One of the most difficult career transitions is from manager to leader, as it is no longer sufficient to rely on technical training to guide strategic thinking. The ability to devise and translate strategy from a vision to daily activity is one that requires keen self-awareness, and this transition point was the impetus for TenarisUniversity, Tenaris’s corporate training arm, to develop the Advanced Management Program at Rice University.

Tenaris is a leading supplier of tubes and related services for the world's energy industry and other industrial applications. Through personal interviews with senior executives, Professors Brent Smith and Prashant Kale worked alongside the TenarisUniversity School of Management to design a one-week course that reflected the outcomes articulated by program sponsors.

Forty-two Tenaris executives from around the world joined Rice University Executive Education on a journey that started by examining competitive position and continued through personal leadership style. With Tenaris’s focus on product innovation and customer service, the strategy content highlighted the organizational structure that shortens product-market cycles and the ability to align and deploy globally.

The curriculum moved from creating and implementing strategy to the leaders’ personal role in managing change and teams. By understanding the role of a leader in building and shaping the context or culture necessary to support Tenaris’s primary strategic initiatives, participants built the context to focus on several of the underlying concerns for senior management including diversity and inclusion, managing cultural differences, and improving autonomy and risk-taking to promote innovation.

In preparation for the next program cohort, TenarisUniversity published a short video outlining the course and providing participant testimonials. Click below to view how Tenaris is preparing leaders for the future, and visit our other client impact stories to learn how Rice University Executive Education can partner with you to design customized learning solutions.

Southwestern Energy

As Colorado officials were debating legislation on fracking in charged town hall meetings across the state, high potential professionals from Southwestern Energy (SWN) were doing the same in a classroom in Texas. This final project in a Rice University Executive Education module was designed as an educational intervention for participants to explore non-traditional partnerships between the competing perspectives of citizens, local government officials, corporation reps and community groups. Cheers of “no fracking way” and “who pays your salary” rang out during the simulation, disrupting the delivery of prepared scripts presented to a mock city council panel.

Adding to the chaos, company executives showed up unannounced to put pressure on their high potentials and, more importantly, to experience the learning in action. If these high potentials are going to assume executive roles one day, they needed to learn the agility required to adjust messaging and optimize engagement. SWN executives liked what they saw.

Creating Value

Four months earlier, the CEO of SWN challenged the HR team to find a way to meet the demands of rapid business growth and the need for succession planning in the senior management population at the company. Having already enlisted battlefield promotions to address the company’s formula for value creation, SWN needed to take a step beyond “The Right People Doing the Right Things” to push managers to take a broader, holistic perspective on the organization and break out of their silos to prepare for the future.

How would the HR team create the scope and pressure of an executive position by challenging personal awareness and the status quo? And how would the frameworks be pushed down the ranks and measured?

After review, the HR team concentrated critical leadership skill sets into three actionable components: head, heart and guts. They wanted to choose the ideal leaders who would match current expertise with future opportunity, treat others with empathy and respect, and make courageous decisions — head, heart and guts.

Senior leadership development would be mapped against this simple but powerful structure, and a mix of methodologies was targeted to address the three elements. Jenny McCauley, SVP of Human Resources, describes the integration of “three of the best resources available for a more hands-on approach: SWN knowledge, direct executive leadership involvement and academic expertise.” Classroom training and learning projects would make up the head, coaching and executive interaction would contribute to the heart, and field trips and simulations could teach the gut.

A Compelling Experience

With support from the executive team, HR enlisted Rice Executive Education to design modules that addressed elements individually and integrated them into capstone activities. During the module entitled “Engaging the World,” two recurring concepts were public policy as a strategic challenge to the organization and the executive’s role in representing SWN publically. Underpinning faculty presentations and case discussions were speakers from governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the president of America’s Natural Gas Alliance and a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner. After seeing issues from many perspectives, the town hall asked participants to walk in the shoes of the patchwork of stakeholders who could contribute to any energy issue.

This non-linear format covered producing and influencing the flow of information, advocating a position, collaboration with those in a contrary position and identifying joint interests in a coalition. McCauley adds, “We wanted the thinking of our participants to expand beyond the oil and gas industry. Working with a university gave participants the opportunity to learn from [those with] a perspective different from their own.” The campus setting allowed candid conversation for a glimpse into the motivation and tactics of players engaged in issues.

Lasting Change

After the session on campus, the “executive tryout” continued, with senior leadership giving several participants the opportunity to present to the board. They are “addressing business issues on a higher level than before,” says McCauley. “Their increased confidence and energy has already been noted throughout the company.” As of the program completion, about two thirds of the participants received a promotion or increased responsibility. With an experience where learning was as much cultural as it was cerebral, participants are well positioned to take on executive positions and balance the head, heart, and guts required of a Southwestern Energy leader.

Executive Education

Professor James Weston moves exuberantly to the front of the class. It's spring break for Rice University, but some of these students have traveled from around the globe to sit in Room 116 of McNair Hall on this sunny morning. They are men and women with years of real-world business experience, a mix of corporate and business unit leaders, senior project leaders, and senior sales executives who on this day are learning the common language of corporate finance and financial markets so that, as Weston later explains, they can "connect better with the finance and accounting people that they work with."

Weston strides enthusiastically back and forth, his somber dark grey suit and light blue tie belying the wit and energy of his delivery. "This class is going to be like a Jet Ski," he proclaims. In one day these executives are going to learn "the major terms and conceptual levers of financial-decision making" and "hit on the core topics" of a normal semester long graduate course in finance. The casually dressed students, all seasoned employees of one of the world's largest energy infrastructure service companies, seem unfazed by the academic challenge. It's Finance Day in a two-week long Advanced Leadership Program provided by Rice University Executive Education. Part of the Jones School's custom corporate offerings, this particular program was formulated for CB&I, headquartered in The Woodlands and one of Executive Education’s biggest and longest-term corporate clients.

"I'm not an accountant," the youthful Weston tells the class, many of them older than he is. "I'm a finance guy."

"What's the difference?" a man in the back asks.

Weston is delighted. And thus begins a lively romp through financial valuation, compound interest, discounted cash flow, capital budgeting, net present value, risk adjustment and more, with Weston patting the blackboard, calling executives by first name and inspiring debate with cries of "Yeah!" and "Why not?!"

Development Of Opportunities

Founded in 1978, Rice Executive Education has grown by 300 percent over the last three or four years, says Jonathan Harvey, executive director of Executive Education at Rice. Part of the reason for the growth is the uplift in the economy, Harvey says. Houston, energy capital of the world and second only to New York City in the number of publicly traded companies headquartered here, has been booming while other major cities stagnated. And part of the reason is that companies, particularly in the oil and gas sector, are looking at a "demographic hole" between retiring executives and younger talent in a position to take their place, says Harvey.

"Companies are concerned that they are going to be challenged to retain top talent," he says. "The company has to plan for the future. And one way for a company to do that is the development of opportunities.

"It's part of the company's talent retention strategy."

In the 2012-2013 academic year, Rice Executive Education delivered 46 separate courses — 14 percent of them internationally — to 1,231 participants, of whom 90 percent were post-MBA and 50 percent were in strategic or succession roles, says Harvey.

Executive Education at Rice is divided into two types of programs: standard, open enrollment programs and the elite, customized "coaching" specifically designed for a company's strategic needs and goals. These custom-built programs, such as the one in which Weston is teaching, account for two-thirds of Executive Education, says Harvey. Unlike the open enrollment programs, which are taught within the school and attract ambitious business leaders from around the region, the custom programs are also international, delivered in business and industrial centers like The Hague, South Korea, Singapore, and Baku, Azerbaijan.

Typically these custom corporate programs, specially built after lengthy analysis and assessment by the faculty, will have 25 people or so from the same company, with experience levels ranging from 10 to 30 years. Most often these executives are being groomed for the next level of leadership and have been chosen by the company for the Executive Education courses.

It’s Not All Fortune 500 Companies

"It's fair to say we have a strong presence in the oil and gas sector," says Harvey. "We are developing a reputation that we understand their business: the implications and nature of what it means to explore and drill and refine the upstream and downstream."

Beyond what one might expect from the energy capital, Rice Executive Education deals with a host of varying industries. The school’s close collaboration with and proximity to the Texas Medical Center, the largest in the world, generates business programs for health care professionals and physician executives.

In addition, the Executive Education faculty has developed ongoing programs for the Houston Independent School District (HISD). The school district is not a typical Executive Education client, explains Brent Smith, senior associate dean of Executive Education and associate professor of management and psychology at the Jones School. But like their other business clients, HISD came to Rice to solve a particular strategic or operational problem.

In the case of HISD, it was to teach school principals to market their schools more effectively to their "customers," the parents, says Smith. "Given the free market for education, parents can now choose magnet schools and charter schools. We are teaching customer focused marketing to principals."

The Executive Education faculty trains about 40 school support officers to coach school principals about "what the school really is, how to analyze its problems and organizational development." The faculty also works with HISD administrators, the cabinet and the superintendent.

Open To Anyone

In the open enrollment offerings, which make up one-third of the Executive Education program, certificates are awarded in finance and accounting, health care management, customer focused strategy and leadership. And courses in executive development focus on the skills needed for greater management roles.

The open enrollment program is just that: open to anyone, generally those who also are preparing for major transitions in their business careers, either as business owners themselves or "looking to advance their career within a company," says Karen Nelson, the Harmon Whittington Professor of Accounting.

"It's 30 random people showing up in a classroom, sometimes two or three from one company. By the end of the week a lot of them are exchanging information, wanting to stay in touch," she says, echoing comments from other professors about the bonding, and sharing of experience in these open programs.

"It's not all Fortune 500 companies," Nelson points out. "Some of them come from smaller, private, family-owned businesses; they're people who decided they need to get up to speed," or "people starting their own business, who've been in the corporate world for a while and are rounding out their skill set." Natasha Baughman of Columbia, Mississippi, is one of those people. The 37-year-old attended the open enrollment Rice Advanced Management Program this winter along with her younger sister, Melissa Jones. Their father started Quality Manufacturing Group, an oil-and-gas related manufacturing business in Columbia in 1994, and it now has 120 employees. Baughman, who joined the family business in 2006, is vice-president of operations, and she and her sister "are working towards taking over leadership of the company," she writes in an email.

Baughman heard about Rice Executive Education through a customer who had recently attended the leadership program and highly recommended it, she says. After talking with Executive Education staff about it, she decided to attend the Rice Advanced Management Program. "I feel that I have gained a great deal of knowledge about myself as a leader and have a better understanding of ways that I can continue my professional development more strategically rather than generically," she says. "I also have made connections with other leaders who are a great resource for continued mutual growth."

James Wei of Houston looked at programs at Harvard and the University of Texas before deciding on Rice for its value and location. The 31-year-old is taking over the family-owned office supply business in Houston, whose main customer has been the federal government for the past 30 years. With the downsizing of government, "we need to diversify," says Wei.

Thanks to a background in Internet technology, Wei is hoping to help his family's company diversify into IT office solutions. "We can compete with consultants by concentrating on small businesses instead of larger enterprises," he says. But he needed "a push in terms of education, management, and strategy to take my leadership to the next level," he says. "It helped me to work through my competitive strategy. I was thinking structure. But actually you have to have strategy first. Then structure follows. This has really helped me."

That's what Harvey fondly calls "the immediacy of the impact" and part of "the beauty of what we do — a guy gets to use on Monday what he learned on Friday."

The Slightly Different Way

In a strategy class with Prashant Kale, associate professor of strategic management, “The goal is to push these experienced executives to challenge their assumptions, individually and as a group, to change their perspective on why they do what they do. I'm playing the devil's advocate," Kale tells his students. "In this class we challenge everything."

Kale uses a quote from Doris Lessing to explain his teaching approach: "What is learning but to understand something you've understood all your life but in a slightly different way." Professor Nelson says, 'I never thought about it that way' is a common response from her executive students in financial reporting. "They come away with a better understanding of what their company is doing, what investors and the board of directors are looking at." In his high-level custom classes, "the philosophy that I share up front is that each one of them has a lot of experience," says Kale. "Collectively the experience in the room is several hundred man-years. They know their industry well, better than I."

Sometimes too well. Part of the teaching task is to enable executives to move out of their own silo and into cross-functional management. And Kale says Jones School professors bring their experienced students enlightening perspectives from other industries. The students also bring enlightening perspectives to the teacher. The classes can "become an opportunity to identify a good topic of research," says Kale. "It's a two-way street. We learn as much from them as they learn from us." Does he encounter skepticism?

"There's always skepticism. They're spending valuable time and money to be there." But Kale and other professors in the program have research to back them up. "I am able to emphatically say something because there is a body of research behind it. It gives them comfort. It's not just my opinion. It's not a random case."

Kale welcomes the skepticism. "It keeps us on our toes. We can't take anything for granted. I have to keep reminding myself every time I go up to bat: my score is zero." Executive Director Harvey is upbeat about the future. “In our program, Houston and regional business leaders have a resource that helps them challenge themselves, grow themselves and their companies and institutions.

The success of these companies has made our Houston metropolitan area vibrant and dynamic. We like to think, as partners in development, that we have contributed to this and that we will do even more in the future as Executive Education grows with our ever-expanding global business community.”

-- Susan Chadwick - Jones Journal - Spring 2014

The Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Program

With more than 1.1 million students, 84,000 educators, and 1,400 campuses in the Greater Houston area, the need for effective campus leadership in education is increasingly essential to deliver the promise of public education. The eight-county region surrounding the city of Houston is roughly the same size as the state of Massachusetts in terms of both physical size and population. With Rice University in the center of such a vibrant, densely populated area, we asked ourselves, “How can we help principals succeed in these leadership and managerial positions?”

The Houston region is in the midst of a dramatic demographic shift from biracial, predominantly Anglo population to majority-minority. Soon the Hispanic community will be the majority. Immigration, both from across the nation and internationally, drives growth. The complexity facing public schools comes not only from an increase in the number of languages represented in our youth but also an increase of economically disadvantaged students, state mandates and teacher turnover. Yet, principal preparation often remains narrowly focused on curriculum and instruction, leaving school principals with an insufficient set of tools. “I don’t feel like [my Masters of Education degree] prepared me for this job, except that I got my certification,” says one principal.

Development Of Opportunities

Founded in 1978, Rice Executive Education has grown by 300 percent over the last three or four years, says Jonathan Harvey, executive director of Executive Education at Rice. Part of the reason for the growth is the uplift in the economy, Harvey says. Houston, energy capital of the world and second only to New York City in the number of publicly traded companies headquartered here, has been booming while other major cities stagnated. And part of the reason is that companies, particularly in the oil and gas sector, are looking at a "demographic hole" between retiring executives and younger talent in a position to take their place, says Harvey.

"Companies are concerned that they are going to be challenged to retain top talent," he says. "The company has to plan for the future. And one way for a company to do that is the development of opportunities.

"REEP changed my perspective about who I am in the principal role. I truly see myself as the CEO – instead of the one who actually needed to DO everything. I look at and solve problems completely differently – with a more global approach, rather than just a quick solution."

The Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP)

Together with Houston Endowment and the Jones Graduate School of Business, the REEP team developed curriculum and experiences to equip school principals with the ability to lead a school with the CEO mindset. REEP graduates create the conditions for success in their schools by setting priorities, leveraging culture, engaging stakeholders and adapting to challenges. The overall program intent is to develop change agents with the mindset and capacity to maximize the organizational performance of their school. By presenting coursework, making connections to their context and providing opportunities for application, the REEP program enables public school leaders to better manage the complexity of school operations, staff development, budgeting and more to ultimately improve student achievement.

Beyond Reading, Writing And Arithmetic

Blending a mix of national education practitioners, researcher and policy makers with the Jones Graduate School of Business faculty, REEP offers a unique experience to both aspiring and current principals. The school leaders connect the functional knowledge of finance, marketing, leadership and operations with sound instructional pedagogy to create learning organizations at their schools. Feedback from graduates shows promising results. One school leader at a charter school repositioned how their school was viewed in the neighborhood and was able to more effectively “sell” their offering to families because of the marketing class”. Other leaders have repurposed their budgets and job responsibilities to optimize the use of their teams and still provide needed additional resources like extra-curricular activities. Classes in strategy help principals look beyond the school walls and see [themselves] and the school impacting their communities, the broader school district, and the city. Educators can choose from the MBA for Professionals track or the Executive Education Business Fellowship track to further their education and leadership capacity.

Moving Forward

By the eighth REEP cohort, about 160 principals will serve 160,000 students. This is an investment of about $100 per student – or the cost of one textbook or calculator. We estimate that the investment falls to nearly $50 per student as a new class of students is added yearly to each school and exposed to the skills and talents of these principals.