Impact Stories

Growing together: 31 years of programs at ABB-SDA Bocconi

The impact

It was back in 1991 when SDA Bocconi School of Management and ABB began their partnership. At that time ABB was brand new, the product of a merger between the Swedish ASEA and Brown, Boveri & CIA from Switzerland. A leader in the sectors of electrification and industrial automation, the imperative for the Italian branch of the Group was to adopt a fresh perspective that would reflect its new global scope.

That was when ABB management reached out to SDA Bocconi so together they could develop a value proposition for the entire organization. And so began what would become the longest partnership in SDA history. The lesson learned from this success story springs from the complementarity and reciprocity between ABB and SDA Bocconi. The ongoing challenge for over 31 years is to continue to be consistent with the initial learning framework, in which the Passport represents the first custom program, while deploying new models that can complement the Group’s strategic and organizational evolution.

In the words of Massimo Sparagi, Country Holding Officer at ABB Italy: “The benefits of this rock-solid, decades-long partnership between SDA Bocconi and ABB emerge on several corporate levels. SDA Bocconi is such a presence in the life of our company that it’s the employees themselves who ask us to be a part of the training courses, and of course the Passport is the best known of them all.”

The numbers behind the story


Company: ABB

Headquarters: Zurich

Year Founded: 1883 (ASEA); 1891 (Brown, Boveri & CIE); 1988 (ABB as the merger of the two companies)

Industry: electrification, industrial automation, robotics

Turnover: $28.9 billion (2021)

Employees: 104,400 world-wide; 50,000 in Europe (2021)

Countries of operation: over 100

More than 700 participants, over 1,000 days of lessons, 150 plus projects addressing real-life business issues since 1991: these are the numbers behind the successful partnership between SDA Bocconi and the ABB Group. The centerpiece is the Passport, a series of training programs co-created by SDA Bocconi and ABB targeting talented people in the company; the aim is to hone their managerial skills and get them more engaged in the organizational culture. The objective here is simple: provide talented young new employees with a passport to the world of ABB that will allow them enter and grow.

For ABB Italy, from the word go the priority was working on young, high-potential university graduates who would shadow more experienced managers while injecting new energy into innovation and international openness. Working with SDA Bocconi, ABB began designing a training program geared to giving these new hires the managerial skills they needed. This eventually led to the first edition of the ABB Passport: thirteen young talents were given intense in-class training while working on ad hoc projects, with the support of tutors from ABB and from SDA Bocconi. To shore up the sense of belonging to the Group, factory visits and meetings with company endorsers were organized. As for the international dimension, participants were guaranteed the chance to do a three-month apprenticeship in another European branch of the Group.

The program was a success, and with its international exposure, some participants were empowered to move up quickly into leadership roles, even outside of Italy. In light of this, ABB decided to expand the platform and design a Lean Passport, open to high-potential young people who had already been working in the organization for a few years. The program broadened its horizons, regenerating to become more intensive and concentrated, with an even sharper focus on problem solving, so much so that participants are actively involved in discussing real issues that the company is facing. The projects developed during the Lean Passport programs were so impressive that the company set up a special repository which management can source to develop new ideas. Passport participants can also get more familiar with organizational processes, reference markets and the specificities of building a business case within the context of a large multinational group.

But formal learning is only one of the components of the Passport: equally essential is the possibility to build a wider network of contacts within the organization. In fact, the program represents an opportunity to speed up and shore up the process of integration in the corporate culture, encouraging the exchange of knowledge and best practices transversally across the organization.

As the years go by, ABB has been growing globally, and this has prompted the organization to move toward intranational integration among the different subsidiaries, a trend encompassing training too. Up until 2007, Passports were only available to ABB Italy personnel, but from that point on these programs were opened to the entire Mediterranean region. As a result, the ABB MED Passports have come to represent a way to reinforce and disseminate an organizational culture that’s shared beyond national borders, and to facilitate personal contact among colleagues from different parts of the region. In the years that followed, program participants have numbered 240 coming from nine different countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Cyprus and Serbia in addition to Italy). So in every respect, Passports have become tools for promoting forms of organizational integration inside the Group.

Here is Silvia Parma, Global HR Smart Power Division, sharing her thoughts: “The Lean Passport is one of the best learning and development programs I’ve ever been involved in. There is no doubt that this experience has made a mark on my personal growth and, in my role at HR I’m proud to say that this is the kind of comment that we get from people who’ve done the ABB-SDA Bocconi program all the time. The Passport program is so widely-known in our organization that very often it’s the employees themselves who ask if they can participate.”

And now

Over the years, the Passport has been changed to adapt to the needs of ABB, for example by extending the program from Italy to the entire Mediterranean region. Today, the Passport is a blended training program, with both face to face and online sessions, and functional and interfunctional courses, personalized for the B2B sector, and more specifically, tailored to ABB’s competitive landscape.  

The evolution of the SDA Bocconi training programs will necessarily follow that of the company, both at a strategic and an organizational level. In light of this necessity, the programs scheduled for October 2022: 

  • preserve the proper mix of theory and practice, strategic vision and operational competencies; 
  • ensure that participants develop specific skills to contend with new scenarios in a rapidly-evolving external context; 
  • reinforce and contribute to the dissemination of a global corporate identity that crosses national borders;  
  • encourage the constant search for innovation and sustainable value creation inside the Group. 


Growing together: 31 years of programs at ABB-SDA Bocconi