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The corporate university

  • Story Highlights
  • Joel Podolny, dean of Yale School of Management, is to step down
  • He is to head "Apple University" at the tech firm of that name
  • Observers predict this is going to be a "corporate university" for staff
  • Next Article in World Business »
By Peter Walker
for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- It would be news enough in itself -- the departure of one of business education's brightest young stars to the private sector -- but Joel Podolny's announcement that he is to stand down as dean of the Yale School of Management carries a wider impact.

Apple store with big logo

Back to school? An Apple store in downtown Munich, Germany

Podolny, still only 43 and credited with helping applications to the school rise by 50 percent in his four-year tenure, is leaving to become the first ever dean of the so-called Apple University.

The computer and tech company has yet to say exactly what Apple University is -- an Apple spokesman called it only an "exciting new project" -- but many people assume it is likely to be an in-house executive education and training facility for employees.

If confirmed, Podolny's move highlights the way in which increasing numbers of corporations set up their own "corporate universities," designed to provide tailor-made training to staff. According to one academic study of the phenomenon, by 2001 there were already around 2,000 corporate universities around the world.

These are not necessarily intended to replace MBAs or EMBAs at traditional business schools. They tend instead to be far more narrow in focus and specifically geared to the individual needs of the corporation in question.

And yet, corporate universities have increasingly borrowed ideas and methods from business schools, a trend which with Podolny's departure has now apparently extended to poaching staff.

Podolny was seen as a hugely successful dean for Yale, overseeing a revamp of the school's curriculum as well as a notable boost to its reputation.

In an email to staff and students announcing his departure, Podolny spoke of his regret but said he had long harbored a passion for all things Apple.

"While there are many great companies, I cannot think of one that has had as tremendous personal meaning for me as Apple," he wrote.

"I remember writing my first computer program on an Apple II, remember pulling an all-nighter to watch the Laserwriter (attached to my 128K Mac) print my undergraduate thesis at seven minutes per page."

So what will the former professor of economic sociology, who was at the Stanford and Harvard schools before Yale, be doing at Apple?

The Yale Daily News quoted unnamed Apple "company insiders" as saying Podolny would mastermind executive education programs within the computer company.

Fact Box

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. London Business School, UK
3. Columbia, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. Harvard, U.S.
6. Insead, France/Singapore
7. MIT: Sloan, U.S.
8. IE Business School, Spain
9. University of Chicago GSB, U.S.
10. University of Cambridge: Judge, UK
Source: Financial Times 2008

This would not be a first for Silicon Valley. While the most famous corporate universities have been in industry and the service sectors, most notably the 47-year-old Hamburger University, which has trained generations of McDonald's managers, technology firms have taken this idea a stage further.

Animation film studio Pixar -- where Apple boss Steve Jobs was formerly CEO -- runs a huge range of courses for staff at its own corporate university.

Pixar University is intended to teach more than just the nuts and bolts of modern day computer animation, but to inspire employees' creativity with a wide range of classes, more than a dozen a week, which staff are permitted to miss work to attend.

"We offer the equivalent of a B.A. in fine arts through our courses," says Pixar University's dean, Randy Nelson.

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