If you’re a mid-level manager at Inco with the potential to move up to C-level, chances are you’ll be nominated by management for a spot in the company’s Trailblazer program.

This 18-month program is very focused on behavioural development and on growing and understanding the business. Trailblazer groups are typically composed of about 16 people, who visit every area of the business and get classroom instruction on Inco’s strategy and relationship to the industry.

“People in the Trailblazer program go to each of our operations and spend time with that operating team, getting to understand what happens in that business,” said Linda Padfield, Director of Organizational Development. “Most of the seats are taken by operators, but we try to hold some for IT, Finance, and HR, because we think it’s a tremendous way for them to learn about the business, and it’s also a great way to build a network of peers that you can talk to when you don’t understand something.”

Trailblazers travel the globe to get their training. One month they could be visiting Inco’s facilities in Thompson, Manitoba, one of the few mining operations where you can walk the entire flow in one day, from mine, to mill, to smelter, to refinery. The next, they could be off to Taiwan for an inside look at the Pacific Sales Region.

Those enrolled in Trailblazers identify the areas they’d like to focus on and build their own agenda. Padfield’s job is to find the facilitators who can train them on the topics they want.

“There’s a huge amount of behavioral stuff that we get experts to help us with,” she said. “Sometimes we bring in academics or consultants, but I would say fifty percent of the time we’re bringing in senior Inco people. Our strategy session, for example, is taught by our AVP of strategy, who explains the industry to them. But if the person is trying to understand our place in the industry and how investors look at us, then I’ll bring in an investment banker.”

If you want to be a Trailblazer, you’ve got to be prepared for a tough grind. Trailblazers spend one week every quarter together and they’re expected to keep up with their jobs at home too. They also have to connect halfway between sessions. Because Trailblazers are from all over the world, this is done by means of a four-hour conference call every six weeks, during which they share their progress on whatever they’re working on.

The good news is, there’s more than a merit badge at the end of this trail. Successful candidates will have taken a giant step towards increasing their capability to perform at a more senior management level.