The Management Institute: Shaping executives for 25 years

The goal for The Management Institute at Roanoke College has changed little over its 25 years, though its classes are in a constant state of evolution.

"We want to keep it current and fresh," said Dr. Ali Nazemi, the institute's fourth program director.  "If you took the class 10 years ago, it would be 80 percent different than this year's classes."

The Management Institute is a series of 12 executive management classes.

TMI has graduated 460 executives in its quarter century. Every spring, the program meets for 12 classes -- 39 hours. Students are nominated by their companies to participate; they don't apply in the traditional manner. The pool of sponsors for the institute changes regularly and those sponsors bring a new dynamic.

"Several of the sponsor companies send people consistently" to TMI, said Nazemi. "There is something of a legacy: Yokohoma, Allstate, Roanoke Gas, Carilion, Member One, Branch Highways, Davidsons, Lanford Brothers, Richfield, Xpedx and so forth. There are a number of them."

Participants range from CEOs to directors and managers. Smaller organizations often send mid- level managers, who are "people being groomed for higher positions," said Nazemi.

Dr. Ali Nazemi & Dr. Larry LynchClasses have had as many as 22 students and as few as 14. The teaching staff this year has 13 people, comprised mostly of Roanoke College professors and others from the community.

The program is "professional advancement almost at an MBA level," said  Nazemi. "We identify areas of need and develop curricula around that. There is a lot of work experience in these classes and they have to be relevant. I think we have done a good job connecting the theoretical with the practical. You can't teach these classes like [teaching courses for the general student population]. A two and a half hour lecture wouldn't work. It's more like a workshop. In my class, I talk about management change and they respond. We learn from each other. We understand real issues and I take those back to my undergraduate classes."

The interplay of teacher and student "makes teaching so much easier," said Nazemi. "Innovation and creativity comes from groups without an agenda. Sessions are fun. We're matching non-professionals, educators, medical people, engineers ... The dynamics and perspectives are wide and interesting."

Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore attorney Todd Leeson, who has taught employment law for TMI for several years, says the institute strengthens the bond between Roanoke College and the business community. Local businesses benefit from being able to send their emerging managers and leaders to a course designed to enhance their management and leadership skills. The college benefits from hosting the program on its campus and exposing business leaders to its administrators and professors. The participants obviously benefit from the course content. They also forge solid professional relationships with their peers that will serve them well in the future.

Leeson said the lessons have direct application.

"Most managers are not fully aware of all the laws that govern the workplace, and proactive steps they can take to minimize the legal risks to their businesses," Leeson said. "In my course and others, the participants receive practical advice and recommendations that will help them become more effective and efficient in their roles."

A learn-learn environment

Melinda Cox, the existing business program manager for Roanoke County, was the first director of TMI and remains on the steering committee.

"I believe that the greatest impact was invested in the Roanoke College students," Cox said. "The institute promoted dynamic professors challenging the business community's cream of the crop, which resulted in a win-win or, in this case, a learn-learn environment. The result was that this information found its way back into the classroom. So, the students were able to profit from the collaboration."

"I believe that a second impact exists that is equally important," Cox said. "An incredible network has developed between the college and business community over the past 25 years that has forged a unique, long-term partnership between the professors and business executives." She points to internships, guest speakers, research and expert testimony coming from the program.

Typical students, said Cox, are "knowledge seekers. Individuals who are open to and eager to embrace new methods and new information that could help them be better leaders, manage their areas of responsibility more efficiently and bring best practices back into the workplace for their employees or team."

Students understand "that relentless learning is a lifetime occupation, especially in the workplace," she said.

Susan Woodie-Williams, marketing director at Richfield, a retirement community in Salem, is a 2000 graduate and member of the steering committee who strongly believes in the program.  "The Management Institute offers a truly unique opportunity for those in middle to upper management to further develop and enhance their skills and to network with other professionals who are there to do the same," she said. "It certainly helped to broaden my knowledge on leadership and staff development."

The Just-Right test

The Branch Group CEO Will Karbach graduated from TMI 10 years ago.

"For me, it was just the right blend of hearing new stuff, revisiting important stuff, and networking with other rising Roanoke Valley executives, some of whom I still remain connected to," he said. "While I am usually pretty reluctant to commit to more industry and community obligations, I couldn't resist Ali Nazemi's invitation. He's a great leader, a great guy, and the program is one that I can enthusiastically support."

"TMI passes the 'Just Right' test," Karbach added. . "I think it's a good opportunity for a company or organization to provide to their rising stars  a glimpse of what a larger role looks like and the broad array of issues faced by company leaders, without completely overwhelming them."

The program provides a valuable tool for evaluation, he said. If a student leaves the program and "says 'Yeah, that was interesting,' and shows no interest in inserting [himself] deeper into our organization, I know that that person may just not be ready or may not ever be ready. But if [he comes] back and says, 'I understand now. I think I could do that,' ... then I know I've got a real rising star on my hands."

 "It makes you stop and look twice at what you're doing," said Bobbi Mauer, a manager at Carilion Clinic and a current student.

"The classes go by fast," said Virgil Thompson, a colleague of Mauer's at Carilion. "They're like so many of the meetings we have at work from the standpoint of preparation. There's no homework."

Former TMI director Larry Lynch has taught classes each of the 25 years of the program's existence and remains on the steering committee. "TMI has brought recognition in the business community to the college and has been a great resource for continuing education for the Greater Roanoke Valley," he said. "TMI has continuous success in filling its classes and many companies use TMI as a precursor to promoting its managers."

Ken Lanford of Lanford Brothers, a Roanoke construction company, went through the program in 2007 or 2008, and got to know several of the professors.

"All the classes are independent of one another, so if you miss one, you can keep up," he said. "The structure and format makes it easy for participants, since everyone has a full time job and other commitments."

"The program has small classes and interaction with students and all this keeps it interesting," Lanford said. "Many have real world jobs, and some, like David Robertson, actually run a business and is an adjunct professor at RC. ... You will learn things that help you as much outside your job as they will in your job. That translates to a better worker."

"If I can make it work, I will be going through it again," Lanford said.

"Overall, it's a convenient, affordable, low-stress program that seems to dish out 'wins' to everyone involved," said Karbach of the Branch Group. "I'm happy to be a part of it personally and to continue to sponsor participants as well."


By Dan Smith


Released: March 26, 2014
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