'Leadership & Innovation,' Celebrating Wharton's 125th

Report by Wharton Club member Tim Kerwin
with highlights of Dean Pat Harker's speech
and the panel discussion that followed with
distinguished executives and faculty members

Dean Patrick Harker began with an address to an audience of current students, alumni and faculty that refuted key claims in a 2005 book by Warren Bennis and James O’Toole of the University of Southern California’s B-School titled How Business Schools Lost Their Way.  While none of us would think that Dean Harker is ambivalent about the School’s direction, one of his strongest objections was to the book’s accusation that business school research is “self-serving.”

The Dean pointed out:

  • ·        Research produces the new ideas for faculty to teach, to ensure that the curricula continue to meet the needs for relevance and substance.
  • ·        Research directions are not only decided by faculty, but are also driven by input from alumni and students. 

 The main event was a panel discussion led by Wharton Professor of Management Michael Useem titled “Leadership through Innovation.”  The panelists and their primary affiliations were

  • ·        Wharton alum Connie Duckworth, retired as first female trading partner at Goldman Sachs and currently leading an initiative to foster business formation among Afghan women
  • ·        Alex Gorsky, CEO of Novartis (pharmaceuticals)
  • ·        Robert Henrikson, a Penn alum who is CEO of Metlife (insurance)
  • ·        Jeffrey Katz, a Wharton alum who is CEO of Sherwood Equities (key developer of New York Times Square properties).
  • ·        Faculty Patricia Danzon, Professor of Health Care Systems
  • ·        Peter Linneman, Professor of Real Estate
  • ·        Seth Waugh, CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas

The format was the typical Wharton panel consisting of disparate individuals addressing one topic, but the participants were enthusiastic, and Prof. Useem brought the best out of them. He posed a series of questions to the panel:

  • What role has innovation played in your career and in your firm?
  • Can innovation be purchased or must it be developed within a firm?
  • What role do foreign countries, particularly India and China, play in your firm’s innovation? 

Vital Role of Innovation in Your Firm’s Survival:

Key Concepts
The following summarizes panelists’ answers: 

 Go where others haven’t yet ventured.  Be ahead of the curve where demand doesn’t exist.  Get out in front, because everyone else is following.  You have the advantage that you won’t be competing with pre-established concepts, practices, and competitors.     

(Editor’s note: This advice may sound platitudinous, but the panelists backed their perspectives with credible facts from their own careers and from changes they led at their firms.)  This sometimes contrarian heading in different directions must be based on solid marketing and attention to consumer behavior, as well as appropriate balancing of innovation and costs.

Innovation is a requirement for business survival.  As an example, there are no patents in financial services - any firm can replicate another firm’s product and offer a lower price or enhancements.  Margins decline daily on existing financial services products, requiring constant innovation by firms that wish to remain at the forefront.

Innovation can also be a make vs. buy decision.  Buying innovation takes the form of acquisitions, alliances, new hires, or other methods.  Both small and large firms may have to buy innovation because they cannot create capabilities fast enough.  “Collaborate or die” is a very real description of what firms must do.

Reception to Reception to Reception

The audience enthusiastically responded to these views of leaders from a varied cross-section of business and Wharton faculty. Following the Dean’s remarks and panel discussion, attendees adjourned to a nicely presented reception at the Penthouse on the eighth floor of Huntsman Hall, which has a spectacular view of campus and downtown Philadelphia. For those who haven’t been to campus lately, the restored streetcar (i.e., Subway Surface, for you purists) line on 38th Street is a pleasant connection with the time before Huntsman Hall.

Campus and, indeed, the great city of Philadelphia, have so much to offer that you should consider joining Wharton Club of DC and other alumni club members on Homecoming Weekend, October 27-28. On Saturday the 28th before the football game against Brown, Wharton Alumni Affairs and the Wharton Club of DC, along with several other clubs in this region – New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia and Boston – are hosting a brunch buffet reception in the same location. Check www.whartondc.com for full details.