Textron's Expanding Focus

As part of a reorganization and a networking of its divisions, the conglomerate is recruiting more MBAs

Textron (TXT) is one of the world's oldest conglomerates, but to many MBAs, it's a mystery, even though its divisions include big-name brands like Cessna Aircraft and Bell Helicopter. "We're a great secret. They don't know what Textron is," says William Sickman, who oversees Textron's corporate recruiting out of the company's Michigan Regional Office in Bloomfield Hills. But once they find out, he says, they realize that a multi-industry company such as the Providence (R.I.)-based Textron —which has 40,000 employees in 32 countries—offers plenty of room to build a career in management.

In recent years Textron CEO Lewis Campbell has led the company to a historic turnaround (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/1/06, "Making the Elephant Dance"), and that includes a new focus on hiring MBA-level talent. Sickman spoke to BusinessWeek.com reporter Kerry Miller about Textron's new leadership programs for MBAs. Here are edited excerpts:

How do you handle MBA recruiting at Textron?

Textron is a multi-industry company—we've got nine divisions—and most of our recruiting is done on a decentralized basis. A few years ago, we wanted to develop more robust processes in this area and have a bigger impact, so we have formed two new organizations. One is our Talent Acquisition Centers, where we recruit most of our positions, and we coupled this with a focus on acquisition of talent off college campuses.

We started about four years ago with undergraduates and a couple of years ago moved to MBAs, with a particular focus there. We looked at our internal capabilities and determined we just needed to bring some more top talent into our leadership ranks, and this is a way to feed our leadership ranks faster than we could through traditional development of our current talent base.

This reorganization that you're talking about, was that part of Lewis Campbell's "Textron transformation"?

Exactly. In the past, Textron was really a loosely held collection of companies. Then about six years ago, we worked on an effort to really network the enterprise. And that is one of our selling points when we go on campus talking to MBA students, because they could work on projects within a business unit—whether it be Bell Helicopter or Cessna Aircraft—but they could just as easily be assigned to a project that spans across the entire enterprise and get a view of all nine of our businesses.

How many MBAs do you hire per year?

We currently recruit about 20 MBAs a year, focused primarily in the areas of strategy, customer leadership, finance, integrated supply chain—which is manufacturing and sourcing for us—as well as information technology. Most of our MBAs go into one of our Textron Leadership Programs, which are enterprise rotational leadership programs aimed at providing an introductory experience for a top MBA graduate.

Can you tell me more about those leadership programs and how those are structured?

They're functionally driven. We have a track for strategy, one for customer leadership, one for finance, and one for integrated supply chain. The integrated supply chain is the longest-tenured of that program; it has run about four years now. And this year we're starting one for information technology.

These are generally rotational programs, lasting anywhere from 16 months to two years, where an individual would come in and move from assignment to assignment, typically for up to six months in duration. So they would get a view of different operations within the organization in a very short period of time, by either working on projects, or hold down a regular position, knowing they're going to rotate to another role six months down the road. And those rotations will take them, not only from one business to another, but they may also have a corporate experience in those rotations, as well.

So they get a pretty [good] view of the overall company in that short period of time.

Do you have an MBA internship program?

We're running internship programs in the area of customer leadership and strategy. Last summer was our first summer for interns, and we had a handful. We're doing this not only to help us fill other positions, but as a feeder into the leadership program as well. It gives the MBA student an opportunity to look at us and, in turn, we get a chance to look at the student. We make a fair assessment as we go through that summer internship. And they pretty well know where they stand coming out of that as to whether we have interest or not.

Do you plan on expanding that program at all?

Yes. I think, like anything else, success breeds success. And we fully expect that, as the MBAs come through these rotational programs, we're going to see continued interest in each of the functions. The same thing happened four years ago with our Integrated Supply Chain program. We started out small. Once our business leaders saw the impact that this top talent could have in their organization, they asked for more. So I fully expect that this will grow, just based on the talent that we're bringing into the company.

Where do you recruit?

Well, we did a study to sort this out, because this was new territory for us a couple of years ago. We looked at program size, number of students, diversity, and the mobility of the students, and we tried to match up the schools to best fit our needs based on the strength of their functional disciplines in strategy, finance, or the like. We ended up with the University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, Tuck, Wharton, and MIT-Sloan. We also went to Ohio State's Fisher College of Business, primarily because we have an ongoing relationship with Fisher. They help us in conducting our Customer Leadership Management Program, and we've kind of leveraged that relationship into recruiting out of their business school, as well.

You mentioned you that student mobility is important to you. Where are MBAs going when they're hired into these rotational programs?

They will go anywhere in the company, including overseas. Some may work out of our headquarters in Providence. They may be located in Fort Worth, Texas, with Bell Helicopter. Wichita, Kansas, with Cessna. We put a student last year in Bonn, Germany, with our Kautex business.

Do you hire international students who want to work in the U.S.?

We do. It's a little bit of a challenge these days with the limitations that we've got on visas, but we are very open to that. We cleared that question very early on before we decided to go on campus.

What do you think are Textron's key differentiators as an employer?

One thing that sets us apart is that Textron is a multi-industry, so an MBA would have an opportunity to move between the businesses and corporate. We're about $10 billion in size, about 37,000 employees; we operate in 33 countries, so there's plenty of room for an individual to build a career. That's one of the real pluses of working at Textron.

If you look at our brands, Bell, Cessna, E-Z-GO, Kautex, Textron Systems—they're all leaders in their industries. They're all on the cutting edge when it comes to technology in their respective areas, and they've got terrific growth and profitability records. But the real distinguishing factor, I think, is that our leaders really tend to check their egos at the door, and that makes for a terrific work environment where people are empowered to contribute and make an impact.

MBA students really do want to make an impact wherever they work—whether it's an internship or a permanent position. And our culture does foster that. Our leaders allow employees to contribute and make an impact at all levels in the organization. And when we expose MBA students to some of our leaders, that does come through. We have got a lot forward momentum within Textron. It's a very successful company, and I think that success just continues to breed success. We have a lot of top talent in the company, and good people like to work with other good people.

What types of things are you looking for on an MBA's résumé?

What we're looking for is really more about personal characteristics, as opposed to the actual experience that they've had. We can teach them the things that they might need to be able to be successful in a particular industry—they don't have to come out of the industries that we compete in. But we've got values in the company around integrity and drive for results, communication skills, the ability to work with others. So, for us, it's really important that we bring somebody into the organization that can be productive.

We really need people who are process-oriented. This is a company that works very hard on having outstanding processes in place, so they do need to have that type of a mentality where they are data-driven and are very comfortable being held accountable for results.

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