Business Collaboration between the Academic World and Industry

Business Collaboration between the Academic World and Industry

An interview with Prof. Dr. Michael Junger

Prof. Dr. Michael Jünger – a university professor and management consultant sheds light on the importance of collaboration between the Academic and the business world.

 Dr. Michael Jünger

Prof. Dr. Michael Jünger graduated from the University of Applied Sciences in Augsburg in management and business administration. He started his professional career as an inhouse consultant of the Alfred Kärcher Group in Stuttgart – well known for its yellow high pressure cleaners and other consumer and professional cleaning equipment. He gathered further professional experience on the job in an international MBA-program at the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE), including a study trip to China which combined industrial experience with a visit to the Tsinghua University Beijing. His PhD thesis focused on the research field of growth management.

In 2005 he joined Tefen and quickly advanced to become a manager in the German core team, also managing the global strategy team which prioritizes business development. He has contributed significantly to numerous international strategy projects in South America, Europe and Asia. In 2009 Prof. Jünger joined the Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences as professor for business consulting and management. He focuses primarily on strategic management, growth management and the design of business models and also serves as a member of the international Strategic Management Society (SMS). In his role as competence partner for business strategy, he is still a valued member of the Tefen team.

Collaboration between academia and industry

The collaboration between industry and the academic world has always been an important but complex topic. Due to the rapid evolution of the business environment and the vast transformations throughout the academic realm, the subject is now even “hotter” than it has been.

Prof. Jünger explains that “The main benefit for companies from this cooperation is the access to the latest research results and innovative new methodologies. It’s a mutual approach – the companies offer business insights and the students contribute proven methodology and expertise. It is a win-win situation for both parties.”

However, since the universities and industrial companies have different business models, some investment needs to be made to converge the two positions before the mutual benefits can be reaped. Universities focus on educating people and in creating new knowledge and excelling in existing know-how, while companies concentrate on mastering the challenges of a competitive environment and are striving for market success.

Obviously the core interest of both differs. When they collaborate, each party has certain expectations of the other side – the companies expect innovative and state-of-the-art lectures to secure high quality education, valuable knowledge and groundbreaking methodologies, while the universities expect their students to be given business experience e.g. through internships and opportunities to put their skills into practice. The academics also expect to be given the opportunity to transfer theoretical ideas into practical projects and to implement research in the real world.
Both parties have fundamental points of interest and this is where a win-win situation is achieved for both of them. With students being well educated in new methodologies and the corporate experts transferring these innovations into practical projects which involve the students, we will soon be able to see how the collaboration can bring about mutual advantages.

Companies which do not have a close relationship to the academic community are expected to advance slower. They miss out on early access to the latest research results and methodologies and then need more time to put these methods into practice. By being out of touch with a university, its students and young professionals, they become less attractive as prospective employers and often find it more challenging to recruit graduates and commit them for their first 2-3 professional years. It therefore seems much more effective for a company to collaborate with the academic world than not.

The effect of the different cultures

According to Prof. Jünger, the culture of a university has significantly changed over the years.

“Today, German universities often have a sophisticated corporate mission and are managed accordingly. We should not forget that students have a voice which is taken seriously by universities. Preparation for their future management challenges is of key importance to them. Strong collaboration with companies through internships or cooperative study programs, guest lecturers
who are experts in their fields, cooperation in projects between universities and companies or even endowed chairs – this all shows how open the university culture has become.”

The role of professors is also changing. In addition to safeguarding reserach and top quality lectures, they are now called upon to act as business coaches and supervisors for collaberation projects. As part of their education, students develop new solutions for the corporate challenges faced by companies throughout their organizations. These projects are often semester-long assignments and, in contrast to contract research, are mainly without cost for the companies. Students learn how to make their methodologies tangible in real life situations. Stepping beyond a merely theoretical approach, professors need to put across the skills to help their students transfer ideas and strategies into practice.

Differences between sectors

This type of collaboration can be found throughout the various business sectors.

Prof. Jünger explains: “There is mutual influence between a wide range of academical and industrial fields. One of the crucial factors for collaboration often seems to be the location of a university. For example: if a university is located in a strong automotive cluster, there will naturally be more collaboration with automotive companies. Students need to be able to conduct a workshop or interview on site, directly at the company or campus, without mobility problems. However, the professors still want to provide them with a broad range of experience and to forge relationships to different industries and companies of various sizes, both in the region around their universities and beyond those regions.”

How consulting companies can benefit from academia

There are two win-win situations for an academically- oriented consulting company: firstly, having selected professors as competence partners in their closer network, the consulting company can benefit from knowledge transfer, research results and new methodologies, giving them a competitive advantage in the end. Secondly, the university and students benefit from this type of collaboration since the output of cooperative projects boosts the amount of practical expertise and experience which professors can draw on for their lectures. Strong business experience is exactly what modern students expect. With a deeper insight into corporate life, it is easier for the professors to develop case studies and real-life examples which are of greater relevance to their students.

Examples of collaboration with the academic world

Tefen Germany has integrated collaberation with the academic world into its HR strategy at two different levels:
1. Internship – students join Tefen temporarily to get a deeper insight into the management consulting business
2. Cooperative study program – in a cooperative postgraduate program consultants can participate in job-integrated master degree programs, e.g. in International Management

Prof. Jünger: “Tefen Germany is a prime example for the integration of students into a corporate environment. By giving young consultants the chance to participate in an integrated postgraduate master’s program, Tefen secures the very latest knowledge and modern skill development.”


Most European companies face the challenge of recruiting suitable and highly qualified young professionals for management positions. One of the main reasons for that is the demographic development. To secure expert know-how, companies often have a close collaboration with universities and integrate it, as already seen at Tefen Germany, in different intensities into their HR strategy. On the other side of the equation, this then results into:

1. “Classical” students, staying free in their decisions for their internships and temporary engagements during their studies

2. Students who have close relationships or even contractual arrangements with companies right from the beginning of their studies. These companies support the students during the years of study e.g. through mentoring,
a base salary, access to personal develop ment, etc. In return, the students fulfill their internships and corporate commitments at the company during their summer and winter breaks, for example

3. “Embedded” students who work for a company and study at the same time, as part of a job-integrated program

Prof. Jünger: “Increasing numbers of students prefer to take part in a company’s corporate life rather than working in one of the traditionally typical student jobs. The companies provide students with a framework that supports them 22 Tefen Tribune | Winter Issue, 2013 through mentoring, seminars and personal development. The companies themselves profit from the long-term commitment students give to them”

Companies can expect to see multiple benefits, if their HR departments cooperate with the academia:

  • Access to universities and a long-term relationship with students, right from the beginning of their studies or at least at a very early stage
  • Securing permanent high recruitment potential
  • Since these companies also have a strong presence at universities, this fosters their employer branding
  • Close relationship with students at a very early stage, they usually run an assessment center to choose the best students

Benefits for students:

  • Students gain a deep insight into companies from the beginning of their studies and a good understanding of the current challenges and management topics
  • They can align their studies to the real needs of the cooperating company and therefore get a good start in high-expertise jobs\
  • “Training on the job” begins at a very early stage

Prof. Jünger sums up: “The collaboration between universities and industry is getting increasingly more important. The ability to hire highly qualified graduates with the latest knowledge and core management skills, plus the trade-off between real business challenges and academic research or new methodolgies is accelerating this topic at an even faster pace. Companies need to understand that this issue will become one of the key challenges of our future. Now is the time for them to integrate it into their HR strategies and profit from a win-win situation.”

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