Multinationals Invest in Leadership Programs for MBAs -
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Leadership Programs Make a Comeback

The imminent retirement of baby boomers and a changing global economy are prompting some companies to invest in leadership programs. leadership programs enable business school graduates to acquire the training and on-the-job experience they need to move up the corporate ladder.

"Clearly, it is set up to be an accelerator," said executive Erin Dillard, a graduate of GE's Experienced Commercial leadership Program. "When do you ever get a chance to do three jobs in two years? We build on commercial experience. We also have a tremendous amount of focus on leadership."

Companies are bringing back leadership programs, executive recruiter Carolyn Cason of Stanton Chase International said. "A wave of baby boomers is retiring and there's going to be a war for talent." According to U.S. News & World Report, the first of 78 million baby boomers turns 65 in 2011. The search for talent to replace retirees, as well as to expand multinational corporations in emerging markets, is on.

Leadership programs invest in business school alumni

Leadership programs have been around for 75 years in multinationals such as GE. Most of these programs target undergraduates and cover diverse areas including communications, engineering, financial management, information management and commercial leadership. Several programs targeting graduates of MBA programs have cropped up in recent times targeting key corporate areas such as human resources, marketing and sales.

In 2002, GE CEO Jeff Immelt established GE's Experienced Commercial leadership Program "to start populating the company with people that would be able to grow on a commercial track and get the right experiences to build a career that could lead them to the highest points of the company," according to a company video.

Today GE spends half a million dollars on each of the experienced commercial leadership program participants, according to Dillard, also director of commercial development programs at GE.

"We just hired the largest class," she added, noting that each year between 125 and 150 participants join the program which focuses on building the commercial and leadership skills of its participants. GE's commitment to its Experienced Commercial leadership Program is so strong that in 2009, in the midst of the financial and economic crises, it still welcomed 75 participants, Dillard noted.

Leadership programs hire graduates of MBA programs from all over the world. Besides the United States, GE is actively recruiting participants for its leadership program from growing markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. Nigeria and Ghana are also potential sources for new leadership hires. "We want to recruit local talent who wants to remain in their countries," Dillard said. These graduates of MBA programs enable businesses to expand in emerging markets.

Graduates of MBA programs learn to move up the corporate ladder

Candidates must fulfill a series of requirements to participate in MBA leadership programs. They must possess master's degrees in business administration, entrepreneurship or fields related to company businesses. GE businesses include energy, water and transportation. health care, finance and enterprise solutions are other businesses where graduates of MBA programs can make a difference. Besides higher level education, participants in GE's Experienced Commercial leadership Program must also have five to eight years of experience and a background in marketing, sales or leadership.

Once in leadership programs, participants conduct tasks, including segmentation and pricing analysis, following a company's best practices. Company mentors provide tips on how to operate in a large multinational company. GE combines on-the-job training with biannual conferences in locations such as China and Argentina. Conference speakers have included CEO Immelt and CMO Beth Comstock, as well as guests from other major companies. Corporate events also provide participants the opportunity to network.

During her time in the Experienced Commercial leadership Program, Dillard said she engaged in marketing and sales assignments. As part of her job she analyzed markets, determined how to offer the best value to customers, launched products, and spent time working in China. "It pushes you from a learning curve perspective," she said. "It's tough to get in and tough to stay in. You must be agile, adaptable, willing to make changes on the fly."

She said 90 percent of program participants come from outside the company, while the remaining 10 percent are recruited within GE. That was her case. After graduating from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, she developed websites for Ferrara Pan Candy Company in Chicago, later joining GE as a marketing associate.

After graduating from the experienced commercial leadership training program, Dillard said participants become full-time leaders at the company. "A large percentage of executives at the C-level have come through our programs," she said, demonstrating the importance of leadership programs to rise through the corporate ranks.