An easy mistake to make about the Allianz Management Institute is to assume that, like most business schools, this corporate university deals primarily in business education.

Thankfully, Rüdiger Hoppe, head of management development in the Allianz Group, one of the world’s largest insurers, is patient with visitors to the company’s Munich headquarters who make such an error.

“The institute is also about promoting a corporate culture and greater alignment within the group,” says the 47-year-old German, who runs the institute’s programme for the Allianz Group and its 300 subsidiaries.

Such activities are necessary precisely because the group is composed of so many units spread across dozens of countries.

Alignment, for instance “is all about defining a common strategy going forward across our very diverse group,” he says.

The institute, set up in 1998 and operating mainly from an elegant country house on a lake south of Munich, has been successful in delivering the educational tools for such a common strategy, as well as in other specialised areas such as financial management and leadership training.

AMI was last year the first corporate university to be accredited under the “corporate learning improvement process,” a quality certificate awarded by the Brussels-based European Foundation for Management Development.

Even more important for the future of the institute, Mr Hoppe insists his programmes receive strong, consistent backing from Michael Diekmann, Allianz Group chief executive, and his executive board.

That is not something all corporate universities can boast, adds Peter Clist, who runs AMI’s senior management communication programmes.

“The death rate among corporate universities is quite high,” he says, adding that often strategy changes in corporate boardrooms lead to the demise of such institutions.

On AMI’s part, Mr Diekmann is a frequent visitor, regularly convening “fire-side chats” as part of training courses for senior executives.

In addition, each AMI course is “sponsored” by a member of the executive board, which ensures programmes remain relevant to the company’s core priorities, and participants have access to Allianz’s key decision-makers.

The board’s involvement highlights a defining aspect of AMI’s approach - that the institute is oriented entirely to the educational and corporate strategy needs of Allianz’s top management. There are no external students on AMI courses, nor are junior Allianz managers allowed to attend. They usually receive training in national-based programmes run by Allianz affiliates.

The institute ran 25 residential programmes last year, each lasting several days, and many involving follow-up project work in small international management teams.

The “Campus” programme targeted the most senior Allianz executives, while “leadership development” and “general management” programmes were also offered.

Approximately 490 people from 39 countries attended the courses - from an Allianz Group workforce of 170,000.

One recent AMI participant is George Stratford, a 53-year-old finance director of Allianz Cornhill in the UK who has been with the company for 28 years.

He attended a five-day course for “high potential” executives facilitated by professors from IMD, the Swiss business school. The 15 participants formed small international teams and each chose a project of strategic importance to Allianz, as defined by the executive board. Mr Stratford’s team, which included French, German, Swiss and British nationals, focused on how to promote the transfer of skills between parts of the group.

At the end of the five days each team presented its project outline to Mr Diekmann. The teams then broke up, but had to work together remotely for the next six months until the project was completed.

“I found the experience of working with very senior managers very useful, as was the international aspect,” Mr Stratford says. “This was the first time I’d done something as demanding with a multinational group of people.”

While Mr Stratford was satisfied with the role of IMD in the programme, AMI managers in Munich admit having mixed experiences in dealings with business schools.

Mr Clist, who has worked for AMI since 2000, says the company’s decision to focus on in-house programmes arose in part from the realisation that sending managers to business schools would not provide them with the specialised training needed as a result of Allianz’s corporate history.

He notes that while Allianz has grown rapidly in recent years, the insurance products it offers usually remain oriented to local markets. This means there are few obvious mechanisms for identifying and promoting international synergies across the group.

This task, of promoting alignment and an “Allianz way” of doing business has fallen in part to AMI. In addition, the track-record of business schools in providing the building blocks of AMI’s programmes has also been patchy.

AMI has only nine staff, so is highly dependent on external inputs.

Along with IMD it works regularly with London Business School, France’s Insead and some smaller networks of business school professors. With some exceptions, “the experience with business schools has been largely disappointing,” Mr Clist says.

External experts are often unenthusiastic or unwilling to adapt their teaching materials and styles to AMI’s specific requirements, despite the fact that it is such flexibility that business schools encourage from companies.

In addition, “there is often no relationship between the cost [of the inputs by business schools] and the quality,” he notes.

That said, AMI insists that close co-operation with business schools will continue, as part of a learning process of running a corporate university. “We at AMI can also get better, for instance by improving our ‘time to market’ for programmes,” says Mr Hoppe. This period - from when a programme is conceived to when participants arrive - often stretches over several months, but could be reduced, he says.

Perhaps Mr Diekmann might have time to suggest ways to do that next time he drops by AMI’s country house for a fireside chat.

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