Thomson Aims to Cultivate Able Managers

Several years ago, Thomson had “a lack of bench strength” on its executive team. Today, the company is attempting to cultivate the next generation of its business leaders through a career development program designed to produce executives with a blend of technical savvy and business acumen.

CIO Insight talked with the architect of the program, Susan Quackenbush, Thomson’s director of recruiting and workforce planning. The Technology Management Associates Program, one of two Thomson MBA rotational programs, recruits recent MBA graduates from top business schools and gives them a series of four six-month rotating assignments throughout the Thomson organization.

CIO Insight: How does the program work?

Quackenbush: Basically, it’s a rotational leadership development program that focuses on business experience and career development and learning. So the individual comes into the company and in the course of two years they will do three to four assignments across the organization. We look to give them breadth across the company and depth within the functional organizations. All the assignments are based on business need. The assignments are sponsored by senior executives within the respective functions: finance, technology, strategy, areas like that. And each one of the associates has a five-year targeted role that they’re looking to go after.

When did you extend the MBA Rotational Program to technology employees?

Two years ago. Technology was an offshoot of the success in finance. And it’s basically the same program. The infrastructure’s the same. It’s managed by the same group of people. We recruit at very similar schools. We’re looking for future leaders in either the finance function, or the technology function. We have a lot of these individuals who want to go into general management. The goal here is to see how quickly we can get people up into senior roles, but there’s also the fact that it takes time. There’s that maturity, and you want to continually groom and grow and challenge that individual so that they can take on more and more responsibility, and do so successfully.

How many associates do you have at any given time?

Currently I have ten active, and it’s always fluctuating. I have 13 new associates coming in over the next three months. We just placed ten associates in their latest rotation. I have people graduating, so the numbers keep growing because we also track our graduate associates. And we are getting more and more involved in their continuing development and retention. So the numbers are constantly changing.

Have you started to see any long-term results from the program, or is it still too early to judge?

We’re seeing success in our finance departments because now we have graduates who’ve been in the organization several years. And I have individuals who have been promoted two, three times, and they’ve been out of the program two years. One of them is a chief financial officer for one of our newly acquired businesses. I have a couple of vice presidents of large operating areas within some of our market groups. They’re progressing well.

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