Educating the executives

Not so long ago, in more favorable economic times, companies sought business school advice on leadership. Today, with their budgets shredded, companies are more likely to be seeking counsel on agility, says Southern Methodist University's Frank Lloyd, associate dean with SMU's Cox Executive Education program.

But management training remains crucial, he says, if the oil & gas industry is to weather the rocky economic times ahead plus the threatened big crew change in personnel. SMU's economists predict the next one to three decades could be difficult, says Lloyd, adding: ‘We're looking at a prolonged period of uncertainty.'

According to Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at SMU's Cox School of Business in Dallas: ‘Hiring hasn't been booming [but] it hasn't crashed like it has in the financial sector.'

The industry is starting to look attractive to students again, Lloyd says, because it's complex, important and global. In general, Bullock says, today's undergrads ‘have a healthy distrust of institutions. I think that goes beyond oil companies – it goes to banks.' He believes the cyclical nature of the petroleum industry won't necessarily scare off potential newcomers to the industry. ‘They've seen that in other industries, and many of them for the first time,' Bullock notes, citing the recent spectacular popping of the financial and housing bubbles.

Against that backdrop, companies are seeking management training for their employees, and undergrads are looking for the preparation they need to be successful in whatever industry they choose to enter.

The American Petroleum Institute ‘sees the same trends that we do', Lloyd says. The API and SMU have partnered up to offer management training geared to the petroleum industry. Through the partnership, now in place for over two years, SMU has made its public courses available to API members through the API University. SMU offers a blend of customized courses to meet the needs of a specific company and training through public seminars.

Three standard courses exist – executive education, strategic finance skills and strategic leadership skills. A seminar for senior managers is less intensive but gives an overview of a number of topic areas.

Many of the management classes are geared to those who have industry experience. As Lloyd puts it: ‘They know a lot, and they know they know a lot.' The key, he adds, is getting them to learn from each other, which the format of the courses encourages.

The API/SMU partnership allows the API to branch out from its main technology focus and think about management. ‘Last year, we realized API's core competency is not executive education, that is why we wanted to work with SMU,' says Whitney Medina, API's manager for training and events. The move revitalized API University.

John Modine, API's director for global industry services, estimates the institute has seen a 15-20% increase in enrollments since striking the partnership with SMU two years ago. He notes attendees come mostly from small independents and mid-level majors.

Medina believes students get more out of the courses because they already have practical experience before entering the classroom. ‘It's not just purely academic or theoretical,' she says.

Modine believes the courses are exportable, a feature increasingly important as the industry becomes more global each day. There are efforts to develop courses ‘that are more for the international audience; it's taking that show on the road, if you will', he says. OE

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