By Marian Salzman, Friday, July 20, 2012, at 10:19 am.
This is the fifth in a series of 10 posts about different aspects of CEO branding.
At every level, the future of America depends on raising the educational level of the whole population. Gone are the mass-production jobs that allowed low-skilled people to get work in a factory operating a machine and earn a pretty good living. There’s now a long-term trend toward more demanding jobs that require more education and training, not only at the labor end but also in the management tiers of business.
What happens in education affects business, so as a business leader you have to decide which of two relationships you’re going to have with education and learning: being passive toward it, just consuming what education produces, applying whatever education you’ve had and hiring people with the levels of education your jobs require, or being actively engaged with it in some way.
Fortunately, there’s a great American tradition of businesspeople recognizing the importance of education and making effective contributions to it. Several of America’s great universities were founded by tycoons and magnates—Washington Duke, Ezra Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie spring to mind. The endowments of many greater and lesser schools owe a lot to the support of businesspeople also.
Getting (more) involved with your alma mater or local schools or colleges is an opportunity to do good work while cultivating influence, connections and respect. It can start as simply as sitting down to an on-campus networking lunch. We all know there’s nobody hungrier than a college student, so talk to the higher-ups of your favorite college or university about having lunch on the grounds. You can chat with students and faculty about what’s happening at the academic level and beyond, while feeding them a nourishing meal.
It’s just one way of networking with, in or through a school. Keeping close ties with your college days could also mean donating to the computer science department or having your company participate in job fairs. No matter how you choose to do it, the power of your personal brand should be boosted by a close relationship with your favorite four-year.
Here’s a case in point, from The Wall Street Journal. James Owens reconnected with his alma mater, North Carolina State University, after becoming chairman and CEO of Caterpillar. When his company opened new facilities in North Carolina, Owens directed his executives to increase recruiting from the school for their new job openings. He also advised university leaders (at their request) on changes to State’s supply-chain management curriculum, started a fund for doctoral students in economics and funded a chaired professorship.
Contact with the world of formal learning might well tempt you to upgrade your own knowledge base. After all, lifelong learning is a must now, and there’s plenty of scope even if you already have an M.B.A. Getting back into education not only gives you what’s on the curriculum, but it also opens up your thinking, makes you more mentally flexible and puts you in touch with a whole group of new people—academics, fellow students and their contacts.
And if the phrase “getting back into education” means something different to you, mainly wanting to lead a business school, don’t be deterred from pursuing that option. Economic pressures and international competition are reshaping the type of candidate schools are looking for. A report from the Korn/Ferry Institute called “The Business School Dean Redefined” shows that CEO-style candidates with management and fundraising expertise, rather than academics, were picked in several searches. Sally Blount, of Boston Consulting Group, was named dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Pace University hired former Viacom Entertainment CEO Neil Braun in 2010, the same year that Boston University named former Quest Diagnostics CEO Kenneth Freeman as its B-school dean. Former PepsiCo CEO Steve Reinemund moved into the dean’s office at Wake Forest University’s Schools of Business, and the University of Kentucky hired David Blackwell, who served as director at KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, to occupy the dean’s office at its Gatton College of Business and Economics.
Business leaders who truly think long term and value their reputation for strategic thinking should check out how they can support what has proved to offer the most impact for educational dollars: pre-K schooling. Studies led by Nobel economics laureate James Heckman have built a robust case of the ROI for it. In a paper called “The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children,” Heckman presents the hard-nosed reasons for supporting early-childhood schooling: “Investing in disadvantaged young children is a rare public policy with no equity-efﬁciency tradeoff. It reduces the inequality associated with the accident of birth and at the same time raises the productivity of society at large.”
If you’re serious about building your CEO brand, actively engaging in education is a very smart move on many levels. You don’t even have to found a university or endow a chair—just remember that somewhere out there are places of learning that can benefit from your C-suite skills and connections.
[photo: creativecommons.org/Dartmouth Flickr]