Becoming one of "the chosen 500" fast-track managers at Siemens starts with wowing your immediate boss. He then recommends you for boot camp. If you pull off a brilliant performance during a one-week battery of tests and role-playing, you make the first cut.
But there's no letup after that. Senior management keeps a watchful eye from that day forth, analyzing performance and retesting skills. Keep up an extraordinary record for the next 10 years, and you're nearly sure to have a seat on Siemens' board.
GLOBE-TROTTERS. The first-cut trials take place at Siemens' management training center in the lush Bavarian forest near Starnberg Lake, south of Munich. Teams of four are handed a management crisis--often taken from Harvard case studies--and given limited time to solve it. Top managers and a psychologist assess each player's product knowledge, creativity, and leadership ability. One case: how to handle the press and demonstrators gathering around a factory after a mercury spill.
As part of the trial, each participant must also criticize his colleagues' performance and rate them on such attributes as risk-taking propensity and information-gathering. Those who continue to show pluck can expect a whirlwind career, moving from one plum job assignment to another, across divisions and into foreign countries. And salary raises for excellent performance can boost their pay, starting at $60,000, by as much as 30% a year.
Young hopefuls who are gunning for the 500 aren't waiting patiently. Many already act like the chosen and are driving hard to help change the old culture. That includes speaking their minds. "You need to find people you work well with and establish a critical mass for change," says Markus Kirchgeorg, 29, who is aiming for the 500. "And not only with people on the same level." That's just the kind of ambition Siemens wants to see.