The story of the first major corpor@te university

by Fleming. Team

Corporate universities have undergone considerable changes since the 1950s, when General Electric first founded “Crotonville,” the company’s Leadership Centre, to train its managers and ensure capability building.

At that time, General Electric was expanding, but president Ralph Cordiner felt that the numbers of high-quality trained managers were decreasing. “Great leaders are made, not born.” He decided to establish a training centre 48 kilometres from New York City. The first seminar it offered was a far cry from the standards of our modern, fast, technical era. It was 13 weeks long, but it paid off. Future CEO Reginald Jones (42-year overall career with GE) was one of the students. His quote speaks for itself:

"What will be expected of managers in the future? Intellectual breadth, strategic capability, social sensitivity, political sophistication, world-mindedness, and above all, a capacity to keep their poise amid the cross-currents of change."

Nowadays, this huge (238,765 square metres) management development centre includes two classroom buildings, a dormitory containing 188 rooms, a dining facility, a fully equipped gym, meeting areas and a converted farmhouse known informally as the "White House," which is used for after-hours socialising by attendees.

Every year, around 9,000 managers and executives attend the courses. What is the goal? To achieve Six Sigma Quality. As GE’s website states, Six Sigma is not a secret society, a slogan or a cliché.

Many stories are going around about this centre and its rules. An entire episode of the award-winning TV show 30 Rock centred on them and mocked Six Sigma’s concept as: “teamwork, insight, brutality, male enhancement, hand-shake-fullness, and play-hard.”

The truth is, it is not easy to keep pace among such large companies in this rapidly changing environment. But, in reality, what are the key concepts?

Criteria for Quality: Attributes most important to the customer

Defect: Failing to deliver what the customer wants

Process Capability: What your process can deliver

Variation: What the customer sees and feels

Stable Operations: Ensuring consistent, predictable processes to improve what the customer sees and feels

Designing for Six Sigma: Designing to meet customer needs and process capability

So, it is all about investing in people and about the processes that help managers, executives and whole teams to avoid mistakes and focus on developing the best product and delivering the best service possible, resulting in happy and satisfied customers.

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