Entrepreneur of Entrepreneur Management: Edward Shils

Wharton Management Professor Ed Shils founded the Wharton Entrepreneurial Center (now the Sol C. Snider Center), the first center of its kind in the nation, cementing his reputation as a guru for startups. At age 87, Edward B. Shils still had legions of young people trouping through his Center City Philadelphia office for advice, which he dispensed freely and for free.

The George W. Taylor Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurial Management at Wharton was the son of a Philadelphia cigar maker who came to Penn from Simon Gratz High School in 1933, the worst year of the Depression. He was a baseball star there, but had to give up the sporting dream when he started floundering in school.

He got three Penn degrees during the Depression (he later earning three more while in his 70s) and returned to Wharton as a teacher and administrator in 1955. He chaired the Industry Department from 1960 to 1963 with legendary professor George W. Taylor, was the chairman of the Management Department from 1968 to 1976, authored or co-authored six books and more than 100 research articles on public finance, collective bargaining, entrepreneurship, and labor-management relations. But Shils considered his real baby the Wharton Entrepreneurial Center, which he started in 1973.

Having his own consulting business for years while teaching, he wanted students to get to the reality of how to be innovative and entrepreneurial. He got seed money from friends in the business world and used the Center to bring in speakers and teachers who proved, he said in 2001, that doing well, even in the corporate world, means being different than the norm.

“You have to allow people the latitude to fail,” said Shils, who died in 2004. “You have to hire people with a tolerance for ambiguity. You don’t just have rules. You have people who interpret the rules for success. Jack Welch, Ted Turner, all these men we admire had that tolerance for ambiguity. They formed borderless cultures within the corporate world.”

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