It isn’t just anyone who can run an organization that has an impact on tens of thousands of leaders in over 100 countries, but ExecOnLine co-founder Stephen Bailey is that person. Prompted by a sense that access to high-quality online education could unleash career breakthroughs for diverse talents, the fast-growing company is a leader in its category.
The online executive education revolution
It was about 10 years ago that I was invited to participate in a partnership between Columbia Executive Education and ExecOnline. Though the idea of online education wasn’t new, the people at ExecOnLine seemed to have cracked many of its traditional problems. These include lack of engagement, boring course design, the inability to do the rich networking that takes place in traditional executive education programs and lack of choice and flexibility in the selection of faculty. These are all reasons why the promise of MOOC’s have proven so disappointing.
Today, ExecOnline is a force to be reckoned with, a pioneer in the world of on-line executive education with funding from venture capitalists and other investors of nearly $90 million and revenues of close to $60 million. My Friday Fireside chat guest, Stephen Bailey, is the driving force behind the concept, and I’m proud to be partnering with them.
So who is this guy?
Stephen Bailey was born and raised in New Orleans, to Black professional parents who deeply understood the value of education. His mother was a psychiatrist and his dad a dentist. As he waggishly likes to say, “I’m good from the neck up.”
He attended Emory University where he was part of the debate team and graduated with a degree in history. Next stop was Yale Law School, where he graduated in 2004, which was followed by a couple of years working at a law firm. Along the way, he got involved with connecting the founder of a startup, Frontier Strategy Group, with an investor. That got the wheels turning about the possibilities of creative work in the startup world. He joined Frontier and worked there for five years, eventually becoming Chief Executive. A disagreement about the future strategic direction of the firm led him to leave in 2011, at the age of 32, determined to forge his own destiny with a startup of his own, though it was unclear what direction that would take.
In searching for what his Next Big Thing might be, a recruiter suggested that online business education might be a ripe area for growth. He hit on the ExecOnline mission early on. This was that “best-in-class business education was available to a relative handful of people. Many women and minorities, especially, were denied a chance to break through to top management.” As he shared with a reporter, it was a walk down Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem in 2011 that proved an “Aha” moment. The solution to democratizing education (and advancement) for mid-level executives was to deliver high-quality, but scalable, on-line education to mid-level corporate managers.
Founding, growing and scaling bespoke Executive Education
Bailey built an ecosystem of relationships that allowed ExecOnline to create a platform for its future growth. He knew that he would have to differentiate his company from MOOC’s, and even more from the for-profit business programs that had acquired a well-deserved reputation for poor quality. Instead, his programs would be designed in partnership with 7 top schools: Yale School of Management; Haas School at the University of California at Berkeley; Columbia University; Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; the University of Chicago Booth School; and the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The course we developed together, “Leading Strategic Growth,” is a collaboration between Columbia Business School’s Executive Education program and ExecOnLine. It features myself (on customer insight) and colleagues Willie Pietersen (on strategy) and Bill Klepper (on leadership) for a comprehensive introduction to how leaders can drive growth, even from the middle of a corporation. It offers the toolkit to make ideas a reality and also includes office hours, practical cases and the chance for participants to create a growth playbook of their own.
Among its differentiators is that unlike individually-focused programs, ExecOnline sells its courses to companies. This is how they can achieve scale that would not be possible with a individual marketplace approach, pursued by organizations like Udemy or other on-line learning platforms. Companies buy credits from ExecOnLine that employees can use to sign up for specific courses. Many of the courses offer a credential upon completion – from the same prestigious schools that Bailey partnered with.
The diversity agenda, reinforced
ExecOnLine also supports organizations in their efforts to promote more diverse and inclusive workplaces through its Development Equity Council. It promises to put real teeth behind such efforts through removing bias from selection processes, optimizing development opportunity design, and using data to track and benchmark progress. Without tools such as these, real progress in promoting more diverse and equitable leadership ranks is going to be slow and incredibly frustrating.
As Bailey said in a recent interview, if you want to reap the benefits of diversity (which are many), you need to take action. He suggests five areas of activity:
1. Talk about it – even if it is uncomfortable. See also Robert Livingston’s fantastic book “The Conversation.”
2. Acknowledge diversity as a key social value – create opportunities for equal participation in teams and groups.
3. Hire diverse leaders – not just race and ethnicity, but also background and experiences
4. Support diversity through inclusion – show visible, substantive and symbolic support for diverse groups within your organization
5. Invest to achieve meaningful outcomes –
Challenges moving forward
With a consistent track record of successful growth, and recognition as one of the EY Entrepreneurs of the Year for 2022, Bailey’s company would seem to be well on its way to having the impact he dreamed of a decade ago. Yet, like all of us, the pandemic and other major inflection points have thrown all of our best-laid plans into disarray.
In our conversation, I’m hoping to address questions such as these:
What were some of our major learnings from the pandemic?
What’s your take on the “great resignation” and how education factors into an employer’s ability to attract and retain the best talent?
What are the most significant priorities HR leaders should be focusing on right now?
How does ongoing on-line development fit into the post-pandemic working world?
What have you seen work well in organization’s efforts to improve their effectiveness at promoting diverse talent? What definitely doesn’t work?
Meanwhile, at Valize
We’re launching our own Discovery Driven Growth / Customer insight course next month! Designed to be taken while you’re working, it features 6 mini-courses that are on-line plus 6 hours of live online office hours with me, downloads, templates, tools and now continuing education credits! Check it all out here.
The courses are also available in a single course format, for those who can’t make the commitment to a full cohort experience. It’s a great way to build up your skills on a flexible basis. Complete enough of them, and you’ll also be eligible for our continuing education credit.
Our discovery driven planning based software tool the SparcHub is also now in production. It helps you practically implement the approach, introducing transparency and discipline to the whole process. People have wanted some kind of solution for a long time, and now we feel it’s finally here. Schedule a demo here.
Finally, people have often asked how they might get personally signed books. We’ve finally figured out how to make that happen – if you’d like to buy a signed copy, order it here.
Get in touch, stay in touch