April 2017 | 

From Classroom to Boardroom: Preparing for the C-Suite

From Classroom to Boardroom

Before he was tapped to be acting CEO of his organization, David Swain knew he needed to make some changes. “My organization has been experiencing significant growth, doubling in the last 10 years and expected to double again. As the COO, I really reflected on what that growth meant and how we needed to change as an organization to keep pace.”

“What I realized was that I needed to change myself. I was relying on the same tricks and tools. I started looking for an opportunity to challenge myself, where I would be able to grow in significant ways. I wanted to change old habits and expand my leadership and management repertoire.”

That search led Swain to Wharton’s Advanced Management Program (AMP). The intense five-week course of study involves not only ground-breaking research and fresh insights into leadership, strategy, finance, and marketing, but also a profound exploration of personal leadership.

Swain says the program was exactly what he was looking for. “You get immersed in a challenging environment with a group of other participants who are also there to make significant changes. That is a real differentiator from other programs. You are in AMP not just for yourself, but also to help others reach their goals. You become collaborators in the change process.”

AMP challenges its participants from the first day to set stretch goals, and then helps them discover what they need to learn and do differently to reach those goals. “The technical knowledge around negotiations, organizational culture, and leadership was really powerful,” says Swain. “There’s a compelling business argument for spending the money and taking the time attending AMP: just one good management decision or successful negotiation pays for the program. It is a very sound investment.”

Swain says AMP prepared him to take on challenges he didn’t anticipate, including stepping in as CEO of his organization. “A year on, it feels like I was in AMP yesterday. Some of the learnings only make sense later — a situation comes up and you realize you have an approach that you can apply. That is part of what makes it a transformational journey.  Long after the fact, AMP is still making an important difference in the way I lead.  When I got back from the program, people asked me what I learned. But that’s the wrong question. The right question is how did I change.”

Becoming a Lifelong Learner

Trevor Croker became CEO of Aristocrat Leisure Ltd, a leading global gaming technology and content business, in March of this year.  He says the diversity of the participants and focus on personal leadership in AMP were particularly important to him. “As a leader in a global business, I was looking for a study experience that would widen my worldview. The diversity of the participants in AMP helped me to better understand different cultures and perspectives, and the challenges of operating across many distinct markets.

“I also came away with a greater awareness of my own leadership. Working in teams allowed me to play different roles and see how I operate in different situations and how I impact people. That was made really clear when we spent the day at the New York City Fire Department Training Academy.”

Led by Battalion Chief John Regan, executive officer to the chief of operations at New York City Fire Department, AMP teams complete challenging physical tasks that involve lessons in communication, strategy, and prioritization. Debrief sessions after each task about individual and team performance help drive those lessons home. Croker says it was a “profound and humbling experience.  We do many of the same things in business, but the difference is that they are putting their lives on the line every day.”

But AMP’s focus is not just on the learning that takes place during the five-week program. It also instills the concept of lifelong learning. “Being a successful leader means continuing to learn and challenge yourself on a regular basis,” says Croker. “I plan to do that in a number of ways, including by keeping up my reading. I’m working through a number of the books and materials our professors recommended, in addition to reading from as broad a range of sources as possible. I also find the Wharton Nano Tools helpful; their lessons are easy to digest and apply at the right time. And I am not stopping with myself — I am also striving to create a learning environment for my team and encourage them to continue learning too.

Attending AMP when I did was perfect timing for me. I was able to reflect on lessons learned while working on transition plans, engagement, and strategy. This is also my first time managing a relationship with a listed company Board, so having counsel during the transition from a world-renowned expert on board leadership was incredibly helpful.  Ultimately, AMP allowed me to step out and then step into an incredible new opportunity.  It really helped to prepare me for my future.”