Key Media Placement: "Selling Power" Magazine (Featured as co. spokesman)

Corporate University Xchange (conference/consulting co.)

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This key media placement showcases my role as company spokesman for Corporate University Xchange (see résumé). In my three years there as Director of Communications, I increased placements by almost 1,000%; and was quoted in print or electronic media an average of once a month, in a wide range of outlets, from trade publications and specialized newsletters to national mainstream press–Wall Street Journal, USA Today , etc. (Click PDF link bel. to see full article in context.)

The Corporate University Boom

by Christine Neuberger

They're hot. They're growing. They're a phenomenon. In 1988, 400 U.S.-based corporate universities schooled thousands of company employees in the basics of their particular business. Today, 1,600 corporate universities teach hundreds of thousands of employees everything from sales and service to consumer trends and more. By the year 2010 and perhaps sooner, according to Corporate University Xchange, Inc., a research and consulting firm in New York, corporate universities will outnumber the nation's 3,700-plus traditional, accredited universities. What is going on?

"It's a phenomenon that has spread its wings in the last decade," says Adam Eisenstat, director of research and communications for Corporate University Xchange. "And definitely, there's no sign it's letting up."

What is a corporate university? Simply put, it's a large company's central, in-house umbrella for education. What does a corporate university do? Done right, it strategically aligns a corporation's training with its business goals. It wipes out fragmentation and redundancies common in a company with units sharing responsibility for training. It shapes corporate culture and customizes curriculum. It emphasizes lifelong learning for employees, but also educates dealers, customers and suppliers.

Why the dramatic growth during the 1990s? More working adults want to keep learning. But many conventional colleges neglect to deliver what employees need to do their jobs in the 21st century. And instead of griping about higher education's irrelevance to the marketplace, more leaders in the fast-changing business environment have seized the reins delivering courses to employee desktops and corporate classrooms through a myriad of technologies.

"The root of it is technology — the short shelf life of knowledge," Eisenstat adds. "Every day the developments are staggeringly fast. It's (important) to keep up with these technological changes."

When asked to pinpoint the overriding force behind this boom in the business world, some of the leading corporate universities gave one overwhelming answer: the desire to improve employee performance and productivity, according to a 1999 survey by Corporate University Xchange.

If competing businesses boast similar equipment, one can gain an edge by relying on its own university to constantly channel cutting-edge knowledge to its staff, Eisenstat says. More than 90 percent of the top corporate universities surveyed by the Xchange deliver growing amounts of education through technology, including Internet, satellite TV, videoconferencing and CD-ROM.

"Harnessing technology to accelerate learning "is on the rise in a big way," Eisenstat says. "New systems and new approaches -- it's spinning out of control. It's amazing. It's a lot of bells and whistles."

But many businesses must leverage the latest whistles and bells to stay ahead of the curve. For financial and physical reasons, far-flung work forces and the breakneck pace of change in the technology and telecommunications fields prevent the shuffling of employees into and out of classrooms.

IBM's university, one of the world's largest with more than 10,000 courses, lacks bricks and mortar but employs 3,400 in 55 countries. This virtual university offers more than 1,000 courses on the Web alone. IBM claims distance learning will save more than $100 million in 1999 and curb disruption to employee lives.

To ensure survival of a corporate university, the enthusiastic backing of senior management can go a long way. In 34 percent of the top corporate universities, the CEO teaches a class, according to the Xchange survey.

With traditional 4-year colleges as partners, corporate universities offer degree programs. Andersen Consulting, for instance, teamed up with University of Texas' A&M to create a new MBA focusing on customer insight, according to the Xchange.

Unlike the typical training department, the corporate university caters not just to employees but also to dealers, suppliers and customers. To ease the financial strain on the parent company, some mature universities including Disney's and Motorola's, offer training to outside companies.

"This is a shining dream of corporate universities — to actually be profit centers," Eisentat says. "The traditional training department is a stepchild of the human resources department. This (the corporate university) is a very different model."

But, because a corporate university costs an average $17 million a year, the parent businesses want to get the biggest bang for their bucks. Yet, despite upper-management demands for proof that the end justifies the means, evidence of a return can be hard to come by.

Can a university link its price tag to higher employee satisfaction, better worker productivity or increased market share? Dell Learning won plaudits for its innovative ways of comparing the cost to the benefit. Dell determined that more than $41,000 worth of training given to about 100 salespeople led to nearly $280,000 in greater profits.

"Measurement really is about the hottest topic in corporate universities," says Eisenstat. "There's a visionary element involved there. You can't measure it right away — the benefits a corporate university is having and going to have on a business. It's a forward thinking kind of thing -- to see where it's going to benefit you. There's a conceptual leap involved in starting a corporate university."

Toyota Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. took the leap in April, 1998, creating University of Toyota to align training with the corporation's business goals. In an interview with SELLING POWER, a top officer said the university emerged from Toyota's blueprint for improving its competitiveness as it enters the 21st century: "We didn't have a coordinated, concentrated effort on developing curriculum that was instructionally sound and provided measurable results," says Mike Wells, the university's dean of dealer education and development.

By establishing a centralized, in-house learning organization, Toyota plans to manage its training like a business, gauging the return on the investment. The goal? To boost customer satisfaction and the bottom line. The method? Creating customer-centered dealers and associates and improving their performance through lifelong learning.

High turnover in the sales force helped steer Toyota toward another customer-service area prime for change — financial services. Many dealerships would turn no profit if they made no money on their money. However, national research shows declining profits in finance and insurance for all cars sold in the U.S.

"The finance individual is the last person who works with the customer before delivery," says University of Toyota's Wells. "People enjoy the car-buying experience, for the most part. They like to go in, test drive, if they are left alone to do that. They like the new products. There is the smell of the new car, the feel of the new car. But when it reaches the point of reality, which is, "You need how much for me to drive this car?' That's where some of the dissatisfaction lies."

Enter Toyota Quality Financial Management (TQFM), a customer-focused initiative to train dealership finance writers to make customers happy — and increase sales and profits.

The 10-step TQFM program helps financial-services managers master a systematic approach to the sale of finance and insurance products that strives to satisfy buyers by educating them.

As Toyota puts it, TQFM is not "another sales process" nor a mere class or course but a learning philosophy. With a five -day immersion program at the university's main Torrance, CA, the training stresses months of preparation and follow-up. While regional managers shepherd them throughout the months-long, 10-stage effort, participants begin by submitting to an in-dealership assessment that diagnoses weaknesses. To get the most out of the program, a finance manager undergoes self-study in weak areas before attending the university class.

During the university training, attendees get a big dose of videotaped role-playing exercises, team-building activities, one-on-one instruction and use of technologies that accelerate learning. Upon return to the dealership, the new approach gets installed. Evaluation, seminars and consulting permit little deterioration of the new know-how.

"We don't just say ‘see ya later.' We continue to reinforce the training long after they've left," Wells says. "It's a continuum. It's 10 steps. It's not about just five days in Torrance."

It costs $1,850 to enroll each participant, though actual expenses come close to $4,000 with air fare, hotel and food. The tab can add up, given that dealerships typically have more than one finance writer.

But judging from the initial rave reviews, the investment pays off. The maiden group of participating dealerships saw jumps of more than 30 percent in customer sales satisfaction with financial services during the first year. Sales of finance and insurance products rose 5 to 30 percent, depending on the product, and net profits climbed 21 percent.

When signing on, managers voiced skepticism — even fears of reduced profits and volume. But after they roll out the new system, dealers start singing its praises, according to the TQFM Forum newsletter distributed to dealers: "We started leading our district in both volume and penetration across the board," says the general manager of a Toyota dealership in Pittsburgh, PA. At a Seattle, WA, dealership, the general manager said sales satisfaction scores climbed, but "what really surprised me was the increase in sales."

Driving the program, customers helped shape the training by sharing their expectations and providing feedback during focus group sessions. Now finance writers, instead of offering products one at a time, learn to partner with the customer by following a comprehensive method to identify a buyer's need and how Toyota products can meet it.

From the greeting through the closing, the manager actively listens and handles buyer concerns, allowing the customer to pace the financial services transaction.

"Everything we did, in every step along the way as we created this program we said, "what does the customer want to experience at these key points throughout that car buying experience," Wells says. "It's not about selling your wares. It's about educating the customers."

At the heart of the program and the entire university approach lies an adult-learning principle: "Tell me, show me, let me practice, and test me." During the university class, participants learn in classrooms before trying out their new skills in role-play rooms. Concealed cameras videotape performances for evaluation afterward. To accelerate learning further, Toyota uses the AMX touch-screen technology, while audience response systems measure the effectiveness of the education.

There's more than number crunching and role plays. In one team-building activity, the class breaks into groups to play the TQFM Challenge, a Jeopardy!-style game that gauges the success of earlier self-study. While the winning team snags oxford shirts, everyone takes home mementos that include hats and steel travel mugs.

Toyota's competitors pursue innovative ways to keep their associates and dealers on the top of their game. Ford's corporate university, called Fordstar, boasts satellite downlinks to more than 1,000 sites. Daimler-Benz University specializes in distance learning and partnerships with international corporations and universities. Volvo University stresses dealer development. Saturn University emphasizes the corporation's learning culture and individual development plans.

"A car company will do what will give them the best leg up on the competition," says Eisenstat of the Corporate University Xchange. "There are some huge innovations going on in the automotive industry as far as training. I think Toyota didn't miss the train or the boat for that matter."

A relative newcomer to the field, the University of Toyota distinguished itself with the TQFM initiative, which Eisenstat considers creative for various reasons, including its hands-on approach, role plays and technology.

"That's a best practice," Eisenstat says. "I don't know of any auto manufacturer that's using these techniques to the degree and in the innovative manner that Toyota is. TQFM is worth showcasing. In the finance area, I think it would be safe to say no one is doing it to the extent Toyota is."

With 1,200 dealerships, Toyota plans to bring the TQFM philosophy to perhaps 2,300 finance writers. More than 700 students from 160 dealers enrolled by spring, 1999. Initially touted with a nationwide launch, the program regularly gets pumped in newsletters and at meetings.

"Our strategy is not a push strategy, it's a pull strategy," says University of Toyota's Wells. "We believe if we provide programs that ultimately improve customer satisfaction and impact the dealers bottom-line, they will come. It's a little bit like the Field of Dreams — if you will build it, they will come."

As a flagship program, TQFM serves as a benchmark for the university's smorgasboard of offerings available to 80,000 dealer associates and 8,000 Toyota Motor Sales company associates. Toyota and Lexus dealers can choose from 141 courses, while company associates can pick from 58 courses. Dozens more remain in development.

While instructors teach many courses in "virtual classrooms" at field offices and dealerships, about 35,000 square feet of space in Torrance near the Toyota headquarters campus boasts state-of-the-art development, videoconferencing, role-play and playback rooms.

For competitive reasons, Toyota declines to specify the cost of the university venture. "There has been a significant investment made in terms of facilities, head count and financial resources," says Gina Barro, University of Toyota's marketing and communications manager.

No longer a onetime event, education spans an employee's career. By fostering continuous learning and a customer-first culture in its work force, the University of Toyota hopes to serve as the engine for its parent company's drive to become "the most successful and respected car company in America."

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