Simon Boucher speaks to Business & Finance about how executive education can be the vital link between the real-world of business and academia.
Q: Can you tell us about what you see as the role of the Irish Management Institute (IMI) in the Irish business landscape?
A: For more than 60 years, IMI has had the same mission to raise the standard of management in Ireland. That mission is as important and relevant today as it was when IMI launched in 1953 as raising management standards is proven to directly increase productivity and competitiveness.
Managers also play a crucial role in creating work environments that encourage innovation and support high performance.
IMI plays a unique role in Irish business education. We act as an essential link between the real world of business and academic best practice. Common to everything we do is the translation of theory into real-world insights and solutions for practising managers. We fundamentally believe in the power of ‘action learning’ – in our classrooms we constantly apply learning back to our participants’ day-to-day work, so that they return to the office with practical, applied insights that can enhance their performance on the job.
Q: . You offer a number of different courses at the IMI. Can you tell us about the different executive education options available?
A: IMI is, by some margin, the most significant provider of executive education in Ireland.
Our typical classroom participant is a practicing manager, usually with a minimum of 10-15 years of business experience. We work equally with large organisations and SMEs.
Our portfolio offers an end-to-end suite of programmes, organised in three groups.
Our open enrolment programmes typically last between two and five days. These focus on specific subject themes such as negotiation skills, or career transition points, such as the move from middle management to senior leadership.
Common to everything we do is the translation of theory into real-world insights and solutions for practising managers. We fundamentally believe in the power of ‘action learning.”
Our second programme type is academic qualifications. Our Master of Business framework of 13 IMI diplomas is the fastest growing business masters in the country. Each diploma is an internationally recognised, standalone qualification in its own right but also acts as a stepping stone towards a full masters qualification. We also offer the prestigious Henley MBA in Ireland
Finally, customised programmes are tailored to the unique needs of an individual organisation. These are typically designed to support the roll out of a new organisational strategy or change programme.
Beyond these programmes, IMI runs frequent workshops and events for our member organisations, bringing world-renowned business thought leaders to Ireland.
We also offer a management diagnostic benchmarking service, and are one of the largest providers of executive coaching and business advisory coaching in the country.
Q: Can you tell us about your background?
A: I’m from Dublin. I went to Newpark Comprehensive in Blackrock, and studied Business and Political Science in TCD.
After university, I joined Accenture as a management consultant, with whom I worked in London for several years. I spent four years at the European University Institute in Florence, where I undertook a PhD that examined the role of charisma in leadership.
I briefly worked as a stagiare in the European Commission in Brussels before returning home in 2006 to spend some time in TCD as a research fellow and lecturer.
I joined IMI in 2007, initially as a faculty member specialising in leadership development. I’ve occupied a series of roles since then, most recently as COO from 2012 and CEO from 2013.
Q: You joined IMI from a lecturing post at TCD, how did you find the transition to executive education?
A: Everything about the IMI learning experience is tailored to facilitate interaction between business professionals, to stimulate debate and argument, and to encourage the application of best practice principles to their real-world challenges.
Transitioning to executive education therefore took me some time, as it demands a different skillset to life in a university.
My background in management consultancy helped equip me for IMI, as it taught me the client-centred focus you need to properly understand the needs of a professional business audience.
Q: You’ve been in the role of CEO for over a year now, what are your main priorities and goals in this role for the rest of your tenure? Do you have a ‘five year plan’?
A: As a purveyor of management expertise, one of our fundamental principles at IMI is that we must practice what we preach. Therefore we do indeed have a five year plan. It focuses upon the development of differentiating capabilities to reinforce our position as the leading provider of executive education in Ireland.
Particularly, we are investing in our capability to develop truly strategic relationships with our customers and developing a world-class capability for the development of innovative programme designs.
Finally, we are investing in growing the network of over 400 experts from across Ireland and around the world that we draw upon to deliver our executive education programmes.
Q: Do you have a leadership style? And how do you motivate yourself and your staff?
A: One of the advantages of working at IMI is that you get to personally undertake the wide range of psychometric profiling that we offer on our programmes.
On that basis, I’m told that I have a combination of a democratic and pacesetting style – I attempt to lead by example, whilst forging buy-in through participation and communication.
In terms of motivation, I’m a competitive person so the commercial challenge of growing our business excites me. It is easy to be motivated at IMI however as we truly are a mission-led business. Seeing the lengths that our team goes to day-in, day-out to deliver a world-class learning experience would motivate anyone.
We also operate in a world of rapid customer feedback, as our participants are asked to evaluate every single class they take with us. Hearing IMI helps grow them as professionals and supports the development of their organisations motivates the whole IMI team.
Q: What is your opinion of executive education as a whole in Ireland?
A: The fundamental challenge of executive education is to remain relevant to needs of real business people, both in terms of its content and how it is delivered.
My sense is that a lot of executive education remains too theoretical and hypothetical. That’s why IMI places such an emphasis on innovative learning designs and an ‘action learning’ ethos. We have also broadened our portfolio to include contemporary themes such as ‘cloud strategy’ and ‘data business’.
At IMI we are also witnessing a global trend across world-class organisations: a convergence between corporate strategy and training and development strategy. The latter has become a key enabler of the former.
The nature of IMI’s relationships with many of our corporate partners is moving away from ad hoc provision of open and tailored development programmes to that of a deeply integrated business partner that supports the realignment of structure and talent.
Q: Can you tell me about your typical day?
A: I’m usually in the office by 8am. I try to reduce the number of internal meetings I attend each day, to allow more time for stakeholder engagement and strategy work. At this time of year (autumn), I’m particularly focused on business planning and engaging with our recently elected Board and Council. I try to get to the gym most lunch times, and head home about 5:45pm to spend time with my two young children before their bedtime.
I usually spend a couple of hours in the evening catching up on emails, preparing for client meetings and so on.
Q: IMI was once again recognised as the only Irish business school to be ranked globally by the FT for the provision of customised executive education in 2014. Can you tell us a bit about that and also why do you think other Irish schools weren’t ranked?
A: IMI competes for business regularly with world-renowned international business schools, so retaining the global ranking is an important international benchmark of quality, as well as differentiating us from local competition.
Our global ranking is earned based on feedback that our customers provide to the FT regarding the quality and strategic importance of our programmes.
The global ranking therefore reflects the fact that our customers report that IMI programmes are crucial enablers of their own strategic development.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
A: The best you can do is the best you can do. In life no matter how hard you work, sometimes the ball won’t break your way. Control the ‘controllables’ and after that be forgiving of yourself. Life’s too short to cry over spilt milk.
Q: How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?
A: Fulfilling your potential.