Unlike most college campus presidents, Robert Peterson doesn’t have a background in academia. He’s spent more than 30 years in the private sector working for Squire Sanders, EY, Park Corp. and I-X Center Corp. When Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College, went looking for a new president in 2012, however, that’s exactly the kind of experience it was looking for.
“The college had decided to recruit somebody with business experience,” says Peterson, who assumed the role of president and CEO of Corporate College in October 2012. “That was a great decision, because we are effectively a consulting practice dealing with businesses and providing solutions.”
Corporate College offers training and solutions in areas such as organizational effectiveness — leadership training, team building, change management, supervisor training and executive coaching — quality and continuous improvement programs — Lean Six Sigma, ISO 9000 and OSHA — and IT training.
“When it comes to curriculum, we have to look at the needs of the business community and make sure we have curriculum that addresses those needs,” Peterson says. “There is no need for a course that’s not in demand.”
While Corporate College has been a world-class provider of these services for some time now, it hasn’t put much effort into marketing itself and leveraging the successes it has had. But all that’s changing.
Here’s how Peterson has been using his business experience in the world of academia to further Corporate College’s aspirations.
Utilize your background
While Corporate College is affiliated with Cuyahoga Community College and offers training courses, the college acts more like a consultancy than an academic institution. Having a business background has helped Peterson grow Corporate College and better understand its customers.
“When you’re working across diverse industries, you learn a lot about business,” Peterson says. “That perspective is very helpful in dealing with the business community in Northeast Ohio. Secondly, I’m from the business community. I walked the walk and talked the talk. I understand the situations that they’re in.
“Thirdly, I understand that businesses need to move at the speed of light and that they need a solution that works well.”
That mentality is different than the typical academic environment where fall semester starts Aug. 28 and that’s when everyone starts working.
“When you’re dealing with a business, you have to be quick, nimble and responsive,” he says. “You also have to be a good listener. You can’t act like you’re the expert and you know everything. Businesses don’t want someone who is going to tell them how much they know. They want somebody who is going to listen and provide a solution, and that’s the dimension that I bring.”
In Peterson’s first nine months at Corporate College, he had the opportunity to recruit people to his team. He did so by filling openings with people that had private sector experience.
“That allowed me to assemble my own team,” he says. “We’ve got a good blend of college professionals, but bringing in private sector people adds to the ability to understand the needs of the business and respond quickly.”
Develop a strategy
Peterson’s strategy since arriving has been to make Corporate College the No. 1 provider of corporate training services and solutions in Northeast Ohio. To achieve this, his first step was to increase Corporate College’s visibility throughout the region.
“When I came in, Corporate College had not been very good at marketing itself,” Peterson says. “Brand awareness and brand identification really weren’t there. The accolades and the reviews of what we do are off the Richter scale. However, colleges aren’t used to marketing themselves to businesses. They are used to marketing themselves to teenagers.”
Peterson and his team developed a strategic marketing plan and looked at everything Corporate College had done historically. They also needed to identify where to take the college in order to create a road map for the future.
“Historically, Corporate College divorced itself from Cuyahoga Community College,” he says. “Nobody knew they were affiliated. I however, feel that Cuyahoga Community College is our strongest asset that helps us sell Corporate College.
“I can call any CEO in town and tell them I’m from Corporate College, and I have a hard time getting through. If I call and say I’m from Cuyahoga Community College, I get a return phone call. Cuyahoga Community College has a stellar reputation in Northeast Ohio.”
Due to that reputation, Peterson decided co-branding Corporate College and Cuyahoga Community College was the right solution.
“I’m proud to say I’m a part of Cuyahoga Community College,” he says. “If I relate myself to Cuyahoga Community College, it’s a much easier sell than if I distance myself from it.”
Leverage your strengths
Now that Peterson has built a strong team around him and put more emphasis on marketing Corporate College’s offerings to businesses, he can focus on the most important aspect — the training curriculum.
“As a college, we’re not necessarily profit-motivated, not that we want to lose money doing what we’re doing, but it’s more important for us to do the right thing and make sure that our solution is the right one,” Peterson says. “I’d rather not sell training to you if it’s not going to fix your problem. We’re there to design and sell a solution that specifically addresses your needs in the workplace.”
Corporate College does that through two means — one is traditional open enrollment through a course catalog, and the other is to deliver a customized training program.
“When it comes to curriculum, we can either design it ourselves, or we can go to a third party curriculum content provider, and we can license it from them,” he says. “If we do a lot of training in a certain area, it’s more cost effective for us to make the upfront investment, design the curriculum and own it so we don’t have to license it each time.
“If it’s training that we only do from time to time, it’s more cost-effective to go to a quality third party. That brings credibility to Corporate College and provides world-class training for our customers. I’m always looking for opportunities to partner with first-class content providers to bring best-in-class solutions to Corporate College.”
At the end of the day, what’s important to Peterson is to continue to find ways to make Corporate College a better solutions provider to Northeast Ohio businesses.
“If businesses don’t have trained employees, one of two things is going to happen: They’re either going to fail and go under, or relocate and move to where the skilled workforce is,” he says. “We’re part of the business retention efforts of Northeast Ohio. Our sole purpose in life is to make businesses successful.” ●
How to reach: Corporate College, (216) 987-2800 or www.corporatecollege.com