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Would you fancy a return to student life, complete with Spartan dormitories, shared bathrooms and a “boot camp” approach? This is what faces new associates at Deutsche Bank who will be undergoing a fresh two-week customised programme at Columbia Business School this summer.

The programme is notable because it expands executive education – a tool traditionally used for mid-career managers – to those far closer to the beginning of their working life. For Columbia it is a new form of custom-made offering which it might be able to apply elsewhere.

“Data indicate custom education is growing more quickly than open enrolment, and that’s supported by what we’re hearing anecdotally,” says Troy Eggers, associate dean of executive education at Columbia. “One data point isn’t a trend, this is new for us but it does represent a trend towards acting to retain staff.”

Participants on the programme will be what Deutsche Bank calls “promotes” – those who joined the bank after completing an undergraduate degree, have worked as analysts for three years and have just made the jump to associate – the level at which newly minted MBAs join the bank.

“We want to complement the skills the analysts have developed with exposure to concepts they don’t get while they’re spending long hours on the job,” says Amrit Singh, managing director of M&A for Deutsche Bank in London. “The skillsets we see with the MBAs are different, they tend not to have as much banking experience, but they tend to have a more rounded perspective.”

Mr Singh was one of a group at the bank given the task of studying ways to better retain staff. Training was identified as a key issue and the group began to examine that in depth, eventually contracting with Columbia for the course. Deutsche Bank aims to show the new associates that they are valued while putting them through a concentrated learning experience and giving them a taste of an MBA.

“As an institution, we would much rather prefer to grow our bankers from analysts or to senior MDs than go through a programme of extensive lateral hiring,” says Amelia Silver, chief operating officer of the bank’s global banking division in the Americas and a Columbia MBA herself. “These are eager learners who are looking forward to getting a flavour of what they missed by not getting an MBA.”

They will need to be eager. The bank wanted its new associates to undergo as complete a university experience as they could in two weeks. As a result, the course includes about a day and half of regular teaching a day, with evening and weekend sessions, too.

“It will be a bit like boot camp in that when its over, there will be bonding and cohesion,” says Paul Ingram, a leading management professor at the business school who designed the programme.

The classes, which feature a number of the business school’s “star” teachers, emphasise technical financial skills but also place a heavy weight on “softer” skills such as team work and leadership.

“People early in their careers can really put technical skills to use. But this is also the age – 25, 26 years old, like our MBAs – where you can get a lot of leverage from a little bit of wisdom about leadership and working in teams,” says Prof Ingram.

Those who complete the programme will also be awarded full Columbia alumni status and will then travel to London with the MBAs joining the bank for further training and networking.

Columbia’s executive education unit will be watching closely to see if the basic framework could be applied to other clients. There is particular interest in the potential for executive education to be extended to younger people as a retention and development tool, as well as the mid-career market which is the heart of the unit’s offerings.

This could work particularly well for banks, since Deutsche Bank’s “promotes” are at the age when they are most likely to leave for an MBA, but it is also the point where the bank is really beginning to see a return on its three-year investment.

“Business education is going this way [younger] as another offering – that is where custom comes into play,” says Mr Eggers. “There’s an insight that talented people are hard to find and people are thinking of how to retain top performers and really get the return on investment in these people.”

Prof Ingram also runs the executive education programme’s senior executive programme – a month-long course run twice a year – and is intrigued by the possibilities of delivering education at different career points, from early to relatively late.

“There’s this thinking about education for a whole career and there are signals in the business education market about alternatives to the idea of working for three to four years, doing two years for an MBA then back to work. There are alternative ways to deliver our content and reach those who may not do an MBA but can benefit from more knowledge and ties to the school.”

One can assume, however, that Deutsche Bank’s “promotes” will be the only ones undergoing the additional Spartan dorm experience.

Jennifer Hughes

FT journalist Jennifer Hughes is a 2007 Knight-Bagehot Fellow at Columbia Business School.

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