A Vision for Growth

Jason Wingard, Wharton’s new Vice Dean for Executive Education, acknowledges the challenges of today’s tough business environment. But he also sees boundless opportunities for growth—in Philadelphia, in San Francisco and in all corners of the globe.

By Tim Hyland

In so many ways, it’s a perfect fit.

When Jason Wingard arrived a year ago as Wharton’s new Vice Dean for Executive Education, he brought along a portfolio of academic credentials and real world experiences that seemed to make him uniquely qualified for the position. Wingard not only boasts four degrees—including an undergraduate degree from Stanford and advanced degrees from Harvard, Emory and Penn—in subjects ranging from sociology to organizational development to technology, but he has also spent years plying his trade on the front lines of the business world, working in a variety of management roles for such firms as Vanguard and Silicon Graphics.

The sum of those experiences, Wingard says, gives him a unique perspective—and a valuable one for somebody running one of the most prestigious executive education programs in the entire world.

“I know what keeps executives up at night when they’re trying to balance profits and growth, manage emerging market analysis, and implement the leadership challenges we teach to optimize organizations,” Wingard says. “I also understand how to build and leverage culture, value human capital and develop solutions that serve the global good. Having a background in all of those worlds has served me well.”

In late January, Wingard spoke with Wharton Magazine about his vision for Wharton Executive Education, including the myriad of opportunities he sees for growth. He also talked about the state of the marketplace, his hopes for Wharton | San Francisco and the still-developing plans for Wharton’s visionary “lifelong learning” initiative.

What role does Executive Education play in helping the School accomplish its broader goals?
Number one, it’s a dynamic platform for showcasing the faculty’s thought leadership to business leaders and executives from all over the world. Our faculty want to be able to disseminate their knowledge to a much wider audience. We deliver programs to about 9,000 individuals every year, and Executive Education is a great vehicle to allow the School to share its knowledge across all disciplines. We also contribute to research. Many of our faculty, through access to companies and the people who are actually implementing new ideas and strategies in the field, build on that information to contribute to articles and books. And then, obviously, there is the revenue we generate, which can then be used by the School to support students, research, faculty projects and other infrastructure needs.

What are the areas in which you’d like to see Executive Education be more visionary?
We do have the Steinberg Conference Center and the core business here in Philadelphia, but we also have tremendous opportunities to increase our knowledge reach geographically through channels such as Wharton | San Francisco, emerging markets like China, Brazil and India and by expanding into new delivery channels like online learning. With our global reach and faculty strength we have a competitive differentiation that can really set us apart from our peer institutions. We need to find new ways we can continue to be best in class. There is also the Wharton brand, and we have a role to play in further developing and promoting that brand. The opportunity we have is to enhance and extend Executive Education to a global population, all the while making sure that the design and delivery of the program creates measurable business impact.

What is the state of the executive education market today?
Open enrollment programs are tailored for individual executives, and one of the trends we’re seeing is that leaders are looking for more of the basics in global business. Their boundaries are expanding, and there’s a greater need to know how to do business in China, how to do business in Brazil, and how to use the Internet to extend competitive advantage. As the market continues to change, we have to be able to identify the topics that our clients are looking for, and then be able to not only deliver them, but also redesign and market them at a much faster rate than we used to.

What about the custom side?
What we’re seeing from clients is an interest in more of a consultant type relationship. Instead of just designing modules specifically for corporate teams, they’re asking for a highly complex engagement. They want a multi-methodological education offering that includes a needs assessment, a strategic plan and a post-program ROI evaluative process. So the engagement length is much longer and the involvement we have with all key stakeholders extends beyond the classroom and into the field with our clients.

What’s the marketplace like? What competitive advantages does Wharton have over its peers?
I think one of our areas of competitive advantage is in serving the entire value proposition continuum. We have strengths across the board. Some of our peers are strictly thought leaders, which means they only use their faculty to design and teach programs, and they only deliver to the executive education audience a modified version of what they deliver to their students in their degree programs. Other peers don’t really have the thought leadership advantage but they’ll roll up their sleeves, use a variety of faculty and facilitators, and do the consultative work in a strictly integrated-type process—more action learning. The advantage that we have is that we do both. We are able to deliver the best thought leadership with the best design acumen for a complex pedagogical model.

How can Executive Education leverage Wharton | San Francisco?
There are a lot of opportunities on the West Coast to build relationships with new companies and grow significantly in executive education. We’ve already started, too. We have a program with Google that we run at our San Francisco campus. We’re also in the process of developing a business plan by which we intend to grow in a very meaningful and strategic way in the Western region.

Is it difficult to compete in the Bay Area because of nearby competition from Stanford?
We are interested in the entire West Coast, not just the Bay Area—from Los Angeles to Phoenix to the Pacific Northwest. And, as for Stanford, they do much more open enrollment than custom work, so there are opportunities for us to share the custom business market. Then there are only smaller schools, such as the Haas School at Berkeley, so in a sense the market is wide open. But even if our West Coast competitors were different, it would still be analogous to doing business here in Philadelphia, going up against the other top East Coast schools. What is different, though, is that we have to compete with products designed specifically for the region. We cannot just transport the offerings we have here on the East Coast and expect that they will be applicable on the West Coast. We need to engage a broader set of faculty and create programs specifically for this market. We have faculty doing work in a variety of areas— social networking, technological innovation, venture capital—that would definitely be of interest on the West Coast.

In December, the School announced a new lifelong learning initiative as part of its new MBA curriculum. What can you tell us about this, from an Executive Education perspective?
We are in the process, as a School, of further defining what kind of executive education opportunities we can provide to our alumni. What is certain is that we are going to offer a tuition-free executive education offering to the MBA graduates moving forward. What we’re in the process of doing now is completing a needs assessment of what our other 86,000 alumni need or want. Our alumni base is very diverse. We want to make sure that we understand what the different areas of need are for our alumni, and what kinds of offerings would be most useful for their ongoing development.

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