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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Walt Ulmer, November 20, 1998. Interview S-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rapid growth of the Center for Creative Leadership

Ulmer discusses the major reorganization of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), which he oversaw beginning in 1987. Ulmer likens organizational structure to "crab grass" and suggests that the rapid growth of the CCL during his tenure as its president was to a large degree a natural evolution. Additionally, he discusses the Leadership Development Program (LDP) as a central component of the CCL's program.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Walt Ulmer, November 20, 1998. Interview S-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOSEPH MOSNIER:
I'm curious in trying to understand exactly how you put together your planning for the major reorganization of the 1987 and how you thought your way through that process. A moment ago you talked a little bit about the general sort of nature of what you had in mind. But could you talk in a little bit more detail about what you really hoped to accomplish with the major reorganization in '87 and how you went about that?
WALT ULMER:
Let's see. I think that's the one where we broke the big research into small research and tried to tie it in with training areas. And we had four or five or six what looked like dumbbells on the chart where one side I think we had executive development on one area or more basic leadership stuff. I can't remember exactly the five designations but the intent was to do two things. It was to take research from what seemed to be a kind of an amorphous mass where really good individuals were running in a number of directions that I'm sure were individually productive but we thought we needed a little bit more structure, and to see if we could forge a tighter link between the training side of the house and the research side of the house. We had these clusters of training. And so the intent was quite obvious, to have coherent and focused training and research areas and have some links between them. And that worked fair. I think the Center, like many organizations, will have to reorganize itself every five, six, seven years to help them refocus and so forth. But that's what we were trying to do. And that lasted for a while and then we changed it again later on. And John Alexander has changed it.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
Right. And your perspective is that's just a routine sort of natural.
WALT ULMER:
I think that's a natural evolution that comes from a variety of things. Organizational structure is kind of like crab grass.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
Yeah. If you would, tell me about in these years the Center is really, really starting to grow. I mean I guess the revenues when you arrived were in the neighborhood of four - four and a half million and ten years later, they'll be pushing 40. So it's a tenfold increase, really quite remarkable. Your perspective of LDP as the engine of so much of that revenue and the relationship of LDP to the wider institution.
WALT ULMER:
Well, LDP is of course as everyone says the flagship program. It is the primary reason why the Center has the reputation that is has. Later on, that was augmented by Leadership At The Peak. And both of those now enjoy, I think, a very fine reputation and they are obviously filling a need. We tried during the time I was there I think two times to update the leadership development program. And we also took a look and said some folks are still concerned that LDP is such a major part of the Center's income and reputation and so forth. My concern was more to be sure that LDP was updated and was keeping current and that we weren't getting stale. I think there are some things, certain core programs that have been in the western academic curriculum now for 300 years or so and they are still going. There are certain fundamental things that if they're just mildly tuned meet some very basic needs that people have. And the Leadership Development Program like English 101, Psychology 101, and typing and so forth, I think will continue as long as human beings don't evolve dramatically. And they haven't changed a whole lot in these areas of behavior, aspiration, and inspiration in the last 3,000 years that we know of. So I think LDP has not much of a possibility of running out of itself. Now at the same time that I say that, we tried as I'm sure that they're continuing to try, to diversify our offerings for a number of reasons. To try to keep up with various changing things so we tried a program in leadership for what's that buzz word we were all using about management a few years ago and we still are? In any case...
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
You don't mean total quality management?
WALT ULMER:
Yeah. We had leadership for TQM. We did what TQM was doing which is we studied it a great deal and had a great burst of energy and then it sort of folded. But we tried a number of things. We tried to expand, for example, and I think the Center did expand well into the business of secondary education, leadership for principals and superintendents of school boards and that's still going, as you know. We tried to develop and did develop some programs. Some in concert with international institutions, Ashridge and other places, and tried to get an international flavor in part of our programs. And the whole business to move toward internationalism was one of the reasons why we decided to put the branch over in Brussels, to sort of put a stake in the ground and say we weren't confined exclusively to Greensboro, Colorado Springs and San Diego. So the short answer to your question is I'm concerned if we just stood on our hands to think that LDP is going to crank things out forever but I am frankly not concerned that we have a wonderful product whose execution, I think, will meet continuing needs.