Thomas D. Kuczmarski: Charting New Directions in Innovation and Leadership


Faculty Profile:
Thomas D. Kuczmarski, Senior Partner and President of Kuczmarski & Associates; Lecturer of Executive Programs, Kellogg School of Management


Thomas Kuczmarski has been teaching programs on innovation at the Kellogg School for the past 29 years. Executives who participate in his programs quickly realize that teamwork is at the heart of his perspective on innovation.

“They can’t avoid it,” says Kuczmarski. “When managers come to Kellogg for one of my executive education programs, they quickly learn that innovation is a process, not a ‘eureka’ moment. If a business wants to see new profits year after year through innovation, they won’t get it done by hoping for brainstorms. It comes through teams with members drawn from every corner of the firm.”  Participants have learned this in the Kellogg School executive education programs Kuczmarski has been teaching in for a number of years, “Creating a Culture of Innovation” and “Managing New Products and Services for Strategic Competitive Advantage.”  

Kuczmarski believes that a second element - leadership - has to be considered side-by-side with innovation. In his courses, the importance of leadership has been central to what he calls the �innovation mindset,� an element of a firm�s culture that has to emerge from its leadership.

A New Model of Leadership

As with his approach to product and service innovation, Kuczmarski�s view of leadership is far from traditional.

�For generations, corporate leadership has been defined by a top down, one person in charge for better or worse model,� he says. �In a global marketplace, with so many cultures intersecting, with both men and women in management positions, and racial diversity a given, the old days of �control and compete� leadership are gone�or at least they should be.�

Replacing it, says Kuczmarski, is the collaborator as leader, someone who recognizes the responsibility that comes with the position they hold, but sees the benefits of exercising leadership in a way that draws the most from all members of their team.

This fresh view of leadership and Kuczmarski�s practical approach to innovation as a collaborative process are combined in a new executive education program at the Kellogg School called �New Leadership for an Innovative Edge� that will be offered for the first time this coming May. It will bring together the two strands of work - the innovation process and leadership strategy - that have come to define Kuczmarski�s work.

Participants in the program will learn about the responsibility and accountability of the person in charge as well as the challenge to think more deeply about leadership than just an exercise in power. Special topics will include �Creating an Innovative Culture and Energizing Teams,� �Values Based Leadership,� and �Leading Innovation in the 21st Century.� Participants will create personal leadership plans designed to immediately expand their leadership capacity.

A Program Grounded in Experience and Theory

Kuczmarski�s journey to the executive education classroom at the Kellogg School came by way of a career in consulting. He is the founder and senior partner of Kuczmarski & Associates, a Chicago-based innovation consulting firm with an international roster of clients. �What I teach is grounded in the very real world of product and service innovation,� he says. �When I tell the program participants that the innovation process begins with a deep understanding of the customer�s wants and needs - perhaps unknown to the customer - I am relating exactly what my firm�s consultants say to our own clients.�

Teaching a practical skill forces one to think through the theory that lies beneath the action. In Kuczmarski�s case this led to his writing three books on innovation, �Innovating the Corporation,� (NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group); �Managing New Products,� (Book Ends Publishing) endorsed by the American Marketing Association and now in its third printing; and �Innovation� (NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group and the American Marketing Association).

Kuczmarski has had a highly qualified partner in shaping his perspective on leadership--his wife of 33 years, Dr. Susan Smith Kuczmarski. An anthropologist by training, Susan Kuczmarski is co-author with Tom Kuczmarski of two books on leadership, �Values Based Leadership: Rebuilding Employee Commitment, Productivity and Performance� (Prentice Hall) and �Apples are Square: Thinking Differently about Leadership� (Kaplan).

The Teaching Team

Susan Kuczmarski will be a member of the faculty of �New Leadership for an Innovative Edge.� The faculty will also include Dipak Jain, Former Dean of the Kellogg School; Mohan Sawhney, the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation Clinical Professor of Technology and Director of Kellogg�s Center for Research in Technology and Innovation; and Diane Dahl, Owner and President of Hartell Group, Inc. and an expert in new services development.

�Innovation and leadership go hand-in-hand,� says Kuczmarski. �This new program will provide participants with many of the practical skills they need to be effective leaders in the global and turbulent business environment that lies ahead.�

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