Custom program for Alba, the first aluminium smelter in Gulf Cooperation Council, helps prepare its management team for big transformations

Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C. (Alba) is one of the world’s largest aluminium smelters, producing roughly 1 million metric tonnes of aluminium a year. With its Line 6 Expansion Project, the company’s output will jump by more than 50% upon its completion, reaching 1.5 million metric tonnes a year and making Alba the largest single-site smelter in the world.

For CEO Tim Murray (EMBA’03), the project necessitates a corporate-wide shift to a growth mindset. “It’s a very big plant and a very big project. Whether we like it or not, we’re going into a growth mindset,” he explains.

As part of the company’s continuous executive education series, Alba commissioned Vanderbilt Executive Education to design and facilitate a workshop to help the management team to shift their mindset. The custom-made four-day workshop, “Thriving in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) World,” was held in July at Alba’s headquarters in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

For Ranga Ramanujam, the Richard M. and Betty Ruth Miller Professor of Management, who conducted the workshop and designed the course in conjunction with Alba, the concept of VUCA applied neatly to the company’s future. “I thought that was a good way to capture the essence of what Line 6 means to Alba. They suddenly find themselves in a world that is more VUCA,” he says.

Professor Ramanujam (L) poses with Alba CEO Tim Murray (EMBA’03)

The workshop was broken into three programs to target two audiences. Executives and senior management attended a two-day program, while the first- and second-line management each attended one-day program. Sessions focused on personal and organizational effectiveness in a VUCA world, with particular emphasis on skills like building social networks, leading change, receiving feedback, and evidence-based management.

Ramanujam used pre-reading materials and a case about Google’s Project Oxygen to help attendees prepare for the group discussions and facilitate learning. The Project Oxygen case, which spotlights Google’s data-driven initiative to identify the eight most important traits of effective leaders, sparked an impromptu exercise in the initial workshop where senior leaders rated Alba’s executives on each trait, after which the executives responded to the feedback.

“It speaks highly of Tim’s leadership style in creating a climate where people could do that in the first place,” Ramanujam noted.

“The Google case was excellent on the criteria for what makes a good manager,” Murray said. “I thought (the exercise) gave us a pretty good view. It was good feedback for us the executives, and I think it was unbiased.”Alba management also walked away with an appreciation for a growth mindset and the work required to achieve it. “The Line 6 Expansion Project is an evolution. We need to break the fixed mindset, then start shifting our mindset into the growth mentality,” explained Waleed Tamimi, Chief Administrative Officer.

All the participants agreed that “as Alba is being transformed with its Line 6 Expansion Project, it is imperative to shift our fixed mindset into a growing one to prepare our company to accommodate the changes and evolve.”

Based on the feedback he received during and post the workshop, Ramanujam felt “that many of the concepts resonated with quite a few people.” The experience underscored the values that Executive Education can bring to organizations with customized programming that showcases best practices and the tools to achieve them. “Getting people to nod their heads isn’t the same thing as getting them to move their feet,” he said. “I view this workshop as a good example of what we can do with other companies.”

From Murray’s perspective, “the feedback was good,” he said. “It was one of the best workshops we’ve brought in from the outside.” Alba plans on utilizing the impromptu Google Oxygen exercise in other parts of the organization, and there’s already discussions on future workshops on Safety, an area in which Ramanujam has deep experience.

The Alba participants pose with Professor Ramanujam and Executive Education’s David Goodridge

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