Executive Education

Peer Talk Profile: Charles Darby

After a recommendation by his director of sales, Charles Darby, national sales manager for Benchmade Knife Company, was encouraged to attend the Executive Program in Strategic Sales Management at The University Chicago Booth School of Business. Given that he had worked in the knife industry for over 16 years and had been in a management position for roughly a third of that time, Darby wasn’t entirely convinced that more schooling would have much of an impact on a career that was already quite successful.  He quickly learned, however, that this would not be a conventional learning experience. “As opposed to sitting in a classroom for several days getting lectured,” he explained, “there was a lot more interaction – not only with professors but also with the other attendees.”

A Fresh Perspective

While Darby did find the course to be a good refresher for best practices that he constantly strived to make a part of his division, he also learned new techniques for increasing efficiency and outcomes. “There were a lot of new ideas and new ways of thinking that I found very informative and helpful for what I do,” he explains. In particular, he gained new insight in handling the more than 40 sales reps he deals with on a day-to-day basis. “A particularly valuable part of the class involved analyzing summary reports, initial alignments, and sales reps and their potential. Given the volume of people I deal with, being able to break down the sales and the workload was very informative for me.” Darby was also able to reevaluate his company’s internal compensation structure, which lead to crucial changes in the way he was able to motivate his employees.

The Crucible of the Classroom

One of the most unexpected benefits he found in the course came from Booth’s distinctive classroom environment and the daily group exercises. “We were broken up into teams and each day we had different projects that we would work on. There were always new ideas and new ways of thinking that I found helpful in what I do. It was nice to get a fresh perspective,” Darby says.

Naturally, the tone of that environment was initially set by the professors, Jonathan Frenzen and William Young. “The professor was great. They did a really great job of being interactive with all of us.” Darby goes on to explain the nature of this interaction, “Each day we broke up into groups and the professors would create a scenario and we would have to implement the class materials that were laid out for us.” Once the stage was set, Darby was impressed by how the other students made the lessons come alive.  “It was nice to sit with a group of individuals that were very diverse. There were people from many different companies and the ability to compare notes and work together was extremely helpful,” he went on to explain.

In one of the final projects of the course, the students were asked to select an actual issue facing one of their companies. The scenario Darby’s group selected was submitted by a sales manager for a cheese company based in Ireland. The team created a sales plan for the company’s strengths, weaknesses, threats, and category dynamics.

Not only was Darby able to take the skills he’s honed and apply them to a completely different industry, but he was also able to watch his fellow classmates do the same. “The other guys in my group,” he recalled, “were able to pull different aspects of our businesses and add it to into the whole scenario.” In particular, Darby was able to take methods used at his own company to help highlight where the project stood in relation to its competition in terms of price point and other considerations. The success the group had in working together was validated at the end of the class when they presented their scenario and were voted the “Best in Class.”

Darby was able to further enrich his experience with his classmates by attending the program with two other managers from his company. “It was nice to have the opportunity to take the course with my colleagues and to be able to sit and brainstorm with two people who knew our brand and knew our company.” An experience that only served to underscore his time in the course as a whole – if you get the right group of talented, experienced professionals together in the right environment, special things can happen.