June 2015 | 

Advancing Your Career with an Integrated Development Approach

Advancing Your Career

“To become a leader, you have to begin by unlearning. That is the first thing I tell participants in the first session of the program,” says Peter Fader, Wharton marketing professor and academic director of the Executive Development Program (EDP). “Forget about the stereotypes of what leaders look like and what they do. Shallow lessons are not enough. You’re going to step back for two weeks, so you can take a bigger step ahead when you leave.”

Fader says that highly accomplished managers who are on the “verge of a major leap in their careers” need more than vague lectures on leadership, or overspecialized teachings that go too deep into a single area. “They need to update and expand their knowledge in a variety of disciplines, including operations, finance, R&D, and marketing. But the real key is integration. High-level leaders need to understand how these areas work together to drive the organization.”

But you can’t teach integration in a lecture or case discussion, he says. “It happens only through experience and repeated practice.” In EDP, a simulation groups participants into teams that compete as companies. The trajectory follows classroom learnings to put them to use quickly. “The beauty of the simulation,” says Fader, “is how well it does justice to each functional area. It forces the participants to really understand and be able to integrate all of them. I’ve had some of them say to me, ‘That point was raised by the professor, but I didn’t really appreciate it until now.’ It’s fun to watch the light bulbs switch on.”

John Pietruszka, Site Quality Head, Primary Operations for GSK Vaccines in Italy, attended EDP a few years ago. “It felt similar to a crash course MBA in two weeks, with the opportunity to run a company. The simulation places you in an unknown industry/global landscape, and challenges you to build an organization from the ground up. Each individual had an opportunity to select an executive position outside their comfort zone (whether it be in R&D, Finance, or Marketing), and the simulation provided a safe working environment to take risks in your strategic decision making. And if for any reason we failed as an organization, we were able to use it as a learning opportunity and build our leadership capabilities in the process.”

“The simulation was particularly valuable,” says Hiroshi Baensch, a senior partner at Mercer, a global consulting firm. “You work with executives from a variety of industries, disciplines, and cultural backgrounds in real time. The interpersonal dynamics were fascinating. Plus, you have a coach observing team interactions to provide insights and feedback about your leadership style. The simulation weaves together classroom learning from some of Wharton’s best professors. This interactive approach is what drew me to EDP. A lecture-only program would not have been nearly as valuable.”

Although Baensch’s experience ended just a few months ago, he says the program has been “a tremendous experience.” Baensch notes that the concepts and strategies have direct relevance and applicability to the work he is doing to execute on his firm’s innovation and growth agenda. He continues to meet with his program coach and reviews the feedback he received on a regular basis. “I am now more thoughtful and conscious of myself as a leader. The EDP provided us with a safe learning environment. I now know much more about my leadership style and what I can continue to improve on.”