Leading Through Innovation

Interdisciplinary Leadership Program Prepares Statoil Executives for Global Challenge

Interdisciplinary Leadership Program Prepares Statoil Executives for Global Challenge

As it seeks to expand operations worldwide, a large Norwegian energy company has partnered with the UC Berkeley Center for Executive Education (CEE) to deliver an innovative leadership program that prepares its executives for success, whether operating in the North Sea or the Niger Delta.

Statoil, one of the world's largest crude oil and gas suppliers, worked with the Haas School's executive education team in creating a highly customized and cross-disciplinary approach to training its key executives. The Statoil Project Executive (PE) Program leaves almost no discipline untapped as a potential resource for skill-building. The aim: To shape executives able to successfully execute projects in unfamiliar countries, act on the right instincts when confronted with local political issues, and strategically lead large multi-national teams.

Preparing to Lead in an Uncertain Landscape

Leaders today must be completely comfortable operating from a place where there is no playbook."Leaders today must be completely comfortable operating from a place where there is no playbook," says Whitney Hischier, Haas School assistant dean, Center for Executive Education. "To teach this skill effectively, we must develop and deliver curriculum in context with a company's market dynamics, culture, and goals. This requires a much more tailored approach."

Hischier and the Haas School's executive education team have tossed their own playbook in creating the PE Program for Statoil. Rather than enrolling the energy executives in existing courses, Haas School faculty and the center's team worked closely with the company for eight months building, from the ground up, a custom program that pushes beyond the traditional business school boundaries of executive education. To design curriculum that would meet Statoil's specific needs, CEE drew upon the best resources available–from Haas, across UC Berkeley and other universities, and in cooperation with Statoil.

"Pulling in expertise from a multitude of disciplines and perspectives is critical," says Hischier. "Increasingly, the executives we teach realize that life is not just about business, but that they also have to understand issues around public policy and the cultural contexts within which they operate. Suddenly history, geography, political science, and psychology become very relevant."

An All-encompassing Curriculum

Given the increased relevance of history, geography, political science, engineering, and psychology, the PE Program curriculum taps into expertise from these and other disciplines, as well as business. "As part of one of the world's leading universities, we are well positioned to take an innovative approach to connecting academic research and corporate results," says Hischier. "CEE serves as a portal for executives to the rich thought leadership at the Haas School, UC Berkeley, and beyond."

PE Program executives study global leadership challenges with Jennifer Chatman, the Haas School's Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management. They explore power and influence with UC Berkeley's Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology. They take an in-depth look at the sociopolitical and economic situations in such places as Nigeria, Angola, and Algeria with Geography Professor Michael Watts. And they attend classes taught by Statoil executives, who address such topics as the journey to becoming a project director and managing risk.

Overseeing the curriculum development for the Statoil program are several faculty directors. Haas Senior Lecturer Homa Bahrami was of interest to Statoil for her work on the concept of super-flexibility, the ability for enterprises to be as agile and versatile as an entrepreneurial company. She serves as a PE Program faculty director, along with UC Berkeley Geography Professor Watts, who brings expertise in the geopolitical aspects of the oil and gas industries.

Leading From the Head. And the Heart. And the Belly.

Because moving one's work from Scandinavia to Africa can stretch comfort zones, the PE Program curriculum begins pushing personal boundaries at orientation. Participating executives are recorded in a mock negotiation that is later scrutinized to assess every instance where power is gained or lost through facial expression, body language, and vocal tone.

This highly analytical exercise is actually a precursor to pulling students away from heavy reliance on analysis. The aim is to have them operate with what the program calls a head/heart/belly approach, in which one's brain, beliefs, and gut reactions are aligned.

"This alignment is a crucial component of leadership," says Hischier. "It's critical to understand when your heart is really in something and how to convey that to others persuasively. And going with the gut can be essential when having to make high-stakes decisions quickly and in unfamiliar circumstances."

Turning Learning to Action

What ultimately makes the curriculum click, Bahrami says, is its applicability. "We have designed all the learning to be extremely actionable, giving the students a set of tools for self-diagnosis and intervention." Students work closely with a personal coach throughout the program to turn what they've learned into lifelong skills. They also apply their learning to a year-long field consulting project outside of Norway.

"Opportunities to use what I've learned arise every day," confirms Statoil's Åse Karin Staupe, who completed the PE program in 2008. Staupe recently traded her white wooden house in Stavanger, Norway for life in Libya, where camels roam next door and she has taken on the role of asset manager for two oil fields in which Statoil is a partner.

"The program really prepared me for managing within a local context," says Staupe, who handles an array of responsibilities that include negotiations with the Libyan government, production reporting, and strategic development.

Interdisciplinary Approach is in Demand

Statoil evaluated more than 60 universities before choosing Berkeley CEE "for its flexibility and speed in developing a highly customized program," says Yngvar Duesund, a Statoil executive and director of the Statoil Project Executive Program.

"Our project executives lead large-scale capital projects of more than$1 billion," notes Duesund, who says that twenty top-performing Statoil project executives participate in the program annually. In October 2008, Statoil opted to extend the original three-year program by two years.

CEE's ability to execute this intensive and interdisciplinary model of executive education has resulted in an expanded role with Statoil beyond the PE Program. The center has conducted leadership workshops for other Statoil groups, as well as consulted with the company on organizational and leadership strategy. CEE is also now developing a customized executive education program for DNV, a risk management and classification firm headquartered in Oslo.

Hischier notes that many companies are steeped in a culture of deep analysis, with lots of data required to make decisions. "With a program like the Statoil Program, those analytical pieces are present, but we're also factoring in the way the world really works. To stay in the pace of the world today you have to understand how the outside world impacts your business and you have to go by gut. If you wait for all the data to be processed, your competitors will have already made the decision and moved on."

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