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2010 Excellence in Academic Partnerships

GOLD: Penn State, Smeal College of Business

Auntie Anne’s Inc., one of the world’s largest hand-rolled soft pretzel franchises, started in 1987 at a farmers market and has grown to 1,070-plus stores in more than 23 countries.

The company partnered with Penn State Executive Programs to implement a strategic planning process to determine the company’s identity and future strategy.

Penn State Smeal faculty collaborated with Auntie Anne’s leadership team to create a shared vision among the executive leadership team and involve the next level of management thereafter, as well as stakeholders from the franchisee network. A key objective was to translate the strategic vision into a five-year plan and tactical operating plans and budgets.

To this end, Penn State Executive Programs implemented four key stages at Auntie Anne’s. First, it assessed the company’s current state by obtaining executive team members’ perspectives on opportunities and challenges.

Facilitated strategic planning sessions were conducted utilizing multiple methodologies including microlearning as a means to spur innovation. One outcome formulated strategic imperative projects — which took into account opportunities for future growth — and teams were assigned to assess market viability and potential impact. Some of these projects were selected to play a role in the company’s future strategy, and teams worked to engage other corporate employees, franchisees, consultants, partners and suppliers.

Results of the strategic planning vision for Auntie Anne’s future were communicated to corporate employees, franchisees and suppliers, and Penn State Smeal conveyed to Auntie Anne’s leadership group of franchisees the positive business impact of strategic planning.
Penn State’s approach helped Auntie Anne’s set strategic direction and formulate actionable steps to expand the brand, create value for all stakeholders and improve the franchise model store experience for consumers.

SILVER: Bellevue University

Verizon Wireless employees can earn college degrees with the help of unique learning programs the organization has put in place, such as PRSM, or Professional Retail Sales and Management.

Created by Bellevue University, PRSM is a custom-designed online learning program aimed at employees who wish to invest personal time in career development. The 36-credit hour program, consisting of 12 courses that tie in with the company’s managerial competencies and skills, was created to help broaden the pool of candidates capable of taking on retail leadership positions.

The courses are structured so employees can garner learning that is not only applicable to their jobs, but also can provide a better understanding of factors that influence their business and other big-picture ideas.

As the program continues to grow, research by Bellevue University’s Human Capital Lab reveals that PRSM students tend to outperform employees who didn’t register for the program.
Last year, more than 20 percent of the workforce participated in LearningLink, Verizon’s tuition assistance program, which has lowered turnover by 50 to 60 percent among participants as well as graduates of degree programs.

BRONZE: SMU Cox School of Business

Independent exploration and production company Pioneer National Resources realized it needed to provide leadership development for new and existing managers. It lacked a formal plan for leadership development, and there were minimal opportunities for managers to attend training or participate in programs where they could interact with other leaders.

Partnering with SMU Cox Executive Education allowed Pioneer to create a comprehensive structure of leadership development programs. For instance, Leading Tomorrow’s Business helps managers understand financial measures that drive the business so they can identify ways to contribute to the bottom line and improve company performance.

Participants rated the classes 4.15 or above on a 5-point scale, comments have been positive and there have been requests for additional development opportunities.