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Michigan Ross Program for Executive-Level Women Leaders Celebrates Its Success at Increasing Preparation for the Boardroom, Reaches Significant Milestone


Six years ago, the Ascending to the C-Suite: From Theory to Practice program was launched by the Ross School of Business, in partnership with Inforum, to equip senior-level women leaders with the key business and leadership skills needed by C-suite executives. 

Since then, the Michigan Ross Executive Education program has been extremely successful in achieving its goal of increasing and preparing for more diversity in today’s boardrooms by empowering women to ascend into top executive positions. It has also reached an important milestone of surpassing more than 100 participants from around the world. 

“Michigan Ross partnered with Inforum to launch the Ascending to the C-Suite program because we recognized that women leaders were often missing the business and financial acumen essential for C-suite executives,” said Cheri Alexander, professor of management and organizations at Michigan Ross, who helped launch the program. “We designed the program to give participants those skills, as well as connect them with other women executives, our world-class Michigan Ross faculty, and global business leaders to further support their professional development. As we strive to increase boardroom diversity, we are proud of the success we have had with the program and of the over 100 women who have participated in it.” 

High-quality academics aimed at career growth, important and lasting connections

Ascending to the C-Suite immerses participants in specialized subjects from advanced business and financial acumen to persuasion and influence, crisis communication, strategic innovation, and true networks. Each topic is taught with a 360-degree view by pairing renowned Michigan Ross faculty with global business leaders. 

Alexander is one of the many Michigan Ross faculty members who have taught in the program. 

“Many women have stayed in contact with me afterward, and I continue to coach them through their executive journey,” explained Alexander. “I’ve also heard participants say this program has been a turning point in their career on their ascent. For example, many have said the negotiation skills they gained from the action-based learning crisis challenge taught by Ross Professor Sue Ashford has helped them better tackle crises at work, including the impact of the pandemic in their companies.” 

Additionally, Alexander said that Michigan Ross Professor Maxim Sytch’s lecture on forming high-quality connections has been credited by participants as helping them form connections inside and outside their companies to expand their network, and Professor Gautam Kaul’s sessions cover the important issues they need to be fluent and part of the financial discussions at their companies. 

In fact, many women indicate that the faculty who teach the Ascending to the C-Suite program are the highest quality that they have had in their academic career.

Cheri Alexander, professor of management and organizations at Michigan Ross

Among the business leaders who have led sessions in the program are Françoise Colpron, group president of North America at Valeo, who talked about her global business experience and what it takes to succeed in the world; Maximiliane Straub, president of global services at Bosch, who spoke about innovation; and Shari Burgess, vice president and treasurer at Lear, recently retired, who discussed what she did to lead Lear through a crisis in 2008. 

“The connections the women have in the four-day program and after is tremendous,” said Alexander. “The collaboration, bonding, sharing, and relationships that have formed through this program is a testament to the strength of this program and a significant reason for its success.”

Alexander said that after participating in the program, many women have received promotions. 

Thoughts from participants 

Alexander’s thoughts on the feedback of the Ascending to the C-Suite program was echoed in the sentiments shared by Yansong Chen, senior vice president of technology, strategy, and marketing at Ricardo, after she completed the program. 

“I have to say this program has been absolutely outstanding, from the quality of the faculty and also the content,” she said. The structure of the course not only provides the framework but also very practical life-saver tips for us to take back to real life. It prepares all of us ladies for the next step, and it provides the wonderful opportunity for us not only to grow professionally, but also relationship bonding.” 

Ashwini Balasubramanian, group chief engineer for Harley-Davidson Motor Co., said the Ascending to the C-Suite program was the best leadership training program she has attended.

“It had the right balance of information sharing from the Michigan Ross professors, with top-notch content and delivery, combined with hands-on training,” she said. “It touched on all the right aspects of leadership, including personal acumen (negotiation), business acumen (financial), and networking.”

In addition, Balasubramanian said the diversity of experiences and backgrounds of participants in her cohort added to the program.

“I remember feeling humbled after hearing each of our participants’ artifact story of adversity, how they overcame it, and how that shaped their lives,” she explained. “It feels like I have found my tribe that I can lean on for support throughout my professional journey.”

Michelle Ilitch, vice president of provider network solutions and value-based programs at Priority Health, also had very positive takeaways from the program.

By design, this program activates the success factors essential to thrive in a knowledge economy where the power of networks are at the core of innovation and execution.

Michelle Ilitch, vice president of provider network solutions and value-based programs at Priority Health

“What made this program impactful was the means upon which design and attention to detail were at the core of each segment of the training — incorporating a myriad of learning concepts, simulations, and incorporation of industry leaders in Michigan made this course action-oriented,” said Illitch. “Bringing together diverse business segments to create shared understanding and purpose made this a standout. I especially appreciated how the program orchestrated informal and formal networking by design.” 

Significance of the program to women business leaders today

Chen, Balasubramanian, and Illitch participated in the most recent edition of the Ascending to the C-Suite program. Due to the pandemic, it was the first offering held in two years.

“When we welcomed the cohort in November 2021, they were so hungry for the connections and programming,” said Jennifer Steben, managing director of custom executive education programs at Michigan Ross. “Data shows that women have borne a disproportionate weight with children, homeschooling, and caregiving in general during the pandemic. By taking this week for themselves and each other, they experienced deep transformation and were so authentic. The networks created in the program cohorts are always strong, but this one will clearly endure. I see frequent emails from the women sharing their personal and professional stories, and a reunion is already being planned only several months after they last saw each other. I am so pleased that Michigan Ross and Inforum could bring them together.”

About Inforum

Inforum is the only professional organization in Michigan – and one of the few in the country – that combines strategic connections, proven professional development programs, a respected forum for new ideas, and original research to accelerate careers for women and boost talent initiatives for companies.

“What makes Ascending to the C-Suite truly invaluable is the experience and perspective shared by real-world executives. Inforum is fortunate to partner with some of the biggest and most significant companies in the nation,” said Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum. “When leaders from these organizations share their experiences, class participants come away with remarkable insights into how to apply their learnings. That’s why the women who complete this program describe it as career-changing, inspiring, and personally rewarding.”

Learn more about the Ascending to the C-Suite program


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