M 23 MNGT 5590 Webster University Dr. Reid
Case M23: Excellence in Corporate Training
EXCEL Learning, Inc. was founded in 1988 by Dan Robinson, a renowned author and seminar speaker.
Dan teamed up with Jim Irwin, also a corporate consultant with skills in business management. Dan
developed his book and seminar topics into several marketable training products, which were packaged
into 2 and 3 day workshops, including participant workbooks, trainer guides and PowerPoint
presentations. Dan’s reputation in the corporate marketplace guaranteed initial acceptance of his
training products by corporate clients.
Dan selected Jim, a former CEO, consultant and old friend as a partner because they shared strong
values of customer service and the influence that training can have on empowering one’s workforce.
Jim’s role was to create a marketing plan, recruit trainers, and generally run the business. EXCEL
launched its business with Jim as President and Dan as Senior Vice President, hiring 10 affiliate
consultants as part-time, sub-contractors to deliver training seminars. In a week-long retreat, Jim and
Dan oriented the new consultants to all training products and began scheduling seminars with groups
from Dan’s client companies. Dan was pleased with Jim’s ability to articulate their shared vision of
service and to strongly communicate the need for consistency in operating from this shared vision in all
of their training services.
During the first year, Dan and the affiliates had a full schedule and the company was very successful.
Jim and Dan wanted to keep the company small, so only a few new affiliates were added to handle
additional clients. Jim handled all the scheduling, finances, and supervision of consultants in the field.
Dan agreed that Jim would have complete control over hiring and managing client relations – this was
made clear during the orientation and subsequent meetings with the consultants. Jim would have
phone conversations with each consultant on a regular basis to initiate client contact and to debrief
training events, often relating client comments on the consultants’ performance. Often, these
conversations would be late in the evening, and usually Jim would have had a few glasses of wine before
he made calls. In discussions with some of the senior consultants, Dan heard about some of these
conversations and was concerned. Cheryl, an accomplished trainer and old friend of Dan, related that
Jim had been especially harsh with her about a recent training event and client complaint, insisting that
she admit fault. She had since had a conversation with the client and the client was satisfied, even
requested that she be the lead trainer for another group. As Dan co-trained with other affiliate
consultants, he heard stories of similar, late evening conversations and an all-too-consistent pattern of
intimidation with consultants. Some of the younger affiliates seemed to actually appreciate the
“coaching,” (Rob Sites, for example, stated “Jim is tough, but he has helped me grow to become a better
trainer. I appreciate that.” The more experienced consultants, however, were resenting the treatment.
Even though the consultants were part-time affiliates and sub-contractors (working a maximum of 100
days per year), Dan wanted them to feel like partners in the business, with considerable control over
exercising judgment with clients.
One evening, over dinner, Dan and Jim were discussing business plans and some overseas training
requested by a corporate client. Jim recommended a team of consultants to follow Dan who would
launch the training series. Dan confronted Jim about his manner with two of those consultants, who
M 23 MNGT 5590 Webster University Dr. Reid
had mentioned their treatment from Jim. Jim at first blew off the concern, but then became angry as
Dan discussed the potential of losing some of their best consultants. (Jim) “Do you want me to run the
business or not? You know you are just too soft to manage these people. I know our clients and I know
what they want from the consultants.” Dan agreed, sort of, but asked Jim to trust the consultants a little
more. “You know some of our people are very experienced and the clients are not always right.”
Several weeks passed, the training in UK had gone well. Dan had launched the first day’s training and
left Cheryl to lead the remaining sessions with two other consultants. Dan and Jim followed the training
with a conference call with the VP of European Operations who was very pleased with the results. Then
Dan received a call from Cheryl – she was in tears and was announcing her resignation. She had just
finished a difficult conversation with Jim the night before where he had raked her over the coals for
being too soft with the finance group in London. (Jim) “They didn’t hire us to hold their hands, you
know, they hired us to kick butt! You really blew it. “ Dan begged her to calm down and he would talk
to Jim. Cheryl said she would not reconsider and thanked Dan for his kindness.
1) Analyze this case using models and principles from Organizational Behavior/Management.
Describe the players, their styles/behaviors and relationships.
2) What is your recommendation to Dan, the primary stakeholder and person responsible for the
business? Include your rationale.