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Ranjay Gulati, the Michael L. Nemmers Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Organizations at the Kellogg School, presented "Building the Market-Driven Organization" at the International University Consortium for Executive Education (UNICON).

Kellogg hosts executive education summit

Kellogg experts key as business school leaders convene to create new designs that meet emerging executive needs

By Romi Herron

12/3/2006 - Imagine the possibilities when nearly 200 faculty and staff from the Kellogg School of Management and the world's other leading academic institutions - including MIT, Stanford University, Harvard and London Business Schools - combine their insights to shape the future of the executive education industry.

The Kellogg School turned that thought experiment into a reality during a three-day forum called "Living the Brand of Executive Education," organized in concert with the International University Consortium for Executive Education (UNICON), a nonprofit organization formed in 1972 to advance the field of university-sponsored executive education. The Nov. 28-30 event at the James L. Allen Center proved engaging and challenging, providing a forum for top management educators to explore dynamics associated with packaging and delivering executive curricula.

Though UNICON participants and their schools compete for the same resources - superior talent in faculty and students - the competitive spirit was mostly set aside during the event in favor of aligning interests toward a common goal: serving customers' emerging needs.

It was an approach that Lisa Fortini-Campbell, conference academic director, urged attendees to embrace in her welcome address with Erica Kantor, the Kellogg School's assistant dean of executive education, and Robert Stilliard, chairman of UNICON's board of directors and the director of executive education at U.K. business school Ashridge. "We are all working together to accomplish something greater than what any of us could accomplish alone," said Fortini-Campbell, an adjunct management professor at Kellogg. "With all of us here, we could approach this competitively, by guarding our strategies, exposing each other's weaknesses and boasting our strengths. But at Kellogg we look forward to doing it another way, openly, and to being inspired by all of you."

Fortini-Campbell also presented a lecture titled, "Living the Brand," on the event's second day, during which she highlighted the importance of ensuring that every customer contact be outstanding. Each time a customer comes in contact with any aspect of a product or service offering, she said, organizations have the potential to build or undermine brand image.

Providing an overview of conditions affecting the industry was Stephen Burnett, associate dean of executive education at Kellogg. "Enrollments in non-degree executive offerings are highly sensitive to overall economic conditions, especially business investment," Burnett said, noting that executive education is considered "management software" in terms of corporate discretionary expenses. He offered some demographic assessments too. The majority of participants in Kellogg executive education programs are males, ages 35-39, but aging baby boomers who already have MBAs or who are still working for companies unwilling to cover the cost of executive education are predictive factors for decreased participation in existing programs, said Burnett, a professor of management and strategy. Customers in the years ahead will be older and have diverse expectations, while enrollment of echo boom students - those born between 1982 and 1995 - is about 10 years away, he said.

"Segmentation to women or to smaller businesses or government [entities] may attract more people to exec ed," Burnett offered. "And we cannot deny that increased healthcare costs for employers also influences organizations' willingness to pay for exec ed." Price sensitivity, investment and marketing are among the considerations that will influence the industry's growth, he concluded.

In another of several sessions and breakout discussion groups, UNICON participants garnered firsthand customer perspectives on these factors, when moderator Joseph Hannigan, academic director of executive education at Kellogg, welcomed panelists who spoke about the effectiveness, value and selection of executive education providers they have chosen.

Panelist Bill Burzynski, director of program development in the Grainger Learning Center of W.W. Grainger Inc., previously served as director of Motorola University, College of Quality. He explained what drives customers to recognize an executive education program as a valuable investment, at times competing with in-house corporate training offerings for executives.

"The provider we chose really went about getting a sense for the culture and personalities at Grainger," Burzynski said.

Other panelists included Kathryn Gettelman, director of talent development and learning for Manpower Inc.; Raghu Krishnamoorthy, human resources manager in corporate commercial and communications at General Electric Co.; and Patrick Quinn, chairman of executive development programs for the Central Intelligence Agency University Leadership Academy.

Krishnamoorthy explained that GE spends an average of $50,000 in development for each entry-level hire. "GE offers a two-year management development program that we believe is as good [as university offerings], and our program is a principal reason people join us … especially outside of the U.S.," he said.

CIA personnel "demand sophisticated, stimulating, multimedia, action-learning environments with insights they can take away and put to work," Quinn said, while Gettelman said Manpower employees also are looking for engaging, flexible, practical experiences provided by faculty who are not simply providing case studies for a read-then-discuss format.

During the conference's second day, Ranjay Gulati, the Michael L. Nemmers Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Organizations, presented "Building the Market-Driven Organization."

The Kellogg professor explained the increasing need for a customer-focused strategy in a competitive environment, and the evolution of organizations as they strive for greater market focus. He articulated the benefits of aiming for an integrated portfolio of offerings - a "bag salad" approach instead of "bag lettuce" - but noted this goal can be particularly challenging for universities, traditionally not organized in the same manner as businesses.

"Corporations generally are organized to optimize production. They are not segmented into departments like a university," Gulati said. "We need to look at the internal silos we have in our [academic] organizations and align them with our customers."

Gulati also discussed successful tracking by Las Vegas casinos and hotels, learning the behavior of their clients and anticipating their travel schedules, gambling patterns, meal preferences, accommodation expectations and yearly spending ability to better design their offerings and attract customers while competing with dozens of other casinos and resorts just a few yards away. With that "bag salad" model, providers offer a total integrated solution for customers, a concept that Burnett referred to again in his remarks on the conference's final day, as attendees considered takeaways from the event.

"What services can we offer to help our customers get promoted, get a more satisfying job, attract or retain employees and learn more?" he asked. "The [desired] notion is expanding what you do well, but expanding what you offer customers with an integrated, seamless solution including coaching, placement, consulting, assessment services and custom programs [as options]," Burnett said.

As UNICON concluded, with attendees sharing thoughts for new directions in executive education and reflecting on what it really means to live the brand, the packed Tribune Auditorium erupted in a standing ovation for the Allen Center's hospitality and services staff, who streamed into the gathering in response to the crowd's appreciation.

Said Eric Fridman, assistant dean and director of marketing for executive education at Kellogg: "Hosting a conference titled 'Living the Brand' for all your competitors to attend is risky business. Participants watched closely to see whether we practice what we preach. And everyone associated with the Allen Center - the faculty, program managers, kitchen, housekeeping, and dining staffs, the front desk team - created an exceptional environment that supported an extraordinary learning experience."