- Corporate universities (CUs) have been in existence in the United States since the early 1900s. They are increasingly providing educational and developmental opportunities for workers; however, there is little empirical research on these types of organizations. This study examined a specific electrical distributor's CU using a theoretical framework as a guide. Specifically, the purpose of the study was to identify the operational factors of an existing electrical wholesale distributor's corporate university that has been in continual operations for 27 years. With that purpose in mind, the following are the major research questions:
• What is the history of this particular CU?
• What are the operational factors associated with this particular CU?
The study took place in the CU of a regional electrical wholesale distributor based in the Pacific Northwest. A total of 62 participants consisting of (59) company employees and (3) outsourced vendors contributed to interviews and classroom observations during late 2014 and early 2015. The design of the study was a bounded case study, as described by Yin (2009).
The research findings were based on the following data sources: direct observation of the study site, interviews, classroom observations, and review of documents, and artifacts. Because of the potential issue of conflict of interest, an external person undertook the interviews and
observations. The review and analysis of these materials included 266 pages of transcribed and coded interview and observation notes. Data soundness was ensured by following three procedures: (a) triangulation with other participants and other data collection, (b) member checking with participants, and (c) external audit with a peer researcher.
Three themes emerged from the study:
• Factors that were consistent with Abel's conceptual framework for defining CUs. These included the confirmation of Abel's four profiles. The profiles are: (a) the organizational profile describing factors of a CU's mission and strategies, governance and leadership, stage of development, size, and years in existence; (b) the learning delivery profile describing factors of a CU's curriculum offerings, learner population, evaluation and measurement processes; (c) the operational profile describing factors of a CU's financing sources, technology usage and implementation; and (d) finally, the partnership profile describing factors of a CU's relationship with other internal business units, human resources, academia, and outsourcing.
• Factors that were not consistent with Abel's conceptual framework for defining CUs. These included: (a) the sales revenue model; (b) the partnerships with community colleges; (c) the partnership with sales and marketing, and (d) the tuition reimbursement model.
• New factors and profiles that were discovered. These included: (a) new profile of leaders-as-teachers, and five new factors: (i) partnerships with vendors; (ii) partnerships with outside organizations ; (iii) use of course prerequisites ; (iv) timing of required training, and (v) the integrated systems model.
This study contributed to the limited body of knowledge about corporate university operations by confirming portions of the theoretical framework and by expanding it, with the addition of one new profile and five new operational factors. Furthermore, it identified some practical implications of the work and suggested areas for future research.