Richard Walsh is thinking big. The director of the Swain Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington has ambitious ideas for how the center can mold leaders’ thinking. Walsh will focus initially on a local audience for the center’s programs, but address issues that have global currency.
Walsh, who took the helm in April, plans to offer programs that provide “big-picture training,” preparing business leaders for the “new way of work” or the “new world of work,” terms he says are becoming used globally.
Basically, the concept recognizes that, to thrive, businesses will need to adapt to rapid changes in information sharing and knowledge generation in a world that is diverse, yet highly connected.
Walsh explained that key characteristics of the “new way” include developing digital fluency across industries and functions; building personal and corporate resilience and willingness to experiment, learn and relearn; finding holistic solutions to challenges; working collaboratively across and among teams; thinking and acting entrepreneurially; and having respect for and sensitivity to differences.
“Leaders must also make way for the next generation of workers, and lead in new ways,” he said. “This ‘next gen’ are incredibly talented and work so differently than how our generation ever dreamed. They are more diverse and global in their thinking. They adapt quickly, leverage data and value social responsibility. They also demand quicker access to decision-makers and much more flexibility in their work schedules.”
New leadership thinking is influenced by the fact that more business leaders – as well as leaders of government – are women, Walsh noted.
“All of these factors require organizations and leaders to think and adapt in new ways, in order to attract, develop and retain top talent,” he added.
The Cameron School of Business at UNCW has offered continuing education for business leaders since it established the Center for Business and Economic Services more than 30 years ago. When H. David and Diane Swain made a $1 million gift to the Cameron School of Business in 2009, the center was renamed for them.
Walsh comes to the top post with experience in business, teaching and coaching. He worked for 14 years with companies such as AT&T, GE and IBM, developing and coaching leaders through processes of change and transformation.
His next career move was into executive education for the University of Dayton.
“For seven years, I led a unique consortium for executive education [for the university],” he said. “We successfully built strong partnerships between the university and the great companies of the region.”
Fourteen years ago Walsh left Ohio behind and moved to North Carolina to join the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. The center offers a broad range of programs for leaders in various industries, from financial services and health care to education and nonprofit organizations.
He also had multiple roles, including senior faculty, portfolio manager, coaching practice leader and leadership partner.
For five years, he and his research team observed more than 1,000 leaders they identified as being highly successful, to understand the challenges they faced and how they created value for their organizations. Walsh said they found that senior-level leaders often felt they had to be everything to everyone and could feel overwhelmed by day-today business pressures as a result.
One thing the team learned was that certain global trends are causing big shifts in how executives lead today and in the future.
“For example,” he said, “with the growing importance in data analytics, artificial intelligence, advances in STEM research and crypto-currencies, executives must prepare themselves and their teams to be more strategic and resilient to lead future change and disruptions.”
Walsh plans to offer programs through the Swain Center that enable business leaders to step back and look broadly at the changes and challenges facing their organizations, and how best to prepare and respond.
Given the area’s growth and desire to attract new companies, while helping existing ones prosper, what are Walsh’s goals for the Swain Center?
First, he said, he wants to build on the vision of the Swain family and the work the center has already done.
The second goal is to focus the center’s attention on what is most important in local organizations.
“For example,” he said, “to equip our region’s executives for emerging trends and to prepare the next generation of leaders to take on increased responsibilities.”
The center will continue to offer programs in specific skills such as project management and data analysis as well as bigger-picture, organizational transformation programs.
While initially targeting organizational leaders in this part of the state, the Swain Center will market increasingly to executives and UNCW alumni in other areas of North Carolina and the Southeastern U.S.,– especially locations with direct air connection to ILM – offering education packages that encourage individuals to bring their families for a weekend that blends learning and recreation.