Steve Chamberlain, Commercial Director - North America, Colar, USA shares his experience at INSEAD as "its life-changing. The ethos of the course and the people you meet is tremendous." Steve Chamberlain, past-participant of the Transition to General Management programme.
Why Did You Decide To Enrol On The Transition To General Management Programme?
My ambition was to move into a general management role and Colart supported me in this. I had looked at executive education options in the USA, but what really appealed about the Transition to General Management programme was that it seemed a lot more in-depth in terms of the ground it covered. It was four weeks of deep immersion into general management, versus a year doing an EMBA for example.
Another appeal of INSEAD was the reputation of the school, its global nature and who that attracted. By going to France, I hoped to be in a much wider pool of participants. I really wanted the international flavour and the fact that INSEAD is so strong on diversity was hugely important.
Therefore, it was the right amount of depth, the right academic institution and the right mix of delegates.
Despite the size of Colart, which has some household names such as Winsor & Newton, Liquitex and Reeve, under its umbrella, I was the first person in the organisation to be sent on a programme of this calibre and length. It was the start of the company investing in more executive training. Through the development successes of programmes such as the Transition to General Management programme, Colart has increased the training budget globally to support the growing culture of learning and training in the organisation.
How Did The Programme Help With Your Career?
There was a huge improvement in my communication skills.
We ran an employee and customer survey and the net promoter score we received revealed huge red flags in this area for our organisation. Once I moved from VP of Sales in North America to Commercial Director, I made sure to work with my teams to change this.
Through attending the programme, I was better placed to empower those around me and to ensure we built a culture of listening to not only each other but also to our customers. We began using fair process a lot more. The Transition to General Management programme gave me a framework to be able to implement these changes. As a result, openness, fairness and communication all went into the green.
Whilst you don’t get the programme slides out every day, there is the rigour of it that you carry with you each day. It’s subtle, but always there.
Prior to attending the programme, I wasn’t really enjoying my job and I wasn’t enjoying the culture that was present in the organisation.
In one of the programme coaching sessions, I was given not just the tools, but also the confidence, to go to the meetings and take a different stance that I hoped would change this culture. I used the programme to legitimise the fact I wanted to be more open and follow the values I had learnt at INSEAD. Because of the legitimacy of the course, I felt I could challenge the loudest voice in the room that was never used to being challenged.
The programme also changed my attitude with my team. I went from being a shield, protecting them from some of the bad practices that were occurring in the organisation, to protecting them in a fatherly way and standing up for them a lot more.
I had a swing back in my step and I told my sponsors this.
How Did You Find The Networking?
In my session of 46 participants, there were 23 nationalities. The network of friendships that this diversity allowed me to build has been huge - from a mushroom farmer in Holland to a project manager working for a mining company in Australia!
Another benefit of the networking and diversity was the wisdom of the crowd and the learning off each other. The ideas, the network and the camaraderie were excellent. So many of us have stayed in touch. We share news, both professional and personal. We had our first reunion, which 20 of us attended.
When you spend time in your smaller groups during the programme, there are things you say that stay in the room. You have the confidence to share because you know everything is said with confidentiality in mind. You make bonds for life when you do that. It’s amazing the confidence and strength you get from each other.
So the network is huge and hugely important. I was with a great bunch of people. Even those who aren’t that active pop in from time to time. We are working hard to keep the camaraderie going.
Were There Any Surprises On The Programme?
Even if you already work in a functional department, you can still learn something new in the modules that cover your area. In the negotiation and marketing sessions, for example, I found a couple of gems. That was surprising. I also particularly enjoyed the Blue Ocean Strategy and Value Creation components.
More widely, it is surprising how ingrained the programme learnings are in me now. Also, the idea of being part of a Transition to General Management tribe - the alumni community. That is surprising. I have made friends for life. I have even been on holiday with some of them. During the programme, I met an Australian participant working in Canada. Before she moved back home, we met in Canada and got to know each other’s families.
The programme really did give me both professional and personal surprises. It’s the start of something that continues long beyond the programme.
Why Is It Important To Continue Learning, No Matter Where You Are In Your Career?
I’ve worked for same company for 12 years and in that time I have had four roles. There is a danger that if you stay in same organisation for a long time, you become stale. For this reason, I think continued learning is hugely important for my own personal and professional development.
As my roles change, there is an opportunity to change and grow and continued learning can help me with this. Secondly, for me to be fresh and inquisitive and be able to move the business forward, I think it’s important I am taken outside of my organisation and be given the opportunity to experience new thinking and grow.
How Would You Describe The Programme To Someone?
It’s life-changing. The ethos of the course and the people you meet is tremendous.
It not only gave me the ability to stand up and be counted, but also the confidence to take on my new role and the company the confidence to give me the role in the first place - to ask me to run the largest market and be responsible for developing it, which we are doing very successfully.
It has helped me to start changing the culture of the organisation – to play my part. This includes the net promoter score, which will keep us on our sustainability journey. This is really important. We need to continue to nurture culture and get everybody on-board.
So, I use my learnings from the programme daily and try to take a leadership position in many of the meetings we have with colleagues in markets around the world.
Before the programme, I was familiar with international collaboration. However, attending the Transition to General Management programme, and being immersed in the international flavour the delegates and lecturers bring, really cemented it for me. I use my ability to work across functions, international lines and cultures to improve Colart. Through growing our culture and helping with value creation, my aim is to make the company more sustainable. We are living our values - openness, quality, innovation and passion – every day and I know attending the Transition to General Management programme truly enabled me to bring these values to life.