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Vanderbilt helps companies innovate, the Nashville way

Sep 9, 2015
New custom program for the Vanderbilt Executive Development Institute draws on Nashville’s rich history of innovation in the music industry to teach organizations how to apply strategic principles of innovation.

By Nathaniel Luce

The radio station that launched the world’s longest running radio program, The Grand Ole Opry, was created not to sell country music, but to sell insurance. That station’s callsign, WSM, stood for We Shield Millions, which is the slogan of the station’s parent company, National Life and Accident Insurance Company. They launched WSM so that they could air ads for their company. WSM, in turn, launched a massive music industry that helped turn Nashville into Music City, USA.

The innovative problem solving that launched the modern country music industry can be applied to any organization and a new executive education program from Vanderbilt University teaches organizations how. This custom program draws on Nashville’s rich history of innovation in the music industry to teach organizations how to apply strategic principles of innovation.

The program, Music City Innovation, is designed to teach individuals how become better strategic innovators. Participants experience music industry history blended with the latest academic thinking on how organizational elements interact to enhance the generation, growth and implementation of new ideas, as well as how to overcome the organizational, interpersonal and competitive forces that can stifle innovation.

“Nashville’s rich musical heritage and diverse business base provides a great opportunity for our business professors to teach innovation theory and then show the results,” said Skip Culbertson, Executive Director of Vanderbilt’s Executive Development Institute. “We’re in a unique position to share this know-how with local, regional and international businesses.”

The custom program is offered through Vanderbilt’s Executive Development Institute at the Owen Graduate School of Management. Chubb Insurance will become the first organization to participate on September 9.

Program sessions for Music City Innovation will be held at Vanderbilt and several Nashville landmarks where innovation history was made, such as the Ryman Auditorium and the WSM Radio station and tower. Participants will receive a Vanderbilt Executive Development Institute certificate at the conclusion of the program sessions.

Vanderbilt Professor David Owens will lead interactive classroom sessions on strategic innovation throughout the two-day course. Professor Owens serves on the faculty at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management in the area of management, specializing in innovation and new product development. He is known as a dynamic speaker and is the recipient of numerous teaching awards. He provides consulting services for a wide range of clients around the world, and his work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal andLondon Guardian.

Craig Havighurst, senior producer and journalist with Music City Roots, will lead discussion on the history of innovation in Nashville. Havighurst is a writer, producer and speaker in Nashville who has won awards for his work in print, radio and television. He’s now senior producer and show journalist for Music City Roots: Live From The Loveless Cafe, a weekly Americana radio show and webcast. Havighurst has a master’s degree in public policy from the Terry Sanford Institute at Duke University and a B.A. in English from Northwestern University. Havighurst is a graduate of Leadership Music in Nashville and a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association, the Americana Music Association and the Recording Academy.

The Music City Innovation program is the latest example of custom executive programs from the Executive Development Institute. Custom programs help organizations achieve their strategic goals, level their playing field, align the management skills of emerging leaders or completely transform an organization. Through in-depth discussion and a five-step development process, the Executive Development Institute helps identify objectives and constructs a program that is right for an organization. Each program showcases the finest scholars, researchers, teachers and practitioners that make up Vanderbilt’s accomplished business faculty and lecturers.

To learn more about Music City Innovation or to learn about how a custom executive program from the Vanderbilt Executive Development Institute can benefit your organization, contact

Contact Person: Brett Israel Director, Business News & Communications Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management

Contact Phone: (615) 322-3469
Contact Email:

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