Rating the Management Gurus

More companies are hiring instructors directly rather than relying on B-school programs. But which teachers are tops? Here are some answers

Is your company looking for a management guru to bring your troops to next level? If so, it's hardly alone. The business of providing executive training is now estimated to be a $800 million industry, according to BusinessWeek estimates. But to find the right instructor, you have to do your homework.

To assist businesses in identifying top instructors for strategy, global business, and human resources, BusinessWeek Online has produced its first full ranking of management gurus. Results are derived from an online survey sent to 514 companies worldwide. From July to September, 2001, 210 leadership development directors (or 41% of those surveyed) responded to questions asking them to rank the top providers of executive education. We also asked them to list their favorite professors for in-house corporate programs.

The winner is a name that has come up in BusinessWeek ratings before: David Ulrich, professor of business at University of Michigan Business School, with a specialty in human resources. Ulrich gets the top marks because execs say he does the best job taking the time to understand a company's actual operations. Says Frank T. Morgan, global director of executive development and leadership at Dow Chemical in Midland, Mich.: "Most academics aren't very practical, and Dave is very practical. He's not just going to give us theory, he's going to apply it and show what it means."

The Top Management Gurus

1.   Dave Ulrich Human Resources -- Michigan
2.   Ram Charan Independent adviser -- Various companies and schools
3.   John P. Kotter Leadership -- Harvard Business School
4.   Gary Hamel Strategy International Management -- London Business School/Strategos
5.   Jay Conger Leadership -- London Business School
6.*   Peter F. Drucker Strategy,Business Policy -- Various companies and schools
6.*   Michael E. Porter Strategy -- Harvard Business School
7.   Peter M. Senge Organizational learning, organizational change -- MIT (Sloan)
8.   Stephen R. Covey Author The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
9.   Noel Tichy Leadership -- Michigan
10.*   C.K. Prahalad Strategy, International Business -- Michigan/PRAJA
10.*   Tom Peters Leadership -- tompeterscompany!


Rankings were determined by a BusinessWeek Online survey sent to 514 companies. 210 replied, for a response rate of 41%. Companies were asked to rank the best providers of executive education and to list the "10 professors or management gurus" they considered "the most effective at teaching or facilitating learning." Professors, authors, and speakers with too few mentions were disqualified.


  Indeed, that was a recurrent theme in BusinessWeek's survey -- corporate education has to be relevant to day-to-day business concerns, or why bother? "The savvy buyers of executive education are looking for ideas with impact," Ulrich says.

Hiring a guru isn't cheap. For that reason, some companies team up to attract top business experts. The Center for Leadership & Executive Development at the University of Dayton's School of Business Administration tries to pick out the best management gurus and bring them in to address employees from about 17 partner companies, including Mead Paper and NCR. Ram Charam, rated No.2 by heads of corporate development in BW Online's survey, was among the Center's speakers last year.

Though the center runs as many as 20 programs a year, each addressing the needs of many companies at once, partners say they've gained from the experience. Edgar Purvis Jr., president of Copeland Refrigeration in Sydney, Ohio, has sent about 20 of his employees through a series of programs at the center. Copeland has spun off two businesses in markets it hadn't considered before as a result of the programs. "It gave us the courage to try things differently and to take some risks," Purvis says.

And York University's Schulich School of Business relies on visiting gurus to attract crowds to its campus in Ontario, Canada. "You need a critical mass of programs to really break through to be recognized" in the business community, says Schulich Dean Dezso J. Horvath. Since his faculty was too small to keep up with new ideas in business, he says the school hired thought leaders to lecture on their new research.


  Companies prefer to cherry-pick professors because when they subcontract to a university, they're restrained by the school's resources, says Vijay Govindarajan, professor of international business at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and a runner-up on our list leading of management gurus.

That's not what all B-schools like to hear. Jordi Canals, dean of IESE Business School, ranked No. 1 for custom executive education programs in BusinessWeek's rating, says "good schools are trying to stop [the cherry-picking] because it starts to mean that your professors become your competitors." Schools can offer the best executive education, he says, because they can give context and support to company programs. "If you bring in one guru from one school, and another guru from another school, you won't have a team" working together in the project.

Companies know what they like, though, and speakers bureaus also stand to gain from the interest in having leading-edge thinkers talk with execs. Daniel Stern, president of Leigh Bureau, an organization of business speakers, says he offers companies a different format than B-schools'. "We're not limited by opportunities offered by one university," he says of the 180 business experts his company represents.


  High demand has led Jay Conger, our No. 5 guru, to work with over 150 companies since the mid-1980s. "It's more work, but companies get more of what they want from individual, functional area experts," says Conger, professor at London Business School and the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.

Companies agree. "We can't afford to send people to a program and hope it brings value to us when they come back to work," says Charles Presbury, director of executive learning and development at Pitney Bowes. "We're looking more for an ROI [return-on-investment]. We're looking for evidence. Companies want more tangible results." With companies such as General Electric, Novartis, and Goldman Sachs calling on instructors to address their learning organizations, the gurus who can provide that kind of practical advice stand to gain for a long time to come.

By Mica Schneider in New York

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