Life-saving work as a flight nurse may seem an odd training ground for
a future career as director of information technology for a regional
hospital. But for Mary Jo Nimmo, RN, MSN, and now director of management information
systems at Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston, two ties bind her former and
“Nursing was taking care of people when they had a need. Information systems
is taking care of people when they have a need. I just fill in the blanks,”
Nimmo made the jump into
management after attending East Carolina University’s Mini-MBA for health
professionals program. The non-degree executive education program gives
professionals who’ve likely come into their jobs with a clinical background
a strong business foundation.
While on the rapid ascent to top
management, few professionals see the busy, ladder-climbing stage of their
careers as the best time to take a detour for a time-intensive MBA program
or other graduate degrees.
But as change drives business,
most professionals at some point realize that they aren’t equipped with all
of the skills they need to manage the disparate parts of their
organizations. That realization is putting executives across North Carolina
back in the classroom.
Non-degree executive education
programs offer an invaluable form of business intelligence, whereby
companies can upgrade their mid and senior ranks in a relatively quick
timeframe. Many companies now consider executive education a crucial
component of individual and organizational success.
And in North Carolina, companies
from Fortune 50s to entrepreneurial startups can find a course on whatever
they need — from leadership to understanding financial documents — to meet
their skills needs and their budgets. The state’s universities and community
colleges offer programs that are highly respected — Duke University’s
executive education programs were ranked #1 in the world by Financial
Times last year. The most accessible programs, courses at the state’s
community colleges, cost little more than a laser printer cartridge.
And executive education isn’t
just for large established companies with a corporate training department.
Entrepreneurs who hardly have the time for years of coursework in a
traditional MBA program find executive education enriches their
understanding of basic business principals and fine-tunes their knowledge in
In executive education, the
schools focus on delivering practical learning experiences with
application-oriented instruction that can be applied immediately within the
business. They teach executives and mid-level staff to think more
strategically, improve their decision-making process, have a broader
knowledge of the goals of the organization and what it takes to bring the
different parts of the business together.
Who’s in Class?
There are a variety of ways to
participate, from daylong seminars to longer executive programs that stretch
out over several months. Open enrollment programs allow mid and senior level
executives to spend a few days on a college campus immersing themselves in
some facet of their business where they need focus. Open enrollment courses
often offer specialized courses that enhance specific skills such as
finance, accounting, strategy and marketing.
Many participants value the
opportunity to hear case studies from other businesses to help them look at
problems in a new light. At the same time, many participants gain value from
Custom programs —where schools
form a relationship with a company to gain a better understanding of its
particular business challenge — are growing in popularity. Programs are
tailored to that company’s management staff, using that company’s financial
data, strategies and even business lingo to address business challenges.
Custom courses are usually taught at the business location.
“Historically open enrollment
courses have been the biggest piece of non-degree executive education, but
the trend going on now favors custom programs,” says James W. Dean Jr.,
associate dean for executive education at UNC Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler
“Those companies want to make
sure their investment in executive education brings value to their company
and the way to get that is to jointly design the program.”
Custom programs are for companies
that want their managers and executives exposed to proven management program
coursework but find value in having the program tailored to their business
and delivered personally to their company. Companies with specific
challenges that require rapid, focused change frequently turn to custom
“Many organizations who want to
invest in executive education want to put a large group through so they are
designing it to meet their specific needs,” says Raymond Smith, head of
executive education at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “But there’s also a
lot of enthusiasm for open programs. Networking and personal career growth
can be powerful motivators.”
A third type of executive
education audience is association programs, which are taught by university
faculty to members of industry associations who don’t work for the same
company but by virtue of their membership in the association have similar
educational needs. UNC, for instance, provides an ongoing program for the
Society of Human Resources Management called the business of human
resources. It trains HR professionals in the business of their business.
Paying for Management Know-How
For most major business schools,
a general management program that focuses on leadership and management
skills is the backbone of their programs.
At Duke University’s Fuqua School
of Business it’s called the Advanced Management Program. Fuqua offers the
program twice a year in two two-week sessions. The course focuses on
leadership challenges such as the global economy, creating and sustaining a
competitive advantage, understanding the financial numbers and finding
effective change within the organization. It includes topics that focus on
the participants as individuals within the business. The course costs
$26,500, which includes tuition, materials, accommodations and all meals.
Carolina’s main management
program is its Senior Executive Institute that meets one week a month for
four months. The course costs $25,000. Other courses include shorter-term
programs covering such topics as leadership, financial analysis for
non-financial managers, managing customer relationships and negotiating
strategies. Shorter courses range in price from $1,500 at the state’s major
business schools to $8,000 for certain multi-day programs.
Custom programs are often more
expensive because of the amount of time it takes for faculty to come up to
speed on a company’s strengths and challenges. But when companies are able
to expose a relatively large number of executives to the material, the per
pupil cost comes down. At Duke, custom-made executive programs range in cost
from $42,500 to $500,000.
But along with the cost comes a
valuable relationship between the company and the faculty who teach it, says
Dean. Business-faculty relationships that grow out of these courses can be
highly valuable for the company.
“Kaiser Permanente no longer
operates in North Carolina but we’ve had a 10-year relationship with them
and some professors have been with them five to seven years,” says Dean.
Getting Into the Act
Offering non-degree programs to
the outside business world can be a profitable business for colleges, most
of which are non-profit organizations who reinvest executive education
earnings in their business schools. UNC’s executive education program
generates more than $10 million in revenue each year. Duke University’s
Fuqua School of Business has a budget of $3 million, but its custom program
arm, Duke Corporate Education, has a $30 million budget.
Executive education helps
universities build relationships with businesses as well as revenue. Elon
University near Burlington has reached out to its local business community
by offering its first executive education program to Lab Corp., the largest
employer in Alamance County, with almost 3,200 employees.
“We thought about folks who don’t
see themselves suited to an MBA program, and we thought we should reach out
to them,” says John Burbridge, dean of Elon’s Martha and Spencer Love School
Started in 2004, the Elon and Lab
Corp. partnership has so far put about 70 Lab Corp. employees through a
program that focuses on leadership skills and perspective building. Lab
Corp. employees who are responsible for day-to-day operations in a
particular functional area gain a perspective of how the whole company is
operating and how each business unit affects the others. The course takes
place over five to six weeks with three-day sessions.
The interchange between academia
and business is valuable, says Burbridge. Elon business faculty helps assess
the company’s real world business problems. Elon students seek solutions to
those real world problems and often find internships at the business. Lab
Corp. gets highly qualified help from right in its backyard from faculty who
want to see the county’s largest employer do well.
Elon’s foray into executive
education may grow to include open enrollment for business courses that
members of the business community might take part in on campus. But Burbridge suspects that endeavor will focus on Piedmont-Triad businesses.
The school’s market research has revealed significant demand among the
regional business community for such educational opportunities, especially
among family-owned businesses.
“Business is changing fast and
the skills businesses need are changing,” says Burbridge. “Businesses need
people who can lead change in a competitive environment.”
Such opportunities to advance
business skill will become more likely in 2006 when Elon moves into a new
building and has space to offer new programs.
Serving Local Needs
The needs of business in a
particular community often drive executive education offerings.
At East Carolina University’s
College of Business in Greenville, employees of University Health Systems,
which operates Pitt County Memorial Hospital, come in droves to the school’s
so-called Mini-MBA. The program is directed specifically at health
professionals who want to broaden their business skills set.
“A lot of our students start out
with a clinical background and get into management,” says Anne Bogey,
director of professional programs at ECU’s business school.
The course is taught over five
days in a five-week period and covers such areas as finance and accounting,
marketing, leadership and strategy. Once a year the course is taught on a
contract basis for just University Health Systems employees. Employees
review real financial data from the hospital and learn how to analyze
The other offering during the
year is open enrollment that attracts doctors, office managers and others in
the healthcare profession from as far as Kinston, Goldsboro, New Bern and
Wilson for the $1,500 class.
For Nimmo, the flight nurse
turned IT director, the program helped expand her management skills. She
acquired a taste for business skills when she earned her masters in nursing
administration, but the Mini-MBA helped enlarge her grasp of useful
concepts, such as calculating the return on an investment. That skill came
in handy when Lenoir Memorial Hospital did a fast-paced switch of its
information systems last year.
“It made me look at the
uniqueness of healthcare financing, where our revenue stream is so varied,”
says Nimmo. “I pulled out my old books and did some calculations before I
reported to our CFO.”
The experience has left Nimmo
considering furthering her business education, perhaps in another graduate
Many students who enroll in
executive education courses have their appetite whetted for more.
Investing With the Local
Wake Forest University’s Babcock
School of Business offers a program called Business Essentials at its
Charlotte campus. It serves as an intensive overview of the main tenants of
an MBA program for those who need a skills boost, but also as an
introduction to the full program for the brave few who take the plunge.
The executive education program
allows participants to examine business practices from various points of
view without investing in a full MBA degree, exposing students to up-to-date
information on the latest business ideas. It’s a 12-week program with
classes held one evening a week at a price of $4,190.
“People walk away being able to
answer the questions that have been on the top of their minds,” says Dan
Fogel, dean of the Charlotte MBA program and executive professor of
Students get to know more about a
full-fledged MBA during the program and then participate in a business
simulation project where they compete with other teams.
“We’ve had people doing it as a
test case for an MBA and others who just want to learn more for their jobs.”
While the Business Essentials
program is used by some students to determine if they want to commit to an
MBA degree, the university created the program as a way to form partnerships
“Our goal was to get as
integrated with the business community as we could,” says Fogel. University
and business partnerships often lead to internships and jobs for Wake Forest
graduates, research partnerships between faculty and business, and
executives who take an interest in the university by serving on its boards,
serving as speakers and in other mutually beneficial partnerships.
Those partnerships also often
lead to customized executive education programs for companies, which make up
the bulk of Wake Forest’s executive education offerings. The university has
ongoing relationships with medium to large corporations, including Lowe’s,
with faculty providing direct instruction to management on a variety of
Competing on Cost
Companies large and small find
significant value and rapid response to their education needs within the
state’s community colleges.
North Carolina’s community
colleges offer training to mid-level managers and up, and customized
training programs to meet the needs of businesses in the areas they serve.
Open enrollment courses include such topics as leadership, Six Sigma
training, lean manufacturing principles, technical report writing and
“Our job is to train, not
necessarily to sit back and make a lot of money,” says Wayne Loots, dean of
business and industry services for Wake Technical Community College in
Some programs that include up to
30 hours of instructional time cost as little as $55 plus materials. Other
courses, such as those authorized by the American Management Association,
which include leadership and financial analysis, cost a reasonable $150.
But don’t let the low cost fool
you, Loots says. Many of the trainers the community college contracts with
to teach its courses also train for Fortune 500 companies. And many
companies that go through Wake Tech to gain training for their workforce
have hired those same trainers to teach their workforce overseas.
“That’s one way we know we have
the right trainers to meet the corporate need,” says Loots.
The community college system in
North Carolina provides training and executive education at every campus,
many through their small business centers. Many companies turn to the
community colleges for customized programs that can be tailored to a select
group of employees from one company.
Wake Tech’s ongoing clients in
executive education include International Paper, IBM, John Deere World
Headquarters and GlaxoSmithKline.
In Charlotte, Central Piedmont
Community College works with such corporate mainstays as Wachovia and Family
Dollar. In 2002 CPCC received the Community College of the Year
Distinguished Performance Award by the National Alliance of Business for the
college’s response to the work force and technology needs of local
Each year CPCC offers some 2,000
sections of its executive level courses, such as decision-making, leadership
and Six Sigma.
“Almost all of our instructors
are from industry,” says Mary Vickers-Koch, dean of business and industry
training at CPCC. “They like to teach and see it as a way of giving back.”
With a low cost and large volume
of students in executive-level courses, Vickers-Koch and Loots say they work
to ensure that open enrollment courses fit the needs of each upper
At CPCC, Vickers-Koch says many
courses, such as leadership, are offered mostly as custom programs so that
experience levels of the attendees can be even. And in more and more
courses, the content is blended between online work and classroom work.
Those with less experience can do more work on their own.
At Wake Tech, Loots says he’s
found that co-sponsoring courses with groups such as the N.C. Department of
Agriculture or N.C. Department of Commerce International Trade Division, who
in turn target their customers, tends to bring together a cohesive student
body with similar levels of experience and expectations from the programs.
While some more expensive
programs saw enrollments dip during the recession of 2001, community college
leaders say their numbers went up — likely in part because of their
affordability — and that their numbers keep climbing.
CPCC recently opened a new
Corporate Training Center near the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
Demand continues to increase for
programs in entrepreneurship, project management, and a program called
Command Spanish, for executives who need to be able to communicate with
“Our mission is to help grow jobs
in our community and to help people become more valuable in their jobs,”
says Loots at Wake Tech. “Economic development is in part taking care of
people to help them get better at what they do.”
Thousands of Students Wearing Ties
For people who have only a casual
awareness of what the state’s business schools are up to, they are often
surprised to see that thousands of people other than traditional students
flocking to the campuses each work day for seminars and ongoing training.
Exxon Mobile, a client of UNC’s
Kenan-Flagler School for six years, just had its 1,000th employee go through
executive education. The number of employees from the U.S. Postal Service
getting training at UNC is even larger. Wake Tech alone will offer training
of some sort to 40,000 people this year.
The benefits of the partnership
between academics and business are mutual.
“Executive education is part of
the whole university,” says Smith of Duke University. “Those companies with
whom we have a close relationship influence how we think about our programs
and how we put new programs together. They hire our students as interns and
recruit students on the MBA side.”
“Executive education is the gray area between business an academia,” says
Dean of the Kenan-Flagler School at UNC. “Business schools are already
outward facing from the university and executive education is even further
on that edge.”
Improving Business Ethics
The catastrophic corporate
scandals of Enron, Tyco, Arthur Anderson and others have raised questions
about the misguided decision-making of corporate leaders and whether MBA
schools can affect business ethics after the classroom.
It might seem that in the
scandals’ wake, business schools would be focusing their attention on
ethics. But nationally it seems the opposite is true, with universities
dropping required ethics courses or giving the topic less time in class.
“I’m very disappointed in general
and have been for a long time” with the level of ethics instruction in
business schools, says Peter Tourtellot, founding partner of Anderson Bauman
Tourtellot Vos & Co., a Greensboro-based turnaround management firm.
“Responsibility by corporate leaders should not be just for their company
but also for the community.”
Tourtellot is a member of the
board of Elon’s Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, where ethics is
taught as a component of every course in the program. Students in the
school’s Enterprise Academy form real businesses that produce real products
and often stumble over ethical dilemmas. Unlike in the real world, their
professors are there to help them recognize the pitfalls and make the right
“At a young age they learn the
difference between right and wrong and the pressure they can be put under,”
says Tourtellot. “While they are here they have a professor who helps them
think through the process. That’s meaningful.”
MBA programs across North
Carolina infuse ethics into student life, either as part of overall
instruction and sometimes in an individual required course. And two Tar Heel
state universities have been recognized for their exemplary efforts.
The Aspen Institute every two
years produces an international survey of leading business schools and
assesses the extent to which schools prepare their students for social and
environmental stewardship. In its last survey, the program, called
www.beyondgreypinstripes.org,recognized both UNC Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and Wake
Forest University’s Babcock School of Business for their efforts and results
in keeping ethics a part of a business’s bottom line.
UNC is considered among just six
schools on the leading edge of social responsibility in business, along with
Michigan, Stanford, Yale, York in Toronto, Ontario and George Washington
University. UNC launched a program in 1998 called the Sustainable Enterprise
Initiative, which offers education research and outreach.
At Wake Forest University,
courses on finance, organizational behavior and strategy all address what is
called the triple bottom line. That means managers must consider not only
the economic bottom line, but also the social and environmental costs and
benefits of their company’s actions.
“Research has shown that
companies that pay attention to those three items have a better bottom
line,” says Dan Fogel, dean of the Charlotte campus of Wake Forest
At Wake Forest, instructors talk
openly about how companies cook their books, and guide students on how even
choosing to work for certain types of companies might put them in situations
that challenge their sense of right and wrong.
“Students have a desire to act
ethically but they get pressure at work or they don’t recognize ethical
problems and then get in trouble,” says Fogel. “We talk about it now so
they’ll recognize it then.”
North Carolina is nearing a
“critical mass” in business, academic and industrial expertise in creating
high technology training methods that resemble video games.
So says Michael Young, professor
of engineering at N.C. State University, who spoke at a Research Triangle
symposium on “Serious Games” sponsored by the N.C. Council for
Entrepreneurial Development last fall. Young points to the confluence of
video game companies, such as Raleigh-based Epic Games, businesses such as
RTI International, and academic interest at the region’s tech-savvy
universities as the beginning of a new “cluster” industry in the state.
“It turns out that all this
technology developed for entertainment games is there for people interested
in training and education,” Young says. N.C. State is developing an academic
consortium with game companies and studios in the Triangle area to pursue
using them for more serious educational purposes.
Triangle-based RTI International
already specializes is developing high tech simulation training for
military, commercial and healthcare customers. Its creations include a
virtual human called “Sim-Patient” that trains hospital and emergency care
workers to respond to various scenarios. Cary-based 3Dsolve sells its video
game-like simulation learning programs to the government, the military and
N.C. Global TransPark Authority.
But the use of games to train
executives and workers is not limited to high tech methods. At Alamance
Community College (ACC), they’ve been doing the same thing for years with
paper hats, Legos and erector sets.
Jeff Bright, business and
industry assistant to the president of ACC, has conducted games since 1992
to help train and evaluate workers and managers at companies such as Honda,
GE, and GKN in Mebane, Culp in High Point, Accucote in Graham, Injectronics
and Copeland Fabrics in Burlington and Alamance County employees.
The state itself and other
community colleges also use specially designed low tech simulation games to
train workers in business procedures.
Bright explains that such
training games, while decidedly low tech, are designed to give managers and
workers insights difficult to obtain otherwise. “It’s impressive how much
you can learn watching people make paper hats,” he says. “The games reveal
good and bad traits in pre- and post-hire situations, such as someone who
angers easily or doesn’t play nice as well as those who cooperate well.”
More complicated games can be
used to teach “lean manufacturing processes by building airplanes from Legos,”
Bright says. Honda used a game designed by HRD Strategies in Greensboro that
involved building lawn mowers from erector sets as a way to explore the
design process itself, Bright notes.
Bright says the games are
frequently used in corporate retreats ACC conducts for clients such as
Burlington-based Lab Corp. so that managers can observe how people work
together. But all the games are serious. Bright says, “We have to make sure
that what they learn in a game can be applied to real life or we won’t get