Leadership Program’s New Name, and the Complications of Compromise

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Thanks to a $10 million gift from Anne Welsh McNulty WG’79, the Wharton Leadership Program has been renamed in honor of her and her late husband and classmate, John McNulty WG’79, a legendary figure at Goldman Sachs known for his dedication to mentoring younger associates. Anne McNulty, a former senior executive at Goldman, is co-founder and managing partner of JBK Partners, which does investment management and philanthropy.

She described their time at Wharton as “a turning point in our lives,” and said it was “a pleasure for me to support future students so that they may have a similar experience, so that they may reach their potential, and so they may change the world through the lessons they learn at Wharton.”

According to Jeff Klein WG’05 GrEd’17, executive director of what is now the Anne and John McNulty Leadership Program, the gift will allow the 24-year-old initiative to “accelerate and expand” its offerings by supporting the development of new programs and adapting popular ones like Wharton Leadership Ventures—outdoor experiences of varying duration and physical intensity—and the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program, which provides individualized training to promote self-awareness and sharpen leadership skills, to new audiences.

“This inspired gift … gets to the core of what we do at the University of Pennsylvania,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann. “Penn inspires enormously talented students along with many members of our University community, encourages them to challenge themselves to make a positive difference in the world, and provides an environment where they can take risks and grow to become their best possible selves.”

At a September ceremony celebrating the new name, Walter Isaacson—biographer of Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs, among others—was the keynote speaker. He shared some lessons on collaborative leadership gleaned from his extended study of Penn’s founder, and Apple’s.

Jobs “was strong and tough, and often unkind,” Isaacson acknowledged. Nevertheless, “Somehow or another, he engendered loyalty,” he added. “He would tell people that something they did wasn’t very good, he would be really tough on them, but he had an inspiring vision. And he was able to put together a very tight-knit team that would walk through walls with him.”

Isaacson recalled asking Jobs soon before his death what he was most proud of. “I thought he would say the Mac, maybe the iPhone. Maybe the iPad. He said, ‘You weren’t listening to me.’ (He was also a little mean to me sometimes.) He said, ‘Here’s what I’ve been trying to tell you: making products is hard. But what’s really hard is making a great team that will continue to make great products.’ He said, ‘The best thing I ever did as an innovator and a leader was [to] create a great team.’”

When the discussion turned to the challenge of maintaining a startup mentality in a more mature, larger company—one with something to lose—Isaacson talked about Jobs’ tortuous path to finding that complex balance. He reminded the audience that Jobs’ obstinacy and disregard for profits led to his ouster from Apple in 1985.

“When he gets fired, he takes a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog which he had lugged around with him to college, [and after] dropping out, to India,” Isaacson said. “And on the back cover was the picture of the Earth rising, and then a country road that you might find yourself on if you were hitchhiking. And all it said was: Stay hungry, stay foolish. So that became his mantra.”

After spending “12 years in the wilderness,” trying and failing to start a new computer company, NeXT, “and going even more nuts,” Jobs returned to a “flabby” Apple intent on applying that hungry-and-foolish credo.

“Out of the blue he creates the iPod. Why? He wants a thousand songs in his pocket,” Isaacson said. “This is not something Apple is doing. It is huge.” He then turned around and essentially made it obsolete with the iPhone, reasoning, as Isaacson put it, that, “The people who make cellphones are all brain-dead, but if they figure out you can put music on the cellphone, they’ll put us out of business.” To protests that this would “cannibalize all of our profits,” Jobs’ response was, “‘We have to stay hungry. We have to cannibalize ourselves.’”

This time around, though, Jobs did learn “to make the type of leadership collaboration and sometimes compromises that turned Apple from being a startup mentality to being a sustainable mentality,” Isaacson said—but it always came hard for him.

In fact, getting third-party applications on the iPhone almost didn’t happen, because of Jobs’ resistance to ceding end-to-end control, concerned that competitors’ apps “would be polluting his product.” In this case, the Apple management team kept pushing, “and finally he said—[this was] his way of collaborating—‘OK, you a-holes, if you think you’re so smart, so go ahead and do it.’ Which was his way of saying, ‘You might be right, let’s try it.’

“Within a year it was a $2 billion industry,” Isaacson added. “So, that was knowing when to compromise versus knowing when to stay stubborn.”

Benjamin Franklin is of course far more closely associated with collaboration. “He loved that notion of bringing people together and compromising,” Isaacson said, for example rallying the members of the Constitutional Convention to work out their differences in forging a new government.

Still, “when it comes to compromise, people get it wrong, and it’s wrong in life sometimes.” In Franklin’s time, one of the compromises reached by the delegates enshrined slavery in the Constitution, Isaacson noted. “And he realized shortly thereafter—[at] 82 years old—that was a compromise against principle. He shouldn’t have made that compromise. And he becomes president of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery to try to make up for it.

“So knowing when to compromise and when not to compromise is very difficult,” he said. “There’s no formula.” —JP

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