It’s strange to think of it now. But retaining good employees, rather than laying them off, was once upon a time the prime human resources preoccupation at many companies.
That was the case in January 2001, when representatives of Bill Teuber, CFO of EMC Corp., began talking to Babson College professors about putting together a custom-made course. The aim was to help broaden the business background of new finance hires. In that month, EMC’s share price was knocking at the door of $80.
Things have changed, of course. On April 5, EMC’s stock closed at $11.12 a share. Before that, in the third quarter of 2001, the electronic-data storage company had already embarked on a restructuring plan that will erase the jobs of 4,000 employees by the end of June.
Despite the downturn, however, EMC executives who had participated in corporate education programs run by General Electric and other companies continued to pursue the idea with nearby Babson, which runs well-known custom programs for Lucent and Intel.
Finally, in October 2001, the company launched the two-year course for employees under 25 years old. Currently, 44 finance department employees are taking the course at EMC’s Hopkinton, Mass., headquarters.
Even with its layoffs, holding on to talented neophytes remains a priority for EMC, which is facing stiff competition from Compaq Computer and other companies. Karen Kupferberg, the company’s controller, still talks the talk of the boom when she describes EMC’s reason for running the course. The free education is “certainly a good recruiting tool, a retention tool,” she says, noting that the company plans to offer the program to employees abroad.
But EMC also hopes that the course will engage the new hires more quickly in the actual business of the company. “At that age, most folks have had textbook experience, not real-world experience,” says Kupferberg. “It’s important to have people look at things in context.” As part of the program, she noted, the employees are also able to apply for job rotations. For instance, an employee in the order-administration group can work temporarily in financial planning and analysis or a treasury hire can try out cost accounting, Kupferberg says.
In the Babson course, the new finance employees get a taste of the real world in company-specific terms specific. In day-and-a-half sessions given about once a month, Babson professors “take standard topics and conform them to EMC situations,” says Craig Stephenson, a finance professor at the college who directs the EMC program. In a course unit covering cost of capital, for instance, he presented figures for EMC and its storage-industry competitors.
But a great deal of attention is also paid to the ABC’s of finance and strategy. The course began last fall with a five-day “boot camp” covering general strategy and specific storage-industry strategies along with financial accounting, forecasting, planning, and controllership.
Overall, the program covers “the same subject matter that a CFO organization would be working on now or in five years from now,” says Stephenson, who previously worked in treasury and finance at Dell Computer, Texas Instruments, and Phillips Petroleum.
The students also get to learn from their bosses in a classroom setting. Each unit, or “module,” tends to start with a presentation by a company manager, who shows “the way it’s done at EMC,” says Stephenson, “all the way down all the way to templates.”
One module, for example, began with a lesson by an EMC capital-budgeting manager. Stephenson then followed up with background theory and reinforcement exercises. “We found that reinforcement is really good for 23 or 24 year olds,” the professor said.