Susan Peters, vice president and head of executive development at GE, recently on her fourth visit to India, speaks to domain-b's Dhruv Tanwar on GE's innovative leadership programmes run by the company's John F. Welch Leadership Centre, also called Crotonville, and Indian talent powering GE
In GE's own words "At GE, learning is a cultural force and Crotonville is its epicentre."
Established in 1956, over a sprawling 53-acre campus, Crotonville was a pioneer as a corporate learning campus. For over 50 years, the legendary John F. Welch Leadership Centre has been at the forefront of real-world application for cutting-edge thinking in organisational development, leadership, innovation and change.
Starting with the 80s and 90s, Crotonville has developed into platform for broader culture change at GE. Its legendary former CEO Jack Welch used the university to launch his company wide efforts in Six Sigma, which current CEO Jeff Immelt is leveraging for initiatives to drive growth, the current company wide objective.
Susan Peters, vice president and head of executive development at GE was recently in New Delhi, "primarily for a big course", as she put it. "The LIG (leadership, innovation, and growth) course," says Peters, "has been developed at Crotonville as an actionable training and dialogue to drive growth across the company."
The LIG programme started in late 2006, at the very top of the organisational chain of top 'Profit and Loss lines', (as independent GE businesses are known within the company). It was so successful in engaging teams to drive growth, that it was decided to extend the course to the next tier down from top management, and groom the 'talent pipeline.' The global tour takes Peters this time around to Shanghai, Delhi and Dubai. With the LIG programme for senior level business teams at GE as the prime focus of her visit to India, she also met with other GE leaders from across the Asia region as part of ongoing efforts in developing talent in emerging markets.
Talking about Crotonville's role as an agent of cultural change at GE, Peters says the oldest corporate university in America has "a wonderful role", and a wonderful 'legacy factor' since it has been around for a long time - over 50 years. That legacy itself drives cultural change.
At the helm of Crotonville since over a year, Peters has done 'some things', as she likes to call them, to make it more global. Most of Crotonville's courses have 50 per cent non-US participation, with half of its offerings taking place outside the US. Over the past year, Peters has taken executive level education at Crotonville, and for the very first time, offered it outside of the US.
Additionally, the Crotonville's management development class (MDC), a 3-week, labour intensive course has been held in Munich and Tokyo. In the future, under Peter's watch, Crotonville will be delivering leadership content to non-US locations, ensuring a diverse functional and global mix, in addition to a lot of local training that is delivered in India, such as the foundations of leadership course offered to people "relatively new" to GE, one of many to find its origins in Crotonville. A fourth of the course participation comes from India, with an equal number of participants coming from other non-US locations. Only around half the 3,500 participants each year come from within the US.
On her fourth visit to India since 1994, Peter's is well travelled across three of India's 'business cities' - Mumbai, Bangalore, and New Delhi. "Opportunities within India," says Peters, "makes the biggest difference between then and now", having noticed India progress down its path of economic development at regular intervals. India, she continues, has changed so dramatically since her first visit, that opportunities for GE as well as the people within India have expanded manifold, making it the biggest visible difference.
What is the single most remarkable thing that she has witnessed at GE India? "The pace at which the leadership pipeline has developed," says Peters. At GE India, talent and leaders have developed exceedingly quickly. Indian businesses are now run by Indians, which is not always true of all GE businesses worldwide.
So, how do GE's Indian managers find their way to a Crotonville course? Peters says that can happen, quite simply, in two ways - either they go to Crotonville, or Crotonville comes to them.
The foundation courses offered in India typically see a larger participation, and faculty and trainers travel from Crotonville to India to hold the course here. At Crotonville, the job is to identify the "best-bet talent" from around the world, who then get to go to the executive level courses.
Answering a query about leadership and development plans for the Indian employees of GE, Peters says that they, like all GE employees worldwide, participate in a leadership analysis every year commonly known as the "Session C process". This digitised process of self-review is followed by a managers' review, a next-level manager's review, and then an overall organisational review.
The outcome of the Session C process is then looked at from a business standpoint (such as healthcare, energy, consumer electronics, or any other GE bsuiness), a functional standpoint (such as finance, technology, marketing, etc,), and finally from a regional standpoint (such as India, Greater Asia, etc). The objective is to build a "talent pipeline" with all three perspectives, which according to Peters, "is done with same rigour that GE is famous for."
Answering the "nature v/s. nurture" question, as to how Indian employees fare as managers in a multi-cultural environment, Peters says that at Crotonville, the idea is always to try and teach skills, leadership and knowledge, the three of which are built into the total training effort. Every course at Crotonville has those elements to them, and they are fundamental to any course.
"We find that talent from India is exceptional in many ways," continued Peters, "including the intellectual capital in India that enables to perform exceeding well. India forms a huge part of the talent pipeline at GE, comprising a number of people within and originally from India. For example, until a year ago, we had Scott Damen, an American citizen in the role of national executive for India, who was replaced by Tejpreet Chopra, an example of excellent Indian talent."
Around 5,000 to 6,000 GE managers attend Crotonville classes each year. Explaining the selection process for attending a course at GE Crotonville, Peters points to the Session C process, which is the first step or the starting point for an employee's journey to Crotonville. The process is common to GE businesses worldwide, and it rolls up through the system.
Peters admits there is "higher demand" than the number of programmes at Crotonville. The HR review process, the Session C as GE knows it internally, ensures selection of the best talent by business, function and geography. It is, after all, an honour to go to Crotonville.
So do GE executives with "Crotonville" on the resume get poached faster? "GE people get poached quickly no matter what is on their resume," she laughs. "That is because of the depth and breadth of the GE experience," she adds.
Asked whether career paths originating in India lead to global destinations at GE, Peters says, "If you're interested and willing, the opportunities will be there. Time and attention is given to the development of deep expertise, and GE also ensures that it is followed by experience to give 'breadth'. After expertise come opportunities for experience to broaden prospects, scope, and vision, either in other businesses or in other part of the world. The reviews and discussions are per the global Session C process ensures that an Indian leader has an equal opportunity to get to higher levels anywhere within GE."
"The future is what you make of it" would be a one-line summary to that question. And with Crotonville as part of its leadership development programme, it is no wonder GE's business in India, along with its people, is set to go places. Continuing its leagacy, Crotonville serves as a powerful organisational force commissioning each GE employee with an important reminder: to never stop learning.