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Unleashing the Leadership Potential of Humanities and Social Sciences Graduates: The Case of Creative Management Program

Headquartered in Gutersloh, Germany, Bertelsmann is one of the largest conglomerates in the Germany employing over 115,000 workers. Apart from its global presence in media, services and education Bertelsmann is becoming increasingly famous for its unique corporate-level training program which is specifically tailored to graduates of humanities and social sciences. Unlike most management trainee programs that aim to attract business and engineering graduates, Bertelsmann tries to unlock the leadership potential of humanities students through its Creative Management Program (CMP). According to the founder and current coordinator of the CMP, Dr. Nico Rose, it is the first program of its kind, at least in Germany. The idea is to improve the dynamism of the organization and boost its creative potential by bringing a diversity of perspectives into the decision making process.

The design of the CMP is an outcome of a number of interrelated factors. First and foremost, the recruitment of humanities and social science graduates has been a long standing practice of Bertelsmann. This is clearly reflected in the skill portfolio of the current leadership. What’s more, humanities scholars and their story telling competence is greatly valued by an organization such as Bertelsmann that operates in the media sector. Lastly, Bertelsmann aims to revitalize its global presence by recruiting young and passionate graduates that have a holistic understanding of its operations.

The program

CMP is a comprehensive program that lasts for 20 months, divided into four 5-month periods. Trainees spend each period in different sections of Bertelsmann’s core operations. The idea is to give trainees a broader understanding of Bertelsmann’s operations. The coordinator of CMP Dr. Rose describes this “helicopter view” very essential for a decentralized conglomerate such as Bertelsmann that has diversified but interconnected operations.

In addition to their stay in the different divisions of the organization and their possible participation in ongoing projects, the trainees get involved in structured learning sessions such as boot camps, seminars, enablement courses and career coaching opportunities. They can also make use of the very rich online learning content provided by Bertelsmann. In some instances, it is also possible for trainees to request specific trainings in areas they need improvement.

Entry to the program is extremely competitive. In that only 5 trainees are selected from an applicant pool of 700 graduates. Applicants go through a rigorous process that includes online tests, online interviews and finally face to face interviews. This ensures only high-caliber applicants are selected.

Challenges and opportunities

As often is the case with large conglomerates such as Bertelsmann, the existence of excessive procedures was mentioned as a challenge by Dr. Rose. This is in fact reflected in the very limited (i.e. 5 trainees) accepted in to the traineeship.

In terms of opportunity, the fact that the design of the program resonates with the global brand of Bertelsmann as a very attractive place for graduates of humanities and social sciences can be mentioned. Secondly, since the program is attracting a large number of applications among women, it has a potential to promote female leadership. Lastly, yet another remarkable feature of CMP refers to the fact that trainees have to navigate the many divisions of the company, having a more strategic view of the business. According to Dr. Rose, this is rare in Bertelsmann, where in the past most employees stay practically their whole career within their own divisions or business units.

The early success of the program has prompted its possible expansion in other HEIs in Germany. According to the coordinator of the program, several institutions have expressed their interest to learn about it. The program has also achieved great media coverage by some of Germany’s major media outlets such as Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

This article is based on a case study originally written by Andre Perusso (Münster University of Applied Sciences), developed as part of the WEXHE Project. This and other 80 + case studies from across Europe will be made available in the project website soon. For more information on WEXHE, please visit

Image Credit: Steffen Krinke, Bertelsmann Unternehmenskommunikation

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