Tim Cook speaking at a conference in China
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Apple is seeking to cement its business position in China for the long-term with an expansion of its Cupertino-based Apple University program to the region, according to a person with knowledge of the plans. Apple Vice President and Dean of Apple University Joel Podolny is currently interviewing candidates for a new Dean of Apple University position for China, according to the source.

Started in 2008, Apple University is an extensive and growing program within corporate Apple that trains mid-level employees and managers on the decisions made by Steve Jobs and other key executives throughout the company’s resurgence. Jobs created the program alongside former Yale School of Business Dean Podolny in order to keep the culture of Apple alive well beyond the lifetime of executives key to Apple’s early success.

The expansion of Apple University to China will mark a key step in Apple’s history as a global company. It will be the first time Apple has fully expanded the exclusive program to another region, indicating that it wants to extend its presence in China beyond mostly just sales and operations, like it has done in the United States. Apple has previously offered a minimal amount of courses in other regions and has flown-in professors. With many Apple suppliers headquartered in China, it is likely that a notable portion of the Apple University classes in China will be geared toward product engineering and manufacturing matters…

Podolny, previously also in charge of Apple’s Worldwide Human Resources division, reports directly to CEO Cook, while the Dean of Apple University China will likely report directly to Podolny. Earlier this year, Podolny handed over Human Resources responsibilities to Denise Young-Smith so he could focus his effort entirely on growing the Apple University program. Apple has also hired professors from other companies and notable business university programs to assist Podolny with developing courses.

Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed the plans to a small group of employees during a recent meeting with China retail operations staff, the source added. Cook reportedly said that the purpose of an Apple University in China is to teach the growing China base of Apple employees and managers about the corporation’s “heritage and culture.” He added that Apple is a “look forward organization, not a look back one,” and that the company “cannot afford a weak link” between its work in the U.S. and in China.

Apple currently employs approximately 5000 people across its retail, operations, marketing, and corporate divisions in China, according to the source. Apple currently has 12 stores in China and corporate offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Apple has also recently expanded its Research and Development efforts in China. Apple plans to also expand its retail footprint in China to the tune of 40 total locations over the course of the next two years. Cook is said to have told employees that the store count total could be much higher, but Apple wants to avoid spreading itself too thin.

Apple has been growing quickly in China over the past few years, selling millions of iPhones and iPads in short periods of time. Apple kicked off a deal with China Mobile earlier this year to expand its business in the region and CEO Cook frequently visits China to meet with employees, talk with government officials, and visit the Apple supply chain. Apple Senior VP of Retail Angela Ahrendts also acknowledged China as critical in her three-part plan to bring Apple retail into the future.