The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) recently graduated the first students to participate in its Advanced Leadership Institute (ALI) program. Twenty-seven CEOs and company owners took part in the organization’s two-week program, which focused on entrepreneurship, business management, and several other important aspects of running a successful company.

According to MCAA, its leadership institute has been a few years in the making. But now that the program is available, the organization is receiving its share of positive feedback and praise, making the wait and work put into the program worth the time and effort.


According to Dennis Langley, executive director of the MCAA Leadership Initiative, MCAA has been a strong provider of training and education for its members. But two years ago, the organization decided to take a look at where they could further strengthen their educational offerings.

“Back in 2000,” says Langley, “we looked at where we had gaps in our training. And we discovered that we had not done anything in the area of CEOs or people running the companies.”

With that realization, MCAA decided to launch a project that would be exclusively for members who do the primary decision making for their company. This initiative would put MCAA on a path that would require a great deal of research and dedication.

Langley says that MCAA did extensive research into what its members needed and wanted in a new educational program. The association also started looking for an educational partner to provide the training.

MCAA started by looking at 58 different universities to provide the leadership training. Over time, the applicants were narrowed down to eight. During the entire process, Langley said that one college kept popping up. That college was Babson College in Wellesley, MA. Babson is a small private school that is strictly geared towards business degrees.

After MCAA and Babson agreed to work together, the curriculum and structure to the ALI was put into place. Some of the topics that are introduced during the program include business strategies, leading vs. managing, high-impact communications, and negotiation skills.

These topics are presented to students over a two-week time frame. ALI’s first graduating class took part in the program from March 10-15 and May 19-24, 2002. Langley says that this scheduling is perfect for business owners and other participants who cannot take two consecutive weeks off for the course.

Before taking part in the program, MCAA members must apply for the course. According to Langley, the institute is very selective about who will take part in the program. “Everybody has to be able to not only take from the class, but give back,” he says.

And so far, Langley believes that the ALI students have taken a great deal of information from the program, as well as provide beneficial information to each other.


Langley says that the ALI program is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week learning experience. He explains that learning opportunities are present as soon as the students arrive on Sunday night and continue until they leave Friday afternoon.

Classes begin early in the morning and end with homework and projects at night. But the ALI experience isn’t all work; members have the opportunity to take part in activities such as group dinners and baseball games. But even these activities are learning experiences. Langley explains that any time the students spend together is a networking opportunity.

Scott Berger, chief operations officer for Arista Air Conditioning Corp. (Long Island City, NY), found the networking opportunities to be one of the most beneficial aspects of the ALI program.

“Since you spend a full two weeks with these people, it’s far better than networking at an annual conference,” says Berger. He also says that, “most of us are dealing with the same issues. It helps to prove that you’re not crazy.”

According to Berger, more than half of the ALI participants were from family-owned businesses like his own. This gave Berger the opportunity to communicate and share ideas with companies from across the country that share the same problems and issues.

Ken Durr, president of Durr Mechanical Construction Inc. (New York, NY), shares Berger’s enthusiasm for the courses networking. Durr says that during team projects he found it extremely useful to be working with owners of companies that shared similar thoughts and ideas.

Teamwork is a big part of the ALI experience. Members are asked to work together on case studies that illustrate a particular business and its challenges. The teams then put their heads together to figure out what the business can do differently and how it can overcome this situation. This lets students see how other business owners think and explore many possible solutions.

Durr says that there were several opportunities for students to see how they rank as a leader and what they can work on to improve.

One way of doing this is through ALI’s 360-Degree Feedback. Durr explains that the 360-Degree Feedback collects the opinions and evaluations of the people that each student works with. These individuals are asked to answer a number of questions about their employer and how effective they are. Sometime during the two-week program, a Babson faculty member will go over the results with the business owner and tell them what was said. The faculty member will then explain some steps that can be taken to improve.

Durr also says that as the head of a company, public speaking is important. That is why ALI also has its students do some public speaking on videotape. Again, a faculty member will sit down one-on-one with the student and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their public speaking skills.

Although the course just ended on May 24, participants are slowly putting what they’ve learned into action at their business. Durr and Berger both say that it will take some time to enact new marketing strategies, but they are seeing the benefit in what they’ve taken from ALI.

According to Durr, in the future, he would like to see his company solicit more feedback from employees and customers.

Langley says that MCAA is proud of the work it has done to launch ALI. “It’s a great program and it’s the right program for our members,” says Langley. “It hasn’t been the greatest year in our industry, but we’ve sold out the second course.”

This second course will take place again at Babson College from Sept. 15-20 and Nov. 10-15, 2002. In fact, Langley says that the third course scheduled for 2003 is close to being full.

“We did a tremendous amount of homework on this,” says Langley. “We planned this two years ago. We didn’t rush it and we tried to do it right.”

Publication date: 07/15/2002