«Our goal is to become the best corporate university in the world
Director of the Corporate University of Russian Railways
It was 10 years ago when Russian Railways took the decision to found the Corporate University. That was the unique experience of creating the business education system in the company of more than 1 million employees in Russia and in the world. About the history of the university, its present and future – in the interview with its director Roman Baskin
- Good day, Roman! Please tell us about the first steps of the university.

- The starting line for our team was the course "Corporate Leader", which is still one of the key courses. Currently the portfolio of the University includes more than 200 programmes: from the core ones as the Corporate MBA, strategic sessions, workshops, forums to the specialized – designed for the main areas of Russian Railways activities.

The University continues to pursue the goals of its foundation, keeping pace with the times: to develop managers and to create the talent pool, capable to solve the strategic tasks of the industry.

Our navigator is the Model of Corporate Competencies of Russian Railways. It guides our learning to the requirements the company sets for its managers: strategic thinking, innovativeness, responsibility, care for the employees, working process arrangement.

The University value and its role in the company strategy implementation are constantly growing. The scope of our issues and the target audience have been expanding: we started with the higher management level of Russian Railways and now our attendees come from all management levels: from the senior executives to line leaders as well as promising experts and young talents. More than 270 000 executives have already become our graduates.

Our aim is to develop Russian Railways managers and create the talent pool, capable to solve the strategic tasks of the industry
- What is the University like today?

- The University is the unique, highly professional team that solves tasks of any complexity. The team includes experienced business coaches, professors, methodologists, psychologists, engineers, economists and marketing specialists. Many of them have working experience in the Russian Railways Holding, with a good understanding of the industry specifics and the scale of the Company's goals. Communication with Russian Railways divisions is very important for us. This allows having the keen sense of the pulse of real tasks. The vector of our development, new initiatives and projects are supported by Board Members of the Corporate University and its Chairman - Deputy General Director of JSC "Russian Railways" Dmitry S. Shakhanov.

Since its creation, the University's infrastructure has changed significantly and today it is the modern campus with the space for more than 400 people. The digital laboratory where the students can learn innovative technologies in practice has been created. Interactive video courses are held in the Augmented Reality Video Studio.

We are recognized in the professional environment and are the only one in Russia with a valid certificate of the Global Council of Corporate Universities (GlobalCCU). In addition, the University is the member of the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), which gives an open access to global training practices. At the same time, we actively share our experience with the companies that create universities.

- Roman, what is the University mission?

- Our mission is to motivate Russian Railways managers to evaluate the external environment and anticipate its Megatrends. We aim ourselves not just to follow the changes, but to stay ahead of them. The University should enrich the manager's tools in such a way as to solve the problems of the future today.

It goes without saying that all the managers should be engaged in the University programmes, but the maximum effectiveness of corporate education is achieved – and this is proved by the world experience - with the personal involvement and coordination of top management.

By the initiative of Oleg V. Belozyorov - General Director and Chairman of the Board of Russian Railways - the University is implementing the Master Club educational project in order to communicate explicitly the Holding strategy to all levels of management. This is a discussion platform where Russian Railways Board members meet with leading Russian and international experts in business, science, art, education and PR. The topics for regular discussions are Economic Development, Technology, Society and Worldwide Trends Understanding. For us, this is the opportunity of the regular conversation with the top executives and the way to reflect their, so to say, first-hand strategy vision in all our training programmes.
Presentation of the projects by the attendees of "Strategic management".
- What can the Corporate University offer the business today?

- We have both comprehensive educational solutions as well as projects for the tasks of Russian Railways divisions at our disposal. Our main product is the four-stage system of programmes for the talent pool. This is one of the foundations of the Russian Railways HR Strategy. These programmes are well known in the Company and encourage people to become accepted to them, many have undergone and are undergoing them now.

Today, we are updating its stages in accordance with the new Russian Railways Competencies Model. Certainly, we have started with the starting programme "Corporate Leader", transforming it into the new project – "Stage I. Competencies Management".

The following stages will also change: "Corporate Management", "Corporate Strategy" and "Strategic Management". They will be converted into the projects "Stage II. Performance management", "Stage III. Change Management", "Stage IV. Strategic Management". Keeping all the best, we will make them more interesting and modern.

In addition, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme was launched in 2018. It combines four stages, an international module on global business strategies and a graduate work on the innovative solutions implementation. The most successful graduates of talent pool development programmes attend it. This is our flagship project that meets all global MBA practices.

I must say that the main result of the talent pool programmes is not only the knowledge, but also a managerial portrait of the graduate based on performance ratings and, most importantly, the evaluation by the complex tool "Assessment Center", which the University owns. The growth of such estimates is our key KPI.

Successful journey of the certification of the Global Council of Corporate Universities (Global CCU), which is an international evidence of the quality of business education.
The Corporate University motivates Russian Railways managers to anticipate the Megatrends of the environment to be prepared to meet the challenges of the future today
- If the programmes change, so does their audience change?

- Sure, the changes have affected the target audience of the programmes. At present, all the managers have to pass the first stage – it has become mandatory for enrollment in the talent pool. And the best graduates of the previous stage of training go to the next stages. This is the educational trajectory for every member of the talent pool.

– You have mentioned the projects for the tasks of Russian Railways divisions. What are they like?

- The System of Talent Pool Development is supplemented by a powerful set of programmes to support new management tools. We work in contact with Russian Railways departments, branches and subsidiaries, helping to solve problems, specific to a particular area of railway transport such as: Digitalization, Process Approach, Traffic Safety Culture, Risk Management and Customer Orientation. This is a constantly updated list.

Strategic sessions for verticals and project teams managers have also become the popular product: they develop the business solutions in 1-2 days, which sometimes can take months. Another of our most important tasks is to take care of the future leaders. Large-scale projects as "Team 2030", "New Link" and "Leaders of Change" involve in the University circuit those young people who will come to our classrooms tomorrow as accomplished leaders.

We have both comprehensive educational solutions as well as projects for the tasks of Russian Railways divisions at our disposal
- Roman, it is obvious that successful work is impossible without a wide range of partners. Whom does the University interact with?

- As any high-status business school, we actively interact with academic partners: the Graduate School of Management SPbU (GSOM), the Higher School of Economics, the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO, Instituto de Empresa, Anglia Ruskin University, Knowledge Associates Cambridge and many others. Today, education cannot exist without such mutually enriching formats and a number of programmes in partnership with our colleagues are created.

Railway universities are important allies for us. Joint projects include line managers' training at the University programmes, annual "Top-100" forums for the best professors and projects for contract students. By the way, the project "Forums of Generations" implemented by the Corporate University in collaboration with the Infrastructure Business Unit of JSC "Russian Railways" and the railway universities received the prestigious international award in the competition "Excellence in Practice" of EFMD this year.

­- What priority is given to the cooperation with overseas partners? How are the contacts arranged here?

- The key task of the University is the cooperation with overseas partners of Russian Railways. We are expanding the study tours geography for Russian Railways employees and implementing interesting formats, such as the exchange of study groups with the railway companies of Finland and the Republic of Korea. The University "exports" programmes to the partner railway companies by conducting training in Mongolia and Armenia.

The pandemic conditions pushed us to the new initiatives. So the unique project - online forums with foreign transport companies was launched. We have already held five such events, attended by more than 100 specialists from 10 countries – from Japan to Spain and from Brazil to Australia. All of them have learned about the experience of Russian Railways in the field of Logistics, Infrastructure and HR projects.

We are sure that the Corporate University should not be confined to the company, but to cover the entire transport ecosystem: clients, business partners and regulators. This helps create end-to-end management teams to address common issues. We have successfully tested the "One Desk – One culture" format by training joint groups of the Heads of the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation, Russian Railways and "EVRAZ" Holding. The prospect of such programmes is undeniable and we are waiting for project proposals with key partners, including those in the regions.

The Corporate University should cover the entire transport ecosystem: clients, business partners and regulators
- Roman, we cannot ignore the topic of online learning. How does the University implement this training format and is it a serious competitor to full-time education?

The University is developing new learning formats, combining face-to-face and online technologies. The spring of 2020 has set us the task of temporarily switching to distance learning. We are convinced that online is not an absolute substitute for face-to-face format despite the rapidity and success of its solution.

Based on the world's educational systems and our own experience, we understand that the education system cannot exist only online and the key element of training, especially managerial training, is communication.

The organizational, technical and psychological aspects are among the online learning limitations. For example, how to organize the training in Central Russia and the Far East with a time difference of seven hours? How do I spend eight hours a day at the screen during the study week? We have faced the increase of psychological stress during a long-term work online for both professors and students. It takes more energy than a classical audience does. At the same time, online training requires expensive technical resources. In other words, there are many questions, but we understand that some of the best practices can be used even after the pandemic is over, and it is reasonable to combine them with full-time training.

The education system cannot exist only online and the key element of training, especially managerial training, is communication
Completion of the international module of the programme "Corporate MBA" at IE Business School (Spain)
- Will the number of students of the Russian Railways Corporate University programmes increase, taking into account online training?

- Today, the world is based on the general availability of knowledge and openness is the principle of the Corporate Culture of Russian Railways. Moreover, the training does not end after leaving the classroom. "Life-Long Learning" is not a fashionable term, but a real concept of knowledge in the modern society, which means that we must give knowledge not only to Russian Railways employees, but also broadcast it to the outside world.

By the way, this is what our social media strategy is aimed at. Great interest was aroused by the project "Knowledge.Live" – authors' mini-courses of University faculty on the acute topics: Financial Literacy, Stress Management, Emotional Intelligence, Thinking Traps. In short, welcome to the University's classrooms, including virtual ones. We are waiting for everyone!

- On the anniversary, it is a common practice to talk not only about what has already been done, but also to share plans for the future…

- We have large-scale development plans. It is impossible to list everything in the interview. Of course, this is the new infrastructure that meets innovative trends. Moreover, JSC "Russian Railways" actively supports us in this.

It is difficult to predict the subject of training at the turn of 3-5 years, but we are confident that, taking into account the speed of changes, the programmes will be radically updated.

The University will expand approaches to the talent pool development. Functional programmes will appear and the Company verticals will be able to form their own pool of high-potential managers, for example, in the field of Economics, Traffic Management, Infrastructure, Traction, IT and International Projects.

Certainly, we will expand the range of programmes to support digital transformation.

The educational project with the departure of leading Russian speakers to the Regional Railways will soon start. where master classes on key trends in Macro Environment, Innovative Solutions, Business Transformation Strategies and Digitalization Technologies will be held.

In 2020, the Corporate University of Russian Railways joined the TrainRail (International Rail Training and Education Board) under the auspices of the International Union of Railways (UIC). And our plans are to translate the programmes into English and make them more accessible in the professional environment.

Our main goal is to become the best Corporate University in the world! We have consciously set this ambitious goal for ourselves and have all the opportunities to achieve it. Our creative and friendly team is determined to win.