FAYETTEVILLE — Approximately six years ago, Heifer International was experiencing amazing growth worldwide, which included hiring professionals in countries throughout the world to run operations in their respective countries.
The in-country employees and other management at the Little Rock-based headquarters were hired for their unique skills, be it veterinary, fundraising or other aspects of community development. Heifer wanted a program that would train leaders in the so-called soft skills of management as well as the many functions of running in-country operations for a large global organization such as human resources and other management skills.
The organization sent out a request to colleges and universities that offer programs for executives that includes customized management programs that incorporate a company or organization’s specific needs and culture. Heifer found what it needed in its own proverbial backyard when the Executive Education program at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas answered the call for help.
Hilary Haddigan, director of planning and enterprise effectiveness at Heifer, said that the Executive Education program worked with Heifer to establish an effective management training program that was specifically designed around Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones that guide community development whether that community is a village in Africa or an office environment in Little Rock. That foundation program that the UA provided academic and resource support to create has evolved as Heifer’s needs have evolved and partnerships have grown.
“Leaders need to bring the right players together, not necessarily have all the answers,” she said regarding the increasing need for management to know how to create and manage a team rather than try to fulfill all the major roles themselves.
The Executive Education program “connects scholarship to practice,” said Theres Walker Steifer, director. It uses academic research into various leadership and management concepts and trains the country’s mid-level and top executives in those practices.
“We have faculty and subject-matter experts here that create programs that meet the needs of what corporations want,” she said.
The program is about 27 years old and has become one of the most well-respected executive education divisions in the country with many clients in the Fortune 100. There are several ongoing programs that offer specific training such as the Emerging Leaders Program, but the Executive Education division also specializes in creating customized programs that meet individual company needs, such as the program at Heifer.
“We are constantly having conversations with corporations and organizations to build the types of organizations that meet their needs,” Stiefer said. “We’re not going to just build something to build it.”
The faculty’s unique skills and knowledge base are a big part of what makes the division successful, Stiefer said. There are experts in RFID technology, supply chain and emotional intelligence, among many other vital leadership skills.
Greg Fike, associate director of the Executive Education, founded the Emerging Leaders program and it averages about 30 to 35 clients a year. He said the high-level executives that use the program are already successful but they return to their jobs knowing how to perform even better, to engage their employees even better. This skill is becoming even more important as the Baby Boomer generation retires and the younger generations are getting better prepared to take over those high-level leadership roles.
Judy Lohmar, manager of learning and development at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said that her company has sent four to eight representatives to participate in the Emerging Leaders program for more than 10 years. The company has also used the Supervisory Series on Leadership program and later developed a similar program that is conducted in-house that caters to the company’s unique needs and culture.
“Both are really an important part of our leadership training,” she said. “It’s been a really great partnership with both of these programs and really critical to our overall leadership strategy.”