Developing Leaders

TMMWV/University of Charleston partnership allows team members to earn advanced degrees from the convenience of the plant and the comfort of their homes

July 24, 2018

Pomp and Circumstance -- Production team member Paul Ignacio was also among those who earned a Masters degree in leadership. "What I've really come to appreciate is that each of us is responsible for our own future," he says.

David Rosier is a general manager at Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia (TMMWV). Clearly, he is a leader. Right?
Paul Ignacio is a production team member at the Buffalo, West Virginia, plant. He plays a key role in the assembly of 6-cylinder engines. Is he a leader, too?
In both instances, TMMWV management emphatically says, “Yes.” And they’ve backed up that claim by partnering with nearby University of Charleston (UC) to offer undergraduate and post-graduate degree programs in business leadership to all of its approximately 1,600 team members.
The partnership’s first participants recently completed two years of coursework, donning cap and gown to receive their Masters of Science in Strategic Leadership diplomas. Meanwhile, dozens of other team members are working toward their degrees, from a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership to a Doctorate in Executive Leadership.
Rosier and Ignacio were in that first wave of graduates.
“We need good leaders at every level of the organization,” says Rosier. “This isn’t about managing, which tends to be more task-oriented. This is about leadership, which is essential if we’re going to be an innovative company that challenges the status quo.”

Words of Wisdom -- TMMWV President Leah Curry addresses the first graduating class in the plant's collaboration with the University of Charleston.

The Perfect Blend
The partnership itself certainly fits that description. Representatives of UC’s School of Business and Leadership first approached TMMWV management in 2014 about offering leadership training to team members. But it wasn’t until two years later, after the school had more fully developed its online course capabilities, that all of the pieces fell into place.
As such, TMMWV team members don’t have to set foot on the UC campus to pursue their degrees. Professors come to the plant to lead one 1.5-hour lecture session per week, usually between the day and night shifts. Most of the work, approximately 10-20 hours per week, is completed online or from home.
“UC describes it as a ‘blended program,’” says Rosier. “This approach made it very enticing to make the leap and pursue our degrees.”
“It couldn’t have been more convenient,” says Ignacio. “The school wanted the partnership to succeed. But they wanted us to succeed, too.”
Another key ingredient of that success: UC customized its program so team members could take full advantage of TMMWV’s tuition reimbursement benefit, minimizing the out-of-pocket burden. Rosier says the tuition reimbursement benefit paid for five of the six semesters in completing the masters program.
“The company’s tuition reimbursement is very generous,” says Ignacio. “I might not have been able to do this without it.”

Class of 2018 -- Here's a group shot of all of the team members who were honored for earning their degrees.

‘I Lead Differently Now’
In return, TMMWV now has several team members who are poised to raise the level of their games, as well as those around them, thanks to their newly developed leadership skills. For Rosier, that means creating opportunities for his direct reports that expand their capabilities while they take care of day-to-day tasks.
“I look at the business differently and lead differently now.” He says.  “We are accomplishing more through development and teamwork.”
For Ignacio, it means inspiring those around them to become leaders, too.
“This experience has helped me see that my role is to serve as a bridge from my team to others at the plant,” he says. “Every chance I get, I encourage my fellow team members to take advantage of this program and improve themselves. The lessons I’ve learned will help me on my job. But they’re also going to help me with my family as well as community groups I support. What I’ve really come to appreciate is that each of us is responsible for our own future.”
And it’s just the beginning. Rosier says UC is looking to soon add a fourth degree program: Associate of Science in Frontline Leadership. That will expand the partnership’s reach to team members who have never set foot on a college campus.

“While other Toyota plants work with local institutions, I think we’re the first to take it to this level of collaboration,” he says. “Hopefully our experience will encourage others to follow.”
“This partnership has been beneficial for all,” says Louis Gaunch, professor in the UC’s School of Business and Leadership. “We are pleased by the number of students we have been able to reach. Likewise, TMMWV will reap the benefits of having qualified, trained and degreed leaders into the future. It’s a win for UC, a win for TMMWV and — ultimately — a win for Toyota’s customers.”
By Dan Miller

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