Aligning Learning with Business Priorities

September 23, 2019

by Lini S. Kadaba

Back in 2004, learning leader Robert “Bob” Demare, GRD’14, was in the Czech Republic running his newly estab­lished employee coaching company when he says he caught a lucky break. Courier company DHL was consolidating its Euro­pean information technology operations and opening new headquarters in his backyard of Prague.

“I got a contract to join a team working to induct a thou­sand employees,” says Demare, originally from London, On­tario. His work training DHL’s staff opened up the opportunity for a management position in 2006. As he worked to maxi­mize professional learning for DHL’s information technology staff, Demare was savvy enough to realize it was time to invest in further learning of his own. He gained the company’s support to pursue a Penn GSE doctorate in the executive-format Penn­CLO (Chief Learning Officer) program.

Robert “Bob” Demare, GRD’14 (Photo by Tommaso Cappelli)

Demare chose the PennCLO program, considered a first-of-its-kind, for its focus on learning in the workplace. “It was about aligning learning with business priorities,” Demare says.

PennCLO students continue working as leaders and execu­tives while pursuing the degree, attending weeklong inten­sive sessions on campus. They learn how to shape learning in professional environments by creating new models of em­ployee education, communicating among different cultural groups, and making data-driven decisions—all increasingly important skills in a knowledge economy. For his thesis, Demare tackled a challenge he faced at work—capability building for managers of large projects in technology orga­nizations. His work with senior leaders at DHL helped drive the company’s efforts to improve employee engagement.

“I’d go to Penn and get this strategic learning inoculation every few months,” he says. “I’d come back and be so much more on my goal. It grew my confidence.” Just as valuable, he adds, was his cohort of classmates, a network that he contin­ues to rely on.

“I’d go to Penn and get this strategic learning inoculation every few months. I’d come back and be so much more on my goal. It grew my confidence.”

After a stretch at technology company Honeywell, also in Prague, Demare moved in late 2018 to his current position as global head of functional development at the Copenhagen headquarters of shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk. At Hon­eywell, Demare led a team based in Asia, Latin America, and Europe and developed company-wide learning programs to improve business performance in emerging markets. At A.P. Moller-Maersk, his focus is on capability development for corporate functions such as information technology, human resources, and finance. Demare is taking an anthropological view of company culture in order to come up with profes­sional development programs.

“I’m observing these little, interesting things you see in a company, like the way people conduct meetings,” he says. It is a skill he learned at Penn GSE. As in his other jobs, Demare trusts that his Penn GSE background will open up new horizons. “I expect it will lead me to think of ways to approach learning that I never would have before,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of The Penn GSE Magazine.