Pittsburgh’s transformation from the City of Steel into a center of robotics, artificial intelligence and technological innovation has been an enormous economic boon for the region. Companies like Uber, Google, Argo AI and so many others have created a dynamic environment in which, with the help of our universities, new and exciting companies seem to be starting up constantly.  Some of the talented, creative and driven visionaries who found these companies may become the Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos of the future. But growing from a handful of employees, pulling all-nighters and hoping to change the world, to a large and successful business enterprise that fulfills its founders’ vision, requires more than passion and a genius for innovation. Ultimately, it will require executives with business skills.

What skills are needed when a company grows from five employees to 500 – or 5,000?  How does a rapidly growing, young company build the organizational structures that every mature company needs while maintaining the energy and the culture that made it an exciting place to work? How can it change to accommodate for explosive growth, without compromising on creativity and informality that were the sources of its success? The answer lies in building those capabilities from within – identifying talented individuals who not only inspire their colleagues but can also manage an organization. These individuals are natural leaders, but they need to be educated in the business management skills that are necessary for sustained growth.

A software engineer may be brilliant and capable of leading a team of a dozen coders, but what happens when the company needs to double the size of that team?  Can that person balance a desire for more people against a finite budget?  Are they capable of recruiting and evaluating talent?  When it’s time to bring a product to market, who will focus this group on the need to consider marketability and sales, not just pure innovation?  Are they placing appropriate emphasis on a cost-benefit analysis? Are they even capable of having productive conversations with the sales and marketing team?

A company’s relationship with a good education partner will closely resemble that of a client to a consultant. To help potential clients determine which type of executive education program best suits their needs, a good education program will delve into the specific problems faced by a company and its employees, assess the capabilities of the people involved, and conduct a root cause analysis. Then they’ll make recommendations based on their findings.

Young tech companies can help their future leaders fill those gaps by investing in business and management education. Given that these individuals will be leading large portions of the business either as department heads or executives, some form of executive education will help prepare them for their new and expanded roles. There are different kinds of executive education programs and determining which one is the most suitable depends on the depth of an individual’s knowledge gaps and a company’s particular needs.

For a smaller group of employees, ones that have already been identified by the company as potential future leaders, a full executive MBA program may be the best fit. But if the company has a larger group of employees that need executive training – whether there are a few business topics that they need to focus on in-depth or if there is a broader range of issues that they need to cover – the better approach might be a customized program, bringing in faculty members who are world-class subject matter experts. With the help of such education partners, companies can develop programs that provide specific training for their employees in the skills and knowledge areas where gaps have been identified.

A company’s relationship with a good education partner will closely resemble that of a client to a consultant. To help potential clients determine which type of executive education program best suits their needs, a good education program will delve into the specific problems faced by a company and its employees, assess the capabilities of the people involved, and conduct a root cause analysis. Then they’ll make recommendations based on their findings.

Good programs are also designed to accommodate professionals who have demanding schedules. This is especially important for a future leader at a young tech company who may be clocking long hours at the office or frequently traveling on company business. While flexible, courses are also academically rigorous, and they focus on drawing students from their comfort zones with practical, hands-on scenarios, which allow them to quickly apply what they are learning. Students are in classrooms with others they consider their peers, and they are taught by faculty who have real world experience and can apply their knowledge to tangible workplace situations.

Young tech companies that invest in their future leaders and give them the right educational tools to prepare them for the executive suite are not just ensuring a smoother transition between rapid spurts of early growth. They are laying the foundation for the organizational structures every mature company needs to sustain strength and continued growth across generations of leadership.

By William T. Valenta
William T. Valenta, Jr. is Associate Vice Provost for Professional Programs at the University of Pittsburgh and Assistant Dean of MBA and Executive Programs at the University’s Katz Graduate School of Business.