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Dell Develops Global Finance Team through Mix of Online and On-Site Learning

Dell maintains a robust, global intern program from which it recruits up to 70 percent of its entry-level employees. Historically, the company hires non-MBA graduates, preferring to identify promising, self-starting undergrads through its intern program and train them in-house with the financial business acumen they need to mature into business leaders. Precipitated by Brian Gladden’s arrival in 2008 as chief financial officer, Dell embarked on an ambitious effort to create a more robust development roster at various experience tiers. It would enhance Dell’s existing mid-level financial education program, which was originally introduced in 2002, and add two new programs at the entry and rising executive level.


Dell worked with TRI to develop simulations and build curriculum for programs at three educational tiers: the new, entry-level Financial Development Program; the existing Financial Rotation Program for those with five to nine years of experience; and the new Global Financial Excellence Program for employees of 10 or more years who are crossing the executive threshold.

While other global organizations opt to conduct educational programs either online or in regional classroom settings, Dell chose a combination of the two to deliver its curriculum—an approach unique to the Austin-based company. It is also one with distinct advantages, as tomorrow’s leaders learn to work both virtually and face-to-face to make challenging business decisions, according to TRI founder Tom Conine.

On the recommendation of Gladden, who had crossed paths with Conine earlier in his career at GE Crotonville, Alicia Davis, Dell’s director of global finance learning and development, brought in TRI to help structure the third and most advanced of the programs, the GFEP. Since that initial assignment, TRI’s role has expanded to include the development of simulations and curriculum for all three educational tiers.

Within each program, TRI simulations require teams make real-world business decisions on behalf of a hypothetical company. The simulations are based on off-the-shelf TRI products that have been tailored to Dell’s needs by introducing vignettes that mirror actual challenges in the organization’s history, from supply shortages to navigating the economic crisis, as well as terminology specific to Dell and the tech industry.

Conducted in a combination of virtual and live settings, the simulations are highly competitive and grow increasingly complex with each level. Participants must take into consideration a host of issues related to Dell’s business, from pricing, production and cost to new products and market direction. New challenges are introduced as the simulation progresses, forcing teams to perform, as they would in the real world, within a set of rapidly changing circumstances.

The virtual component of the simulations is delivered primarily by conference call, connecting participants from around the world. Videoconferencing, facilitated by Adobe Connect and conducted from Dell’s purpose-built videoconferencing rooms, is introduced at key points within the process.

Financial Development Program: This two-year program is designed for Dell’s global network of recent undergrads and provides an opportunity to launch a career in finance. The focus is on Dell’s core competencies, which include financial and business acumen, controllership and critical thinking. Participants rotate into four different global finance assignments, each lasting six months.

“We initially contracted with TRI to create a simulation for the third semester of the FDP,” said Davis. “After that, we circled back to streamline the entire course.” As a result, TRI is the primary builder for the FDP from a curriculum standpoint as well.

Financial Rotation Program: This mid-level program targets those with seven or more years of work experience, at least one year of that at Dell. It addresses the same competencies as the FDP but at a more advanced level, focusing on strategic thinking and advanced business acumen. Participants develop effective leadership qualities through three consecutive one-year assignments that can include a non-local country assignment. They gain key skills and experiences in various aspects of the Dell organization and are exposed to a variety of leadership styles through executive mentoring relationships. At the FRP level, TRI runs a simulation and conducts live meetings on topics ranging from TRI business equations to critical thinking skill development, understanding global change and being able to assess an M&A target.

Global Finance Excellence Program: Dell’s highest-level program, tailored to management-level team members, is focused on developing advanced finance skills of a technical nature. For 18 months, participants receive complex training modules to enhance their critical thinking and analytical skills, preparing them for future leadership positions. The GFEP contains elements of executive leadership training, strategic thinking activities, and an extremely challenging simulation in which participants take on the role of CFO or CMO of their organization. The simulation focuses on meeting commitments and risk management in order to prepare participants for executive leadership. They are challenged to consider the ramifications of various decision paths, leading to the recognition, according to Davis, “that when they lead a team at that level, they need to heighten their decision-making.”


Dell’s significant and ongoing focus on financial staff development has shaped a corporate culture in which its executives focus on building long-term careers within the organization versus using their experience as a stepping stone to outside opportunities. This has fostered stability and created an exceptionally strong leadership bench for Dell. The company has also benefited from greater consistency throughout its organizations in the tools used to measure financial results.

Of the simulations in particular, the combination of virtual and face-to-face learning has proven to prepare Dell’s future leaders well for the realities of managing teams who are scattered across the globe. In addition, participants have learned to be effective managers in stressful situations, reports Davis. “All have realized various aspects of finance where they have an opportunity to improve. It moves them and their thinking to the next level.”

Davis points to a collateral benefit as well. “Even though teaming and collaboration are not called out as a program objective, participants learn a lot about themselves and how they treat other team managers.”

“Feedback from participants,” she adds, “has been glowingly positive."


Dell Develops Global Finance Team through Mix of Online and On-Site Learning

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