A Chance to Reflect
While Dell has chosen to hold classes largely at its own facilities and to work with a school whose campus is in the backyard of its headquarters, United Technologies likes the idea of sending executives far away from the workplace for their learning experience. The aerospace and infrastructure conglomerate has its partnership with the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, some 500 miles from its Hartford headquarters.
Bob Harris’s double role in this venture symbolizes the partner relationship. He is both C. Stewart Sheppard Professor of Business Administration at Darden, and UTC’s vice president and chief learning officer. In the former post, he helped the school spearhead the partnership with UTC, which also wanted someone in-house who was accountable for the partnership. Now, Harris coordinates the entire employee-education program at the $25 billion, 145,000-employee company. A large part of that curriculum is delivered in Darden-created courses.
This 18-month-old alliance between UTC and Darden was launched in response to a companywide survey that indicated severe shortcomings in UTC’s executive development programs — and suggested that too little money was being spent there. The company already offered employees more than 400 Web-based courses covering general training topics, says Harris. But it figured it needed a more personal approach to education than existing Web technology permitted — especially for training its high-level finance executives.
“These executives are extremely busy,” says Harris. “If you can get them offsite, away from the particulars of their day-to-day work, they have more of a chance to reflect, and engage new ideas. They aren’t thinking about what needs to be done at the office today.”
Interaction among the students during the classes is also prized. “Just because you work for a company doesn’t necessarily mean you know all the people who also work there. They’re sharing face-to-face in the class, and that’s a big benefit to the whole company, because they find networks they can use across many problems,” says Harris. The Darden curriculum for the company includes a range of case studies and one-, two-, and three-week courses that focus on such issues as balanced scorecard, supply chain management, global management, career strategy, strategic leadership, alliance building, and service-related innovation.
From a Distance
About one-third of the 1,000 eligible UTC executives, many of them from the finance department, have taken the multiweek executive programs offered through Darden, and there is an additional course for high-potential managers from all areas. The finance focus in each class is strong, according to Harris. “UTC is a shareholder-driven company,” he says, “so everything eventually boils down to financial analysis.” In addition to the arrangement with Darden, the company also allows corporate executives to get their executive MBA degrees through other schools.
David FitzPatrick, CFO of UTC, who has taught leadership issues during classes, says the Darden link has improved the quality of the company’s executive education efforts. He adds that the improvement has been noted especially among the finance staff. At a recent UTC “finance executive summit,” updating financial executives among UTC’s operating companies, an in-depth business case study was explored. “The combination of the skills of the Darden faculty and its familiarity with a variety of global business issues clearly assisted in the effectiveness of the case review,” says FitzPatrick. The value of the partnership, he explains, is that Darden provides “a world-class faculty and an infrastructure that we don’t want to duplicate on our own.”