May 2, 2012 4:25 pm

Big business shows community spirit

It is located in Fontainebleau, though it is not part of Insead; it employs some of the world’s top business professors, yet it is not a business school; it lists some of the world’s top companies among its members, but it is not a club. So what exactly is Cedep?

Founded more than 40 years ago on Insead’s French campus, and employing the same architect as Insead to construct its teaching facilities, the best description of Cedep might be that it is an executive education community. One of executive education’s best-kept secrets, the group includes corporate members, some full-time and many visiting professors and by reputation at least, a better wine cellar than any business school.

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The other big difference between Cedep and a traditional business school, says Jens Meyer, former full-time Insead professor and now director general of Cedep, is the corporate involvement. Most business schools develop programmes to answer the aspirations of the corporate board or the interests of business school faculty. “Cedep is built around HR people. We serve the HR community.”

And HR involvement is the key to Cedep. Representatives from each of Cedep’s corporate partners - there are between 20 and 30 at any one time - compile a portfolio of their development needs and specify new courses. Because all the companies are involved in the course design - though Cedep brings in designers and faculty to develop different content clusters - the process takes longer than it would in a traditional business school.

But is has to be a transparent process, says Prof Meyer. “In a club environment, sharing is more open. Here we design the product together, we look at best practice. If there is no ready-made solution, we start building it together.” Faculty are sources from across the business education community.

It is a model that has stood the test of time, with many of the companies that joined the group more than 30 years ago still participating. These days big name members include L’Oréal, Honeywell, Aviva, Renault and Tata Steel. The aim is to have a rounded group of non-competing companies, says Cedep president François Vachey. He is now hoping to encourage both a retail and a publishing company to join the group.

There are clear cost benefits to participants as Cedep works on a break-even model, unlike most business schools for which executive short courses are the cash cow of the institution. Even so, in 2008 and 2009, Cedep saw revenues drop by 12 per cent as the recession spread across Europe. Business is now coming back, says Prof Meyer and income is close to pre-recession times.

But as with business schools, the type of business has changed. When Cedep started, about half the programmes run were customised programmes for specific member organisations and the other 50 per cent were consortium programmes, run for mixed groups of managers from the member companies. But more recently companies have been leaning more heavily towards customised programmes. That balance is now beginning to be redressed, says Prof Meyer, with multi-company programmes proving increasingly popular. In particular, member companies are keen to develop programmes for younger managers, he says.

Originally set up in conjunction with Insead to teach corporate programmes outside the traditional business school, Cedep’s approach was quite revolutionary 40 years ago. These days corporate education is a substantial and highly competitive business and Cedep is looking for the next breakthrough. To begin with it is now teaching programmes away from its French campus, in Sao Paolo and Shanghai. More significantly, though, it has launched a more personalised service for its members.

The fellows programme gives every member company their own professor, whose job it is to shadow corporate managers and use an outsider’s eye to help analyse the company’s competitive problems. The fellows can then feed valuable information into the design of new programmes, to ensure their rigour. As Prof Meyer says: “The exchange is not a cocktail conversation.”

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