April '19

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16 • RV PRO • April 2019 rv-pro.com R V M A N U F A C T U R E R S B ased on the anecdotal evidence shared by executives interviewed for this story, top-notch employee training programs and workplace culture appear to be at the heart of the phenomenon that has spurred Coachmen and Keystone to provide so many key leaders for the RV industry. This phenomenon is rare for the RV industry, but not unusual in the American business culture, where major companies often serve as training grounds for future leaders, according to Tim Hubbard, assistant professor of management in the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business in South Bend, Ind. He cites General Electric as an example. "Back in the Jack Welch period (1981-2001), GE was famous for producing top executives for other companies," he says. "GE had a phenomenal leadership training program and the number of future CEOs coming out of their firms was sizable. Such results are a strong indication that a company's training programs are working." In 1999, Forbes magazine named Welch "Manager of the Century." (Editor's note: Welch also was known for annually firing the bottom 10 percent of his managers, regardless of absolute performance, which may explain in part the spread of former GE managers through the business community.) That being said, identifying and grooming employees to one day become CEOs of major U.S. companies often starts when the trainees are still in their late 20s, and the process can take as long as 25 years, so the fact that Coachmen and Keystone have trained a generation of future CEOs in relative rapid order is somewhat unusual, according to Hubbard. Based on RV PRO's research, Coachmen (formed in 1964) and Keystone (formed in 1996) have trained at least 15 future CEOs for the RV industry. Before entering academia, Hubbard worked in industry, which included a stint as a product support rep for Caterpillar, which supplied engines to the RV industry. In a word, he found the RV industry "pragmatic." "It's an industry with a customer base that is very particular in what they want and pragmatic in delivering that product," he says. "In my book, that's very positive." Although he has never researched the RV industry, Hubbard says standard definitions for "great leadership" and "great managerial ability" – two terms that academicians apply to CEOs – would apply to this industry. Hubbard defines great leadership as the ability to mobilize people toward a goal, and great managerial ability as the ability to translate resources into profits. The former suggests that a person "could be a great leader but not have the business sense to turn a profit given the resources you're given," he says. That can explain why some CEOs, despite being "great leaders," don't last long at certain companies. Leadership: Nature vs. Nurture Still, there isn't enough research that quantifies the "nature vs. nurture" aspect of leadership – basically how much of leadership is innate and how much has to be taught, according to Hub- bard, who specializes in behav- ioral strategy and teaches stra- tegic management. " We d o h ave s t u d i e s coming out now that show an executive's early childhood – even things like commonness of your name – will influence your leadership styles later in life, so some of that is built in," he says. "But it seems to take 25 years to train a CEO at large com- panies. Couple that with your innate ability, and I would say it's balanced between nature and nurture. That being said, it's easy to find exceptions. "Every industry brings up its CEOs in different ways – and dif- ferent firms at different points in their history will need different types of CEOs. That's why we see changes." Perhaps not surprisingly, Hubbard says companies will pro- mote from within when "the strategy that is in place is working. You bring someone in from the outside to shake things up. The downside to internal training is that you get homogeneity at the top because everyone starts behaving similarly. In this case, you'll want different types of leaders leading different types of firms." Having a company culture that cultivates great leaders can be a wonderful thing, but it can be a bit of a double-edged sword, Hubbard acknowledges. "It says a lot about a company when another company comes along and poaches their people," he says. "You spend all that time and money training and grooming and they go away. You're not going to stop your training programs because they're doing too well, but if everybody leaves, that's a bad thing, too. What Makes a Great Leader? Tim Hubbard, assistant professor of management in the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, specializes in behavioral strategy and teaches strategic management. His research focuses on the social and cognitive factors that influence behavior, examining CEO succession/ dismissals, personality, reputation, status and celebrity, performance, compensation and political orientation. Notre Dame business professor talks about common factors in cultivating top leaders in American business and how they intersect with the RV industry. By Steve Bibler

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