Listening in on the Wharton Global Conversations Tour
- by Matthew Brodsky
When you think “entrepreneurship,” admit it—perhaps Stanford University comes to mind. Wharton, after all, is the “finance school.”
But Dean Geoffrey Garrett is eager to alter those associations, or at least augment them. He is quick to point out that Wharton ranks number two when it comes to where Silicon Valley executives earned their degrees. Stanford doesn’t even hold the top spot, by the way. It’s Berkeley. Though Wharton’s is a top Finance Department—and certainly alumni populate top finance positions around the globe—Garrett sees the School as possessing strengths in data and analytics.
Garrett has reiterated to alumni a line he first shared with Wharton Magazine when I interviewed him during his first month in office: “What we’re seeing in the big data world is that the geeks are going to own the world.”
When you think innovation in education, specifically Internet-based education, Garrett wants you to think “Wharton” as well—particularly given the School’s pre-eminent position in delivering educational content through the massive online open course (MOOC) platform Coursera.
He covered this ground and then some during his opening remarks at the Philadelphia stop of the Wharton Global Conversations Tour. With six locations on the schedule, the tour is an opportunity for the dean to share his vision for Wharton face to face with alumni in their own proverbial backyards.
The first stop occurred in Hong Kong Jan. 12. Philadelphia followed on Jan. 28. New York will occur Feb. 19 and London March 4. A stop in Miami will follow on April 27, and San Francisco May 5. (For more details, visit http://whr.tn/global-conversations-tour.)
For these initial visits on the tour, Garrett has opened the stage to prominent local alumni, providing a rich interactive experience for attendees (as well as for himself).
In the case of Philadelphia, F. William McNabb III WG83, CEO and chairman of the investment giant Vanguard Group, engaged in the back-and-forth, with the dean eliciting some kernels of McNabb’s wisdom on the topic of leadership. The gist of what McNabb shared is that recruiting and cultivating talent is central to his vision for an organization. In McNabb’s view, most companies fail because of lack of execution, not cogent strategy. At Vanguard, he looks for leaders with tremendous individual drive with the ability to perform at a high level in a team—people who can trust and be trusted, keep one another accountable and participate in open debate. The organization is driven by results (investment and otherwise) as much as by putting people in positions to succeed.
“You have to be willing to let people fail,” McNabb said. “That ability to fail is actually really important.”
Giving people that chance and then seeing them persist, learn and grow from those failures are great ways to spot leaders, according to McNabb.
By the way, while we’re on associations, when you think of Philadelphia, do you think of “major alumni hub”? Garrett cemented that association during his presentation, too, citing how the city is home to more than 10,532 Wharton alumni.