Lehigh University is bringing a customer-centric approach to executive education through its new Vistex Institute for Executive Learning and Research.
The institute was made possible through a $5 million gift from Lehigh alumnus and entrepreneur Sanjay Shah, who earned a Master of Business Administration from Lehigh in 1989 and is the founder and CEO of Vistex Inc.
“We began in earnest putting together our executive education program in 2015,” said Georgette Chapman Phillips, dean of Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics. “Then it got a rocket fuel injection by Sanjay Shah, who not only lent his support philanthropically, but also lent his name to the Vistex Institute, which was created in September of 2017.”
The word “Vistex” comes from a combination of vision and execution. Those are the guiding principles of Shah’s Chicago-based software company, founded in 1999, which has grown into a worldwide operation with 20 offices and 1,300 employees.
They also are the principles that drive the Lehigh Vistex Institute.
“Lots of places have executive education,” Phillips said, “but what is cool, what makes us different, is really building on Sanjay’s notion of vision and execution. That is what Vistex stands for. We are not just doing the nuts and bolts of rote executive education. We are inculcating a research component.
“We are not just teaching finance for financial managers, which is a great class, but more importantly we are going to start thinking about the types of issues that industries are facing and asking ourselves what is the type of research we can be doing. The research component is very important.”
The main thing that companies need to know is that Vistex approaches its executive education needs as a consultative process, Phillips said.
“It is a two-way flow of information,” she said. “It is not a program where you go, pay money, sit, learn and leave. A program where they teach what they want to teach you.
“We work with companies to figure out what you need. If you own a company and you are having operations issues, if there is a snafu in your logistics chain, we will say, ‘We hear you and let’s work together and put together a program for your employees. Let’s let your employees learn about this topic and this issue.’ We’re not going to solve the problem [for them]. We are going to teach them to solve the problem themselves.”
Phillips said the institute will hear the problem and “ask ourselves how can we partner together to work with your employees to strengthen their skill sets to solve the problem.”
Vistex Institute executive director David Welsh has developed his own word to describe this part of what Vistex does – “flexicution” – a term he said is about being flexible and being able to execute.
“We work with corporations directly on developing management and senior leader teams,” Welsh said. “That is when you get into working with an organization on making sure their human capital is aligned with what they want to accomplish strategically.
“You educate and develop their folks at a higher level so that they are able to anticipate challenges and opportunities.
He described it as consulting and executive development rolled into one.
“They don’t just get me and what is in my head. They get to tap into the entire university,” Welsh said. “They get the greatest minds and we apply them to the problem. I go in and do the diagnosis, and then we find the best people.”
That’s not to say that Vistex does not offer more traditional off-the-shelf classroom-based executive education classes and certificate programs, Welsh said. That’s part of what the institute does, too.
The key is that the Vistex staff will meet with a potential executive education client to talk about the issues that particular firm is facing and then match the business with the most appropriate Vistex offering – be it classes in an existing executive education certificate program or a customized educational solution.
At this point, Lehigh executive education offerings include certificate programs in applied leadership and management excellence, supply chain management, executive project management, entrepreneurship and marketing and health and health care management.