College of Management Helps Iraq Restore Power

Members of Iraq Ministry of Electricity received leadership training

Crime and terrorism don't top the list of concerns that Iraqis want their government to address, according to a recent poll conducted by the International Republican Institute. Restoring reliable electrical power ranks number one.

In a country where summer temperatures can reach 130 degrees, frequent power outages have been a huge source of public anger and frustration since the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in May 2003. On "good" days, Iraqis might have 12 hours of on-again, off-again electricity. But often the total is only half of that.

The Georgia Tech College of Management's Huang Executive Education Center recently lent a hand in helping solve this shortage by providing leadership training to 38 members of the Iraq Ministry of Electricity who traveled to Atlanta. Georgia Tech's Strategic Energy Initiative helped, too, teaching Iraqi officials about the latest and greatest in power-plant technology.

Contracted by the United States Agency for International Development via Bechtel Corporation, GE Energy selected Georgia Tech to provide the training program. "We've had a good relationship with GE Energy, providing other types of training for its employees, so when they recognized they needed help with Iraq, we were a natural place to look," said Dan Stotz, director of executive education for the business school.

During a two-month period, Iraq Ministry officials came in two different groups: first upper-level managers and then operations people. With the help of translators, they took classes covering a range of management and energy issues and made field trips to power plants.

One Iraqi project manager (who goes unnamed here because of the deadly reprisals cooperating with Americans could cost him) stressed that improved security is key to boosting his country's electrical capacity. Iraq's power infrastructure has been a favorite target of insurgents determined to undermine international efforts to rebuild the country.

Many foreign companies who could help speed the construction of badly needed power stations have kept their distance because of all the explosive violence, the project manager lamented. "We're doing our best to improve the situation," he said. "We have enough people, but we need more foreign aid."

Iraq's power grid never recovered from hits taken during the 1991 Gulf War because of the international embargo blocking the flow of goods and services into and out of the country, he explained. Faced with parts shortages, power managers had to jerry-rig the system to work as best they could. Keeping Baghdad fed with electricity was their top priority as the power infrastructure in other regions fell into deep disrepair, he said. Reportedly the extreme extent of the grid's dilapidation proved to be a big shock to coalition forces, greatly hindering their efforts to restore order.

Some business-school professors were disheartened to learn of management practices that became standard in the Iraq Ministry during Hussein's regime. "Given Saddam's legacy of favoritism, a lot of the principles you'd consider to be normal - pay for performance, merit recognition - just aren't there," said Dennis Nagao, associate professor of organizational behavior. "We taught them best practices. However, they have a lot of entrenched individuals, the old guard, who are going to be difficult to root out."

Fortunately, the Iraq Ministry officials who came to Tech seem committed to making a difference, Stotz said. "They're glad that Saddam is gone and very hopeful for the future. They know that getting electricity to the people is very important to the future of their country."

An Iraqi training coordinator employed by GE said he was very pleased with the high quality of Georgia Tech's leadership development program. "I wish everyone in the Iraqi Ministry could get the training," he said. "They need it."

For almost all of the participating Iraqis, this was their first trip to America. Making time to explore Atlanta, visiting such attractions as the zoo and the World of Coca-Cola Museum, they were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of Americans. "They wanted to know why the Americans in Iraq aren't as friendly," Nagao said. "I had to explain that's because we're not being shot at here."