www.sylvania.com) has proved throughout its 102 years in business that it can invent itself repeatedly using technology and redirecting leadership development to attract and retain the most demanding customers. At the same time, the company continues its unique brand of management development and retention.
A Vanguard Manufacturing Program
As the North American operation of OSRAM GmbH of Germany, which is the second largest lighting manufacturer in the world and a part of Siemens AG, SYLVANIA employs 12,000 people who manufacture and market a wide range of lighting products, electronic and magnetic ballasts and precision materials and components for industrial and commercial users, original equipment manufacturers and consumers. Six years ago, the company partnered with the Johnson Graduate School of Management of Cornell University to establish the Manufacturing Management Institute (MMI), a curriculum designed to develop existing plant managers, ready prospective candidates for the challenges of the job and increase retention.
“Our goal was to increase the bench strength of our plant managers. Plant managers face the toughest issues of anybody in the company. They have to prove their operations’ ingenuity related to leadership, production, finance and even marketing skills every day,” said Geoffrey P. Hunt, SYLVANIA senior vice president communications and human resources, based at the company’s headquarters in Danvers, Mass. “Working with the faculty at Cornell, we designed the four-week program to equip participants with breakthrough management skills and help them find new directions for personal improvement that would empower them as managers to lead our company.”
According to Mike Hostetler, associate dean of the Cornell graduate school, “With MMI, our focus was to develop a practical program around core Sylvania issues,” he said. “To do that, we interviewed over 50 senior managers in company facilities in the U.S. for input. This ultimately led to the development of a unique curriculum that didn’t exist anywhere else.
“To further build on that model, we made joint decisions on teaching we also included SYLVANIA managers in the teaching process,” he added. “For example, in a module on ‘strategic alliances,’ we enlisted a senior manager at SYLVANIA who was responsible for building a highly successful joint venture with a French manufacturing company. He presented the venture as a case study for participants, who were then able to look at the successful model as a template and apply it in future applications.”
Each year, about 4 managerial candidates were selected from the company’s North American operations to participate in one weekly session at Cornell’s Ithaca, N.Y. campus each quarter. On campus, participants engaged in programs that were specially designed and facilitated by the leading faculty on the Johnson School’s staff. Each year, the faculty refined the MMI curriculum based on participant feedback. And while no formal testing or grades were given to participants, SYLVANIA achieved significant success with the program. Over the four years that MMI was offered, more than half of its 15 “graduates” achieved promotions. In addition, more than 60 percent of the graduates have been promoted into new jobs, and manager turnover as a whole was exceptionally low—less than 2 percent. (See Graph 1 for details.)
Like a growing number of U.S. companies, SYLVANIA has increased its dependence upon an agile global supply chain to competitively manufacture and distribute products. With that move, the company found a natural shift—and a progression—for its managerial program.
“With less of a need to develop plant managers in North America, and a greater need to develop business managers globally with our parent company, in 2000 we approached our Cornell academic advisors with a new mission in mind,” said Dr. William T. Franz, director of education and training, SYLVANIA. “Instead of implementing a program with the sole purpose of developing managers using functional teaching material, we wanted a program that would energize and direct our business managers to work collaboratively across business units and cultures on projects that will provide tangible economic value-added (EVA) impact for the company. That became the basis of the SYLVANIA Global Management Institute (GMI) program.”
“GMI is truly unlike any corporate development program of its kind,” said Hostetler. “Its focus is on real business issues and success.”
Unlike MMI, GMI is structured for smaller and diverse group interaction. In this year’s inaugural class, there are 24 participants—12 from SYLVANIA’s operations in the United States, plus representatives from both OSRAM and SYLVANIA business units in Germany, Malaysia, Italy, France, India and Slovakia. Participants are divided into four teams of six, and each team is focused on a specific project designed to improve the company’s competitive advantage. Each team has a team coach (a faculty member who works on team processes and dynamics), a faculty advisor (who provides focus on business issues and direction), two graduate assistants from the Johnson School (who conduct research) and an executive sponsor from the company’s executive board, who oversees the project. Ultimately, the teams will present the results of their work to the executive board and will be evaluated on their team’s success.
“With the GMI program, Cornell faculty provides participants with the tools and framework to delve into their project,” noted Hostetler. “The formal program consists of two, 10-day modules. The first module, completed in October 2002, was held in Bratislava, Slovakia the second module will be held in early 200 at our Ithaca campus. At the completion of these modules, participants work on their projects while returning to their regular jobs. In addition, teammates are in constant communication with each other, their coach, advisor and assistants and their executive board member through a ‘virtual’ Internet interface we customized specifically for this purpose. In addition, the teams have regrouped independently between the sessions to further their project through face-to-face contact.”
“We are quite bullish about the potential for our GMI program,” said Hunt. “We will apply the best resources from both SYLVANIA and the academic side of business management to actual company problems that must be fixed. It’s a bit like combat training using live ammo. This program combines just-in-time learning with achieving meaningful P/L results under the stress of required inventiveness, not much time to do it and an executive board breathing down the participants necks.”
Constance Carlson is a principal with Greystone Partners (www.greystonepartners.net), a leading marketing communications firm based in New York and Montana.
Graph 1: MMI Promotional and Turnover Statistics
Annualized Turnover Rate
Source: OSRAM SYLVANIA, 2001