On November 28, the Institute for Corporate Productivity announced its arrival, saying it had agreed to buy the assets of the Human Resource Institute. HRI is a not-for-profit organization dating to 1965, with offices in St. Petersburg, Florida, and more than 100 corporate clients.
The new for-profit institute was founded by HR industry veterans Kevin Oakes, Debbie McGrath and Jay Jamrog. Oakes, former president of learning management vendor SumTotal Systems and current chairman of the American Society for Training & Development, a professional group, is the new institute’s CEO. McGrath, founder of the Web site HR.com, is the institute’s chair. Jamrog, the current executive director of HRI, will serve as the new firm’s senior vice president of research.
The company has four primary offerings: research, community, tools and technology. In its materials, it reduces its formal name to the slangy acronym I4CP, and even Oakes acknowledges that the nickname conjures up memories of "Star Wars" robot C-3PO. But the company’s goal is a serious one: better productivity.
There is a lot of talk in the industry about managing human capital and human resources, or managing talent, Oakes said in a statement.
"These terms are really only a means to an end—the end being improved productivity. That’s why we chose the name the Institute for Corporate Productivity, to signify clearly what we feel is most important to senior leaders."
Jim Walker, a human resources consultant in La Jolla, California, said the new firm has a sound foundation in HRI.
"I’ve always thought very highly of the HR Institute," he says. "I’m sure this is building something better."
Walker, who has spoken at an HRI conference, speculated that the new institute may explore alternatives to in-person conferences, such as webcasts. A challenge to the new organization and existing ones is HR leaders’ reticence to travel, he says.
"It’s getting increasingly hard to get people away from their offices to get to meetings," he says.
The new organization will emphasize connecting people through the Internet, Jamrog says. In addition to event webcasts, the new institute plans to establish blogs and "wikis," or sites where community members can contribute ideas on different topics.
Traditional conferences will still be part of the mix. The institute plans to formally launch its new products and services at a February conference in Florida featuring speakers like Coleman Peterson, a consultant who once was head of HR at Wal-Mart.
Oakes sees research groups like the Corporate Executive Board and the Conference Board as rivals to the new institute. He says I4CP will stand out by offering practical tools for taking action on research results, such as a calculator for determining the financial impact of a low retention rate and online guides to improve retention and monitor progress toward that goal.
The new firm plans to charge corporate customers annual subscription fees. Oakes declined to provide a range for the fees, saying prices will vary based on the products and services selected. "We feel quite comfortable that our pricing is very reasonable when compared to other competitors," he says.
For-profit status, Oakes says, will allow the institute to raise venture money and fuel the group’s expansion. In the short run, I4CP will rely on HR.com for help with operations, such as marketing and finances. The new company’s headquarters will be in Seattle, where Oakes lives. The research arm will remain in Florida. Oakes says he can’t provide a figure for the price of HRI’s assets because he does not have a final assessment of the purchase.
HRI has 22 full-time staffers involved in research. It produces about 2,500 pages of original research per year and provides clients with access to another 7,500 pages of external research it collects and validates, Jamrog and Oakes say. HRI has relied on selling annual subscriptions for its research services to major companies, including 3M, American Express and Johnson & Johnson. Traditionally, HRI has not sought money from HR industry vendors. The new organization plans to seek vendor sponsorship for areas of research, but intends to retain its objective stance, Jamrog says.
The shift, he says, relates to the way corporate HR department budgets have shrunk in recent years. Companies are more value-conscious, Jamrog says, and want practical guidance in addition to pure research.
"They need more than just what I used to do," he says.