C -suite and other senior executives and directors have a tendency to set themselves above corporate training. After all, they reason, if they weren’t accomplished experts, they wouldn’t be in their current positions.
Tenaris, a leading global manufacturer of seamless steel tubes for the oil and gas industry, has turned that attitude around. Its senior executives and governing board members are eager for corporate-sponsored leadership training. That’s because Tenaris CEO Paolo Rocca, who sponsored a three-day senior executive-level training event in Italy, established the program to be prestigious, competitive, and invaluable.
Not every executive is invited to attend. Globally, only 40 leaders are nominated for this program each year. Only high potentials who have clear career paths and haven’t previously participated in the four year-old leadership program, are eligible. “We prioritized nominees in the first four editions,” adds Maria Laura Garcia, dean of the School of Management at TenarisUniversity. (This year, the program opens again to those who participated in the first class.)
When the program was launched, “executives selected to participate in the program received embossed invitations,” Garcia says. “They attended with very low expectations. At the time, they only wanted to attend executive programs at prestigious business schools.” The Tenaris program, however, was “a game-changing experience. Now our leaders want to attend our training.”
Executives who attended this first gathering “understood they had to leave their comfort zones quickly. A ‘been there, done that’ attitude was useless. They realized they could take advantage of the content and were engaged with each other regarding their concerns and even their own mistakes,” Garcia recalls. Their generosity in terms of sharing insights and experiences continues today. “That’s why this training is valuable.”
Focus on What Matters
The first C-suite leadership program began by discussing derailers—aspects of their own leadership styles that undermine their objectives. “For example,” Garcia says, “bold, courageous leaders may take unconscious risks that derail projects.”
Leadership training for senior leaders involves a variety of activities, including case study analyses, games, and presentations from faculty and participants. “During an evening session, we explored Tenaris’ history in terms of management and strategic thinking.”
During an optional fourth day, participants toured the Italian mill and talked with management there. “Even though 70 percent of our people are engineers and are familiar with mills, there’s always something to learn. Industrial processes are at our core, so we’re constantly looking for opportunities to benchmark processes and continue to learn,” Garcia says.
The program, held only once each year, combines leaders from within Tenaris with faculty from Switzerland’s IMD, which the Financial Times ranked 13th among the world’s top business schools in 2016 and No. 1 in many of its programs. Internal speakers include the CEO, two regional managers, and the corporate communications director.
“The corporate culture here is very homogenous, so we challenge that,” Garcia says. “We benefit most when internal speakers engage the audience with discussions and then IMD faculty go through the framework of similar case studies and analyses that help individuals combat the status quo. This approach shows different sides of the same coin and different ways to address those situations. Involving internal leaders and external experts adds diversity to discussions, to have other views considered, and even to question our own culture.”
Adapt to Current Needs
There is no fixed content for the leadership program. “Instead, each year we assess what our leaders need to help them address the rapid changes in our industry,” Garcia says. For example, 66 percent of the content in the most recent edition was new.
That constant reassessment drives much of the value of this program. “Our company isn’t the same as it was three or four years ago, so our leadership training shouldn’t be the same either. This program adapts to our changing needs.”
That adaptability was tested two years ago when “the price of oil fell dramatically. Most of our customers and competitors went through a difficult time. The whole industry—including Tenaris—had to adjust to survive,” Garcia explains.
Rather than suspend the leadership program, Tenaris used those dark days to develop leaders’ crisis management skills. “IMD’s flexibility in terms of content allowed us to deliver the just-in-time knowledge and case analyses our leaders needed.” With oil now selling at $56 per barrel, the economics of the industry have changed again.
Three-Axes of Focus
Leadership training for the C-suite and directors challenges leaders to expand their perspectives and the way they address situations. Content is organized around three axes:
The first—leading oneself—focuses on each leader’s individual capabilities and leadership style and how they work in the context of Tenaris.
The second—leading the company—focuses on the business. The CEO leads a two-hour session. It consists of a short introduction to the state of the company and his personal concerns about leadership, including capacity and skills. Then he opens the floor for questions. “He’s very much in touch with people,” Garcia says, “so this is a very rich, very valuable, session.”
The third—leading high-performance teams—explores the links between high performers and Tenaris through the topics of innovation and corporate entrepreneurship. Global Approach
Although this program could be conducted regionally, Tenaris sees value in its global nature. Bringing leaders together from throughout the world provides opportunities for networking, benchmarking, and planning. The most recent program involved leaders from 14 countries.
“Tenaris has a homogenous culture, but each country has different situations and customers. While Tenaris has an integrated industrial system, manufacturing processes are slightly different among mills, too,” Garcia says. “Consequently, leaders can share a lot.” By bringing them together, rather than sharing by e-mail or even conference calls, leaders can consider differing approaches in a setting that allows them to stop and reflect, away from the pressures of day-to-day business.
“The return on investment is high, but is best measured long-term,” Garcia says. That doesn’t mean feedback is years away, however. An action plan developed at the end of each conference follows the performance cycle. Leaders are appraised to gauge the impact of this training, not in day-to-day actions, but in results from employee opinion surveys. For example, Garcia reports, “attendees say the program helped them set clear targets and responsibilities, motivate people, and transform the company by developing leaders at all levels ‘with one hand up and one hand down,’ who, together, pull the company up.”
Tenaris continues to drive the company out of the crisis caused by the drastic drop in oil prices. As an L&D leader, Garcia says, “my concern is to give our leaders the tools to recover from the crisis very quickly. In this changing world, you have to keep pace, keep growing, and keep innovating.”
This senior-level leadership event helps Tenaris do just that.