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The Olympus Fellows Program: Training Tomorrow’s Leaders

As organizations replace millions of retiring Baby Boomers, it’s crucial they develop training programs that position talented new workforce entrants to build careers and assume leadership roles. At Olympus, our experience shows these hires will develop deep relationships and are very likely to repay that sense of ownership with long-term careers to deliver our next generation of leadership.

The Olympus Fellows Program, launched in 2004, is a full-time, benefits-eligible, two-year rotational professional development program that encourages recent graduates from prestigious colleges and universities to pursue careers with Olympus. We believe organizations without formal programs also can achieve a lot by initiating key training elements important to this employee demographic.

What Is the Olympus Fellows Program?

Founded by President and CEO Mark Gumz and other senior managers, the program provides practical, hands-on, skills-based training that new college graduates need to succeed and grow. A rigorous application process focuses on cultural fit and ensures we recruit the best possible future leaders.

Olympus Fellows rotate through multiple business areas (marketing, sales, product management, human resources, corporate planning, and others) and are involved in hands-on projects supporting the company’s strategic objectives and provide high visibility with senior management. When the two-year period concludes, many Fellows are offered regular, full-time positions. Retention rates are extremely high.

How Did This Program Originate?

The program was born from personal experience. When Mark Gumz began his career at a Fortune 500 company in the 1970s, he was given few training opportunities. Since he didn’t feel the company was as invested in him as much as he was in it, he ultimately left. He says, “I vowed I would be training-focused given the opportunity to lead an organization. As CEO, I want to attract the best talent to Olympus. We endeavored to create a leadership development program that would set Olympus apart and enable new college graduates to make an immediate contribution to our business. The Olympus Fellows Program began an ‘era of training’ at Olympus, and we’re committed to ensuring employees are successful and have opportunities to build careers here.”

What Are the Most Important Formal Training or Informal Training Initiatives a Company Can Implement?


  • Extensive upfront training: Last year, Olympus initiated an intensive week-long “Boot Camp” to educate Fellows about all aspects of the company. It proved so valuable that we’re planning to use it as a model for on-boarding all new employees.
  • Mentors: Gen Yers, generally defined as those born between 1977 and 1994, appreciate opportunities to learn. They respect the advice they can get from more seasoned employees with strong institutional knowledge, a big-picture view of the workplace, and counsel about processing constructive feedback and thriving in a corporate culture.
  • Visibility with senior management: The CEO and other senior managers are personally involved in every stage of the Olympus Fellows Program. Of course, employees not in leadership training positions also value opportunities to meet with executives and senior managers to present their ideas.
  • On-the-job training: The job rotation aspect of the Fellows program gives Gen Y employees the opportunity to learn more about various business functions in an organization so they can make better career decisions. The rotations give them a wider knowledge base and insights about the entire company. In addition, experiential training sessions and workshops help them build analytical thinking skills and increase their self-confidence.
  • Regular feedback: Living their entire lives in a 24/7 online world, Gen Y entrants to the workplace are accustomed to receiving frequent feedback. Once-a-year performance reviews won’t cut it for them--they value monthly or quarterly check-ins, even informal ones that keep them motivated and challenge them to be their best.
  • Collaboration: Raised in an educational environment where collaboration is the norm, these recent grads value working in teams. Providing in-office, virtual, and volunteer opportunities for them to learn and grow likely will keep them engaged.
  • Social responsibility: Gen Yers like to feel all aspects of their jobs have meaning and purpose, so helping them understand how the organization makes a difference and commits to socially responsible causes is crucial. We educate our employees about Olympus’ innovative medical device technologies’ role in helping physicians save lives, and how the company supports the fight against colorectal cancer through awareness and advocacy. In addition, all Olympus employees are encouraged to volunteer in their communities and support causes important to them.
Last year, Olympus initiated an intensive week-long “Boot Camp” to educate Fellows about all aspects of the company. It proved so valuable that we’re planning to use it as a model for on-boarding all new employees.


What Have the Fellows Accomplished?

With continued encouragement to initiate and present ideas, Fellows have created multiple initiatives that contribute both to Olympus’s bottom line and commitment to social responsibility.

  • One Fellow was impressed by Olympus’s environmental commitment and presented the idea of a “Green Team” that engages employees to do their part every day. The program launched at OCA’s corporate headquarters on Earth Day and will roll out to other facilities throughout 2010.
  • Another Fellow is an integral part of a cross-functional team working to leverage the application of an existing product from one area of Olympus’s business into another. This initiative involves merging products not only from a technical standpoint but from business planning and operational perspectives, and exemplifies the company’s commitment to enhancing people’s lives every day.
  • In 2007, senior management challenged the Fellows to work together on a common goal: making a difference in their community. The Fellows partnered with the Emmaus, Pennsylvania-based Wildlands Conservancy to create OWLs (the Olympus & Wildlands Leaders) and continue to build upon leadership, citizenship, and teamwork skills while helping to improve the environment. In addition to service days at the Wildlands facility, the Fellows help to market and promote fundraising events and build local brand awareness.

What Have We Learned?

The return on investment for increased employee engagement is substantial. The more you invest in training your employees, the more they will give back to you, and your organization will be better positioned to be the employer of choice in the long run. To learn more about the Olympus Fellows Program, visit:  www.olympusamerica.com/recruiting/index.asp

About the Author(s)

Caryn Dashukewich is executive director of human resources at Olympus Corporation of the Americas, located in Center Valley, PA. Olympus is a precision technology leader designing and delivering innovative solutions in its core business areas of Medical and Surgical Products, Life Science Imaging Systems, Industrial Testing Instruments, and Cameras and Audio Products.