As Cleaver’s title suggests, Mansell likes the American way of business, so Cleaver will be joining the alumni at Harvard, New England, one of the world’s most prestigious universities, on its Advanced Management Program – a course developed specifically for budding chief executive officers. Cleaver is in charge of the day-to-day management of Mansell’s business but wants to be chief executive one day.
The aim of the course is to find and energise the entrepreneur in every senior manager capable of operating in a global economy. Cleaver and David Beardsmore, Mansell’s chief executive, have ambitions to turn the £500m-turnover-a-year construction outfit into a global player by linking up with other firms. Already, Mansell has teamed up with WS Atkins and Drake & Scull to set up virtual company Prop.Com, offering everything from office design to construction and facilities management. Cleaver is using the course to extend this strategy of establishing alliances on the course. “I suspect things won’t be quite the same ever again,” he says.
Taking an international approach
There are 100 or so delegates from about 30 countries on the programme. Cleaver is particularly excited by the prospect of mixing with Japanese and Chinese managers to learn more about their totally different – and highly successful – approaches to business. The course covers corporate finance and financial planning, creating and delivering a product or service and competition in a global business.
Cleaver is still not too clear on the finer points of the programme, but he knows it will be a long, hard day, starting at 7.30am and ending at 9.30pm, six days a week. A mix of activities takes place over the 14-hour day, mostly formal classes or group exercises, in which delegates are set case studies to complete together. This involves taking apart specific company strategies – delegates take on the role of managers and thrash out a business solution. Eager to get going, Cleaver has already been musing on the recent strategic failures of Marks & Spencer. To keep a healthy body as well as a healthy mind, delegates are given a few hours off after lunch for exercise.
Nestlé, AT&T and Credit Suisse: those are the people I will be locked up with on a daily basis thinking fine thoughts
All the delegates are put into study groups for the more practical case studies, which are organised so that they include as diverse a range of nationalities and company backgrounds as possible. Cleaver hopes that by rubbing shoulders with the great and good of international business, he will pick up a few tips on where to take Mansell. “Nestlé, AT&T and Credit Suisse: those are the people I will be locked up with on a daily basis thinking fine thoughts,” he smiles.
How difficult is it to get into Harvard to join in with that fine thinking? The main criterion for the university is that the company is committed to its valued employee being there. It must supply letters from the chief executive, the chairman and the director of human resources, confirming that they will pay all the fees and the delegate’s salary in full. But, most important, the company must promise not to hassle the delegate with work issues while he or she is away. “I suspect I will get e-mails,” confides Cleaver, “but I won’t tell anybody.” For the delegate, a CV and short précis of why he or she wants to do the course and what they hope to gain is enough to pass muster with Harvard entrance keepers.
Cleaver hopes to return with a fresh slant on Mansell’s potential. The luxury of taking a step back to get a fresh look at one’s organisation will be invaluable. Delegates can learn from other companies that have different approaches to management structures and competition and services delivery. Cleaver is also interested in developing partnering relations with firms outside construction. “We see the future as alliances with Europe and transatlantic companies,” he explains.
Keeping an eye on the students
If his boss is worried that he might not be getting his money’s worth, all chief executives are invited to spend a day sitting in on the activities. At $44 000 (£26 000), and at least another $10 000 (£6000) for expenses, the course does not come cheap; Beardsmore will definitely be crossing the Atlantic to check up on his protege. For Cleaver, the open days are an example of the university’s savvy business acumen. “I admire that. I think it’s a clever piece of salesmanship,” he says. And if the course is a success, Beardsmore and Cleaver may well look into similar schemes for employees further down the corporate ladder.