By Daryl James
Excitement builds on Nov. 10, 2009, in an upper conference room at Intel’s executive education center in Shanghai. Graduation day has arrived for 22 participants in a 10-month Thunderbird Corporate Learning program, and the high-potential managers have a prime opportunity to show off their new skills in front of Intel China President Ian Yang and his senior leadership team.
Yang has come from Beijing to hear strategic project reports from the participants, who worked in groups during the program to find solutions to real-world challenges at Intel, a computer chip manufacturer ranked No. 202 on the Fortune Global 500.
“You work this program on the side, and it’s very challenging,” Yang tells the class, which includes Intel engineers, accountants and human resource professionals recruited in China. “It’s a lot of commitment, and I appreciate it.”
He says participation in the custom certificate program, structured like a mini MBA in five sessions, gives working professionals in the company a chance to step back from their daily jobs and “look at the big picture.”
Since 2003, when the first cohort of hand-picked participants graduated from the program, the Intel partnership with Thunderbird has helped dozens of managers advance to key leadership positions in China and other parts of the world.
“They gain a new perspective,” says Rebekah Shen, Senior Learning and Development Manager at Intel China. “They learn how to build strong networks and think in new ways.”
Lara Tiam, Director of Human Resources at Intel China, says the program delivers real-world results even before the participants graduate.
“For me, the beauty of the Thunderbird program is the chance to work on real-life, complex business challenges that may be outside one’s expertise with the help of high-caliber professors,” Tiam says.
Managers to leaders
Thunderbird Professor Mary Teagarden, Ph.D., the program’s academic director, has come to Shanghai to hear the group presentations and pass out graduation certificates afterward. But she already knows what her students plan to say.
Thunderbird professors and executive sponsors at Intel worked closely with the groups as they developed their ideas and applied course material to their projects.
“They’ve gone through multiple iterations to improve their projects and refine them,” Teagarden says. “Some of these projects have gone through as many as 15 revisions.”
After each presentation, Yang and other Intel executives fire off questions and provide blunt feedback. But each group weathers the storm well.
Teagarden watches the process from the side and beams with pride. “This program has transformed some very bright people and taken them to the next level,” she says.
Jerry Hu, an engineering manager who has been with Intel since 1999, already has seen results in his career.
Even before his November graduation, Intel transferred him from Shanghai to Chandler, Arizona, and put him in charge of a cutting-edge consumer electronics project. Hu says he used his Thunderbird education to write a strategic proposal for the project and navigate the cross-cultural differences on his team in the United States.
“The program helped transform me from a manager to a leader,” Hu says.
Seeing the big picture
Overall, 66 high-potential managers in three cohorts have come through the Intel China program as a stepping stone in their careers.
Cheng Gang Bian, a 2003 graduate, has moved to Chengdu as a site general manager. XQ Liu, a 2006 graduate, also has moved to Chengdu.
Some of the program participants are recent college graduates, but Nancy Liang was at a midpoint in her career when Intel selected her for the 2009 program.
The human resources specialist was born in Inner Mongolia at the start of China’s Cultural Revolution. She moved with her parents to Shanxi Province, where she attended school and eventually earned an English degree.
After teaching at a local university, Liang took a job with an IBM joint venture in the Shenzen Special Economic Zone near Hong Kong. The experience was Liang’s first with an international company and included new manager training in the United States in 1996.
Despite the experience, Liang says she still benefited from the diverse Thunderbird classroom, where she formed close ties with classmates from Intel’s different functional areas. Liang says some of the diversity in the classroom was also generational.
“You have a chance to work with some of the young leaders,” she says. “Not all of the talk is on the technical side, but also on the leadership side. So it gives you a chance to see how other people think.”
Shortly after completion of the Thunderbird program, Liang came to Arizona for a three-month assignment and then joined the human resources team at Intel’s new manufacturing plant in Dalian, China.
The $2.5 billion wafer fabrication facility is Intel’s first in China, and Liang is helping the site build a diverse team to support the evolution of China’s computing industry.
She says the Thunderbird program has helped her learn to work more effectively with team members from the United States and other parts of the world, where people are sometimes more open and direct than their Chinese counterparts.
“Chinese want to listen first,” Liang says. “They are slower to speak. But when you learn to see the big picture, you can speak up because you know where you are.”
Building Global Mindset
Thunderbird Associate Vice President Joy Lubeck, who serves as program director for the Intel China partnership, says the entire program is designed to transfer critical knowledge, build core leadership capabilities, and provide tools to help support the growth of individual leaders who, in turn, add value to the organization.
Teagarden leads the first weeklong session on strategy development and vision, and then she wraps up the program with an additional session on strategy implementation.
Professors Elizabeth MacDonald, Ph.D.; Graeme Rankine, Ph.D.; and Richard Ettenson, Ph.D., arrive in the middle sessions to talk about business communication, finance and marketing. Adjunct Professor Nandani Lynton, Ph.D., also comes on the last day of each session to talk about personal leadership.
“Participants begin to see how they fit into the bigger enterprise-wide picture,” Lubeck says. “It is a testing ground for them.”
Upward movement in the Intel organization is one way to gauge success of the program, but Teagarden also has a more scientific measurement. Starting with the 2009 cohort, she has pre- and posttest results from the Global Mindset Inventory.
The psychometric instrument, developed at Thunderbird under the leadership of Professor Mansour Javidan, Ph.D., measures a person’s capacity to succeed as a global leader.
Teagarden says the Intel China participants made significant gains in 10 months. Their understanding of global business concepts climbed more than 18 percent, their ability to develop social networks climbed 17 percent, and their psychological capacity to thrive in unfamiliar environments climbed more than 11 percent.
“We now have a scientific way to measure outcomes,” Teagarden says. “We are ecstatic with the results.”
Is a global mindset in your DNA?
Thunderbird has created a psychometric tool that is changing how global businesses compete. Learn more about the Global Mindset Leadership Institute or contact the project leader, Thunderbird Dean of Research Mansour Javidan, Ph.D., at email@example.com.