May 2018 | Senior Leadership
Wharton@Work recently spoke with Bob Knorr, founder and managing partner of The COGENT Group, about his experience in Wharton’s Advanced Management Program (AMP). Knorr has leveraged his extensive experience as intrapreneur and entrepreneur in a new role investing in and advising early stage medical technologies. He has also begun teaching part-time at Baylor University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Wharton@Work: You had years of experience as an intrapreneur at Johnson & Johnson and then as an entrepreneur. You also have an MBA. What was behind your decision to attend the Advanced Management Program (AMP)?
Bob Knorr: I really valued my MBA experience, which I earned shortly after I finished my undergraduate degree before the advent of the internet. At the time, my MBA helped me build the skill set I needed in the early phase of my career. But I found that as my career progressed, I outgrew the need for those skills and needed new ones. Then, when I transitioned from being a stand-alone entrepreneur to an investor in entrepreneurs, I also needed more strategic ones. AMP was an investment in a new chapter in my life.
W@W: How does the AMP experience differ from an MBA?
BK: A lot has changed in business over the past few decades. I found that it was an opportunity to update my business acumen with contemporary topics. But what is most important is that it is an opportunity to look at these topics through the lens of experience. An MBA relies heavily on case studies to learn from others because the students have had limited first-hand business experience. But in the AMP, you have 50 colleagues who are living, breathing case studies. They each bring decades of experience into the classroom, along with different perspectives from other parts of the world and other industries.
W@W: It’s been a couple of years since you attended the program. Are you still applying lessons from AMP? Are you sharing anything you learned with the entrepreneurs who are pitching to you?
BK: Absolutely — the learning is vibrant long after the program is over. I see dozens of business pitches a year, and many of them start with something along the lines of, “We just need to get one percent of the market and this will be a $10 billion opportunity.” My response to them is something that I got to appreciate during AMP: don’t deal only with abstract market concepts. As an entrepreneur, you need to also understand your market on a granular level and be able to introduce me to your first customer.
W@W: Is that what you are looking for in a pitch?
BK: Yes. A successful pitch describes unique segments within the target market, a holistic view of their behaviors, and what it will take to acquire and retain them. Professor Ian MacMillan describes this as understanding their “consumption chain.” Understanding this enables entrepreneurs to develop strategies to make that market more accessible. It is this level of understanding that I look for in the companies I invest in.
W@W: So the program content is applicable to entrepreneurs?
BK: AMP by design is ideally suited for entrepreneurs. You might be surprised to learn that the average first-time entrepreneur is 42. At that age, most individuals are settled in life, and taking two years off for an MBA is impractical. AMP is the right choice because it gets you out of your environment and provides not just the educational recharge but also the opportunity to live, work, and study with several dozen colleagues from around the world. By the end of five weeks, these AMP colleagues expand your global network across geographies, industries, and disciplines. It’s an invaluable experience with enduring value.
W@W: What about those who aren’t ready for or interested in starting their own firm?
BK: AMP is not only a training ground for those on a traditional corporate track but also for those with intrapreneurial aspirations. Senior leaders in corporations should be thinking about how to use this to retain top talent and drive internal innovation. There are only so many top positions, and not everyone is suited for corporate leadership, so keeping talent could mean redeploying them as intrapreneurs.
W@W: As you look forward to the rest of your career, will you be able to continue to leverage your experience in AMP?
BK: There is a strong network that is really vital for me to stay current with my skills. I’ve been to some reunion events, and this summer, I’m going to the Leadership Seminar Trek in the Swiss Alps for AMP alumni. We will be mountain climbing and focusing on our leadership. It sounds like a tremendous experience and I am looking forward to it.
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