Executive Interviews, Elaine Eisenman on Managing Downturn without Downsizing

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Elaine Eisenman on Managing Downturn without Downsizing
June 2009 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Elaine Eisenman
Dr Elaine Eisenman is Dean at Babson Executive Education.

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  • First, a word about your new book, I Didn’t See it Coming: The Only Book You’ll Ever Need to Avoid Being Blindsided in Business. Is it only meant for entrepreneurs or does its purpose have a larger canvass?
    My book is targeted at anyone in any company that may experience a situation that was not previously anticipated. Too often people become too focused on what they know or have experienced in the past, and as a result, they become surprised and overwhelmed by both risk and opportunity. The book’s basic premise is that it is critically important to fully scan one’s environment to look for unseen opportunities as well as unknown landmines that could be capable of destroying one’s business or career. The goal of I Didn’t See It Coming is to prevent people from becoming blindsided by teaching them how to be aware of changes in their environment that others may not see. In the book, my co-authors and I identify the red flags that signal danger and the ways that these red flags can be turned into strategic advantage for those who see them. Many of the red flags have been cited in the media as Boards have replaced CEOs who apparently did not “see it coming” and foolishly believed that they were irreplaceable. Although the book’s focus is on organizational changes, the lessons are equally important for entrepreneurs in thinking about the external marketplace and the competitors that do not yet exist. An exceptional example of the importance of constantly scanning one’s environment for danger is Ray Anderson of the US company Interface Carpets who essentially created a market for environmentally friendly carpet manufacturing.

  • Congratulations to you and Babson Executive Education for being rated #6 in Financial Times Executive Education programs. How are the prospects for Executive Education in these troubled times? What’s your assessment of executive education potential for business school?
    The core of Babson Executive Education is rooted in Babson College’s excellence in entrepreneurship education; Babson College is consistently ranked number 1 in the world for this competence. For corporate education, entrepreneurship easily translates into helping our clients create a culture that develops entrepreneurial thought and action as a means to building organic growth, and ultimately, value for their companies. In this time of market turmoil and uncertainty, it is essential for organizations to be able to look both inward and outward for the right opportunities that will enable themto not only survive but also thrive in the new markets with as yet undefined needs that will be created. As a result, our clients view our programs as strategic and necessary to support their ongoing growth and possible reinvention. Because of this, our custom business is up over 5% from the prior year.

    I believe that the potential for executive education through business schools is directly related to the ability of the business school faculty to move beyond their research agendas to become client focused. At Babson, our faculty represents the best of both worlds – the vastmajority of our executive education faculty has excellent academic and teaching credentials coupled with strong roots in business. It is quite usual for Babson faculty to have led and sold companies, to sit on corporate boards and to continue to have robust consulting engagements, all designed to keep them both current and pragmatic in the classroom.

  • You are also the founding member and member of the board of Women Corporate Directors and the Belizean Grove. Are the women able to break the glass ceiling yet or do you still see barriers?
    My answer is a contradiction—yes and yes. On occasion, individual women are able to poke holes in—but not fully break—the glass ceiling and, as a result, there are still many barriers to success. Few women lead public companies, although there are increasingly greater numbers of women in senior executive roles. In contrast, however, an increasing number ofwomen are launching their own entrepreneurial companies around the world. In Japan and Peru, for example, the number or businesses started by women exceed those started by men in 2007 (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor/2007 Report on Women and Entrepreneurship).

    That said, there are more opportunities now for women to rise to the top than ever before. Ten years ago when we began Women Corporate Directors, it was exceedingly difficult to find women who sat on public boards, and our first members numbered less than 20. Since then, we have grown to over 525 members representing over 675 boards. More importantly, we now have 22 chapters, and this year we expanded globally, and I am happy to tell you that there are new chapters of Women Corporate Directors in Mumbai and Delhi.

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