Teeter Scholars Benefit from WDI Education Training
WDI Education begins 2017 looking forward to the 12th year of partnership with the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga), the top business school in Latvia. As we anticipate this year’s WDI Professional Education programs in Riga, we want to highlight a few of the managers who benefitted from these programs in 2016 thanks to the Teeter Scholarship program.
The scholarships are named in memory of the late Robert M. Teeter, an advisor to U.S. presidents from 1968-1992 and a former WDI board member. WDI awards 20 full tuition scholarships annually to managers from small- and medium-sized enterprises and NGOs in emerging markets to attend WDI Professional Education programs. The scholarships allow owner/managers who otherwise would be unable to afford quality professional development opportunities to attend WDI training sessions at no cost.
Participants in WDI-SSE Riga programs mainly represent large local and regional companies. By including SME owner/managers and NGO directors, programs gain important diversity and advance WDI’s mission.
Of the four 2016 Teeter Scholars profiled below, three attended May’s Strategic Management Program (SMP), the 10th year of this flagship program, and one attended WDI-SSE Riga’s inaugural Strategic Thinking program. Here are their stories:
Irēna Ļeoņenko (Latvia): Connecting companies through HR
Irēna Ļeoņenko started working as an interpreter in a hotel right out of university. Her hard work and potential for excellence shone through, and in 2001 she moved into an HR role.
Today, she heads the Latvian Association for People Management (LAPM), an NGO with 230 company members LAPM organizes activities to increase the competencies of HR managers and specialists – such as seminars, experience exchanges, and an annual conference (last year’s topic was “Lifelong Learning”). LAPM provides resources and networking for HR professionals, and serves businesses and state and municipal agencies. Its vision, ultimately, is to “be the best developer of ideas and opinion leader in the HR management field in Latvia.”
This is a new direction for the organization. Implementing such an ambitious vision requires strategic, savvy leadership. Ļeoņenko knows she has some work to do. She notes that one of the main challenges is changing the culture of HR. Historically, in Soviet times in Latvia, HR’s function was solely administrative, secretarial, and bureaucratic. She notes that a lot of companies in Latvia still operate with this paradigm today – excluding developed international firms.
Since LAPM is working on its strategy for the next three years, Ļeoņenko said the SMP came at a “good time for me to refresh and get new knowledge.” With the SMP’s tools, Ļeoņenko will help LAPM get to where it wants to be: promoting the value of the HR profession within a market context.
The SMP, she said, exposed new areas for her to consider in pursuit of this vision – in particular, marketing, finance, and how everything comes back to strategy.
The SMP’s subject areas “are core elements for any type of activities, whether business or non-governmental organizations,” Ļeoņenko said. “For leaders in organizations, it is extremely important [to] not only work on a good feeling basis, but be real professionals – to have knowledge on how to model, on how to evaluate, on how to take decisions. [The SMP’s] systemic approach helps you to understand the pluses and minuses, the strengths and shortcomings to make analysis in the right way and come to conclusions that help you to go ahead.”
Dovilė Pranckevičienė (Lithuania): From Lawyer to Entrepreneur
Dovilė Pranckevičienė is the co-founder and director of “LANGUAGE CLUB,” a school in Lithuania that provides General English language training as well as professional and other foreign language training mostly to employees of international or local companies in groups or individually. The school was established in 2013. Already, the young business has done well.
Like her SMP classmate Ļeoņenko, Pranckevičienė did not start out in management. After earning a law degree, Pranckevičienė practiced as an international lawyer. But as is the case for many who become entrepreneurs, she got the itch to do something on her own. Now she heads a staff of 30 people who provide English language services for non-native speakers.
Her company is now well established, and Pranckevičienė said the SMP is immensely applicable to this stage of her business. For instance, the Leadership module made her realize that her company operated without a vision or mission for three years. “I had it in my head, but it was never written or stated anywhere,” she said. This module helped her realize this was important to do.
The Marketing module taught her how to evaluate markets, which helps her shape the direction her language school should take. Finally, after the Strategy module, Pranckevičienė began to see the ways that strategy and marketing work together, and thus the importance of market research and planning as opposed to a trial-and-error method of pursuing growth.
“My knowledge was very narrow,” she said. “That was really an eye-opener for me, (as) one who had no background in business management.”
Pranckevičienė said the SMP boosted her business learning: “I gained a lot of knowledge in a short period of time. It’s nice when you have case studies and discussions and can then try to apply this knowledge. I would definitely recommend [this program].”
“Before taking this program, my main goal was to deepen my knowledge and, furthermore, gain new knowledge in many business areas which might improve my executive skills as well as strengthen my leadership skills and help in the future with managerial work,” she said “This program exceeded my expectations.”
Aleksandrs Lescinskis (Latvia): Active learning for active interests
Aleksandrs Lescinskis’ entrepreneurial journey began when he opened his own judo studio at 18. After a sports career, he earned degrees in law and finance and opened his own law firm. He is a self-employed provider of legal services while still managing the studio (Judo Club Dinamo LAT), running educational and summer camps, and directing the Sports Association of Latvia, which he founded to provide legal consulting, seminars, and conferences on sports law throughout Latvia.
With all of these pursuits at play, Lescinskis is a nontraditional entrepreneur who wears several hats. Though his legal education provides some understanding on business efficiency, he said, he recognizes his organizations present varied challenges. So he put his sports training to use and practiced active learning by attending the SMP as a Teeter Scholar.
At the SMP, Lescinskis learned the importance of understanding finance and strategic leadership for developing his sports club, which currently trains around 200 kids and recently was named “the best children’s and youth sports organization in 2015 in Riga City” by the Rīga City Council’s Education, Culture and Sports Department. In order to achieve his goals to reach 1,000 members, acquire a modern building, build expertise, and introduce IT systems, Lescinskis knows he must take his management skills to the next level. As for improving his legal businesses, he came away from the SMP with explicit goals and a clear vision to start with marketing, positioning, and looking for new markets. He knows what he needs to do to strategize his organizations’ development; what’s left is to implement it: “[Now] I have a clear plan,” he said.
Besides a greater understanding of strategic management principles, Lescinskis came away from the SMP with broader perspective and a stronger network. He praised the SMP’s concentrated timeframe and collegial atmosphere.
“During a short period of time – two weeks, four modules – you can share your existing experience with professors and colleagues, looking at the same things from different angles, broadening your perspective,” he said. “We are working in different areas, but during this course we can find similar things to discuss, to share. I had to a chance to find out new things, to have new colleagues, new professors, to have communication. All things will help me in the future to go further.”
An entrepreneur like Lescinskis, who has managed organizations without introductory business training, is the kind of manager the SMP is designed to train. He is an ambitious entrepreneur who has followed a nontraditional path to building a business and needs some concentrated training to more effectively implement a vision.
Santa Krastiņa (Latvia): Strategically strengthening the nonprofit sector
Santa Krastiņa brought an atypical background to November’s Strategic Thinking program. Krastiņa leads homo ecos:, an environmental NGO whose mission is “to create and strengthen a social movement that not only promotes environmentally friendly ideas, but also puts them into practice and lives them out through activities that are beneficial for both the environment and humans.” Homo ecos: promotes wide everyday use of environment- and human-friendly materials and technologies. It provides training and resources to citizens on green lifestyle, climate change, reducing food and packaging waste, and promoting use of environmentally friendly materials.
“Our aim is to raise awareness about our impact on environment with each decision,” she said. “We have made guidebooks about these topics to help organizers to be more environmentally friendly.”
As executive director, Krastiņa spends a lot of time thinking about homo ecos:’ strategic direction and how to align its activities and resources with its vision. A major challenge is financial sustainability. When revenue is reliable, she said, it is easier to keep the organization aligned with its mission and to retain strong employees in a competitive job market.
“We want to develop [social enterprise] services (such as educational events) but not lose focus on our aim,” Krastiņa said.
Though this tension is not unusual for NGOs, its leaders rarely address it through executive training on Strategic Thinking or management. (As a side note: WDI is pleased to deliver an NGO program that addresses this need.)
By attending the Strategic Thinking program alongside managers of for-profit firms, Krastiņa said she learned from the problems the business sector encounters, as well as how her colleagues develop ideas and solutions. She also has more tools to forge strategic partnerships across sectors – including with traditional, for-profit firms. Finally, Krastiņa noted, the program pushed her to take an internal look at what is driving homo ecos: and how this drive serves employees’ needs and meets ethical guidelines. The strategic framework provided by WDI Faculty Affiliate Doug Bosse, who led the program, was a great asset in pursuit of those goals.
Krastiņa has already shared her training with her colleagues at homo ecos:. She expects this to impact how they work with partners, as well as how they approach new markets.“We have a lot to think through about our future – how we will fund ourselves, how we will survive,” she said.
Krastiņa is optimistic that the training will aid her efforts.
“I got new knowledge to put into practice [with] my coworkers,” she said. “Together, we will find a solution.”
Thanks to the Teeter Scholarships, SME owner/managers from across the Baltic region can invest in sustainable, long-term strategies for their organizations to scale and grow.