June 2016 | Senior Leadership
How can you transform your career in five weeks? Wharton@Work recently spoke with three alumni of the Advanced Management Program to learn how, one year later, the program continues to pay significant dividends.
Tricia Griffith was promoted to chief operating officer of Progressive Insurance just two months before attending Wharton’s Advanced Management Program (AMP). She describes the experience as instrumental in her career. “COO is a new position in the company, so I had no one to follow. I had to define the role and AMP was an amazing opportunity to learn how to do that. I don’t have an MBA, but the program gave me confidence in terms of what I need to do and how to do it. I was able to come back and set a new strategy with firm goals for the 29,000 people at Progressive and for our senior leaders.” (In fact, Griffith has recently been named to assume the position of CEO and president of Progressive on July 1, 2016.)
She says the program challenged — and changed — her thinking. “I have always been guided by a set of leadership principles. As I took notes in AMP, I changed half of them based on what I was learning. One of them happened when we went to the New York Fire Department training facility for a day. I’ve been in the same industry and at the same company for my entire career, which can make it very easy to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. I learned that you need to sit back and think broadly. Just as there are different ways to get a group of people to put out a fire, or rescue victims in a smoke-filled subway station, there are different ways to get things done at work.”
In addition to the new knowledge AMP offers, both in the classroom with Wharton faculty and off campus in experiential learning situations, Griffith says the relationships she formed are having a tremendous impact. “When you’re with people day in and day out for five weeks, you can form deep relationships. There are no strings attached — we all just want each other to be successful. I thought it might wear off, but rarely a day goes by that I am not in touch with someone from AMP. Whether it’s about career advice, sharing what’s going on with our families, Liverpool winning a soccer match, or oil in Saudi Arabia, we talk, text, and Skype constantly.”
Eleven years after studying at Wharton, Sid Mewara came back for the Advanced Management Program. “So much has happened since then,” says the founder and managing director of Saks Gloweli Consulting. “Global business is being revolutionized. The tech industry is now a dominant force in the market; the changing global economy is affecting businesses of all sizes in new ways; climate change is presenting opportunities and challenges; and the BRICs, especially China and India, are having a serious impact. For someone like me who manages investments globally, I have to have new perspectives, new knowledge, and sharpen my technical skills.”
But he says AMP was more than classroom sessions. “Getting to know and spending five weeks with talented and successful leaders in their respective fields has been an enriching experience. I have a core group from within the class who I call my Board of Trustees. We bring questions to each other, trust each other, and add to each others’ personal and professional lives. Meeting new people who become lifelong friends, who you can count on and open doors for each other — that alone is worth getting away for five weeks.”
Mewara’s new knowledge and network were put to the test about six months after the program ended, when he sold his capital advisory firm to a leading Hong Kong-based investment group. “They invest in various sectors, industries, and stages in the U.S. and around the world. This has been a fundamental change for me. I went from consulting and advising to now heading an investment group and managing portfolio companies as the chief investment officer.”
He was prepared for the new management position in part because of AMP’s experiential learning. “It was fantastic,” he says. “It helped me to understand myself and my management style much better than a strict academic program would have. We are all successful in our fields, and used to being in command of a situation. Being completely thrown out of control and having to make decisions and work as a team was eye-opening. Many teams fell apart on the first try, doing simple tasks. It was a rude awakening. I got to see how getting involved in minutia instead of delegating was working against me. This feedback was a crucial win for me. As a leader, you have to step back and empower your team to get the job done.”
Siva Subramanian, group managing director and CEO at Afri Ventures Group, saysAMP was “far more than what I expected; it was an absolutely tremendous experience.I am looking at the shape of the remaining years of my career, and this program helped me immeasurably. My work is in Africa in what are very challenging times. We’re almost on the verge of restructuring our company. I have to be able to think outside the box, and come up with strategies that can change the future direction of the company. AMP’s focus on strategic thinking has been invaluable.” So invaluable, in fact, that he has recommended the program to colleagues, one of whom is currently attending it, and he will soon start sending members of his team to AMP.
In addition to gaining a new strategic perspective, Subramanian came back to his company ready to take on two traditional business models. “I gained a global perspective from the other participants — it has helped me to see how business is being done elsewhere, and how we can change for the better.”
Specifically, he says that the mindset in Africa is very short term. “I saw the limitations of that thinking being with a group of people from different nationalities and experiences in AMP. I’m now looking at my business in a 3- to 5-year horizon — it is a fundamental change in my approach.”
He also decided, before the program ended, that he would work on changing the traditional top-down manner in which companies are run in his area of the world. He saw in the experience of other participants and Wharton faculty, many of whom consult with some of the world’s leading companies, that allowing more people to become involved in decision-making benefits the organization. Subramanian reports that his change efforts are already paying off, saying that “more people have a voice and are getting involved.”
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