May 2017 | 

FINRA’s Leaders at Wharton: A Culture of Collaboration

FINRA's Leaders at Wharton

“We wanted them to have an immersion experience and lift them away from their day-to-day work,” recalls Arlene Sha, Director of Training and Development, Human Resources for FINRA. She explains how FINRA occupies a highly unusual space, as a non-profit and a quasi-government agency without traditional customers, manufacturing, or sales divisions. It shares with the corporate world the need to attract strong managers who believe in its mission.

“Everybody at FINRA is mission oriented — they really are all about investor protection. They are fortunate that they have a very clear mandate, and the people there believe in it,” observes Kathy Pearson, PhD, who oversees the FINRA leadership programs for Wharton.

In Wharton, FINRA found a perfect education partner to elevate the business acumen of its brightest managers, while creating more loyalty and cross-organization collaboration. “Wharton has the reputation and the advantage of having a foot in the real world,” says Sha. “So many faculty members have worked with businesses or have clients outside of academia so they get it. They have theoretical knowledge but they can also translate it into real-world practicality.”

Through a decade of collaboration, Wharton and FINRA built two learning programs — the FINRA Leadership Development Program@Wharton, designed for senior leaders one or two levels below the C-suite, and the FINRA Excellence in Management Program at Wharton, targeted at mid-level managers being groomed to move into senior leadership roles.

The Leadership Development program emphasizes strategic thinking, relationship building, communications techniques to engage and influence, managing across boundaries, and leading organizational change. The Excellence in Management program focuses on critical thinking, decision-making framing, emotional intelligence, leading effective teams, enterprise thinking, and leadership presence.

Sha explains that Wharton customized both programs to FINRA’s specific leadership development needs. Action learning projects developed during the second program get presented and implemented when participants return to their work roles. In addition, virtual learning sessions with top-rated Wharton faculty that the FINRA participants choose ensure continued learning and sharing of best practices.

To date, 221 FINRA leaders have completed the programs, with most of the program participants building powerful networks with program alumni. FINRA alternates the two programs every other year to continue to build the capabilities of its high-potential employees.

Since 2008, 72 graduates of both programs have been promoted — some earning multiple promotions. Participants also show a high commitment to FINRA, with generally lower attrition rates than the rest of the company. Managers also tout the program’s impact — noting a 90 percent improvement in leadership competencies of the participants in key target areas.

“Overwhelmingly this is creating a different culture in our organization and really improving collaboration across our different departments,” says Sha. “Wharton’s programs foster relationships that are effective on a personal and a business level. We see this by the amount of knowledge sharing and the amount of just genuine caring by the program participants to help each other find an answer — it’s really seeding the next generation of leaders.”

Ed Wegener, a FINRA Regional Director based in Chicago and a 2010 Wharton program participant, agrees. “I consider the Leadership Program one of the best experiences I have had in my professional career. The topics chosen for the program were spot on for the issues we face as leaders in FINRA. More importantly, I truly enjoyed having the opportunity to interact and discuss the challenges that I face day-to-day with colleagues from across the organization. Their perspective, different approaches, and support were extremely valuable. I feel like I have, in one week, built a professional support network that it would have otherwise taken years to build.”

Pearson calls the FINRA partnership “the benchmark” in Wharton Executive Education of the type of organizational impact the School aspires to achieve with its custom clients. She says the biggest challenge for Wharton is ensuring that long-term, clients achieve true “organizational capability” beyond individual leadership skill-building. FINRA has.

“FINRA’s leaders now have a common language they can speak. Over time I think the strength and impact of the program has grown simply because there is this shared experience among participants who are now senior leaders,” she says.