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Leadership Views: George Woodward, President, TSC Institute Board of Directors

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Denver Transportation Institute

Feature  •

More than 40 industry leaders serve on DTI's Board. Following on our successful Transportation Talks webinar series, we feature brief thoughts from a member each month. 

Name: George Woodward
Position: President, TSC Institute Board of Directors
Years with the board: 24

I joined the University of Denver ITI Board in 1997 and was a participant at the DU "Founding Fathers Conference" in Aspen, CO. At that time, the Institute was just starting its executive master’s program. The first iteration was a full-time program drawing on local companies in the Denver area. Due to the limited number of transportation companies in Colorado and the fact that most companies could not spare a key employee for over a year to be part of a full-time graduate program, the demand was limited. I was at an Institute Board planning meeting in 2000 when the discussion centered around changing the delivery format to an executive master’s program with six one-week residencies in order to broaden the geographical reach of the program and appeal to companies who wanted to retain their key full-time employees while supporting them in a graduate management program. The format was an instant success and Cohort 1 started in the fall of 2002 with strong support from the transportation industry. The executive master’s program started with a focus on "intermodal" transportation (broadly defined as "multi-modal" transportation).) After several years the Institute realized that the name "intermodal" was viewed somewhat narrowly as rail-truck-ocean containerized freight, and it was decided that broadening the focus to "Transportation Institute" would allow the Institute to be attractive to other modes including air freight, passenger transit, and industry suppliers, as well as all modes and users of freight transportation.

When the Institute was founded in 1997, Dan Ritchie, DU's Chancellor, Bob Combe, DU's Provost, and Gil Carmichael, Chair of the Institute, had a vision of creating an "industry-academic" partnership at the Institute so that the transportation industry could help shape the "demand side" for educational programs and the University would be able to provide the "supply side" educational resources to meet that demand. This was a very novel approach and one that was driven by Dan Ritchie's previous industry experience as the CEO of a Denver-based communications company. The Institute's Board was recruited from the transportation industry and almost immediately helped shape the demand for the program by transitioning from a full-time master’s program to an executive master’s program with part-time residencies, allowing DU to draw on a wide range of sponsoring companies across North America, Australia, and Europe. The current executive master’s program has evolved into a graduate business management program that is taught in the context of transportation and supply chain management. Curriculum changes over the years have impacted the focus of legal studies, leadership, supply chain management, business planning projects, and the strengthening of the finance courses. This has been a collaborative effort by the Board and the University in partnership. Since 2001, I've helped the Institute lead the student and board recruiting efforts. The Institute's Board of Directors now approaches 50 senior executives with a wide range of management experience in operations, marketing, and human resources. Various sponsors have supported almost 350 students through the program, many of whom are now in senior industry positions and represented on the Institute's Board.

The transportation industry was largely deregulated in 1979-1981, and rail, truck, ocean, and air carriers were given a broad range of economic freedoms to compete and provide new and innovative services. The recent pandemic has put all modal supply chains under significant operating and commercial pressure, and the service disruptions have put the transportation and supply chain industries in the public spotlight. Recovering from these supply chain issues will be the key to avoiding future regulatory restrictions that may do more long-term harm than good.

In my discussions with senior executives in the industry, there is a recognition that the successive waves of deregulation, down-sizing, and growth have led to a "demographic gap" in the management ranks of most transportation companies. Senior executives are in the 50-60 age bracket, while many high-potential middle managers may be in their 20-30s. The Institute's executive master’s program is aimed at helping companies develop a management pipeline of qualified candidates who are being broadened and prepared for more senior positions. Many organizations view the opportunity to sponsor one of their promising managers in the executive master’s program as an important long-term retention tool during this period of intense competition for future senior managers. The sponsors are preparing general managers for their businesses, so it's important that the program be solidly grounded in financial analysis, leadership and team building, legal studies including anti-trust environments, market development, written and verbal communication skills, and a view of supply-chain management to ensure a strong customer perspective. The program content has evolved over time and the Board-University engagement ensures that the curriculum is reviewed periodically and changed when appropriate. The fact that the participants in the program are all from industry means that the learning opportunities from classmates are as strong as the learning opportunities from the instructors. The industry relationship-building among the students, alumni, and Board members is somewhat unique and represents a huge value differentiator for industry sponsors and students alike.