Jen Traxler

Building Bridges: Dr. Jen Traxler’s Journey in Leadership Development 

Amy Taylor Bianco

Host – Dr. Amy Taylor Bianco
Director of the Online (MSM)

Jen Traxler

Guest – Dr. Jen Traxler
Academic | Talent development and organizational change leader | Servant leader

The Leader Lounge: Master Your Niche, Lead the Way!

A podcast series presented by the Ohio University Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership

Unlock your leadership potential and excel in management with the Online Master of Science in Management through Ohio University. 

In this episode of The Leader Lounge at Ohio University Dr. Jen Traxler shares her background, starting with her experience at Whirlpool Corporation and later at Marathon Petroleum, where she focused on talent and leadership development. She also highlights her passion for helping young professionals transition into leadership roles. Dr. Traxler’s connection to Tim Reynolds, the previous executive director of the Robert Duvall Chair for Strategic Leadership, led to her current role at Ohio University. She expresses her excitement about being part of the Walter Center and the College of Business, working with students and contributing to their journeys. 

The Walter Center, endowed by Cardinal Health, plays a significant role in the school. It offers programs and activities focused on leadership development and career advancement. Dr. Traxler emphasizes the value of combining technical skills with leadership capabilities and the importance of understanding analytics in various fields. The Walter Center aims to bridge the gap between technical expertise and leadership skills, providing opportunities for students to enhance their knowledge and experiences. Overall, Dr. Traxler’s journey, her connection to Tim Reynolds, and her passion for leadership development have led her to her fulfilling role at the Walter Center. 

Season 2: Building Bridges: Dr. Jen Traxler’s Journey in Leadership Development 

Transcript:

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;37;07 

Unknown 

Welcome to episode two of The Leader Lounge here at Ohio University. So you have joined here today with Andre Bianco and Dr. Jen Traxler. How you doing today, John? I am awesome. Thank you. Absolutely. And congratulations on the new doctorate. Thank you. That was pretty recent. Yeah. Back in August. Back in August. So. But I graduated from another Mac school, so I wouldn’t hold that against you. 

00;00;37;07 – 00;01;02;05 

Unknown 

But that’s. I know. So. But my loyalties are here. We are so excited to be in the leader lounge, which is part of the Robert Duvall Chair for Strategic Leadership, which is the executive director of. I’d like to hear a little bit about the background that got her here. Like the pre the pre Dr. Jen Traxler, the executive, Jen Traxler And then, yeah, we hear a little that back story. 

00;01;02;07 – 00;01;30;08 

Unknown 

Sure, sure. So I actually graduated from BGI and went to work at Whirlpool Corporation in Clyde, Ohio. That was where I got my boots on the ground experience of being in manufacturing. I met an individual by the name of Tim Reynolds, who was actually my predecessor in this role. So more about him later. Right. And so I spent a lot of time in manufacturing at Whirlpool, both at Whirlpool, Findlay and Whirlpool Clyde. 

00;01;30;10 – 00;01;55;12 

Unknown 

And Human Resources and Lean doing a lot of project work and a lot of leadership and organizational development work as well. My last job there, I did a rotational program that I led. I came on college campuses, including OSU. Oh, a recruiter? Yeah, I recruited Bobcats to and brought them in to rotational programs in global supply chain, in manufacturing and consumer and appliance care. 

00;01;55;14 – 00;02;28;04 

Unknown 

That was absolutely my favorite job because I had the opportunity to work with wonderful colleges, wonderful students, bring them into our company, and then sending them through rotational development, leadership opportunities and working with their mentors, their supervisors, managers. And then we had all of our programs sponsored by our executive leadership teams. And so it was really an opportunity for me to look at the entire enterprise, but really focus on a passion area of mine, which is leader development and especially in young professionals. 

00;02;28;07 – 00;02;54;21 

Unknown 

Then I moved to Marathon Petroleum about 11 years ago in organization development and really focused a lot on talent development, leadership development. And again, it’s just that driving passion that I had inside of working with young professionals, making that first leap into their leadership journey and then into middle to senior level leaders in different leadership development programs that we had there. 

00;02;54;23 – 00;03;22;03 

Unknown 

And my last role, I actually was kind of the role that I’d always aspired to was really leading talent management and succession planning for the company. So it was how do we get people into those opportunities that could be the potential successors for the next generation of leaders. But you can’t just put people in a box. You actually have to do something for their development and and create those opportunities. 

00;03;22;03 – 00;03;56;29 

Unknown 

And so that’s what part of my responsibilities were. So that’s my industry background. It’s amazing background. First off, that’s a great thanks. Thanks. It was it’s been a great journey. People would always ask me, you know, which did you like better? And it was different times in my life and it was different. Developmental opportunities in both organizations were extraordinary in developing people and giving people different opportunities and, you know, really expanding my my purview of of what corporate America is all about. 

00;03;57;01 – 00;04;37;14 

Unknown 

But yet with a hometown type of feel. So both organizations really helped me develop into a person that can also help others because both of them had a lot of servant leadership and community giving. And so I caught on to that wave early on as well, and started working in our community with leadership development programs. We had one in and I was from Finley, so we had it in called Hancock Youth Leadership, where we brought students in that were sophomores in high school and moved them in as their juniors, and we did a lot of leadership development for them. 

00;04;37;14 – 00;04;57;29 

Unknown 

So again, pulling that passion of mine and really that niche of of, of target area of what I love. So that is absolutely part of the reason why I’m here. One thing that I found really incredible is didn’t you have to when you were in h.r. And and, you know, leading succession planning for these different areas that you have to learn. 

00;04;58;02 – 00;05;17;06 

Unknown 

So if you were in, say, the operation side or the sales side, you have to learn so much about that, that side of the work as well as, you know, lead talent and development. So you had to is that true? You had to learn the kind of functional aspects of. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I would encourage anybody who’s in those type of h.r. 

00;05;17;06 – 00;05;48;07 

Unknown 

Responsibilities. We’ve really shifted to more of an h.r. Business partner. And part of that really is understanding the entirety of what that operation is. The the technical pieces. You know, i can’t program places, but i know what one is. So and as you go up the leadership ladder, it’s less and less about the actual functional detail, but it’s the purview of understanding what that part of the organization does, how it contributes to the overall success. 

00;05;48;10 – 00;06;12;21 

Unknown 

And so it’s balancing that technical competence that people need with that that character and the the leader that we need to, you know, bring out. Because there’s a lot of times where people are really comfortable with that technical background that they have. And I don’t mean when I say technical, I don’t mean that it’s like an engineer or an analyst necessarily, but it’s it’s their field of study accounting. 

00;06;12;26 – 00;06;30;23 

Unknown 

It’s they’re functional. Yep. And many times we would bring people over into You were a great accountant. You were a great engineer. You were a great h.r. Individual. And then we said, because of that, we’re going to put you in a leadership and supervisory role it’s talked about, and then all of a sudden you’re like, oh, wait a minute. 

00;06;30;23 – 00;07;02;06 

Unknown 

Those don’t those have different skill sets that you need to have, but yet we don’t build that bridge. So actually when I started in my dissertation work, one of the areas that I was looking at was specifically that jump between an individual contributor to a first time leader and how do we make that bridge more successful for people instead of just letting it to have a chance that that, oh yeah, we’ll give it to you at some point, but it doesn’t work. 

00;07;02;07 – 00;07;27;07 

Unknown 

And right, right. And then we instead of establishing good habits on the front end, that’s why we pay us consultants on the back end, right? I mean, we put ourselves out of business if we did the due diligence necessarily on the front end, not just from a selection, but from an early development perspective as well. Both companies that I worked at, they did those kind of things, but it’s very rampant in a lot of industry now. 

00;07;27;07 – 00;07;47;28 

Unknown 

And when I was working through and doing some of my research, there was a lot of people that were just nodding their head when I said that, just like the two of you just did. Yeah, well, it’s across all industries. Yeah, Yeah. It’s interesting because I just think of we were just talking about the different certificates and the master’s of science and management and how we’re trying to pair these different things together so somebody could get an h.r. 

00;07;47;28 – 00;08;10;26 

Unknown 

Certificate and then take, you know, business venturing or analytics and that in most master’s programs, they don’t have the opportunity to do that. But you’re saying in actual practice, as you move up an industry, it’s what you have to do is yeah, an analytics is such an important area that’s become so popular but so important that we even in even in h.R. 

00;08;10;29 – 00;08;32;00 

Unknown 

You know, friends. So people used to think, oh, well, you know, we don’t need that kind of stuff here, but there’s a lot of systems and processes and programs that really you need to understand the analytics of people. You need to understand the analytics of bottom line. You understand so much about big data and how it impacts what you do in organizations. 

00;08;32;02 – 00;08;58;02 

Unknown 

So being able to couple those type of menu options that we’re offering through the MSN with different certificates as well is absolutely spot on as to where we need to be to help individuals and help companies that they’re going to be going into. And I think what’s really interesting, I think it was the topic of the last LDC we had in August was all about not just being focused on the data, but how to use it to tell a story. 

00;08;58;02 – 00;09;15;21 

Unknown 

Absolutely, because so much, especially in our role, is what’s the story behind this data? And if you look at the general skillset for h.r. People, they’re people, people, right? They’re not usually data minded leaders. So but using this as a bridge to say, hey, your weaknesses in data, your skill sets in h.r. And with msm program, you can pick up the h.r. 

00;09;15;21 – 00;09;35;24 

Unknown 

Certificate solving you’re comfortable with, but add data and that adds a whole new line of value to what you’re doing. And i know we talked about this up, so that was intentional, right? And that’s one of the values that we bring to this program. So i have one more question. Why? Oh, yeah. So you said your past experience was big, so why did you pick go you decide on in for your career path. 

00;09;35;27 – 00;09;57;09 

Unknown 

So I’ll go back to when I was talking about a good friend, mentor, lifelong friend of mine, Tim Reynolds was in this role as executive director along with his wife Tammy, that they came down earlier. We actually had been working together for 20 years. Oh, nice. We left all three of us left Whirlpool on the same day. Oh, my gosh. 

00;09;57;09 – 00;10;18;22 

Unknown 

Those two came here. I went to the marathon, which is where they started their career. So, you know, we’re just inter intertwines all through our lives. And 42 and a half years ago, Tim said, Hey, I’m stepping back from the role. And we’re just trying to see who might be somebody who might be interested in this organization come down to you. 

00;10;18;22 – 00;10;49;08 

Unknown 

And he bleeds. You know, Bobcat Green And as and you’ll find out more about him at a later time but when when he called and asked me what my interest was, it was a drop the mic moment in my life because I was starting to search for what’s my next opportunity and all the roles that I was looking at, both internal to the organization as well as external on on different sites. 

00;10;49;10 – 00;11;27;02 

Unknown 

They just weren’t grabbing my passion. So when he called and said, We think that you might be interested and this is a great place to be, and coupled with getting my doctorate in org development and change, he said this would be perfect. And I just paused for a moment. Because when you have somebody that’s been in your life that long and you adore them and you have been mentored and they’ve been just lifelong friends, and they ask you to potentially look at a position that they think that you’re capable of doing and maybe passionate about doing. 

00;11;27;04 – 00;11;52;20 

Unknown 

It was just one of those I’ve arrived. I know that I have fulfilled my lifelong dream of being that individual that has been recognized by by somebody. And I hope that for other people, too. Right. And so I came down and it was just an amazing experience. The minute I stepped foot on the bricks, you just felt the culture. 

00;11;52;20 – 00;12;24;03 

Unknown 

You felt the the the the heritage, you felt the tradition, you know, going under the arch, meeting people like Dr. Bianco and most importantly, the students and the humility, integrity that these students demonstrated, even though they’ve been able to be a part of such a unique experience in some of the programs that the Walter Center offers. And it was just my heart just said, I’m here. 

00;12;24;05 – 00;13;00;27 

Unknown 

And the I haven’t looked back. I, I miss the people that I used to work with, but I’m just so passionate about what I’m doing now and being able to be part of these students journeys and helping whatever their trajectory is is just immeasurable. So being able to be a part of the all of the activities of the Walter Center and the College of Business is just beyond beyond my wildest expectations of where I would ever going to where I was ever going to be. 

00;13;01;00 – 00;13;21;20 

Unknown 

And here we are. So can you run me through what the Walter Center typically does for the school and how people can get involved with it? Yeah, actually, it was Robert D Walter Center was endowed by Cardinal Health because the former CEO, he was retiring. And so they gave us $1.2 million to start the center. A couple of dollars? 

00;13;21;22 – 00;13;50;15 

Unknown 

Just a few. Yeah. And at the time we had an organization called Corporate Leaders. So it’s been going on for a long time. Lots of people have had many opportunities to help guide and lead that, starting with Frank Zapatero. And it’s actually grown into a center that has multiple opportunities for students, mostly undergrads, but it’s also supporting the MSM program. 

00;13;50;15 – 00;14;17;17 

Unknown 

So it’s kind of a collaboration with the Graduate college, but our other programs are the Strategic Leadership certificate, the h.R. Certificate for undergrads, for grads. You know, so it’s it’s it’s it’s not a mutually exclusive anything. It’s a combination of a lot of different opportunities to be leaders. We also have two undergrad programs. One’s called the wandell leadership fellows program, and one is called emerging leaders. 

00;14;17;17 – 00;14;46;26 

Unknown 

Oh, cool. And so those programs are offered for our undergrads and it’s very selective to get into both of those programs as well. And it’s really taking those individuals and helping them get wonderful experiential learning, develop their servant leadership, develop their behaviors and their values, and and get in opportunities to network with other Bobcats. So they go in, they do a lot with trips. 

00;14;46;28 – 00;15;11;21 

Unknown 

We have executive engagements where it’s not just alum that come back, but it’s individuals in different industries and they get to share those experiences with each other. So they get the experiential learning. We work with philanthropy with them, so they are very philanthropic, not just within the college and in the university, but also in the surrounding community. So it’s a really important part of what we do. 

00;15;11;23 – 00;15;32;23 

Unknown 

We also do a lot of curriculum on them. And so each of those groups outside of the certificates, they go through five different classes in order to get this or to get it right. But the two programs that we lead meet every week. It is a class and we do have many different leader topics that we go through with them. 

00;15;32;23 – 00;16;09;16 

Unknown 

So they’re actually getting exposed to a lot of the development that I was training and facilitating for mid to senior level leaders in the organizations that I led before. So they’re getting a jump start and I hope the world is ready for them. That’s a really good way to put that. She’s doing change the world and you know, and them going into, you know, their first experiences as young professionals, they’re going to have a tool kit that could be potentially much deeper and wider than what some of their first time supervisors are. 

00;16;09;18 – 00;16;28;24 

Unknown 

So it’s going to be a unique dynamic for them going into these industries and stuff. But they are just absolutely stellar students, but more importantly, stellar people. Right. Can you go into a little but you said something earlier, the experiential learning and we’ve talked about that both internally and with other organizations as well. That seems like a huge high in focus. 

00;16;28;24 – 00;17;02;06 

Unknown 

So what are you doing to really enforce that with your students? Yeah, that’s you know, that’s something that the mantra of the College of Business, you know, experience or experience is required. So all of our students in our programs are getting internships. We have a lot of organizations and individuals that are a mom. They’re also helping sponsor trips for us, and they’re getting opportunities to be a leader not only in our programs, but most of them are leaders in other organizations on campus. 

00;17;02;08 – 00;17;24;02 

Unknown 

They’re going for the internships and they’re demonstrating and continuing their leadership experience in those type of roles as well. So, you know, and we do a lot with the curriculum. It’s hands on curriculum, it’s case studies, it’s what would you do? Not just a lecture based, but it’s really getting them hands on experience, going through different types of assessments. 

00;17;24;05 – 00;17;53;17 

Unknown 

And we put them through one called Berkman. Another one is Hogan. All of our seniors in Wandell Fellows go through Hogan assessment. We’ve also done Q You know, and and we got some on the horizon that are coming up as well. But it’s that opportunity for them to become as as self-aware at this point in their life and their career that they can and then realized through reflection processes as well how they continue to develop. 

00;17;53;23 – 00;18;17;05 

Unknown 

And so we’re building that leader muscle early and trying to get them out into doing different types of work instead of just listening to this is what leadership philosophy is all about. I love that. And I think it really comes through, and especially when I talk to people in the business community that graduated either from the business school or just in general. 

00;18;17;09 – 00;18;39;15 

Unknown 

My anniversary is a different caliber. So do you think that’s why is because you’re getting them together with the leadership opportunities or do you think what do you think that causes successes with the program? I think that there’s a there’s there’s a groundswell, you know, going through cluster and going through, you know, being a business. Bobcat. Right. Everybody’s gone through cluster and that’s a game changer. 

00;18;39;15 – 00;19;10;28 

Unknown 

It is. That experience in and of itself is getting them at a very early time in their collegian experience, things that they’re going to be doing on an ongoing basis through all the rest of their career. So while we’re trying to capture those leaders in that go through the selection processes, part of the vision of Walter Center is also how do we also how do we continue to develop those that aren’t in the programs? 

00;19;11;00 – 00;19;45;23 

Unknown 

So we talked about maybe we have a community read or a bobcat read or a college of Business read, and in those who are interested, then we bring the speaker on to campus and then those who are part of it. How do we do things for younger, professional, younger college students, like freshmen and sophomores, doing something where it’s starting to visualizes is aspiring leader so that they can go either through a leadership kind of boot camp or experiences that bridge their high school. 

00;19;45;23 – 00;20;16;19 

Unknown 

Maybe they were captain of their team or maybe they were a class president or something like that and they don’t know where to turn. So trying to engage that leadership in them at a at a even earlier stage and and be more influential in their experience while their business. Bobcat So you know, we we have in the center we have amazing students but we also if if we’re the center of excellence for leadership in the college, how do we, how do we touch more lives? 

00;20;16;19 – 00;20;48;24 

Unknown 

And so stay tuned. Do you mean questions? I love that. I love that. And stay tuned. And I think I think John’s already working on getting the word out to to other students. And some of our faculty in the center are are working on that. Kim Jordan, who we work with quite a bit the Walter Center. And and just to bring it back full circle to the MSM, the early assurance program which Kim runs, she runs through through the center so that students do get some of those experiences earlier on. 

00;20;48;26 – 00;21;10;12 

Unknown 

So yeah, I’m excited to see to see more and just so grateful that we have done here. Thank you. Yeah, it’s hard to believe year one’s already over. It’s amazing, right? It’s crazy how fast that happens. Is there anything that you want to end with or any thank you’s or anything you want to do outs? Absolutely. I mean, I’m so appreciative for the College of Business. 

00;21;10;12 – 00;21;34;13 

Unknown 

You know, President Sherman, who’s leaving us. I got an opportunity to meet right when I was interviewing for this role. And what an amazing, heartfelt mentor leader that we’ve had the privilege of having in the College of Business and adore you for the long term. You know, our Dean, Jackie Alma, is is just so supportive of things and different ideas that we have. 

00;21;34;16 – 00;22;01;01 

Unknown 

And so it’s great to see her at the helm and really giving us the latitude that we bring up different ideas. And she’s like, let’s figure it out. Let’s support them. You know, I can’t say enough about the donors that we have for the Walter Center. Ah, Keith and Keith and Deb Wandell, who’s, you know, named now one of our programs, which is the Wandell leadership Fellows. 

00;22;01;01 – 00;22;26;17 

Unknown 

And it used to be select. So we’re continuing to try to foster relationships with others and hopes that other folks would also be gracious and help perhaps name some of the other programs that we’re trying to do or continue that, because without their donations, I mean, we can’t do what we do for our students and their they don’t just they don’t just bring their donation from a monetary perspective. 

00;22;26;19 – 00;23;10;15 

Unknown 

They bring it from a heart. And what they want to help the students achieve while they’re here and that that proverbial, you know, paying it forward, they’re paying it back in and knowing that they’ve had some vested interest in the and the time that they’ve spent here, but then also giving back so that other students can have that same so we have a lot of friends, you know, and I’d say friends very, very widely that are coming to our programs that are helping us, you know, even in the leadership conferences that are coming on campus and and making presentations and making connections and following us on our different social media platforms for all the Walter 

00;23;10;15 – 00;23;34;11 

Unknown 

Center programs. So there’s there’s endless people to thank. And, you know, the faculty there, every single one of them are so very passionate about the role that they have, but more importantly, the impact that they have on our students. And it’s just been a an amazing experience so far. So I just can’t wait to see where we continue to go. 

00;23;34;11 – 00;24;05;15 

Unknown 

So there’s lots of thanks. Thanks to you guys for putting this together. I think it’s really a great way for us to continue to build upon our brand and our prominence of O. U of the college business, the Strategic Leadership Center. And so I just appreciate the time. 

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