One day in 2016, after a solid 25 years spent retooling and reinvigorating franchises for real estate corporations and tutoring pioneers, Bob Muir went back to school.
Since then, the “retired” businessman has been singing the praises of Howard Community College’s Customized Business Training program, a best-kept-secret that would be poised to make a tremendous impact, if it hadn’t done so already.
Luckily, Bob knows a thing or two about introducing an already phenomenal idea to a broader audience.
A while back, Bob ran a real estate brokerage business in downtown Boston, through which he became intertwined with a little outfit known as Century 21. At the time, the company operated 7,500 units worldwide. Bob became responsible for building out a nationwide franchise system from the company’s headquarters in Southern California.
Years later, he was approached by a pair of Columbia, Maryland-based entrepreneurs, who had recently purchased a burgeoning tutoring company called Sylvan Learning Systems. The new owners had a distinct vision for Sylvan’s future, but knew little about franchising.
For 13 years, he helped the Sylvan team grow their business, serving as a senior vice president of operations and vice president of marketing, and ultimately as the senior vice president of international development. Bob relocated to Europe for that role, touring France, England, Spain, and Germany, and helping the company expand its reach.
When that journey reached its end, and in desperate need of a breather, Bob returned to the states, and Columbia, consulting with franchisees and aiding a wealth of contacts he had developed throughout the years.
“My wife, Rosemary, had worked with the Community College for a number of years,” Bob recalls. “She said, ‘Why don’t you come and teach – be part of the adjunct faculty in the business department?”
At Howard Community College, he developed a course in sales, and taught another in international business. He enjoyed working with young people and sharing the expertise he had accumulated throughout his career.
In 2016, some of Bob’s HCC colleagues approached him with an eye-opening proposal.
“They said, ‘We’ve got something we think you might be interested in. We think you’d be right for this.”
For well over two decades, the college had quietly been providing customized training to local businesses, government agencies, and organizations. Courses were built from the ground up – sometimes using faculty, but most often bringing outside subject matter experts and trainers on board to help clients meet specific goals.
Bob was floored. He had no idea that such a great service existed in Howard County. Admittedly, few did. The success of the program to that point had been garnered by word of mouth, and the time had come to take a more proactive stance and spread the news. Bob, with his business background and social nature, was a perfect fit.
He got to work.
Typically, Bob says, organizations have not considered “specific” training objectives when they approach the college.
“They know that they want ‘improved performance,’ but have not determined what needs to happen to reach that goal. In talking to them, we get a sense of what they’re trying to accomplish, so we actually have an objective in mind.”
Today, the Customized Business Training program has assembled a sizeable client roster that includes the Department of Defense and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, as well as local, private sector companies like network security firm Tenable Network Security and the Baltimore-based HQ of international jewelry retailer Pandora Jewelry, LLC.
At HCC, these customized training services are delivered as part of the Charles I. Ecker Business Training Center, which serves as both a physical training facility and the moniker under which the college provides customized training to the business community.
Recent work has ranged from smaller jobs – such as assisting the nonprofit Leadership Howard County with Microsoft Outlook efficiency – to huge campaigns, like the 21-course, frontline supervisor training program it developed for a major government defense contractor.
Clients are not required to visit the college’s main campus to access training. Classes can be carried out on-location at the client’s place of operation or at the business training center on Columbia Gateway Drive, which caters to both local and out-of-town clients. Some clients, Bob notes, prefer that their employees be trained away from their offices in an effort to minimize disruption. The center is outfitted with Internet access, state-of-the-art equipment, conference- and classrooms, and five computer labs.
Recent response to the program has been universally positive.
“We are in year 4 of a 5 year contract and the overall management of the contract by this [Business Training Center] has been beyond compare,” wrote a representative for a Department of Defense contracting officer. “They have demonstrated, time and time again, their desire to exceed all performance expectations. We’ve thrown several challenges at them since year one that were not anticipated by either party and they have consistently, 100% of the time, met or exceeded our expectations with each one.”
Such high praise provides validation and further incentive to reach out to the business community.
“Obviously, we’d like to get new clients who are looking for help through training. And we’d also like to build a deeper, more collaborative relationship with the clients we’re working with now,” Bob says. “We’re hoping that we can provide even more resources to help them achieve whatever their goals may be.”
To that end, the program is planning to expand into coaching and consulting avenues, supplementing what its clients have learned and enabling them to employ it more productively in the workplace.
“Local residents already know first-hand that HCC is bursting with educational, job training, and personal enrichment opportunities for our Howard County community,” Bob says. “What is just starting to be known are the customized training and consulting resources that are available from the college for local businesses, organizations, and government agencies.”
Overwhelmingly, he says, people are astounded when they discover that the college has offered such services for so long.
“What is unique is that an academic institution reaches beyond its walls to engage subject matter experts and instructional designers to bring state of the art training and resources to the business community,” he says.
“Delivering employee training is not the goal… improved employee performance is the measure of our effectiveness,” Bob continues. “Organizations invest in training and development in the areas that are vital to their success and competitiveness.”
At HCC, the opportunities to succeed are virtually endless.