CIRAS Manufacturing Leadership Program Helps Companies Find their Next Generation

The first class: August 2015
The first class: August 2015

CIRAS’ first Manufacturing Leadership Program was broad, educational, and useful, according to the newly graduated Martina Bockenstedt, general manager for FarmTek and Growers Supply.

“It offered everything from finance and marketing to more of the leadership skills,” she said. “I could glean something from every one of them.”

Bockenstedt was one of 15 participants from companies around Iowa who visited Ames in August for the successful weeklong event. Morning classes focused on the fundamentals of managing a manufacturing business. Afternoon sessions focused on leadership skills, such as the best way to communicate and motivate employees.

The curriculum was based on the challenges faced by managers as they move up through their careers, said CIRAS program director Mike O’Donnell. Newly minted leaders can still lean on their bosses for advice and support after their first promotions into supervisory roles. But specific skills are required to operate at the top tier of a company.

“One of the things that we’ve noticed over the years is that small to mid-size manufacturers often struggle with the middle-to-upper management transition,” O’Donnell said.

With participants ranging from front-line managers to company vice presidents, it was important that sessions include a variety of perspectives, O’Donnell said. In addition to five CIRAS staff members, four Iowa State University faculty and four consultants led classes throughout the week.

“There are a lot of people involved in this. It’s not just one or two people coming in and trying to teach everything,” O’Donnell said.

For Bockenstedt, classes provided both practical advice and an opportunity for discussion with other leaders. “It really made it manageable and broke it down to a point that you could utilize the information on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

Jack Ward, program manager for Quatro Composites, heads a team that works on various projects throughout the company. Ward found meaningful lessons in each class, as well as ideas for implementing those lessons into his job.

Managers must understand how their outlook affects other employees, Ward said. Leaders “help shape/define the culture, vision, branding, and path to success of our businesses—by design and sometimes unintentionally.”

The goal of the program was to take managers beyond the nuts and bolts of their businesses, O’Donnell said—to offer support and ideas to help them communicate with and motivate employees.

“What’s really, really important is being able to lead. An effective leader knows what he or she knows and doesn’t know about parts of the business” and is willing to learn from peers, he said.

Details for the 2016 program will be announced shortly.


> For more information, e-mail Mike O’Donnell at or call 515-294-1588.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of CIRAS News. You can find the rest of this issue and more of CIRAS News on our website.