UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Students trek to Atlanta and Charlotte to learn leadership from executives


Leadership Immersion ImageThere’s no one-size-fits-all model of leadership, and during UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Leadership Immersion capstone course, MBA students discover and hone their own unique leadership styles. At the end of the mod-long immersion, students take part in a two-day Executive Trek to meet top business leaders and observe a variety of successful leadership styles in action.

“The Executive Trek is a great chance for the students to see a diverse group of leaders in a short amount of time, and then reflect on what they’ve learned and how it applies to their own development,” said Paula Sims, the UNC Kenan-Flagler professor who led the treks. “A big part of leadership development is being able to observe what good leadership looks like, and this is one way that the Leadership Immersion provides that opportunity.”

Half of the students met with executives in Charlotte, while the others traveled to Atlanta. Participating executives were Fred Whitfield, president and COO, Charlotte Bobcats; John Woodcock, CEO, east region, Balfour Beatty Construction; Lloyd Yates, executive VP, Duke Energy; David Jones, president and CEO, Peak 10, Inc.; Bobby Rice (BSBA ’69), president, Hendrick Companies; Marshall Carlson (BSBA’96), president, Hendrick Motorsports; Scott Lampe, CFO, Hendrick Motorsports; Jonathan Reckford (BA’84), CEO, Habitat for Humanity; Katie Bayne, president, North America brands Coca-Cola; Steve Newby (BSBA’95), president and CEO, Summit Midstream Partners, LLC; Tom Fanning, chairman, president and CEO, Southern Company; and David Fox (MBA’99), managing director and region head, Goldman Sachs.

Students shared notes and reflections from both treks, allowing them to learn best practices from a total of 12 prominent business leaders.

“All of our executives had totally different backgrounds, different industries; some were entrepreneurs, some had come up through corporate America,” said Geordy Johnson (MBA ’13) about the Charlotte trek. “There was a diversity of styles and talents, and they were all very successful leaders in their own right. There are things you can do to be a great leader, but there’s not a certain mold that you have to fit to get to that spot.”

Students often toured the facilities, which ranged from the Charlotte Bobcats’ arena to Coca-Cola headquarters, before they sat down with the executive for an intimate, informal conversation. They engaged in an open, honest dialogue that invited all kinds of questions. Students asked executives everything from how to generate buy-in for new ideas to how to seek feedback from subordinates.

“These people were all so thoughtful about their leadership styles. They were very self-aware and able to tell us what it was that made them successful leaders,” said Neha Jain (MBA ’13), who took part in the Atlanta trek. “They really opened up their hearts to let us know what worked and what didn’t.”

After each session students participated in a debrief session to reflect on the conversation, share thoughts with each other and crystalize their learning.

“The debrief sessions with Paula helped us think about this at a much deeper level. She asked us who we each thought had the best leadership style, and then she asked who we would want to work for. I was like ‘wow, those two things are actually completely different,’” said Jain. “You have to think about both those things as you develop your own leadership style.”

In addition to meeting seasoned executives during the trek, students networked over dinner with Leadership Immersion alumni. Recent graduates working in Atlanta and Charlotte discussed their current careers and offered advice on how to handle the next steps after graduation. They also were eager to share how they have been using skills they learned during their Leadership Immersion.

“Students got to hear what their peers are doing now and how the immersion has helped them along the way,” said Sims. “They consistently say that they apply lessons from the immersion to their jobs, and that it’s one of their most important takeaways from UNC Kenan-Flagler.”