Enterprise's Virtual MBA

The rental-car company offers interns exposure to all areas of its business -- with impressive results

Enterprise Rent-a-Car's management training program has been called a virtual MBA because participants learn about and manage all parts of a business, says Marie Artim, assistant vice-president of recruiting for Enterprise. Although she encourages candidates from a variety of backgrounds to apply, Artim says those with an undergraduate business degree do best in the program.

And once recent graduates are in the company, they find plenty of room for advancement. A startling 95% of senior management got their start in the management training program, which Artim says illustrates the company's "promote-from-within" culture.

Artim, who herself started at Enterprise through the management training program, has been with the company for 14 years. During her tenure, she was promoted through the rental-management division. She eventually landed in human resources at company headquarters in St. Louis, where she oversees company-wide undergraduate recruitment.

She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Roughly how many hires are you making this year?

We're hiring about 7,000 college graduates this year, as well as about 1,700 interns for mainly summer internship programs. The intent of our management internship program is to create a pipeline of folks into the company for full-time roles.

What majors do you consider most appealing?

We welcome folks from all backgrounds, all majors. But we have an emphasis on students with a business, marketing, or management background. They also seem to be most interested in the [management program].

That said, we also have success with students coming from communications and liberal arts. Any education can bring skills or attributes that can help you be successful.

What's the internship like?

Interns are involved in all aspects of running the business and are given the responsibilities of a true employee. They're compensated on an hourly basis, and that's driven by the market that they're in. In addition to that, our internships generally have scholarship contests and different bonuses to offer incentives to interns and get them excited about what they're doing each day.

What's the structure of the full-time management training program?

It's not a set length, it's dependent on the individual. But people normally complete the management training program in eight to 12 months. They'll be trained and involved in everything -- from the marketing and sales aspects to customer relationships to the financials and profitability of the business, as well as employee development.

What are the most important skills that managers need to have at Enterprise?

We combine the hands-on learning with some classroom-style training. It includes orientation and initial development of skills in the areas of leadership, management, and customer service. There are also more specific trainings to help new hires understand our income statements and other procedures.

What schools do you target, and when do you do most of your recruiting?

Enterprise has a decentralized recruiting program. While I manage company-wide direction and strategy, we have over 200 recruiters in the field that hire on a day-to-day basis for the management training program.

We have contact and make hires at about 1,000 colleges and universities each year. Our recruiters are out on campus from the beginning of the fall semester, and they'll work on a campus for the entire year. They offer on-campus interviews in the fall and the spring.

How many interviews do students go through, and what types?

A candidate first interviews directly with a recruiter. Next, they'll interview at one of our sites, where they'll meet with an area manager and a branch manager. We do follow a behavioral-based interviewing structure.

We're looking for people with leadership skills, who are self-motivated and goal-oriented. We also look for excellent communicators and problem-solvers who have the work ethic and flexibility to take on a management role.

What kind of compensation and benefits do you offer?

First-year compensation depends on the cost of living of the branch location, and it ranges from $30,000 to the mid to upper $30,000 range.

Individuals have a real ability to impact their compensation and progression from the very start. They can be promoted in their first year out of the training program. As assistant branch manager, which is attainable within a year and a half at the company, compensation becomes a salary combined with a percentage of the branch's profits at the end of each month.

It's very much bottom-line driven at every level of management from assistant branch manager on up. Having your pay depend on the success of the branch adds to the feeling of ownership and the desire for success.

What about benefits?

We do offer a competitive full range of benefits: medical, dental, vision, 401(k) with a match, a profit-sharing program. We require our employees to dress nicely, so we also have an excellent discount program called "Dress for Success," through which we offer gift certificates to a major nationwide department store to help employees meet the wardrobe requirements of the position. And we also have a great discount program for employees and their families for renting and buying cars from us.

How's turnover?

We have about a 70% retention rate. It's something we continually try to improve. We try to stress to incoming hires how much opportunity there is to advance -- and in so many directions. You can completely change careers without changing companies.

If Enterprise doesn't recruit at a given school, how can someone be considered for a position?

We have a section on our Web site called "Talk to us," which is a recruiter directory by geographic area. There, you can find a recruiter's contact information. In addition, interested potential employees can submit their applications online.

What are some dealmakers?

It's great when candidates research the company and the opportunity. The best way to research the company is online -- we have an in-depth careers Web site dedicated to providing information to prospective candidates. Also, networking is a great way to learn about the company and the program.

What are some dealbreakers?

If a candidate comes in for an interview acting like something is owed to him or her, then that's a negative. Another thing that can hurt a candidate is when he or she isn't ready to speak descriptively about past performance.

We run background checks, and candidates with a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) citation or a suspended or revoked license are eliminated from consideration. We don't expect perfection -- everyone gets a speeding ticket once in a while -- but we do look for a good driving record.

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