Comcast University is a school within a company-Comcast Cable, the third-largest cable operator in the United States, to be exact-designed to provide continuity and support to an executive base that is as diverse and rapidly expanding as the Philadelphia-based company.
Nearly two-thirds of the company’s executives are newcomers from the cable systems Comcast has acquired through outright purchases or swaps over the past two years. The company said the university helps to ensure “there is no digital divide” among its 18,000 employees, who can translate their work experience into college credits.
Executive Vice President Steve Burke oversees Comcast University as well as the company’s new digital cable services.
EM: What was the genesis of Comcast University?
Mr. Burke: Jack Welch and GE were a real source of inspiration. The McDonald’s Corp. also has one. The idea of having a corporate university isn’t new. But the cable industry is in transition with all the trades and swaps. So many cable employees are working now for companies that are different than the ones they were working for two years ago because there has been so much consolidation. It’s an industry in which every job function … is different now and will be different in the future because of the new technology and products.
You bundle all that together, and we felt that it was important that if we’re trying to change our company and make it different than it has been, that we put our money on the line with a training process that we call Comcast University.
EM: When did you launch the university?
Mr. Burke: We opened it at the end of 1999. We’ve trained about 1,500 people. We have three or four training programs in Philadelphia. Each one of our systems has a branch. About 500 of the people trained have been first-line managers and the rest directors and vice presidents.
EM: Is it true that 60 percent of your executives are new to the company within the past two years?
Mr. Burke: That’s true. That’s a function of starting with 4.5 million subscribers and ending up, after swaps next month, with 8.5 million. Along the way, we traded out about 1 million. So about 60 percent of our subscriber base will be new to the company.
EM: So that alone makes this training program more valuable?
Mr. Burke: Right. We went out in the spring of 1999 and developed the Comcast credo, or a mission statement, because we were growing organically so quickly we wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page. That’s how you create a common culture in a company that is growing as fast as we are.
EM: Is your management development program different?
Mr. Burke: It’s called `The Spirit of Comcast,’ and it’s three days long.
We want to maintain a decentralized management that allows strong local management to make decisions. We’re finding that this training works well with a decentralized philosophy. Once people understand what is important to the company, they feel more comfortable making decisions on their own.
There are 100 senior executives who make Comcast cable work well. A lot of the new ideas we’re pursuing in marketing new products have come out of the university. We sell about 40 percent of our digital product when someone calls for an installation. A lot of the tricks of the trade are picked up from one system and exported to other systems.
EM: Has this training helped on the service side of the business?
Mr. Burke: We’ve seen a significant improvement over the last 12 months in all of our customer-service statistics-like a rise in the percentage of calls that are answered within the first 30 seconds. When you think of the tens of millions of calls we get a year, that’s a significant change. We see similar improvements on the technical side.