The Evolution of Corporate Universities - IEDP
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The Evolution of Corporate Universities

Not a focus on training but on creating ‘employability’


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“The second generation of Corporate Universities has a wider concept: for us it is not a focus on training but on creating ‘employability’” is how Eduardo García Gerbóles, Corporate Director Talent and Organization at Spanish wind technology manufacturer, Gamesa described the new wave of learning institutions being created in large organizations at the moment. García was one of eleven guest speaker heads of corporate universities discussing the continuing development of the CU phenomenon at the recent Vth Annual Corporate Universities Forum held by ESADE business school in Madrid.

Although corporations first started to run in-house technical training academies nearly a hundred years ago, with GE and GM leading the way, the modern CU really first took shape in the mid-1950’s with GE’s creation of Crotonville in upstate NY and this was followed by the likes of Disney University and Motorola University in the 1970’s. However the first real ‘wave’ of CUs started to roll in the late 1980’s and picked up pace through the 1990’s. As García Gerbóles explained at ESADE, a lot of those first generation CUs were little more than marketing ploys by the HR and learning and development functions to promote their services internally and gain more budget. This led to a scepticism around the concept that in some places persists today – and there are still plenty in the LD world who see CUs as a phase that has been and gone. But the continued growth and development of learning institutions in large organizations, not to mention the enthusiasm froma selected number of leading business schools to leadership software developers to collaborate with them, suggests that CUs have turned a corner and are very much a key part of the corporate learning environment now and for the future.

The second generation CUs differ from their forbears by a greater degree of sophistication in their structures for sure, but also the best are much more closely aligned with corporate strategy and directed with input straight from the C-Suite.

Of the eleven CUs represented at ESADE’s Vth Forum, ArcelorMittal’s was one of the most complex, incorporating as it does three group programs, 17 leadership and management programs, online programs and ten functional academies – with four physical campuses and a global spread of training sites. Novartis’s CU offer is also comprehensive, with a main Group site at its global HQ in Basel and three regional CU’s in LatAm, Russia and China being one of the most innovative in a multicampus model of CUs.

Marcelo Fumasoni, VP HR LatAm and Canada, at Novartis, sees their LatAm CU as a platform to handle the rapid growth of the region. ‘It is a framework to develop leaders through cross-fertilization of business units’ – with two core leadership programs, one for early talents and one for more senior executives – as with most CUs Novartis engage with faculty from leading business schools – here the regional leaders including Florida International University, ITAM, ESPM in Brazil, Universidad de Los Andes in Columbia and IAE in Argentina. Fumasoni emphasised ‘the very string alliance and engagement from senior leaders’ that underpins the CUs operations.

The Spanish CUs at Gamesa, Ferrovial, Iberdrola, Iberia (now part of IAG with British Airways), Acciona, Gas Natural/Fenosa and Repsol were all equally focused on the specific benefits CUs can bring to their parent organizations in a way that other learning providers would struggle to. Ignacio Ruiz of Iberdrola noted that they can create space to experiment with concepts, products and across divisions in a safe environment and with a close connection directly to the organizations goals and strategy.

It is interesting to note that while the corporate goals of each organization may differ – the broad direction of the CUs was very much in tune. ArcelorMittal has a three word mantra it promotes ‘Learn-Grow-Connect’; Aciona focuses on ‘People-Innovation-Excellence’; while Ferrovial’s Summa University goes with ‘Think-Share-Create’. The words may be different but the sentiment is the same with the focus on networking within the organization (Connect + People + Share), the role of the importance of new ideas and the space to experiment in order to progress and prosper(Learn-Grow +Innovation-Excellence + Think-Create) .

Five years ago ESADE started a longitudinal research project under the direction of Prof Luis Vives and Prof. Camelia Ilie on Corporate Universities tracking their evolution and development. This has strengthened their already considerable global experience of partnering with CUs and in developing new models of leadership development programs together. Preliminary results were presented at the Forum.

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