Members of the LeAP programme learn about innovation in all aspects              of operations for Emirates airlines.

Members of the LeAP programme learn about innovation in all aspects of operations for Emirates airlines.


The world is changing fast and it requires new competencies in all areas of business. Wilhelmsen’s Leadership Advanced Programme (LeAP) was created to ensure group skill sets remain ahead of the curve.

Industries around the world are being transformed by disruptive companies, new technologies and groundbreaking innovations – and the shipping industry is no exception. Business leaders today need to be able to deliver optimal results while looking for new solutions and adapting to the changing landscape around them. This is why two years ago Wilhelmsen’s WW Academy launched its leadership development programme ‘LeAP’ in collaboration with the US-based Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Hilja Touri, Head of WW Academy.

Hilja Touri, Head of WW Academy.

“The primary purpose of LeAP is to develop global leaders who can lead the company successfully and drive growth by both seeing and adapting to current and future business challenges with greater vision and agility,” says Hilja Tuori, Head of WW Academy. “While the focus is on leadership development, it is also about driving transformation throughout the organisation.”

In practice, LeAP runs over a six-month period during which nominated senior leaders participate in two training modules and between modules they work in a global, virtual team. And the participants have to meet high standards. The programme includes coaching, experimental activities and in-market visits, all aimed at honing the leadership mindset and skills needed to handle the impact of market disruption and understand the megatrends which shape it.

“We have to help leaders get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you aren’t stepping out of your comfort zone, trying out new approaches and expanding your thinking like a global leader then we are not doing our job properly”

In addition to this a ‘360 feedback’ process is used to evaluate how each participant is seen by their superiors, employees and peers. Lee Ann Del Carpio, Academic Director of LeAP at Thunderbird, even says to all new participants: “Discomfort is where real learning happens. So if you feel uncomfortable during some of the activities, that’s good” – and she is only half joking.

“We have to help leaders get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you aren’t stepping out of your comfort zone, trying out new approaches and expanding your thinking like a global leader then we are not doing our job properly,” Del Carpio explains.

EMBRACING EXPERIMENTATION
Del Carpio has worked with LeAP from the start and has seen 32 senior leaders from all Wilhelmsen’s business sectors participate in the programme. In particular, she has been impressed by the level of openness across the group and the readiness to learn and try new approaches.

Lee Ann Del Carpio, Academic Director of LeAP.

Lee Ann Del Carpio, Academic Director of LeAP.

“Our leadership assessments show that Wilhelmsen leaders are very strong at operational excellence. They are decision-makers who invite participation, treat people well and delegate,” Del Carpio says. “There is also an eagerness to listen and learn which is a great thing. We see many leading organisations in different industries who fail by falling into the trap of self-satisfaction and arrogance.”

Thunderbird has also been happy to see the LeAP graduates put their learning into practice. They have taken an active role in introducing key new projects and participating in experimental initiatives exploring the impact of various megatrends (such as digitalisation) on the organisation.

But there is always room for improvement. The same assessments show that the Wilhelmsen group still has a fairly conservative business culture. There is an opportunity to push leaders to have more future focus, embrace more experimentation and lead others proactively through change. Del Carpio emphasises that the major leadership challenge today is how to maintain the operational excellence of existing business models while inspiring innovation in the organisation.

This is what LeAP participants are also learning by looking at the example of other major companies. In early 2016, the programme visited Emirates airline’s headquarters in Dubai to discover how the company is adapting to the new era of disruption.

In a fast moving world, Thunderbird has learnt the most important trait is good leadership. Leaders must actively recognise both the need for change and have the passion to implement it. Companies must see technology as a means to create new value and business models, instead of just improving existing processes. They have to be ready to move quickly and turn ideas into practical experiments.

And Del Carpio has good news: Wilhelmsen is on the right track.