Mastering your career

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Various educational programs in northeast Wisconsin enable working professionals choices in advancing their skills

Story by Lee Marie Reinsch

 

Think about the past year or so of your life. Did much happen? Some of us have trouble finding enough novelty to fill the annual Christmas missive.

But in the 16-month span when Oshkosh Corp.’s Vice President of Global Rewards Tina Seashore worked on her master’s of business administration degree at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s College of Business, she married, bought a house, became pregnant with twins, traveled for business four times to Asia and Europe (never missing an assignment) – all while working fulltime at a different employer and raising her young son. Phhewwwww.

Feel like a triple espresso, or perhaps a nap?

Maybe Seashore’s a highly evolved mutant strain of superwoman efficiency.

“I tend to live at a fast pace,” Seashore said. “If something crazy’s not going on in my life, it’s just not normal.”

Or maybe today’s graduate business programs are designed around people’s full lives. But no program could be that well-designed, could it?

We’ve rounded up a few leadership advancement programs at area educational institutions, and here’s what we found.

“We want (programs) to be convenient – it’s an investment, but students do it willingly,” says Kathy Hagens, UW Oshkosh MBA program director.

“You’re investing in yourself and your company, and we want to make sure people get the return on investment they’re looking for,” through networking opportunities, exposure to businesses, guest speakers and sites, Hagens said.

UW Oshkosh MBA program

UW Oshkosh has sites in Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh and Stevens Point, as well as online. Executive classes meet in Appleton. Aside from an in-person team-building exercise, all of the executive MBA can be done online, Hagens said.

After graduation in December 2014 and the birth of Seashore’s twin daughters in March, she landed the position at Oshkosh Corp. while on maternity leave.

“I really know my experience was a key indicator of earning the opportunity to be here (at Oshkosh Corp.) but I really do feel that having the MBA was the differentiator from folks who were considered for the role (who didn’t have the degree),” Seashore said. “The degree can really make the difference if all else is equal.”

Seashore chose the UW Oshkosh executive MBA program because of its brevity: 16 months of classes every Saturday. Sacrificing that many weekends was daunting, but Seashore called her decision “an opportunity-cost discussion.”

“I knew I needed to find something that aligned with my responsibilities (and that) I could be focused on,” Seashore said. “If it were nightly for eight years, it would be too grueling.”

She’d been at her previous company 17 years in a senior position, but she still felt “incomplete.”

“I had always had a personal goal to go back to school to get my master’s, but it never seemed to be the right time, with personal life and career life,” she said. “Being a mother and in HR, you don’t always think about yourself. I decided this was my year to be selfish.”

UW Oshkosh’s executive MBA is for those climbing the career ladder toward being a C-level executive, leading a division or starting their own company, Hagens said.

The professional MBA program is for those who want to learn more about business strategy. “They want to know things like not just how can I grow personally and professionally, but how can I help my company grow revenue, increase sales, reduce expenses … expand with new products or maybe new manufacturing facilities in other countries or other locations,” Hagens said.

Both programs offer a combination of management, personal and professional development, leadership and functional core competencies including finance, operations, human resources, talent management, accounting, IT and marketing, she said. Participant feedback has been positive.

“We tell people, ‘You’re in a very fast-paced program. You’re going to learn a ton, you’ll learn on Saturday things you can apply on Monday,’” she said. “There’s nothing more rewarding for us than to have a student come and say ‘Wow, we talked on Saturday and the following week I could apply that and am completely blown away about how this has helped my business and me professionally.’”

NWTC Leadership Academy

Before taking Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Leadership Academy last spring, Nate Moore subscribed to the “my way or the highway” philosophy of management.

“You’re going to do it this way because I said you’re going to do it this way – basically, you’re the boss and what you say goes,” is how Moore describes his pre-enlightenment vision. Moore is lead operator in charge of scheduling at Metals Engineering in Green Bay.

Leadership Academy taught him that’s not necessarily the best approach.

“One mind is not as good as two,” he said. “Three minds are better than two, and four are better than three. You can get more accomplished with a team than you ever could by yourself … To get people engaged, you’ve got to listen and give feedback. Your team has to trust you and know you’re there for them.”

Moore, 40, floated through a panoply of careers, from patternmaking and metallurgy to landscaping and advertising. With a daughter, he needed something more solid. When a lead position opened at Metals Engineering in Green Bay, his bosses sent him to Leadership Academy.

“This was real eye-opening and self-reflective for me,” Moore said. “It took a lot of the ambiguity from me and relieved it because it helped me understand what my role was as a leader and what my primary responsibility would be to help that organization improve process by getting people involved.”

Last year, NWTC worked with 1,100 businesses to provide some form of training or consulting. Enrollment in its corporate training programs topped 27,000, said Dean Stewart, dean of corporate training and economic development for NWTC. Not all were in leadership programs, but leadership is one of the school’s key emphases.

Leadership Academy is for front-line manufacturing workers, many who often evolved their careers into supervisory positions. Students learn conflict resolution, critical thinking, problem solving, peer leadership and high-performance teams. Between sessions, students meet online to discuss how they implemented what they learned.

“It’s our way to understand whether they picked up on the concepts we tried to instill in them,” Stewart said.

The program has enjoyed a good deal of demand. It’s run four times and is so popular that registration for the most recent session closed within a day, Stewart said.

“It’s been embraced by manufacturing within northeast Wisconsin, and we’re running several sections this fall,” Stewart said. The next Leadership Academy begins the end of September and costs $625.

St. Norbert College MBA program

For years, people asked why St. Norbert College in De Pere had no MBA program. Its curriculum has included business studies for most of the school’s 118-year history.

Initially, St. Norbert leaders had to answer why the world needs another MBA program, said Kevin Quinn, dean of St. Norbert’s Donald J. Schneider School of Business & Economics.

Two things stood out, Quinn said: the Green Bay area had no homegrown MBA program. And if St. Norbert were to undertake an MBA program, it wanted to maintain its liberal arts tenets: so-called soft skills including communication, critical thinking, independent learning, writing and networking.

“We thought we’d be doing the right thing if we were to offer a master’s version of that,” Quinn said.

The result is a solid values-based education in business emphasizing relationships between faculty, students, college and business community, Quinn said.

“St. Norbert has a lot of ties to the business community in northeast Wisconsin, and we want to provide students with the benefit of those,” he said. “In return, we want to provide the business community with fresh, energetic thinking.”

Focus groups found demand for tracks in manufacturing and healthcare as well as general business. St. Norbert is keeping classes small – eight to 12 students for electives, and 20 to 25 for core classes.

Transportation and logistics magnate Donald J. Schneider was a St. Norbert graduate and second-generation owner and CEO of Ashwaubenon-based Schneider. He passed away in 2012, and a generous bequest from his family helped finance the launch of the newly established MBA program.

With a 5-month-old son, Schreiber Foods retirement analyst Heather Milbach felt ambivalent about returning to school this fall. But her husband and advisors support her dream.

“A lot of people going through it are working professionals, so you have to balance coursework and work,” said Milbach, a 2009 St. Norbert business administration and economics graduate. She’s part of the inaugural MBA class, which begins this fall. One might think the on-campus-only classes would be unappealing to some.

“I like the idea of being on campus, because part of the idea of going back for your MBA is that interaction with working professionals,” Milbach said.

“We think there’s tremendous value in having people sitting in the same room together,” Quinn said. “We’re really emphasizing the quality of the experience on this beautiful campus.”

Classes meet a few nights a week for about three hours each.

“It’s a commitment. People are going to be going to class one, two, three nights a week, but it’s meant to be built around people who have jobs and lives,” Quinn said. Focus groups showed students would rather give up weeknights than weekends, so there are no weekend classes. But this won’t be the easiest way to get an MBA, Quinn said.

“You aren’t going to be taking yoga or joining a book club for a couple years,” he said.

The program keeps prerequisites to a minimum, aside from statistics and accounting/finance.

“We aren’t asking students to replicate an entire undergraduate business core – they don’t need it,” Quinn said. They should understand how to work with people from those fields, not actually specialize in them. “We think this group is capable enough to pick up what they need as they move along.”

St. Norbert aims to provide a broad-based business education for those with expertise in other areas, to give them the tools to be effective senior leaders, Quinn said.

“A lot of that comes from the liberal arts character of St. Norbert College. We believe the important things to learn are critical thinking, the ability to learn on your own, the ability to make connections between different things, and that DNA is going to be present,” Quinn said. “The same things we think are important for undergraduate students we’re taking and emphasizing, but for people who are already along the way in their careers.”

Marian University School of Business

Good leaders need more than a commanding baritone. They need expertise and credibility, they need to know how to strategize, and how to mine their own and others’ strengths. They need emotional intelligence.

“Somebody can have a great mind but not be able to relate to other people and be very ineffective as a leader,” said Jeffrey Reed, dean and professor of management for Marian University’s School of Business in Fond du Lac. “Sometimes people get put into leadership positions because they’re a good individual contributor and somebody notices that and pats them on the back and says ‘Hey, you should do this or we need you to do this,’ and they don’t have the skills, motivation or desire to be a leader or a manager.”

Marian’s Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program is for professionals aiming to rise in their careers. It integrates teamwork, systems, problem solving, addressing barriers, getting buy-in, and a business simulation. Classes can be in person, online or both.

“It’s entirely possible to complete 100 percent of the degree online,” Reed said. Marian recently revamped its program, compressing necessary credits for completion from 36 to 30.

“We looked at what was going on in business education and what business leaders are saying about how they need people to be prepared for leadership kinds of positions,” Reed said. They need people who can make data-backed decisions, assess risk, induce change, make presentations, and solve problems.

Trista Michels Bubolz of Neenah, a 2006 Marian marketing and management graduate, went through the Master’s in Organizational Leadership program last year.

“In the bachelor’s program, everything is sort of how to work for yourself and get where you’re going yourself, and this is more a group setting, where everybody has different strengths and weaknesses and different work styles,” she said. “It kind of opens your eyes to finding the little nugget from each person on how to make your team successful as a whole unit.”

Her class cohort helped Fox Cities Warming Shelter streamline its processes with new marketing and strategic plans.

“We worked with staff members, got a feeling of what they liked about working there, and what we could improve, and incorporated some changes into their facility so they could function more smoothly,” Bubolz said. “It was really neat to work with a local nonprofit to give back to the community.”

Marian aims to keep class sizes at 10 to 15. Bubolz’s class had six.

“By doing that, we get a good mix of backgrounds, interests and abilities,” Reed said.

Cohorts commonly consist of healthcare, public safety, manufacturing, retail and social services employees.

“What they find is there are a lot of commonalities in the kinds of problems we face, regardless of the industry we’re working in,” Reed said. “We want a cohort composed of people who are 30, 35 or 40 years old who have actual experience they can bring to the classroom, who are ready to move to the next level. They bring their experience, issues and challenges to the classroom, and we work with them as we move through the program.”

The program fit Bubolz’s life. She continued working fulltime and not only planned a wedding during that time, but also gave birth to a baby boy.

“They were really great flexibility-wise, so I was very happy with the overall program,” she said.

Lee Reinsch of Green Bay worked 18 years at daily newspapers before launching her freelance business, edgewise, in 2007.