Bankers Trust has teamed with Drake University to offer a twist on Drake’s popular Leading Others leadership program tailored specifically to promising employees at the prominent Des Moines financial institution. 

Bankers Trust had sent an employee or two a year to Drake’s Leading Others program, the university’s signature executive leadership program. There, the Bankers Trust employees and others learned about their strengths, opportunities for growth and techniques that are handy in building a three-year business plan, and absorbed advice from some of the community’s most successful business and nonprofit leaders. 

Now Bankers Trust has decided to amp up the training one more step. The company, much as Principal Financial Group did beginning in May 2018 when it became the first firm to tailor Drake’s program for its own needs, talked to the university about ways to create a unique program designed to address specific needs. Much of that will center on skills needed to lead a department or division. 

Amanda Young, Bankers Trust’s senior vice president for human resources, said when she started at Bankers Trust in 2012, employee surveys showed they wanted “core foundational training and development programs.

“Then it was, we wanted to make sure all employees had development plans,” Young said. “Then it was, we wanted to make sure we are talking at appropriate leadership levels about talent and succession. Then it was, can we have a leadership academy? And now it is, can we augment leaders?”

Young knows all about how tight labor forces can be. She started at Bankers Trust in 2008 as many companies retooled during a recession. Bankers Trust developed its own internal training systems and now is asking for Drake’s help in taking some of the leadership training a step further. 

“We have not only seen steady employee growth [since 2008] but also a steady continued and heightened investment in training development, even in tougher years,” Young said. 

Bankers Trust was one of the businesses, along with Principal Financial Group, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa and others, that helped Drake design the leadership program. Young was involved in that planning, and then participated in the program. 

“What we’re doing now is bringing that external program into Bankers Trust with a little bit of customization for what’s right for our environment,” Young said. 

It’s part of a broader talent development effort at Bankers Trust. “We really pride ourselves on development from a comprehensive approach,” Young said. “So that’s from working with the high schools and through youth boards through internship program, management training program, we have a leadership academy and we had an executive rotational program. 

“But what we were really missing was that leader of a center of excellence or a leader of a department,” Young said. “Kind of a leading-others program. Several of us, myself included, went through the Drake external program and decided this was the program that would fill the gap.” 

Bankers Trust expects to offer the program perhaps every other year, with up to 20 employees enrolled at a time. 

Young said Drake’s fee for the program was negotiated but was less than what the overall public Leading Others program charges. The sessions will be at Drake and the Des Moines Botanical Garden, the two sites where most of the mainline public program sessions are held. 

Drake’s overall leadership program is open to any company that wants to send employees. Neither the public program nor the customized Bankers Trust version offers course credit. 

Past participants have included Iowa Business Council Executive Director Georgia Van Gundy, who in September joins Hy-Vee as a senior vice president, Indianola City Manager Ryan Waller and Nationwide sales executive Emily Berrier.

Christina Trombley, executive director of Drake Online and Continuing Education, said Drake is offering to help in a specific section of the workforce. “We are looking for those companies who identify that very successful manager that they may have identified for that next step in their career, someone that had done really good things and is ready to move forward. It’s a leadership program that’s geared toward that.”

Sarah Gray Ramsey, Drake’s director of business and professional development, said she typically recruits candidates through the companies’ human resources departments because the program costs $11,499 per person. 

Gray Ramsey said the 5-year-old public program grew out of discussions with local businesses. “Drake University is always looking to partner with local businesses. In this instance, we worked particularly with the human resources community to identify what their needs were for development of employees,” she said. “We really zeroed in on the high-level manager who leads teams. Essentially, we developed a curriculum that is unique to Drake. And we call that our executive leadership program.”

The program comes with an assessment tool that looks for strengths and opportunities in 14 competencies, Gray Ramsey said. 

Participants often find an area or two to focus on during the assessments, and later learn more about business acumen and strategy, she added.

Participants learn new skills, how to use them to help their organization, and how to become more self-aware, Gray Ramsey said. “There’s a lot of ‘ahas.’ There’s a lot of confidence-building that typically occurs for everybody, whether they knew they needed it or not. And I think there is a general sense of clarity for a lot of people.”

That training comes with the help of folks including consultant Kerty Levy, Drake business professor Matthew Mitchell, former Ruan exec Steve Chapman, former Principal CEO Larry Zimpleman and Des Moines University President Angela Franklin. 

Area business leaders also serve as executive coaches. “They walk alongside you on the journey, getting you prepared for the class, walking through your leadership development and challenging you to make your business plan more robust,” Trombley said. 

“It’s important that this program is unique and that it provides feedback and it provides feedback and assessment, so it’s not just come, sit, listen to people, fill out a worksheet,” Trombley said. 

There are other awards at times. Gray Ramsey said about 60% of participants in the executive leadership training report getting promoted within a year or so, some of them while they are still in the program. 

The partnership with businesses has gone so well, Trombley said. Drake is looking to add a program for new supervisors in late fall, and also will consider offering training in civility and stress management.