By Kara Sherrer
What if students could sit down for one-on-one, casual conversations with executives from top companies? Twice a year, the Leadership Development Program (LDP) at Owen makes this a reality with its Leader-in-Residence (LiR) program, which brings an executive from a major company to campus for several days of immersive conversations.
Earlier this month, the second LiR in the program’s history came to Owen to discuss change management and the evolving workforce: Rich Postler, Vice President of HR for Global Business Services and Global Information Technology from Procter & Gamble.
Over the course of the two-day program, students engage in 20-minute, one-on-one meetings with the Leader-in-Residence (LiR), in addition to larger group discussions over meals and meetings with handfuls of students.
LiR group activities are deliberately capped around 15 students to encourage conversation and create a more collaborative atmosphere. With no LDP staff members in attendance during events, the Leader and the students feel completely free to have candid discussions about business topics.
I think the idea (of the Leader-in-Residence program) is brilliant. I like the personalization for the students.
Throughout his two days at Owen, Postler emphasized that he was here to help the students, and looked to them to guide the one-on-one conversations and the group discussions. “I think the idea (of the Leader-in-Residence program) is brilliant. I like the personalization for the students,” he said.
Postler let students set the tone for his discussions. Instead of asking him about P&G specifically, he noted that many wanted to discuss larger trends in HR or get his feedback on their career plans.
His lunch and dinner discussions on Thursday also focused on these larger trends in HR. At lunch, he shared his top-12 tips for managing and leading change while students munched on catered sandwiches. “I’m not trying to give you soft stuff,” he told attendees. “These are business strategies in my view.”
That night, Postler looked to the future with a discussion about shaping the workforce in 2025, trying to forecast the impact of trends such as remote work. Over dinner, Postler turned the questions back to students, asking them where they believe HR is headed and writing down their ideas.
“Can you guys help me be smarter? How will you anticipate the changes?” he asked.
While the Leader-in-Residence schedule is demanding, Postler says the program provides a “point of differentiation” when it comes to recruiting, helping students and companies get to know each other.
As for future visiting Leaders, Postler says that they need to be prepared to talk with students from diverse backgrounds about a range of topics — for example, he met with both a former ballet dancer and a former civil engineer. He also urges Leaders to set aside the two days to completely engage with students.
“You have to be fully present,” he said, noting that he hadn’t pulled out his phone once during any of his meetings. “It’s not about me, it’s all about (the students).”
Dean M. Eric Johnson talked with Postler for the latest episode of the “This is Vanderbilt Business” podcast. Listen below: