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$10 Million Alumni Gift to Expand, Rename Wharton Leadership Program

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Believing firmly that leadership can be both taught and learned, Wharton alumna Anne Welsh McNulty (MBA ’79) has pledged $10 million to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to expand its efforts to train leaders who impact the world. In recognition of this generous gift, the Wharton Leadership Program, launched 20 years ago, will be renamed the Anne and John McNulty Leadership Program.

McNulty met her late husband John (MBA ’79) well before they were classmates at Wharton. They both grew up in Philadelphia and were sweethearts at Cardinal O’Hara High School. But it was Wharton that would train them to become leaders. Before his sudden death of a heart attack in 2005, John rose through the ranks at Goldman Sachs to become partner, then co-head of the asset management division and ultimately to lead the creation of its investment management division. Anne, previously a managing director at Goldman and a senior executive of its hedge fund strategies group, today is the co-founder and managing partner of JBK Partners, an investment management firm and private philanthropic foundation. 

“We didn’t have leadership classes per se when we were at Wharton, but you learned by example,” she recalls. “The biggest change was suddenly being exposed to people from not only around the country but around the world,” she says. “It changed the context in which you thought about problems.”

An Inherent Belief that Leadership Can Be Learned and Taught
“The most important thing about Wharton is that there is an inherent belief there that leadership can be learned and can be taught,” she continues. “Though some of us may think there are natural leaders in preschool, generally people can learn and get better at it.”

The newly christened Anne and John McNulty Leadership Program is founded on that very idea and employs a unique combination of coursework, coaching and experiential learning to help its students develop leadership skills.

“The Wharton approach first of all is about presenting the core concepts and the foundational research that exists in the realm of leadership and teamwork,” says Jeff Klein, who has served as executive director of the Wharton Leadership Program for the past 10 years. “We begin by getting students familiar with it, and then we work on getting them into situations where they can test their ability and effectiveness as leaders.”

Wharton also encourages students to surround themselves with coaches, mentors and trusted colleagues, Klein says. “Leadership is a social experience—the process of learning and developing needs to occur with other people.”

Seek and Accept Stretch Experiences
Believing in a “learn by doing” philosophy, Klein and his team tells every student to seek and accept stretch experiences. “You will hear students say, ‘Well, my stretch this semester is I am going to serve as the non-profit board fellow for a local Philadelphia organization,’” he says. Others might lead student trips to climb a mountain in the Andes or trek Antarctica. “If we have number one, the scholarship, and number two, the coaching, we get such impact from putting students into situations where they put these ideas into practice.”

McNulty’s gift will allow Wharton to continue to expand and innovate in the field of leadership education while also adapting processes that have been successful in the MBA program, such as the Wharton Leadership Ventures and the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program, to new students and the public. “It will also raise awareness of our approach,” Klein says. “The school believes that this approach to leadership development is significant and has implications for leadership development around the world.”