By  on February 5, 2007

NEW YORK — Now in its third year, the FIT Advanced Management Program offers senior executives in the fashion and retail world the opportunity to hone the skill set needed to manage the complexities of today's businesses. The program is structured using intensive three-day modules over a six-month time period. This allows executives to learn in a classroom setting while spending the least amount of time possible away from the office.

Eric Hertz, director of the Center for Executive Education, spent some time with WWD to talk about the program.

WWD: When and why was the executive education program launched?
Eric Hertz: It was FIT's ambition and goal to reach out to senior executives in the industry, who historically provide employment for our graduates, whether on the retail or wholesale side. At one point, FIT realized that we were not a resource for the senior executives that place our students. What we put together was the Advanced Management Program. It is now three years old and provides senior executives in marketing and manufacturing with some exposure and a rudimentary knowledge in disciplines that they normally would not be exposed to.

WWD: What program areas are you offering?
E.H.: We are creating spin-offs in areas as interest in those disciplines are expressed. This spring, we will have our first module on finance for nonfinancial executives. It is a three-day unit like our other modules, and will provide an overview of all the financial functions that senior executives need to be aware of. It is not for controllers or chief financial officers, but for executives managing divisions. Out of this we could eventually come out with an entire course in finance. February has a three-day module on leadership, and at some point we could even develop a whole course on leadership.

WWD: What do attendees get after they complete the course work?
E.H.: The program is a noncredit offering. For those who complete all the modules, there are four this year, they will get an official FIT certificate of completion of the FIT Advanced Management Program.

WWD: What are the other modules?
E.H.: In addition to one in retail in November, and the second on leadership in a creative organization in February, our third is the impact of globalization, global marketing and trade in April. The new one and our fourth is the financial module, which will be offered in March and May. It is unusual for a module to be offered twice, but based on interest in the module, it is our only option. We can have no more than 30 attendees in a room.WWD: How are these modules structured? Is it a canned presentation by way of a videotape, a podcast or live presentations that allow for interaction between guest faculty and students?
E.H.: There are two components. We have academics who are senior faculty members at FIT, Columbia or the business schools at Harvard and Wharton. For the case study component of the program, we will incorporate chief executives in the presentations. In the November retail module, one part included executives from Chico's. The lunchtime feature was a conversation with Burt Tansky of Neiman Marcus. We need to demonstrate how these academic theories actually play out in the industry and how attendees can use the theories/concepts presented by the academic professors right away.

WWD: Tell me about the attendees. Who are they typically? How long have they been working in the industry?
E.H.: Our parameter is for attendees to have 10 to 15 years experience, and they hold positions of vice president and higher, but not chief executive officer. These are senior executives who have high potential to move up and become ceo's, and advanced specialists. We rotate them through every discipline.

WWD: And what about the average age and background of the students?
E.H.: Many are in their mid-30s, and about 40 percent are from retailing, with 60 percent from wholesale. They are directors of functional units, divisional presidents and general merchandise managers. Sometimes we will get a chief financial officer because the chief executive wants the person to attend the nonfinancial sessions. That is one of the goals of this program.

WWD: How long does it take to complete the program? Do you have time requirements?
E.H.: Many do all four modules. Some register for one or two and then add another and continue on to complete all four. The cycle officially starts in November, but some do start later and go on to finish the program in the following cycle. We do allow a time lag, such as skipping a semester, but they all have to take each of the four modules in some order in order to qualify for the certificate.WWD: Since the inception of the program, how many have received the certificate?
E.H.: So far 15 to 20 have received certificates over the course of the three years that the program has been in existence.

WWD: How do you follow up with those attending to evaluate the modules and whether or not they benefit the attendees?
E.H.: We do it through a questionnaire online to try to drill down to the benefits, and find out what needs to be changed or added. It is a work in progress. The experience, though, is at least half from the students themselves through their group conversations and interaction with each other. We try to get them to open up. Many times by the end of the third day they start to teach each other. It's an amazing program because you have 20 competitors in the same room who have never had the opportunity to deal with and learn from each other.

WWD: What is it about the program that helps them think about leadership and helps them move up?
E.H.: It is the realization that there is a body of knowledge available to them. The instinct is to get out and grow the business. The reality is that whatever issue you are researching, there are people who have the background. It is about getting people to have a vision for what they are doing. Every one of our instructors' goals is to teach them how to reinvent their jobs and their businesses. That's because change is happening so quickly. Their biggest problem is not changing and getting married to what it is they are doing.

WWD: What other programs are you working on?
E.H.: We will have our first one-day program called Strategic Leadership for Women in Fashion on Thursday, March 15. It is not part of the certificate program, but is the first of a series for higher-level executive women. We are expecting between 50 and 100 attendees. It will have both academic and industry points of view. The topics will include networking, leadership through inspiration, mentoring and coaching, and communications and leadership. This program has a different tone and concept from the advanced management program. It focuses on learning and on interaction and networking. It is part of the executive education program, and we plan on building other special-interest programs. We are also separately developing with two firms, one in women's wear and the other in men's wear, custom programs that we can present here on campus or at their offices. It will [generally] be a one-day event, but could be two days or even a half day, depending on what the firm wants for their employees.WWD: How do you see the program evolving five to 10 years from now?
E.H.: We actually have a 15-year plan at FIT. The Advanced Management Program will grow by adding modules, going from four to five. We can't grow sessions, but we can add modules. We can see FIT adding more programs, more advanced components probably for different executive levels. We can even perhaps add more advanced financial programs for cfo's, and growing that to a full-fledged department. Right now, the department is just myself and one other individual.

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