from the board (such as Apple’s Tim Cook), but ceding too much control over the process to the CEO can leave a board weaker, dealing with the baggage of the old CEO, and removed from a critical area of accountability.

#4: Is There Insufficient Diversity?

Years of research on group decision-making reveals that diverse groups – though often slower to reach a consensus – make superior decisions. Diversity is thought to widen the group’s search for alternatives, to offer a more creative process for vetting alternatives, and allow for a more open and candid discussion when identifying a path forward. It’s reasonable, then, to hold that diversity on the board offers a benefit as the contenders in a succession process are identified and considered. Insufficient diversity around the table can limit the field of candidates: for example, when the board lacks industry diversity it’s quite possible that their networks are redundant – not likely to be broad enough in search.

THE RISK:

A narrower field of candidates known to the board is a risk when homogenous boards are casting their nets outside the company, but the risk also applies with internal candidates. Lack of diversity as far as functional background, for instance, may put blinders on the board when evaluating chief executive potential of those within the company. Gender, ethnic, and age diversity issues can also apply.

#5: Is there a Lack of Succession Experience?

Like any other work group, boards are assembled with a job in mind. Succession is a key responsibility of a board and as such, the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do it well need to be unequivocally and deeply reflected in the team. Just as it would be unconscionable to appoint someone without proper experience to head the audit committee or the compensation committee it is essentially malpractice to presume the succession challenge requires any less acumen to do well.

THE RISK:

Lack of experience in succession planning, and the challenges that arise with even the smoothest processes can derail a board. When there isn’t enough attention paid to appointing people who can accomplish this task, all the well-intended advice in the world won’t be enough to allow anyone to be sanguine about the outcome of a succession hunt.

As you see a company begin the process of making plans to replace a CEO – whether the event be a carefully timed and orchestrated one or a quick move in response to a crisis – a key indicator of how well the successor will perform comes from understanding how ready and capable the board is of working together, with savvy, to arrive upon a credible, capable candidate. If the board suffers from one or more of the liabilities identified here, it may be that the first order of business is to address those challenges of the board itself.

About the Authors

milesStephen A. Miles is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Miles Group. Previously, he was a Vice Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles where he ran the Leadership Advisory Services within the Leadership Consulting Practice and oversaw the firm’s worldwide executive assessment/succession planning activities. With more than 15 years of experience in assessment, top-level succession planning, organizational effectiveness and strategy consulting, Stephen specializes in CEO succession and has partnered with numerous Boards of global Fortune 500 companies to ensure that a successful leadership selection and transition occurs. Stephen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Business Administration both from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada; and a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Victoria.

nbennettNathan Bennett, Ph.D., is Professor of Management in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He specializes in leadership and strategy execution, managing innovation and change processes, top management team dynamics, and contextual influences on individual behavior in organizations. Nate has published in numerous widely-read resources for managers including the Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal. He is co-author of the 2006 Stanford University Press title “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and the 2010 book “Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.” Professor Bennett received both his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Master’s degree in Applied Research from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. in Management from Georgia Tech.

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