IfM Engage and Atos: Celebrating 10 years of excellence in professional development

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the collaboration between IfM Engage, the multinational IT company Atos, and Paderborn University in delivering executive education programmes to outstanding Atos employees. As the partners recently convened in Cambridge, Head of the IfM Engage Executive and Professional Development team, Dr Judith Shawcross, took time to reflect on ten years of excellence in professional development.  

In 2012, an Atos representative came to Judith with an enquiry about a talent development programme for their technology experts. The multinational IT company sought a bespoke programme to help them stay ahead in an ever-changing technology landscape. A year later, the very first participants were selected for the Atos GOLD for Experts (GfTL) programme, which has since seen over six hundred people attend and grow the skills to lead Atos. Even as the company itself changes – most recently with the carve-out of Eviden – the talent programmes remain a valued constant. Every year, students come from around the world to study in Cambridge and Paderborn to participate in a unique and enriching educational experience.

“The programme has evolved over 10 years as Atos has grown and the digital technology landscape has changed. The Institute for Manufacturing and Paderborn University have forged a strong collaboration with Atos on this fascinating journey, delivering an excellent programme aligned with both organisational priorities and participants needs,” says Judith.


A happy coincidence

When Atos first approached Judith, she had recently developed a three-module concept for an executive education programme – very similar to what Atos was looking for. It was an interdisciplinary programme that dealt with technology and innovation management, the complex industry and business ecosystem, as well as tools to develop a strategic mindset and skills. Judith had just transitioned from a teaching-oriented post at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) to the executive education role at IfM Engage, the knowledge transfer arm of the IfM, when the call from Atos came. Writing the proposal became her first major project.

Atos requested the participation of a third partner, Paderborn University with its SICP – Software Innovation Campus Paderborn, to support the technical aspects of the programme. Paderborn University had a longstanding research collaboration with Atos following their Siemens integration, making them ideal partners in creating and delivering the new programme. IfM teaching in all its forms builds on close collaboration with experts in industry and academia, so that was an easy requirement to meet. Judith wrote a programme proposal that included team-based projects working on real business challenges – a teaching method employed at IfM for over 50 years. It also involved a collaborative design phase with all three parties involved, and the truly bespoke nature of the programme won them the contract with Atos.

Kat Hopkins, Vice President of Atos and Group Head of Talent, Career and Learning at Atos International, says: “Through a decade of dedicated learning and partnership, the GfTL programme has been a catalyst for transformation within our organisation, shaping leaders who continue to make a lasting impact.”


Judith had come from an engineering career in industry and found her way to academia and the IfM through reflections on her own career journey and professional network. A few years after graduating with her engineering degree, Judith’s employer sponsored her to study for an MBA. With both degrees under her belt, she felt well equipped for engineering work in a company setting but could not help but feel that a more practical business component, such as undertaking real projects, should be part of every engineering degree. As her career progressed, one principle became foundational – that education in applied subjects should prepare students for the actual world of work. This motivated Judith to join the world of academia, initially with Manchester Science Enterprise Centre, before moving to Cass Business School as a Course Director and the Institute for Manufacturing.


The programme is born

A joint team led by Judith worked on the programme design and in October 2013, the first cohort of Atos GOLD for Experts participants began their training in technology leadership. Since the start, a stand-out feature of the programme has been its focus on real business challenges as vehicles for learning. Each year, participants grapple with problems that matter to the business and often develop viable solutions that result in additions to the company portfolio. In Cambridge, programmes are delivered by an executive education team of learning and development experts who work with IfM academics to facilitate an impactful learning experience – one that has not gone unnoticed. In 2018, the Atos Gold for Experts programme was awarded an EFMD Silver Award for excellence in practice. Dr Simon Oberthür from Paderborn University describes the winning recipe as follows:

“The Cambridge team brings a strong foundation in innovation, business and personal development, while the Paderborn team offers a technical perspective on digitisation. This combination ensures a holistic approach to the challenges of the digital age. Furthermore, the experience Cambridge has with educational programs of this nature pairs seamlessly with Paderborn’s long-standing relationship with Atos. Together, their complementary expertise creates a robust and comprehensive framework for the program, ensuring its success and relevance in the evolving digital landscape.”

Covid-19 and the joyful return to in-person learning

The collaboration has not only been successful at adapting to changes in the digital world, but in the real one, too. Covid-19 forced educators everywhere to teach differently and challenged the team to redesign the renamed Atos Gold for Technology Leaders programme to fit an online format. For programmes built so heavily around face-to-face collaboration, that entailed some drastic changes, but the programmes continued running throughout the pandemic years with use of many interactive tools and techniques. That is not to say that the return to life beyond screens was not longed for and very much appreciated when it finally came.

“Learning is a much richer and more impactful experience when done with others. Discussions over coffee and lunch with colleagues and teachers are invaluable, as is having time and space to learn away from your day-to-day life,” says Judith.

Part of the joy of meeting face-to-face again was in offering participants a taste of historic Cambridge. With the best will in the world, punting along the Backs and dining in ornate college dining halls could not translate to the online experience. Those cultural experiences combined with days of intensive collaborative learning continue to create cherished memories and forge friendships. Through her years delivering the programmes, Judith has seen first-hand their transformative power for many participants. Over the course of a few weeks, people grow in confidence and flourish in new ways. Seeing those transformations and the difference they make to the individual, as well as the difference individuals go on to make in their jobs, is a rich source of Judith’s drive and inspiration.


The secret to success 

Atos, Paderborn University and IfM Engage celebrate their 10 successful years of professional development and look forward to continuing the programs with Atos and the newly formed Eviden. Prompted to reveal the secret to the programme’s success so far, Judith says:

“There are many! Great programme content based on research, careful programme design, exceptional deliverers, and excellent learning environments. Most importantly, however, a truly joint programme management and delivery team from Atos, the Institute for Manufacturing and Paderborn, dedicated to provide the best programme possible for the participants.”

Find out more about the executive education offerings from IfM Engage.