November 2015Leadership

Building a Powerful Network for Accountability, Insights, and Innovation

Building a Powerful Network for Accountability, Insights, and Innovation

Dr. Eric Bernstein, a dermatologic laser surgeon, calls the Wharton Fellows: Master Classes and Networking for Senior Executives invaluable for his professional development. Through the program, he has gained advice on his start-ups and solutions to some of his most vexing problems. He has also collaborated on laser innovations with other Master Class participants in a number of industries outside of medicine entirely.

He credits Jerry Wind, Wharton marketing professor and director of the Fellows program, with creating an atmosphere in which shared learning and collaboration is expected. “Fellows come from different industries, geographies, backgrounds. During the three-day classes, we are all outside our space, being inundated with new experiences and ideas from the companies we visit. Jerry demands that we start applying what we are learning immediately. We have a continuous conversation about how we can use, for example, IBM’s Watson, 3-D printers, and open innovation. It’s a very unusual learning experience; you can’t get more real-time than hearing from a top executive at a cutting-edge company what they’re doing right now.”

Between master classes, Bernstein stays in touch with a number of Fellows, working on adapting medical lasers for a variety of new uses. He says a shared mindset in the group encourages broad thinking and a willingness to push boundaries. “I learned from the companies we visited in Silicon Valley that you have to be willing to fail. We spoke with executives who were constantly running experiments and making adjustments. They showed us that if you aren’t trying some things that might not work, you are not pushing the envelope. With that mindset, you will miss opportunities.”

For Greg Webster, Vice President, Head of Eagle Strategies LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of New York Life Insurance Company, a week at Wharton attending Leading Organizational Change expanded his network and his thinking. “I have a regularly scheduled call every couple of months to share best practices with one of the other participants. We continue to keep each other appraised of our progress. For me that was an important aspect of the program: we all come from different industries, but we all have to lead change. I’m in financial services and I’m networking with someone from the petrochemical industry. That is a rare opportunity. We are learning from each other and keeping each other accountable.”

Webster says of New York Life, the 170-year-old company he works for, “We have good fundamental values that we never want to lose. But we have to recognize that there is a changing new world, with disruptive technologies that can come out of nowhere. Meeting and working with people from different industries and different countries can only help us to continuously improve and keep an eye out for what is coming next. It’s great to be able to make connections with a diverse group and keep the learning going forward.”

“You can learn lessons anywhere,” stresses Bernstein, “but some of the most powerful ones often come from outside your space. I learned that from Jerry Wind as well. Keep an open mind. I run a medical practice, but I saw at Warby Parker that if you have a great product, you need to get it into the hands of your customers. Let people try it. Now, I hand out samples of my skin care products to every person who comes in my office. The retention rate is enormous. The point is that the more you expand your network, especially outside your industry, and really use it, the better ideas you will be exposed to and the more exciting your business can be.”