I am delighted to announce that UNC Executive Development is celebrating its 70th anniversary. As an organization that has supported the professional learning of thousands of leaders, this team has a lot to look back on with pride, even as we look ahead to the future.
Since 1953, we have carefully crafted executive development experiences serving tens of thousands of current and future leaders in the corporate, government, and nonprofit sectors. Through UNC Executive Development, Kenan-Flagler Business School has helped develop managerial and leadership practices in dozens of organizations that have directly contributed to North Carolina’s economic rise.
Importantly, we are celebrating 70 years of actively recognizing that, within organizations, our greatest assets are our people. I want to express heartfelt thanks to the participants and client organizations who partner with us to achieve new understanding, build new skills and competencies, and continuously seek improvement. United as we are in our focus on empowering leaders to achieve breakthrough performance, we honor your commitment to excellence as well as the learning and practice that it takes to achieve great results. The renowned faculty of Kenan-Flagler Business School and the entire UNC Executive Development team celebrate these past 70 years in service to you as engaged leaders whose work benefits society. You exemplify our values and enable the pursuit of our core mission: partnering to transform leaders and their organizations to the benefit of society.
As we celebrate this milestone and seven decades of work that makes such a real and positive difference in our world, I am excited about what we will accomplish together in the future. Here’s to the next 70 years of UNC Executive Development’s great partner organizations, thoughtful leadership learning experiences, and positive impact!
In this Q&A, Stephen Hyde shares his insights on UNC Executive Development’s mission, its past, and its future direction, partnerships, and growth.
What is your perspective on how UNC Executive Development contributes to the mission of Kenan-Flagler Business School and the larger community?
UNC Executive Development contributes to the larger community here in North Carolina, across the United States in organizations of all kinds, and globally by providing leadership development that advances organizations. We improve their capacity to accomplish their mission, their strategy, and their ability to drive the changes that are important for their vitality over the long term.
The mission of Kenan-Flagler Business School is to build and inspire leaders so they can make a positive difference in the world. UNC Executive Development contributes to that mission by providing a highly engaging context for the development of faculty in their research, their teaching, and how they apply concepts and insights to practice. We enable these faculty to improve their practice on multiple fronts. This in turn enables them to be better researchers and teachers of undergraduate and MBA students in a range of programs. Simply put, our collaboration improves the relevance and resonance of what these faculty teach and how they teach it.
We also contribute through our team’s collaborations with other functions and groups across the business school. For example, we directly engage with the marketing and communications team as part of our collaborations with leaders across the business school’s academic programs. We add value by bringing best practices from outside the university into the relationships that we form between our organization and the research centers and institutes across the business school. These include the relationships between our exceptionally talented program directors, faculty, and our clients.
Our organization also contributes to the business school in that we serve, extend, and enact its values. We are a center of innovation. This includes enabling faculty to try out content with leaders in a variety of organizations toward better understanding what learning resonates the most in what context. Faculty can then bring these insights and practical applications back into the undergraduate and graduate programs that they teach. We also enable the business school to enact its value of inclusion. We do this by serving leaders at all levels and from diverse industries and sectors; this includes government, corporations of all sizes, and private enterprises. We also connect with NGOs and nonprofits tasked with addressing some of our world’s most pressing and persistent issues.
In terms of how we contribute to the larger community, we directly engage leaders and inspire them to generate value for our world through their own organizations. UNC Executive Development has direct access to the people who make decisions, solve problems, and work together to understand what a wide range of stakeholder groups need. In our partnership with Kenan-Flagler Business School, we deliver immediate, large-scale impact that improves organizational practices around the world. At the core of our work is our goal of driving impact for our clients. Our programs directly influence what leaders do upon their return to their organizations. The impact of our faculty’s engagement with these client organizations is therefore immediate and has wide-ranging implications for society.
"At the core of our work is our goal of driving impact for our clients. Our programs directly influence what leaders do upon their return to their organizations. The impact of our faculty’s engagement with these client organizations is therefore immediate and has wide-ranging implications for society."
In May of 2022, you shared in a Q&A your insights on the question, “Where do you see UNC Executive Development in five years?” Nearly 18 months later, how has your answer to this question changed?
My perspective on what this organization will look like five years from now has evolved, but only in terms of “form and function” rather than in the overall goals that we are working to achieve.
In the 18 months that I’ve been here, we have continued to establish ourselves as a premier partner that thoughtfully tailors programs that help organizations “level up” their leadership and accomplish their goals. Even in this relatively short period of time, word of mouth has helped us increase our footprint.
During the past 18 months, we’ve also taken a hard look at our fundamental design practices, how the participant experience (both online and on-campus) looks and feels, and how we embed learning in our participants’ work. We’ve built from strength to strength. We focus on the hallmarks that really set us apart and help us create learning experiences that participants will reflect on months later. We want to help them identify key changes in their practice and their perspective as they engage with their colleagues and create impact in their roles.
Looking ahead to the next five years, we will continue to build beyond the impact model that we have established over the past seven decades. This will mean focusing on the cross-section of organizations across Kenan-Flagler Business School and UNC Chapel Hill, and then using this knowledge and expertise to meet the increasingly complex needs of our clients. Traditionally, many of our clients have come from corporations, sectors of the federal government affiliated with the Department of Defense, and public and private enterprises within a particular set of industries. But as we move forward, we are increasingly connecting with global NGOs, not-for-profit organizations, and enterprises in new sectors. Because our purpose is to enable leaders to drive positive change toward better meeting the needs of society, we are excited to build on this multidisciplinary, cross-sector approach.
During the next five years we will continue to grow not only our operational excellence, but also our presence across the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Traditionally, our organization has had a heavy focus on the Tar Heel community and the United States. Going forward, we would like to truly enact a global impact model. This will carry our unique and special “blend” of learning, connectivity, community, and transformative development more widely to communities around the world.
What are some aspects of UNC Executive Development’s mission that are especially exciting to you?
What is exciting is how we engage our learners at the levels of “head,” “heart,” and “hands.” We invite leaders to engage with us as their whole selves. We leverage a full complement of modalities, learning experiences, and instructional techniques to reach a wide range of learners in our programs.
I’m most excited about how we uniquely leverage a combination of thoughtful, warm, and welcoming faculty, outstanding research-based leadership practice, carefully managed learning environments, and an exceptionally talented team. Together, this creates learning experiences that are beyond our clients’ and participants’ expectations. We have a very special approach to creating safe and welcoming learning environments where leaders can “remove their armor” as they engage with each other. They can come together to develop plans and create bonds in an environment that supports thoughtful collaboration and application-oriented learning.
What I also find tremendously compelling is how we build our team. Every individual at every level contributes something of value to the whole of our impact model. We really “walk our talk” with respect to enabling reflection and learning and development within our own team. Watching my teammates support and invest in each other’s growth and development is always heartening. There’s an incredibly caring dynamic within this organization. This affects how we partner with client organizations, the types of learning experiences that we create, and how we model the organizational dynamics and leadership practices that we work to nurture in the minds and hearts of participants in our programs.
Before UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School tapped David Roberts to serve as president of UNC Executive Development in 2018, he acquired decades of experience helping others improve their performance in sales and general management. This includes 11 years at Hewlett-Packard, 16 years in consulting, and 10 years teaching undergraduate and MBA students.
During his tenure as president of UNC Executive Development, David gained a deep understanding into what he believes truly sets the organization apart: an exceptional commitment to forging impactful partnerships. “It is the true intent to work with the client,” he says. “Many organizations in the leadership development space claim to ‘partner’ with their clients, but very few do. Our mission is about demonstrating a genuine interest in adding value and making our clients’ organizations more effective.”
“On numerous occasions participants communicated to me how grateful and emotionally moved they were, and how much value they received from spending time with us, our faculty, and our staff. The words ‘life changing’ were used with sincerity and gratitude."
Rather than focusing on the success stories of individual client organizations over the course of his tenure, David has adopted a more holistic perspective on the impact created by UNC Executive Development during this time. “I have always felt that an ‘organization’ is really its people rather than an abstract entity, and I have seen many, many times how the people that companies entrust to us for their development are impacted by what we do,” he shares. “On numerous occasions participants communicated to me how grateful and emotionally moved they were, and how much value they received from spending time with us, our faculty, and our staff. The words ‘life changing’ were used with sincerity and gratitude. It has always motivated me to know that this work has a significant impact on our students’ lives and performance, and hence on their organizations.”
Jim’s distinguished career includes many leadership roles at UNC Chapel Hill and Kenan-Flagler Business School. In addition to his five years as associate dean of UNC Executive Development, he served as associate dean of the MBA program from 1998 to 2002, senior associate dean from 2007 to 2008, and dean from 2008 to 2013.
Jim’s most poignant memory from his time with UNC Executive Development is of September 11, 2001. “We were holding a class in the Kenan Center, and suddenly one of the participants who had been out of the room came back in and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We stopped the class to watch the TV coverage. Later, we learned that all flights had been cancelled. We then helped participants rent cars to get home to places as far away as Texas. The client organization really appreciated all the support that we provided to their team during that difficult time.”
The most impactful aspect of UNC Executive Development’s mission is “helping people develop their potential as leaders, and helping organizations to implement their strategies successfully.”
Jim is especially proud of the impact that UNC Executive Development created while partnering with the United States Navy. “We did a number of courses for them, especially for new flag officers (admirals),” he explains. “They learned a lot about finance, organizational change, information technology, and other topics. Many of our team members received accolades from many admirals over the years.”
Over time, the strong relationships that Jim and the rest of the team built with the Navy led the Army and Air Force to forge partnerships with UNC Executive Development, as well. “I have a signed photo with one of the Army Chiefs of Staff and the faculty who taught in that course,” Jim says. “I was also able to take a Department of Defense tour and visit an aircraft carrier.”
What Jim found especially gratifying during his time as associate dean was the opportunity to help others move forward with new perspectives and skills. He believes that the most impactful aspect of UNC Executive Development’s mission is “helping people develop their potential as leaders, and helping organizations to implement their strategies successfully.”