Internal culture club: five leading corporate universities

20 May 2015 -


Campuses set up within companies are proving far more effective than standard business schools at nurturing corporate cultures

Jermaine Haughton

Education campuses set up within corporations are beginning to steal the limelight from traditional business schools, according to a Financial Times report this week. Indeed, David Altman – senior executive at Centre for Creative Leadership, a US non-profit education provider – told the paper: “More and more we are being asked to help companies build their internal capabilities.”

Evidence shows that in addition to playing vital roles in workers’ personal development plans, corporate universities are proving more effective than traditional academic bodies at tailoring management training to promote firms’ values and identities to staff – in other words, at helping to nurture and protect internal cultures.

Here’s how five corporate universities are safeguarding core values at some of the world’s biggest firms…

1. GE’s Crotonville campus

As well as learning a range of industry-standard topics from corporate financing to presentation skills, attendees to Crotonville – launched in the mid-1950s and thought to be the oldest corporate university – are schooled in softer concepts such as mindfulness, and the key elements of GE’s corporate culture. Led by chief learning officer Raghu Krishnamoorthy, the students receive one-to-one counselling meetings tailored to their own strengths and weaknesses, and have ample opportunities to socialise and share ideas with peers during group meals and hiking treks. The overall aim of those tasks is to set students on the pathway to fulfilling the five Growth Values set out by GE chief executive Jeff Immelt. In his view, candidates should have i) external focus, ii) be clear thinkers, iii) have imagination and courage, iv) believe in inclusiveness and come armed with v) expertise. (Source)

2. McDonald’s Hamburger University

Not unlike a military academy, Hamburger University spares no detail in training students to become restaurant managers, with 19 full-time professors serving up market savvy, customer-service lessons and day-to-day logistics to mid-managers and executives all over the world. The aim: that they will understand how to run every inch of a typical franchise. “There’s definitely some of the hands-on simulation work that goes on in the restaurant,” company spokeswoman Becca Hary explained, “but then you're also learning a lot of the business aspects, like operations and scheduling. An average McDonald's restaurant [makes] $2.6 million (£1.67m) a year in sales, so you’re really learning to run a McDonald's restaurant.” With courses taught in 28 different languages, the academic investment from McDonald’s chiefs is significant and has led to more than 275,000 graduations of McDonald’s franchisees, managers and grassroots employees. (Source)

3. Apple University

Led by Professor Joel Podolny – former dean of Yale Business School – Apple University centres on a unique approach that aims to nurture fledging talent to think like co-=fopunder Steve Jobs in their approach to solving problems. Before his untimely death, Jobs hired Podolny after becoming aware of his research on how leaders infuse meaning into their organisations, and to codify and preserve any disruptive thought processes that come along. With that in mind, the bulk of its teaching materials are case studies based on the company’s biggest decisions – and are often taught by those who made them, including current CEO Tim Cook. (Source)

4. Disney U

At Disney, the fun enjoyed by its theme parks’ customers extends to its employees, who are dubbed “cast members” and follow a “work hard, play hard” ethos to provide exacting standards on matters from cleanliness to friendliness. This also means that staff must be permanently happy – or, as former Disney U executive Doug Lipp explained to the Seattle Times: “It’s a balance of head and heart. It’s a balance of rides that don’t break down and Snow White never has a bad day.” Lipp also outlined how Disney U harnessed team building to overcome workplace resentments that had broken out between maintenance crews and ride operators, who had became factionalised at one of the firm’s parks. The institute implemented a series of activities, including job shadowing, to allow employees to understand the importance of each other’s roles, and how they could work together to improve the customer experience. (Source)

5. Unilever Four Acres

Expanded from London to Singapore in 2013, this sprawling corporate campus focuses on driving Unilever’s core value of sustainability, as the firm continues its demanding project of doubling in size while halving its environmental footprint (find more on that in our interview with the firm’s CEO Paul Polman). The newer, 2.3-hectare Singapore site, worth around £36m, hosts and trains the company’s future leaders, who are be tasked with working across emerging and complex markets, as well as increasing its positive social impact. (Source)

Powered by Professional Manager