Living and Giving

The Advent of the Corporate University and How it Impacts Your Company

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Business schools are gaining some competition. But it’s not from one another, it’s actually from corporations.

Corporations have set up \”corporate universities\” in order to serve upper level management, and sometimes the entire company.  What they’re doing is educating their team on the essential principles, functions, and operations of how the company works.  Even further, they’re giving business lessons, communications, and technical expertise that can be taught on this “corporate campus,” often obliterating the need for \”B-School.”

One of the first company’s to lead the charge was Unilever, a consumer goods company that has been around nearly 60 years.  Its main focus is actually working on an important part of Corporate Social Responsibility, sustainable business.  A lot of classes are geared toward CSR, toward cultivating a sense of \”purpose driven leaders.\” Part of the management’s internal reasoning is that the world is extremely challenging to navigate and many economies, both developed and emerging, are considered volatile.

To address this, Unilever started gathering the best from the talent pool. Not just employee talent, but professor talent. They recruited some of the top leaders from INSEAD – one of the world’s largest business schools – to be their main professors.

\"unilever-logo\"Wow. Let\’s think about this. Companies becoming a self-sufficient body of knowledge about not only themselves, but the world in which they operate.  How will this change our world? In one way, it relates to recruitment and the strength of your workforce.   If your company doesn\’t have a company university, it might be a flag for someone wanting to join a world savvy, resource-rich company that not only provides for employees, but invests in them.

Company universities are becoming the norm.  Apple has taken teachers from Yale; Boeing from the University of Washington; and Unilever from the Harvard Business School.

There is also the difference between educating the entire workforce and just the senior leadership.  Unilever focuses on the top tier.  ArcelorMittal is a steel maker but they have campuses not only in their main centers but also in more isolated places such as the Ukraine and South Africa.  They might open up some campuses in Kazakhstan and Brazil, even though the latter’s economy has not been doing well.  Their point is that they need to educate the firm to understand the principles of the company, to provide technical training, and many times ensure that English is understood as a first language.

They will even provide training in the local dialects where necessary.  It\’s a comprehensive education.

What these companies are doing is addressing the real world and where new business lies.  Developing markets may account for more than half of global revenue for many of these companies.   They are strengthening how the company operates locally, and growing management up from within.   And this means that in CSR, our practitioners need to know and embrace these economies in sustainability, philanthropy and volunteering. If you are going to help, you must know the economy and culture on the ground, in order to be effective.


And if you think these “schools” don\’t really compete with Business schools, let\’s review this.  McDonald’s corporate university was started more than 50 years ago, so it\’s not even a new trend.  They offer courses in nearly 30 languages, and people actually \”graduate\” from campus.  Some note that\’s China campus is harder to get into than Harvard.   99% of the people The Advent of the Corporate University and How it Impacts Your Companywho apply get turned down.

Whether its McDonald’s flagship campus in Illinois or Unilever’s school in Singapore, the trend is clear: Corporate universities are giving traditional business schools a run for their money. All leaders, including those in CSR, want to be growing as professionals.   And companies want to attract great talent at all levels.   Having a strong training program in place, and perhaps soon a full-fledged academic program, may help ensure you attract and keep the right CSR leaders.