Purpose – Corporate universities (CUs) have been experiencing tremendous growth during the past years and can represent a real driving force for structured organizations. The paper aims to define the process of CU design shaped around company strategy. For each step, the authors propose specific roles, activities and methods. Design/methodology/approach – The paper exploits some managerial theories and past research on CUs to draw a two-step framework for their design and development process, then tests (and validating) it through action research and applies its guidelines to two different case studies. Findings – The authors conclude the CU design process can be divided into two steps (development and management), with specific roles assigned to the different activities, and this allocation represents a prerequisite for the CU project success. Moreover, flexibility and potential recycles should be considered when configuring the process. Originality/value – The paper is original in two ways: it proposes a framework for CU design and development (which is unique in its type) and an application of this framework to two real cases, discussing its benefits, criticalities and limitations (thus ensuring generalizability).