MBA Professors Teach Golf Course Superintendents at Syngenta Business Institute

1.6.2011 Article, General, School News

Superintendents head to Wake Forest University for Syngenta Business Institute

Reposted from Superintendent Magazine | by Larry Aylward, editorial director

It was back to school for 28 golf course superintendents recently. It wasn’t just any school they attended, it was the prestigious Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The superintendents were attending Wake Forest as students of the Syngenta Business Institute. They received instruction from leaders of Wake Forest’s esteemed master’s of business administration (MBA) program. Syngenta invited selected superintendents to the innovative business development program created specifically for them in conjunction with Wake Forest.
“What a great opportunity this is,” said Nancy Dickens, the certified golf course superintendent at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., who attended the event held Nov. 2 through Dec. 2 at the Graylyn International Conference Center on the Wake Forest campus.

The 28 superintendents learned about financial management, human resource management, negotiating, impact hiring, and other leadership and professional development skills. J. Kendall Middaugh II, the associate dean for executive education at Wake Forest (among other notable titles), hosted the event and taught a few subjects himself.

“We’re going to give you information that will be applicable to your jobs right away,” Middaugh said at the outset of the program.

Before delving into the meat and potatoes of the program, Middaugh discussed key trends occurring in the golf industry. Of course, the two big negative trends are that rounds have declined the past few years, and the number of golfers has remained relatively flat, but there are also positive trends. For instance, there are signs the number of occasional golfers is increasing. There is also an increase in the number of capital expenditures at golf courses.

Middaugh noted some of the financial changes at golf courses regionally. For instance, capital expenditures were down 22.8 percent at public courses with revenues under $1 million in the Sun Belt in 2009 when compared to 2008.

“This is a deferred maintenance,” he said. “If it happens several years in a row, it will come back and bite.”

Middaugh, who is also the associate professor of management at Wake Forest, spoke extensively about financial statements and how to analyze them.

“If you aspire to be a general manager, you’ll need these skills at some point in time,” he said. “For those of you who don’t aspire to those aspirations, you’ll still have to talk turkey [with your general managers about this].”

Middaugh said the cash flow statement is the “lifeblood of a business.” Cash flows are classified into three sections:
• cash from operations;
• cash from investing activities; and
• cash from financing activities.

“The reason golf courses go bankrupt is because they run out of cash,” Middaugh said.

Middaugh also talked about leasing versus purchasing. He said the advantages of leasing are that working capital is preserved, there is flexible financing, there’s less red tape and complexity than external financing and it’s inflation-friendly. Leasing cons include the loss of any asset residual value, difficultly in terminating a lease early and extra cost because some tax advantages are eliminated.

Bill Davis, associate dean of working professional programs, also lectured during the program. He cited the importance of delegating, which can empower employees, among other things.
Davis spoke about the importance of delegating—for the sake of the delegator and the delegatee. He defined delegating as “giving someone else the authority, responsibility and skills to complete an assignment.”

“Never delegate responsibility without authority,” Davis said. “That’s dumping.”

Delegating not only frees up the boss’ time to make contributions where they’re most important, it helps to develop the boss’ direct reports so they increase their commitment to the organization. The latter is of the utmost importance, Davis said.
“There are few things more demotivating than for an employee to have skills and not be able to use them,” he added.

Sherry Moss, associate professor and director of the full-time MBA program at Wake Forest, lectured superintendents on how to provide effective feedback. Moss had superintendents participate in small groups to discuss hypothetical situations dealing with the topic.

The consequences of positive feedback are myriad, Moss said. First, it meets people’s need for information and need to be recognized and appreciated. Positive feedback also earns the giver the right to give negative feedback when necessary.

However, Moss pointed out that negative feedback is more likely to be remembered by an employee than positive feedback, so she suggests giving a person positive feedback seven times more than negative feedback.

Moss talked about giving negative feedback to employees, as well. She said it’s vital that the person giving the feedback focus on a person’s behavior, not the person. She also stressed how important it is to never give an employee negative feedback when others are around.

“Always take that person aside,” Moss said.

While some managers believe their employees can be motivated by negative reinforcement, Moss stressed that positive reinforcement always works better.

“That has been proven over and over and over again,” she added.

And, money may not be the positive reinforcement that some people think it is, she said.

“I know you can motivate people without having to pay them more,” Moss said. “[More money] doesn’t make people more happy; it keeps them from being unhappy.”

At the conclusion of the event, the superintendents received certificates of participation. They had to feel impressed with themselves.

Scott Cole, Syngenta’s golf market manager, said the idea for the Syngenta Business Institute was hatched a few years ago. In talking with superintendents, Cole said he discovered they longed for more information on business topics, such as how to be better managers and negotiators. Hence, Syngenta decided to go down the business education route. With Wake Forest in Syngenta’s backyard (Syngenta is located in Greensboro about 30 minutes away), the company took advantage of the situation. (Cole was also taught by Middaugh when he went to Wake Forest for his MBA.)

“It’s great for us to provide this type of service,” Cole said. “We feel it’s part of our duty as being a leader in the industry to prepare superintendents for the challenges they face. It’s another value-added service that goes beyond the products we produce.”

Dickens said it’s important for superintendents to receive more training on business topics.

“We generally go to school to learn about agronomy, turf, soil and things of that nature,” she said. “We don’t get formal training on this, but this is 50 percent of what we do.”

Interestingly, Dickens has a business degree from Baylor University and worked for a Fortune 500 company for a few years as an inventory controller. However, she wanted to become a superintendent and pursued her goal.
“This is fabulous training,” she said. “We manage, direct and supervise, but we really don’t think about how to improve at it. [Superintendents] might not have an opportunity along the way to get this type of training, so it has been great.”