How to Put a Fresh Twist on Your Executive-in-Residence Program

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Wednesday, March 9, 2022
By Matthew Waller
Photo by iStock/JackF
With Executive-in-Residence for a Day, Walton College takes the rich experience of an EIR program and packages it into a day of engaged learning.

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  • A new executive-in-residence format gives executives with time constraints an opportunity to share their experiences with students and faculty.
  • The business school and the executive mutually benefit from focused engagement, in a shorter time frame.
  • The program honors executives in the business community and showcases the business school's activities and future leaders.

Working with innovative companies and successful leaders has long been a vital part of our strategy for transforming lives at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business, but this year we began reaping the rewards of a fresh twist on a traditional, proven approach to these partnerships. 

Executive-in-residence programs are one of several ways knowledge and best practices regularly flow back and forth between universities and the business community. These programs usually involve executives who are ready to retire or scale back from their successful business careers. They still have plenty of energy and a desire to give back to others, so they join a faculty and teach courses that draw from their years of industry experience.  

The executives typically agree to teach for at least a semester and for several years. This type of arrangement, of course, limits schools to leaders who are in a phase of life where they can make a longer-term commitment. But we’ve removed that limitation with a new program we call Executive-in-Residence for a Day. 

As the title suggests, these leaders spend a full day on campus interacting with faculty, staff, and students. Earlier this month, we brought in Tom Faust, the chairman of Morgan Stanley Investment Management. Faust, a native of Helena, Arkansas, has nearly 40 years of experience in the financial services industry and was chairman, CEO, and president of Eaton Vance Corp. when it was acquired by Morgan Stanley. He was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2022. 

In April, we’re scheduled to have Robert Burns, director of the Home Region Program for the Walton Family Foundation, serve as an executive-in-residence. Burns, a former vice president of Citigroup Inc., is a national expert when it comes to workforce housing, philanthropy, community development, and governmental affairs. In his role with the Walton Family Foundation, he is working to advance the economic and cultural health of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta.  

These full-day visits by Burns and other executives take the typical guest-lecturer appearance to a significantly higher level. Faust, for example, spent nearly an hour addressing our finance students in an auditorium setting, but he also held “office hours” so he could meet with individuals and small groups of students. He had lunch with the faculty of our Finance Department, spoke to our Advanced Investments class, and met for a social hour with a group of faculty. It was a full day that ended with a trip to Bud Walton Arena to see the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team defeat No. 1-ranked Auburn University. 

These full-day visits take the typical guest-lecturer appearance to a significantly higher level.

Burns has a similar schedule (minus the basketball game). He, too, has office hours scheduled to meet with students, and he will give presentations to student groups, an MBA class, and our executive committee. His focus on nonprofits and governmental affairs will offer our community a unique perspective on leadership and management. 

We plan to continue the program for as long as possible, so we’re working to schedule other executives who have a connection to the Walton College or the state of Arkansas.  

The Walton College benefits in several ways from this new program, but three rise to the top for me: 

  1. It honors the executive. Inviting top executives to spend a day with us is a tangible way we can let them know we recognize and appreciate the lifetime contributions they’ve made in their field and that we believe they have something valuable to share with others.  
  2. It brings insights and ideas to our faculty, staff, and students. The old “ivory tower” label has never applied to the Walton College. We have some of the most decorated researchers in the world, but our faculty, staff, and students also eagerly develop learning relationships with practitioners. Having top executives share stories about the challenges they are facing in the moment is a tremendous learning experience for everyone involved.  
  3. It showcases our talent. Leaders like Faust and Burns get to see first-hand what we are doing to strengthen and grow the Walton College, and this does nothing but enhance our regional and national reputation. Interacting with faculty, staff, and students is validation that we live out our EPIC values: excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. And the quality of our students provides the executives with hope for the future as they return to their leadership roles. 

The executives benefit as well. Our students, for instance, ask tough questions that challenge the executives to think about what they do well and what they can do better. And our faculty and staff share best practices and research results as experts in their disciplines. This program is still new, but I anticipate that these visits will result in ongoing mutually beneficial relationships between the executives and our college. Faust affirmed this belief with a note to say he would “cherish” the experience. 

Our students ask tough questions that challenge the executives to think about what they do well and what they can do better.

“It was a pleasure connecting with current students to share some of what I have learned about business and investing over my long career to help prepare them to become future leaders,” he said. “The Walton College faculty and staff put together a wonderful program that made for a truly special day.” 

We have some wonderful executives-in-residence at the Walton College, and a program that brings in executives-in-residence for a day adds a new dynamic to the approach and helps us live out our mission and vision in a fresh, effective way.  

Matthew Waller
Dean, Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas
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