Guest Column | July 31, 2018

Scientist To Executive: Investing In Internal Talent For Future Leaders

By William Valenta, Jr.

Scientist To Executive: Investing In Internal Talent For Future Leaders

Companies whose hallmark is constant innovation and improvement can spend billions of dollars on research and development. But success also depends on employing the right talent in the right positions and on the ability of its leaders to create long-term profitability, value, and organizational strength.

Who better to do that than individuals who have an intimate knowledge and understanding of the company’s innerworkings, core values, and identity? Who better than those who have worked for the company, contributed to its successes, and have built up respect and credibility among their coworkers?

But grooming individuals who show promise as future leaders is not without its challenges.

Moving from Lab to C-Suite

A brilliant scientist running one of the company labs could one day be the future head of R&D for the entire company. And the individual already leading the department could someday be a candidate for the C-Suite. They just need the right educational tools to prepare them for the business and management-centered responsibilities future advancement will bring.

For example, a scientist slated to become the next R&D manager will be responsible for overseeing the entire development process and implementing new company programs and protocols. They need to be able to see the big picture and recognize how their work advances a larger project or an entire enterprise. They might be great at coming up with new product ideas and solving problems creatively. But can they envision projects from start to finish? Are they equipped to assess the costs of product creation, decide what ideas are worth pursuing, and wisely use allocated company funds?

Do they know how to manage, mentor and motivate a team toward a specific goal? Can they articulate the value of a new product to investors, stakeholders, company leadership, and other business departments like sales and marketing? Do they understand manufacturing and supply chain processes enough to recognize how costly and complicated it can be to bring a product to market? Have they thought about the product’s impact on the company’s overall bottom line?

Bridging Knowledge Gaps

Developing future leaders with the skills they need requires some form of executive business and management training. What does that entail?

The best programs look at the specific challenges each company faces and custom designs programs to address them. Good educational partners will approach the relationship from an evidence-based point of view, delving into the problems the company needs to solve, assessing the capabilities of the people involved and conducting a root cause analysis.

For companies that have already identified a handful of potential future leaders, the best fit may be a full executive MBA program – one that is designed to maintain a high level of academic rigor while also maintaining practicality, flexibility, and the accommodation of students whose existing professional lives may require long hours at the lab or traveling for business.

For larger groups of employees, a customized program will likely be more effective. Depending on the groups’ knowledge gaps, it can either focus in-depth on a few business topics or provide a basic understanding of a wider range.

In any case, students are future executives who want hands-on scenarios and exercises so that they can immediately see the practical implications of what they are learning. They want to sit alongside their peers and be taught by faculty who themselves have real world experience applicable to tangible workplace situations.

Identifying future leaders and investing in the tools they need to succeed is one of the keys to creating an organizational strength that can be sustained across generations of leadership. As with any other life science investment, grooming and educating these individuals is the kind of vision that focuses on a company’s long-term profitability and enterprisewide success.

William  Valenta, Jr. is associate vice provost for professional programs at the University of Pittsburgh and assistant dean of MBA and executive programs at the University’s Katz Graduate School of Business.