The Management Institute moves forward under new leadership

Changing the guard

After meeting the management training needs of the Roanoke Valley business community for 20 years, The Management Institute at Roanoke College is moving forward with an impressive track record under its belt and a change in leadership.

Ali Nazemi, a professor of business administration and economics at Roanoke who has been with the Institute for 20 years, is the new director. He succeeds Dr. Larry Lynch, a business administration and economics professor at Roanoke who retired from the director's post in 2010. Lynch continues to teach at the College.

TMI had its beginnings in the late 1980s. The program essentially walked in the door with Melinda Cox when she began work as the director of the Center for Community Education & Special Events at Roanoke in October of 1986. She found on her desk, awaiting her response, a letter from Sam Lionberger Jr. of Lionberger Construction in Roanoke.

"Sam felt that [Roanoke College] could develop a course of study over a semester that would not be intrusive to an employee's family life and also allow [the employee] the opportunity to stay on top of his job and implement new information and methods," Cox said. She became the first director of TMI and is a graduate.

She and Dr. John Spitz, head of the business department at the time, put together a team from local businesses to build an advisory group. After two years of planning, TMI was on its way with Lynch at the helm. Lionberger served as chairman of the steering committee for more than 20 years.

The affable Lynch, who retired in 2010 as director of the program, has gone back to his first love, the classroom, and turned over the director's chair to longtime colleague Nazemi.

"The program runs itself," says Nazemi. "It is simply a matter of making connections with the business community and involving companies in the Roanoke Valley."

"Initially we determined that something was missing in leadership training for middle and upper management in the Valley," says Lynch. "These were people who didn't have time to devote to schooling at Virginia Tech, UVA or Washington & Lee and we believed we could help with their development without disrupting their jobs." Ten classes were set up over a period of 12 weeks with an introduction reception and a graduation at the front and back.

Jess Newbern, now-retired owner of Newbern-Trane Heating & Air Conditioning, was a member of the first class in 1990 and has remained active with TMI. "I attended the first class because I wanted to experience first-hand what I would eventually ask others in my organization to do," he says. "Ultimately, all my management team attended TMI and it proved worthwhile. We would often teach what we had learned to others. I even enjoyed the reading and homework assignments."

That enjoyment probably had a lot to do with the relevant and current content of the classes, which changes annually to reflect trends, topics of interest and evolving management styles, Lynch says.

"We develop themes," says Nazemi, "based upon what managers need to be exposed to." Lynch adds, "I take input from earlier faculty [comprised of educators and business professionals] and pose questions to classes, asking what the hot management issues are."
Lately, that has meant topics such as social networking, health care and ethics, but, says Nazemi, "Human resources always seems to be a key issue in all companies. Motivation and labor relations keep coming up, as well."

Todd Leeson, a labor lawyer at Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore in Roanoke, will teach a 2011 class and says, "I think it is important for our region to have a vehicle in which future business leaders can meet over several months to learn and network together ... I believe this will also be a good professional opportunity for me. I look forward to interacting with these future leaders and expect that I will also be better educated as a result of my involvement in the Institute."
Getting into the class is the first hurdle. Says Cox, who now works as existing business program manager for Roanoke County, "TMI candidates must be recommended by their supervisors and present resume, application, etc. to be considered for acceptance into the institute. TMI was designed to be a way for supervisors to reward up-and-coming management level employees, to help develop the cream that was rising to the top and to identify candidates that were truly viable for the institute."

Lynch says that classes often include "information we can't discuss in our regular [undergraduate] classes because [students don't have enough] background." The business professionals offer quite a challenge to the teachers, as well, says Nazemi, often questioning conventional wisdom. "Occasionally," says Nazemi, smiling, "somebody will blurt out, ‘It doesn't work like that,'" and a whole new discussion begins on how it does work. "These people fact check you as you speak," Nazemi says.

Results are difficult to track specifically, says Lynch, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that graduates of the Institute climb the company ladder quickly. "It is difficult to say that is all the Institute," says Lynch, "because these students are identified as promising before they come to TMI, but most say the Institute has something to do with their progress." The majority of students are middle-aged, mid-career professionals, but a few promising younger employees slip in occasionally.

Though TMI is not and never has been "a huge revenue source for the college," says Lynch, "it offers intangibles that include image enhancement for the college and networking" for everybody involved.

Next comes the possibility of expansion of the program into a fall schedule, Nazemi says. "That's in the talking stage," but "we are investigating alternate ways to offer" the program, one that has grown in stature over its lifetime.

Dan Smith is founding editor of Valley Business FRONT magazine and a freelance writer.

Released: February 14, 2011
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