KULPER & COMPANY Executive Search
The Transformational Leader: A Proven Value Creator
There are many terms in business meant to capture the essence of a complex concept in a simple phrase. Some are pretty clever, even poetic: “evergreen credit line”, “thought leader”, “paradigm shift”, “claw-back” and many others. But here is one that is chock-full of benefits for organizations when a need for one occurs: Transformational Leader.
We are a top executive search firm that focuses on providing executive search consulting for our clients. KULPER & COMPANY possesses 20 years of successful experience in the field of executive recruitment. We have learned a great deal about the kind of hires that have the most positive impact for our clients. Search assignments for a transformational leader are the most interesting and challenging for our firm and potentially the most beneficial for our clients.
In our experience as an executive search firm the best candidates get the most accurate references from accomplished and credible sources. Despite what skeptics might think, the reference process is very difficult to game. If we speak with 4 or more references provided to us by our candidate, particularly immediate supervisors and peers, an increasingly clearer picture about the candidate’s work style, skills, intellectual capabilities, curiosity and other important elements emerges. When the candidate assessment keeps growing in depth the likelihood that the candidate is indeed the right fit, strengthens markedly.
The stakes are even higher when the client is seeking to attract a transformational leader who will be asked to significantly improve a key department of the organization (human resources, finance, sales, IT….) or the entire operation, in an effort to turn it around or take it to a whole new level of effectiveness.
Over the 20 years that we have been in business, KULPER & COMPANY has increasingly gravitated towards executive search assignments for clients who are seeking to hire a transformational leader for a segment of their operation or the entire organization. In our definition, a transformational leader is someone who succeeds in creating significant value for stakeholders by reimagining the work that must be done to meet the needs of customers and other key stakeholders. A successful transformational leader will positively impact product innovation and program development, sales and enrollment revenue, client and employee satisfaction, operational best practices and many others. Moreover, a successful transformational leader’s initiatives will be sustainable over many years.
We relish accepting executive search assignments for transformational leaders whether it is for Director of Human Resources, Sales or Finance, VP Research/New Product Development, College Dean, University Provost, SVP, President & CEO. We know that much more is at stake for everyone involved with the search—and this makes the challenge of completing it successfully that much more stimulating, challenging and rewarding. Through this series of stories about some of our transformational leadership searches we hope that you will benefit from learning how we approached the assignment as well as what the hired candidate actually did to meet and exceed the expectations of our client and help transform their organization.
Here is our first example of what the concept of transformational leadership means in practice.
The story of our first Transformational Leader focuses on Dr. Guiyou Huang, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs for Norwich University in Northfield, VT.
Dr Guiyou Huang, SVPAA with President Richard Schneider being presented with plaque from Mr. Wang, Chancellor of Shandong Jianzhu University.
The search committee and president gave us the background along with the key objectives for the role. They made it clear to us that that they needed to attract a VPAA who would be able to successfully work with the key constituents of the University: students, academic and administrative leaders, faculty, university trustees and supporters. The job of the VPAA is to oversee and support the growth and development of all academic offerings of the University and to work closely with the Deans of each school, faculty, students as well as the president and trustees of the University. The VPAA is the Chief Academic Officer; in many universities the VPAA is also known as the Provost.
Norwich University is the nation’s oldest private military university that also enrolls civilian students; it was established in 1819 soon after West Point was formed. The idea of Norwich was to create an institution of higher learning where citizen soldiers could acquire the latest knowledge in the fields of engineering, military science, diplomacy and the arts and sciences. The founder of Norwich, Alden Partridge, a former Army Captain and superintendent and professor at the US Military Academy at West Point, believed that it was important for America’s military leaders to combine experiential learning with academic rigor in traditional as well as newly emergent fields of study. Norwich was the first university in America to teach civil engineering as a core component of its curriculum. This innovation took vision and courage on the part of the university’s founder and first chief academic officer which ultimately facilitated success on the battlefield, in government and industry by capable, creative and well trained graduates of Norwich University.
The first challenge the new VPAA faced was to gain the confidence and trust of his new colleagues. Dr. Huang understood this implicitly because of his successful experience at his previous university where he served first as Undergraduate Dean and then as Dean of Liberal Arts. During the interview process Dr. Huang learned that the president and trustees needed him to implement a number of sweeping organizational changes for the University in addition to fulfilling the core VPAA duties described in detail in the job prospectus.
Transformational leaders don’t get hired to maintain the status quo, rather, their success is linked directly with achieving the strategic vision of the organization.
Norwich University operated eight separate schools for many years: Engineering; Business and Management; Mathematics and Sciences; Architecture & Arts; Humanities; Social Sciences; National Services, along with a large On-line Graduate School. The cost of this structure was out of alignment with the president and trustees’ vision to deliver the best educational experience to its students. With student enrollment of approximately 2,000 undergraduates of which about 2/3 are cadets and 1/3 are civilians, the president and trustees felt that Norwich University would be able to do a better job for its students and other key constituents by consolidating eight schools into five colleges. This is a very tough challenge for any organization since it represents major change designed to transform how the university delivers its educational value. A sweeping change like this requires a leader who can keep the transformational goal in sight while simultaneously commencing his duties as the new VPAA—a tough challenge that Dr. Huang readily accepted and embraced.
During the interview process it became evident that Norwich was seeking to hire a very special candidate for the VPAA role. The hired candidate had to be a seasoned administrator ready to assume the day to day responsibilities of a university provost as well as a leader with the discipline, patience and people skills to be empowered by the president to head the effort to consolidate and streamline the University’s academic structure.
For a University like Norwich that will celebrate its 200th Anniversary in 2019, change to this degree of magnitude was significant. Dr. Huang had to devise an approach that would be accepted by a majority of the faculty and administration or the transition to the new structure for the university would be unnecessarily slowed or stymied. He began by presenting the objective to the university constituents in a diplomatic manner and asked for their feedback so that he could gather their ideas. Faculty and administrators have a major stake in the outcome of any significant change; they make the university what it is and can be—the leaders need to listen to their counsel. Dr. Huang set up a committee and they gathered feedback from the university community, including faculty, staff, the Board of Trustees, and the Board of Fellows. Once the input was presented and evaluated by the Restructuring Taskforce headed by Dr. Huang, a subsequent Implementation Committee was formed and devised a transition plan. The new academic structure was ultimately ratified by a 74% majority of the faculty.
The transformation took about 18 months to be completed and fully implemented. With a new structure in place Dr. Huang was able to elevate promising administrators to positions of additional responsibility and hire outside leaders as well. The key benefits to the university from the successful outcome of these transformational changes include:
- Student enrollment and retention has reached and all-time high.
- A teacher/scholar model was implemented with a redesigned workload and increased expectations of scholarly and creative productivity.
- University trustees supported the plan from the outset and were happy with the outcome as the new structure became more clear. A whole new level of accountability and operating efficiency has the paved the way for many cross-college collaborations. The new structure also enabled hiring of new, visionary Deans.
- Norwich University President Dr. Richard Schneider, has put Norwich University in an enviable position to begin its third century of service as one of America’s most unique and successful universities.
Within one year of being appointed to the VPAA role at Norwich, Dr. Huang was promoted to Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs. Since that time Dr. Huang has continued to expand the scope and depth of his accomplishments for Norwich University, including establishing new relationships with universities in China. Proven transformational leaders like Dr. Huang keep adding value for their organization.
KULPER & COMPANY takes pride in the leadership role we played in helping Norwich University attract Dr. Huang to the VPAA position and the positive impact Dr. Huang has made on the growth and development of Norwich University.