在经济不景气时期，有些大公司会为员工做一些很了不起的事情。而且，这些公司并不是偶一为之，而是非常低调、不事张扬地长期坚持。得知美国联合技术公司（United Technologies Corp.，UTC）这家生产飞机引擎、电梯和直升机的工业巨头已经投入了10亿美元让员工到大学继续深造的消息时，我脑海里浮现的就是这个想法。
16年前，笔者就了解到了UTC的员工奖学金计划（Employee Scholar Program）。当时笔者在为《新闻周刊》（Newsweek）的封面文章《公司杀手》（Corporate Killers）调研。文章的内容是，公司在困难时期会通过一些卑鄙的手段大规模裁员，而华尔街却在一旁鼓掌喝彩。（似曾相识吧？）其实，笔者也知道（并且也是这么写的），裁员是经济生活的现实。有时候，为了大多数人，不得不牺牲少数人。但笔者当时确实希望能够有一家与众不同的公司，真正把员工当人看，而不是为了更高的股价把员工当作向华尔街的财神们献祭的祭品。
Sometimes big companies do good things for their employees during bad times. And keep on doing it, quietly, without making a fuss. That's the thought that crossed my mind when I heard that United Technologies Corp., a hard-nosed industrial conglomerate that makes things like aircraft engines and elevators and helicopters, had hit an unusual milestone: spending $1 billion on a program to send its employees to college.
The most interesting part? UTC (UTX) is preparing its employees not just for their UTC future, but for the next job they may take with another employer, or even for their post-employment lives. What's this program all about? More in a bit, but first a little background.
I discovered UTC's Employee Scholar Program 16 years ago while doing research on a Newsweek cover story called "Corporate Killers," about the nasty way companies were firing employees en masse during hard times as Wall Street stood on the sidelines cheering. (Sound familiar?) Yes, I knew (and wrote) that firings are a fact of economic life; sometimes you have to sacrifice a part to save the whole. But I was looking for a big company that was a little different, that recognized that its employees were human beings, something more than just bodies that could be sacrificed to Mammon, the god of Wall Street, to gain a higher stock price.
So I was thrilled to discover that United Technologies, which had cut 33,000 jobs in the previous five years, had just started an ultra-generous Employee Scholar Program. The company would pay for any college or graduate school degree any employee wanted to pursue, regardless of whether it had any connection to a UTC job. The company not only paid for tuition, books, and fees but would also give employees $5,000 worth of stock when they got a degree.
George David, then the company's chief executive, explained that the point was for employees to be able to upgrade their skills either to advance within UTC or to be able to find another job if UTC had to fire them to cut costs. "We're not softhearted," said David, whose face turned red when I suggested he sympathized with downsized workers. "It's in our interest to have an educated workforce."
I wrote the story, including one paragraph about the program that got David lauded as a statesman. I never had occasion to talk to him again. Years went by. Memory faded, except for the framed copy of the cover, featuring four mug shot– like photos of job-cutting CEOs, which hangs on my office wall. Then my Fortune editor -- who was my Newsweek editor and my partner in conceiving "Corporate Killers" -- came back recently from a lunch with UTC people who told him about the $1 billion milestone.
We realized we had something very rare: a chance for me, a congenital corporate critic, to praise a Fortune 500 company for acting well during hard times. (Alas, I couldn't get David, who left United Technologies in 2008, to talk to me. Try to be nice -- see what happens?)
I'm frankly amazed that this program, which has helped UTC employees get 32,000 degrees (some 75% of them in the U.S.) and currently has 10,000 people enrolled, still exists. "This program is a big differentiator for us," says Tom Bowler Jr., head of UTC's human resources department.