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Thursday, November 06, 2008, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

Apple University may serve as internal MBA program

Apple University may serve as the company's internal MBA program as part of a training and development division, mirroring aspects of a similar program that developed at Pixar.

Apple University

The new program is set to begin early next year under the direction of Joel Podolny, who Apple hired away from Yale University's School of Management last month. Podolny served as the dean for Yale's business school, and will now act as the dean for Apple's own university program, according to a retirement letter from Yale president Richard Levin published last month.

According to one person who claims to be familiar with the matter, Apple University is "intended broadly as an HR type function for developing leadership and other required skills and knowledge within the organization. The Cupertino-based company's existing Learning & Development organization is slated to be folded into the new program, that person said.

Having an internal MBA program is apparently not unique among large companies, but Apple's program appears to be larger in scope. A possible connection between the new school and Apple's existing iTunes University, which serves up educational content to the public, would offer the potential for the new program to "be a case study for selling the concept if it is used extensively internally."

Pixar University

Pixar, a company founded by Steve Jobs and later sold to Disney, developed a similar program for employee education and training. One intern who participated in the program told AppleInsider, "I interned at Pixar in 2005 and one thing that impacts employers on weekly basis (announcements of all sorts of fun and interesting opportunities) is Pixar University."

Both employees and interns benefited from the training the former Pixar intern added, saying that "even the security guard joined us to learn the tool chain."

"Technical Director interns spend a week learning Menv (or "Marionette" as marketing calls it) and Animation Interns spend an additional 3 weeks at PU animating. New Tools coming out of the Tools department are taught to the main Instructor and he in turn teaches classes for the rest of Pixar: anyone interested, or in certain situations, required for their job."

The source intern went on to say that "Pixar University also includes art classes, life drawing opportunities (typically at lunch for sketching, evening or weekends for longer painting opportunities), pilates and yoga classes" as well as "community outreach and tutoring programs around Emeryville [California]," where Pixar is located.

Pixar's program also reportedly helps "organize other educational opportunities, like bringing lecturers or artists to talk about their work."

"Obviously Steve Jobs knows about this concept," the former Pixar intern said, "but I wonder if he finally decided to tie together and probably expand a lot of separate parts of employee enrichment at Apple much like they have at Pixar under the University banner with a dean; in Pixar's case, Dean Randy Nelson. Wouldn't be at all shocked if Apple mirrored Pixar's healthy and successful model."

In 2006, Nelson was interviewed by the New York Times on the use of Pixar University to organize talented people to do their best work.

"The problem with the Hollywood model is that it's generally the day you wrap production that you realize you've finally figured out how to work together," he said. "We've made the leap from an idea-centered business to a people-centered business. Instead of developing ideas, we develop people. Instead of investing in ideas, we invest in people. We're trying to create a culture of learning, filled with lifelong learners. It's no trick for talented people to be interesting, but it's a gift to be interested. We want an organization filled with interested people."