Executive Education

How one BE editor survived an intensive executive education program

through collaborative learning groups, a pre-assigned cadre of five or six participants with various business backgrounds and expertise. Participants remain in the same learning group throughout the week and must analyze and solve case studies that depict certain business dilemmas.

Scores of BE 100s companies have sent top executives through the program. Among the larger companies are the Bing Group (No. 8 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $372 million in revenues), SET Enterprises Inc. (No. 17 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $212 million in revenues), Mays Chemical Co. (No. 25 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $159 million in revenues), and the Specialized Packaging Group Inc. (No. 29 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $128.8 million in revenues).

Among my classmates was Kevin E. Thorne, the 45-year-old president and chief operating officer of Kinston, North Carolina-based Best Diamond Packaging L.L.C., a manufacturer of paper napkins for the fast-food industry that has grown into a $20 million business in just three years. Thorne, who started the company with his partner, former McDonald’s executive Robert Beavers, admits such growth presents its share of challenges. To meet growing demand, Best Diamond had to purchase four processing machines to handle the cutting, folding, and embossing of the paper products. It wasn’t a minor expense; each machine cost roughly $2 million. “They’re a very big investment,” he maintains. “You need a lot of volume and a lot of time to pay them off.”

Their second concern has been product and customer diversification. Presently, McDonald’s represents the lion’s share of the company’s revenues.

Thorne says he expects to employ several of the strategies he learned over the week. “It gives you a framework as to how to think about your business, how to think about your customers, and how to approach what it is you do every day,” he reflects. In particular, Thorne found the financial analysis classes extremely helpful and plans to perform a valuation on his business annually.

In the 1970s, the Small Business Administration realized that its 8(a) program for socially and economically disadvantaged business owners was a mixed success. While in the program, companies were prospering. But after graduating from the eight-year program, most firms folded. Without the government set-asides, a number of entrepreneurs didn’t know how to compete against larger companies within their space.

To reverse this decade-long trend, the SBA did two things. First, it made sure that 8(a) businesses gained an increasingly greater percentage of their contracts from businesses and agencies outside of the set-aside program. Using this approach helped stabilize businesses as they emerged from the program.

At the same time, the SBA recognized that the only thing that was going to make a real change was education. So Milton Wilson, who at the time was the director of Office of Capital Ownership Development, suggested the development of AMBEP. Tuck received SBA funding and launched the program in 1980. After the money dried up — particularly during the post-9/11 era — the institution turned to corporate

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