2009 Award

Global Forum / Robert L. (Lex) Dilworth Award



ROBERT L. DILWORTH (posthumously)

Rober L. Dilworth was a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General, with more than 31 years of active service. He served as the 54th Adjutant General of the United States Army, a position dating back to 1775. He was also an Associate Professor Emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Earlier, he had taught graduate courses in Management Policy, Marketing and Organizational Behavior for the Overseas Program of Boston University, as well as the John J. College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Since 1991, when he became a collaborator and friend of Reg Revans, the “father” of action learning, Lex spent much of his time writing, researching and lecturing on the subject of action learning. His book, with Verna Willis of Georgia State University, on Action Learning: Images and Pathways was published in 2003. In 2008, his book, with Shlomo Maital of the Technion Institute of Management in Haifa, Israel on the Fogs of War and Peace: A midstream analysis of World War II was published by Praeger Security International. In 2009, he worked on co-editing two books with Yury Boshyk on Action Learning: History and Evolution, and Action Learning and Its Applications. They were published in 2010 by Palgrave Macmillan. Dilworth had a Bachelors degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Florida, A Masters degree in Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma, a Masters degree in Military Art and Science from the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, and a Masters degree and doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University in Adult and Continuing Education. He was also a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF), the Professional Military Comptroller School (PMCS) of the Air University and attended advanced programs at Northwestern University, Harvard University and the University of Michigan. He was president and founder of his own consulting firm, Strategic Learning Scenarios.

Celebrating Lex's Life

Every death is deeply mourned, but much as we already miss him, I prefer to celebrate Lex's life.  What a life.  Lex lived several of them.  He was a warrior, in the positive sense, and referred to soldiers he admired as "wild dogs" -- those audacious and bold in attack, who much preferred offense to defense.  Lex was among them.  He was a scholar and educator, making the hard transition from General to Professor with ease.  And he was a great business consultant.   I had the privilege of writing a book with Lex.  It began with a series of emails.  Lex had visited Israel as my guest, speaking at an Action Learning conference, and when Lebanon War II broke out, with missiles falling on Haifa, he wrote me and expressed concern.  That exchange of emails, in which we explored together how this war was linked to other conflicts globally, led to our book Fogs of War and Peace.  Marriages and friendships have been known to founder in consequence of co-authors writing books.  But our friendship only grew stronger.  Lex was a caring loving person who knew when to love and knew how and when to fight.  I was deeply impressed by accounts of his battles on behalf of African-American soldiers. Lex fought for them, long long before this became fashionable or acceptable.    I wish we could have had a few more Lex years.  Let us take comfort in the amazing Lex years we had, years that enriched his friends and family and students and colleagues and strengthened his country.

A Tribute to Dr. Lex Dilworth

Lex contributed greatly to my life and my career. I thought I knew a lot about action learning through the teachings of Reg Revans and Michael Marquardt. Boy, did he show me! We had numerous conversations by phone, e-mail and in person. In the short five years that we knew each other, he provided more guidance than any other mentors I have had in my life with the exception of my parents.

He conducted almost 40 external reviews with my students who were seeking degrees through action learning. In every report he submitted to the IMCA/Revans University, he always stated that I “audited” the review. I never participated to audit the review, but rather to admire the additional learning that each student gained in that short 60-90 minutes as well as to learn myself from his great wisdom. He connected on a personal level with each student and taught by telling stories from his past roles as father, husband, military officer, academic, action learning advisor and author. Even though I heard some of the stories several times over, I still learned each time; so did my students. Most of my students contacted me after their reviews to express that the closure Lex brought to them was the most fundamental in their action learning experiences.

I was fortunate to attend and present with Lex at the Global Forum in South Korea, 2008. I was delighted to tour the country with him and his wife, Doris. From local foods, shopping and details about the Korean War, he educated me far more than any of the tour guides – action learning at its best! Once again, his story telling was a tremendous educational gift. I treasure that Korean experience with Lex and Doris.

I am honored to have known and spent time with Lex Dilworth. He was a great mentor, colleague, and most importantly a friend. Lex will be missed, but always remembered


Updated Biography (2014):

Dr. Verna J. Willis is Associate Professor Emerita of Human Resource Development, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Relocating to Upstate New York after retirement, she remains engaged in professional writing and consulting on one-on-one mentoring basis. Dr. Willis also serves as an adjunct professor and evaluator of prior experience portfolios at a regional campus at Empire State College near Buffalo. She contributed to a major structural and strategic change in organizations with the introduction of the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) at executive team level. The separation of strategic learning and highly qualified CLO’s from traditional HR departments is analogous to the separation earlier of information technology and CIO’s from finance departments, as in each case vital strategic considerations forced new configurations and speeds. The graduate degree programs Dr. Willis built and implemented at GSU were conceived and threaded through with demands for high intensity learning and personal responsibility, buttressed by extensive field research. Her steady commitment to life-long learning has engaged her in a variety of venues including schools and universities on five continents, community-based human services, government agencies, citizen groups, and corporate entities under conditions of high acceleration and uncertainty. By being deliberately “boundaryless” about her own research and practice across many professional and occupational territories, she has sought to reduce the shortsightedness of discipline-fenced or “territorial” learning for herself and others. Action learning is respectful of the artificiality of learning boundaries, and as such, has become a valuable ally in her work.


Verna J. Willis is an Associate Professor Emeritus of Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, where she designed graduate degrees in Human Resource Development. The Academy of Human Resource Development, of which she is a founding member, gave her an annual award for having the top academic program in human resource development.  She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in English, a Ph.D. in educational research, and has had residential teaching experience in the Middle East and Indonesia along with Higher Education consultancies in Europe and Africa.
Earlier, seven years in corporate training management convinced her that organizations can best adapt and grow if they engage Chief Learning Officers (CLO) with full authority to make systemic changes in learning processes. The first corporate officer in the U.S. with the title and duties of a CLO emerged from her classes. Hundreds of organizations have subsequently added CLO’s to their corporate teams, making them accountable for reaping strategic value from learning.
Attracted by Revans and his work, she spent a two-month sabbatical at the Revans Centre at the University of Salford in the UK, where archival learning materials, Revans himself and knowledgeable others were in easy reach. Publications owing much to that study period include “Inspecting Cases Against Revans’ ‘Gold Standard’ of Action learning” in the journal Action Learning Research and Practice (2004), and “Spontaneity and Self-Organizing” in Genuine Action Learning (2005). She is co-author with Robert L. Dilworth of Action Learning: Images and Pathways (2003), and continues to promote action learning in word and deed, closely following the patterns Revans set.


Updated Biography (2014)

Stephen (Steve) Mercer is former Vice President, Learning and Leadership Development, The Boeing Company. Mercer joined Boeing in 1998 and took responsibility for leading a team tasked with creating the Boeing Leadership Center, which included construction of a new 120 room educational campus and learning center in St. Louis, Mo and development of an integrated core leadership curriculum targeted at key transition points in a leader’s career. The Leadership Center grew over the subsequent four years into a 204 room facility offering nearly 30 leadership and functional excellence programs. Leading edge executive programs include BoeingSim, a complex multidimensional free play business simulation, a Global Leadership Program (a business driven action learning program conducted in key strategic areas around the world) and a unique International Consortium Program, targeted at the Vice President level, conducted worldwide in partnership with four other global companies. The Boeing Leadership Center by its fourth birthday had graduated nearly 12,000 managers from its four core programs, had seen over 40,000 participants pass through its doors for programs, strategy sessions, and business meetings, and had begun welcoming customers, suppliers, and partners into the core curriculum classes. This was accomplished with a flat budget and headcount for four years, in line with Mercer’s “run it like a business” philosophy. In late 2003, coincident with Mercer’s retirement from Boeing, the Boeing Leadership Center was selected for a “Top Twelve” award from Executive Excellence magazine; ranking fourth in a field of 120 companies evaluated for the effectiveness of their Leadership Development Programs, and received the Excellence Award from the Corporate University Exchange for Best Practices in Leadership development. Mercer came to Boeing after a 30-year career with General Electric Company. His last position there was Manager of Executive Education at GE’s Corporate Leadership Development Organization in Crotonville, New York. He and his team led business-driven action learning programs in more than 50 countries on five continents, as well as special customer Executive Programs for GE’s global customers in areas such as China, Southeast Asia, and Russia. He had extensive hands-on business experience at GE with their Aircraft Engine Group, as a systems engineer working on commercial jet engines and flight test programs; in their Transit Systems Department in a variety of marketing and field service positions, eventually becoming Manager – Transit Equipment Marketing; and in GE’s Marketing Consulting Operation as a Managing Consultant, where he directed worldwide consulting projects for businesses in the industrial, technical, consumer, and international sectors. A native of New York City, Mercer earned his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at City College of New York. Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and served in Germany and Vietnam. While at GE, he earned an MBA from Xavier University. Mercer has served as an advisory board member for the Institute of International Business at St Louis University, and for the Japan-American Student Conference, served on the Board of Visitors of the Defense Acquisition University and the Central Intelligence Agency University, and has been a member of the Conference Board’s Council on Development, Education, and Training.


Stephen Mercer consults in the areas of leadership development, business driven action learning, operation of a Corporate University, and the use of free play business simulations. As Vice President, Learning and Leadership at Boeing, he led the creation of the Boeing Learning Center, including construction of a 120-room educational campus and development of an integrated leadership curriculum. Mercer came to Boeing from General Electric, where he managed Executive Education at GE’s Leadership Center (Crotonville). He led Business Driven Action Learning programs in over 50 countries, as well as customer Executive Programs in China, Southeast Asia and Russia. He had extensive business experience at GE as a systems engineer, as Manager—Transit Equipment Marketing; and as an external marketing consultant. Mercer has an Engineering degree from City College of New York, and an MBA from Xavier University. He served in the U.S. Army in Germany and Vietnam. He is an advisory board member of the Institute for International Business at St Louis University, and for the Japan-American Student Conference. He also served on the Board of Visitors of the Defense Acquisition University and the CIA University, and served on the Conference Board’s Council on Development, Education and Training.

"Thank you for the opportunity to make a contribution to Steve's special celebration.  I worked with and for Steve for many years at GE.  Steve embodies the traits anyone would look for in a leader and a friend.  I don't want to embarrass him so let me just say that he clearly demonstrated vision, creativity, intelligence, passion, and measured risk taking.  GE's leadership courses still reflect many of the initiatives that Steve introduced.  As leader of Executive Education, he expected a lot from us but more from himself.  If we worked hard, and we did, he worked harder.  I learned so much from Steve.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to let him know!"


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