Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide reckoning around racial justice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, this last year has forced many of us to reconsider what is important, and what role we have to play in the betterment of our future. That includes companies and the people who lead them.
“There’s a real moment here for organizations to reconceptualize the future of work in a much more equitable way,” NYC entrepreneur Stephen Bailey told Built In. “I believe that, in a world where there’s so much change, future-ready leadership is critical to advancement, and organizations should be focused on providing equitable access to career-enhancing development opportunities.”
Bailey’s own startup ExecOnline, a virtual education platform designed specifically for corporate leaders, is working to provide those opportunities. The company announced on Wednesday it closed on a $45 million Series D led by OMERS Growth Equity.
Launched in 2012, ExecOnline provides education programs and trainings certified by educational institutions. The company partners with prominent business schools like Berkeley-Haas, Chicago Booth and Yale, offering courses in pretty much every area in leadership, with a real focus on what Bailey has coined “future-ready leader skill sets.”
“If you think about the future of work,” explained Bailey, “what we’re finding is that leadership is very much at the forefront of those successful transitions. Leaders that can lead business transformations, that can lead their teams empathetically, particularly from a distance. And leaders that can lead increasingly diverse teams in an inclusive manner. Those are the key pillars that we see in successful future-ready leaders.”
Ordinarily, these training opportunities are reserved for a fairly “non diverse population,” as Bailey puts it. ExecOnline’s mission is to democratize this space, helping people from all over the world and from all backgrounds access leadership development opportunities in an affordable and accessible way.
“Any leader in an organization can now take control of their own development,” Bailey said, “and get a certificate from any of those schools to advance their careers. We really believe that that’s what drives a lot more progress when it comes to leadership and diversity advancement.”
Removing the barriers to career advancement and promoting diversity is important to Bailey because of his own professional experiences. He started his career as a lawyer at a private firm, where he was commonly the only Black man in the room. Then, once he co-founded his first startup and became its CEO, he says he didn’t often interact with very many people who looked like him.
“I’ve been raising venture capital since 2006. And in that entire time I’ve pitched three Black venture capital partners. I’ve pitched probably no more than four or five women,” Bailey said, adding that this lack of diversity extended to companies’ internal structure too. “I often found that, when individuals were up for advancement in an organization, it was very rarely the case that the person was given an opportunity and failed. It was often that they hadn’t been given the opportunity in the first place. I wanted to change that.”
While Bailey and his team have been thinking about this for years, many companies are just now realizing the benefits of ongoing leadership training amid this watershed year, and are turning to tools like ExecOnline for help. As a result, Bailey says the company has had “really strong growth” lately.
Long term, OMERS’s managing director Saar Pikar sees ExecOnline’s model as a “multi-million-dollar opportunity,” and Pikar believes the company is poised to dominate this area in the growing edtech sector.
“We prioritize our investments in organizations that demonstrate innovative, sustainable approaches to modern challenges, which ExecOnline has shown since their inception,” Pikar said in a statement. “Stephen Bailey and his colleagues are truly ‘doing well by doing good,’ by facilitating this further evolution in executive development programs.”
To keep it up, the company plans to use this fresh funding to further innovate its product, offer more training programs and create a model where companies can access these products for a single, fixed fee as opposed to a course-by-course basis. Ideally, this will encourage companies to offer leadership training to all its executives equitably, without having to pick and choose.