Think like us: Developing future leaders in-house

GlaxoSmithKline and Kerry Group are among those ensuring training is done just how they like


There is nothing new about DIY management education. It has been a feature of the corporate landscape for more than half a century. Some went this route to serve their own specific HR needs, others because they saw deficiencies in what business schools were teaching, especially when it came to aligning the curriculum with the real-world needs of companies operating in a global marketplace.

Two of the most famous corporate universities are GE’s Crontonville, which was established in 1956 and McDonalds’ Hamburger University, which opened in 1962.

Crontonville was set up by the then president of GE, Ralph Cordiner, who believed that the biggest impediment to his company’s growth was its lack of sufficient high-quality managers. GE is still committed to deepening its managerial talent pool and invests more than $1 billion a year in employee development. The Crontonville centre delivers around 1,800 courses on campus, through virtual learning and at GE’s international learning centres in places such as Shanghai.

In 2013, some 40,000 employees (and 3,000 customers) participated in GE’s courses.

In-house management training shows no signs of going out of fashion. Apple opened the doors of its (reportedly very secret) university in 2008 with the aim of helping employees to think like Steve Jobs. In 2011 Deloitte spent $300 million developing an 800-room resort-like university in Westlake, Texas. It has since been credited with boosting recruitment and making it easier for the firm’s virtual and multilocation teams to coalesce.

Condenses experience

Global healthcare company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), also believes that in-house formation is an effective way of populating its management ranks. One of the main ways it does so is through its global Future Leaders Programme. This effectively condenses six years on-the-job experience into three for those lucky enough to make it through the highly competitive selection process. There were 226 applicants for three places on the Irish 2017 Future Leaders Programme.

Future Leaders works on the 70:20:10 principle, which combines 70 per cent work experience, with 20 per cent close mentoring by one’s boss and/or a senior manager and 10 per cent external training or education. This combination, which is strongly favoured by organisations with well-structured management succession pathways, is seen as offering the best of both worlds: highly tailored role and organisation-specific training complemented by the broader world view managers pick up during the academic input at institutions such as Harvard, Insead and the London Business School.

“The idea of the Future Leaders programme is to fill talent gaps and to give participants an unparalleled insight into the enormous depth, breadth and influence of GSK’s business,” says Fergus O’Brien, who is the talent acquisition and change lead for the company in Ireland.

“We typically look for people with strong core competencies – engineering is a big area for us for example – who show the motivation and cultural fit required to develop into workplace leaders.

“This is not a graduate programme per se. It is open to all and is about finding people with ability, maturity, and the agility to learn and change.”

Cillian Byrne, a chemical and bioprocessing engineer, is currently on the Future Leaders programme here.

“I’m only 25 and already I have been given opportunities to lead teams on projects with substantial budgets,” he says. “So far, I have worked in the company’s facilities in Sligo, Cork and Dungarvan and have learnt about three very different aspects of our business while building up a lot of experience in project management and process engineering.”


As part of the programme Byrne, who needed to develop his knowledge of industrial milling, spent time in Germany with Hosokawa (world leaders in milling technology) and also studied for a post-graduate qualification in industrial project management at the University of Birmingham.

Those on the Future Leaders programme are given a personal budget to spend on whatever external training or education they identify as germane to their development.

Kerry Group has a strong track record of promotions to the C-suite from its in-house management training programme. Outgoing chief executive Stan McCarthy joined the programme in 1976 while chief executive designate, Edmond Scanlon, did so in 1995.

Kerry, which has 23,000 employees and more than 15,000 products, and sells into 140 markets, runs its programme across EMEA, the Americas and Asia-Pacific and draws participants from a range of backgrounds including R&D, finance, engineering, sales & marketing, IT and procurement.

“Those selected go into roles of responsibility from day one and the programme is designed to provide unrivalled hands-on experience in a fast paced, dynamic environment,” says director of corporate affairs, Frank Hayes.

The Dublin office of Japanese-owned SMBC Aviation Capital introduced its two-year graduate development programme in 2014. There were almost 400 applications for the last intake and just four to six places on offer.

“The programme is still young but beginning to gather momentum and the calibre of applicants is going up each year,” says the company’s HR manager, Mary Carty. “We are quite a niche company and the programme has been a big feeder for leadership roles within our organisation.

“Those on the programme are given real responsibility and direct involvement in major projects. We provide a buddy [a pairing with a recent recruit], coaching and mentoring system as well as specific in-house training. Typical recruits are academically strong natural leaders who are proven self-starters with excellent interpersonal and communications skills.”

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