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Q&A

A leader training leaders

Alumnus Dan Rice connects American heroes with corporate leaders using military lessons

Dan Rice at West point
Dan Rice at West Point. Photos by Rita Jana

Dan Rice is a leader who trains leaders.

The Kellogg alumnus, current Medill graduate student and Iraq War veteran has combined his military and business experience to help found the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG), a company that already has taught the principles of military leadership to more than 30,000 people from 600 companies and institutions around the world, including Deloitte, GE, Mercedes-Benz, JP Morgan and the National Basketball Association.

Rice served as an airborne-ranger qualified infantry officer in the second Iraq War, where he was hit twice in combat by improvised explosive devices and awarded the Purple Heart Medal.

He graduated in 2000 with an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. In 1988, he earned his bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where TLDG is housed in the Historic Thayer Hotel overlooking the Hudson River Valley. He and his partners also manage the hotel, which is ranked the No. 3 hotel in New York state by Conde Nast.

“What we’ve built at TLDG is a faculty of heroes — retired generals, colonels, Medal of Honor recipients — to teach and inspire business leaders from across the country,” Rice said. “And we’re proud to be ranked among the Top 40 leader development companies by Training Industry.”

Of TLDG, Deloitte board chair Mike Fucci said, “The teamwork we created there was amazing, and it’s still lasting.”

Having returned to Northwestern to continue his education, Dan Rice is in the midst of the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Medill. In this Veterans Day Q&A, Rice shares what he’s learned about leadership.

As publisher and co-author of the book, “West Point Leadership: Profiles of Courage,” what have you learned?

We’ve examined the contributions of West Point grads like Grant, Lee, Patton and Schwarzkopf, and also CEOs from companies like Johnson & Johnson, 7-Eleven and Foot Locker. But whether it’s corporate America or the military, exceptional leadership starts with empathy. You have to like and care about people to be a great leader. The Army saying puts it succinctly, “Mission first, people always.”

Dan Rice with medal
With Purple Heart Medal.

Can you share another memorable quote?

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (West Point class of 1915) said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

What is the TLDG mission?

Our primary mission is to develop senior corporate leaders of character using the battle-tested strategies our cadets are taught. The secondary effect of bringing thousands of C-Suite level executives to West Point is it helps close what is often referred to as the civilian-military gap. At this point in American history, less than 1 percent of the population serves, and bases have mostly moved away from the larger cities. Most people don’t even know a military service man or woman. So in bringing corporate executives to Thayer, we’re educating executives who always leave feeling better about our military.

How is the IMC program enhancing your work?

The IMC program is ideal for me as a small business owner. The courses are immediately applicable in digital marketing, social media and branding, and they’ve helped provide me invaluable tools and insights that have already proven successful in our company.

What are three key lessons for leaders?

  • Give your team the “what” and “why” of the mission, and let them figure out the “how.”
  • Create a “servant style” culture. As leader, you’re there to support your subordinates, not the other way around.
  • Lead by example even when no one is watching, because they’re always watching.

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