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20 Questions with… Sam Lundquist, Vice Dean, External Affairs, The Wharton School

In honor of our 20th Anniversary, LOIS L. LINDAUER SEARCHES will be sharing a new interview series, 20 Questions with… throughout the year. Here, Sam Lundquist, Vice Dean, External Affairs, The Wharton School (part of the University of Pennsylvania, or Penn, as it is called), takes us inside one of the leading business schools in the world.


Q1: You’ve had quite a storied career in higher education. What led you to go from admissions to financial aid and administration, and now, development?
Sam: My first job out of college was at Bucknell University as an undergraduate admissions officer. I followed that experience by moving on to the Wharton MBA admissions office, which then led me to Dartmouth College’s MBA admissions office at the Tuck School. I came back to Wharton to run the admissions and financial aid office in 1992 and later became Chief of Staff for The Wharton School Dean’s office. From that job, I moved on into university development and alumni relations.

Q2: Was it a planned transition or an accident?
Sam: Totally accidental; I am the true accidental development officer. The fun part of my story is that when I was an entry-level admissions counselor, my boss and mentor at that time asked me what I wanted to do for a living, long term. I said to him, “I know I want to work in higher education, and there are a lot of avenues I imagine I could take, but there’s one area where I will never work and that’s development!”

Q3: Why the hesitation?
Sam: Like many people who do not know development, I thought that it was all about asking for money. Being Chief of Staff at The Wharton School was my first deep look into development, which is all about relationship management. Unexpectedly, the skills that I developed previously all transferred perfectly to development and alumni relations.

Q4: Wharton promotes the theory that trailblazers are made, not born. What could you point to in your career that supports that thinking?
Sam: My first development job was as an Assistant Vice President for Development at Penn, with no prior experience in development. It meant that someone recognized that while I was not explicitly trained for development and alumni relations work, I had acquired the necessary skill set along the way. In my professional experience, I have been very lucky to have supervisors, mentors, peers, and colleagues who have helped me become who I am.


Q5: What specific challenges do business schools face?
Sam: The main challenge is establishing the right answer to the question: What is the social imperative of business schools in the world? Not just at Wharton, but at all business schools. What are you teaching students that could lead to an economic system that serves the greater good? We live in a time when institutions must be very intentional about that goal, especially as the wealth gap grows worldwide.

Q6: What distinguishes the Wharton working experience from Penn?
Sam: Working at a business school in an administrative capacity is the most corporate experience that you can have within higher education. And at Wharton, you have a profound sense of being at one of the best business schools in the world, so there are high expectations that you are going to conduct yourself in the context of best business practices. We have to practice what we teach.

Q7: Has anything changed at Wharton from the first time you worked there to your last reentry in 2010?
Sam: There has been meaningful growth in institutional confidence. Business schools have matured over the years, moving from a more vocational and practical curriculum to one focused on being an academic leader in higher education. Business school faculty and research is cutting-edge and rigorous today. Wharton has been led by a number of deans who focused on not only being recognized as the best business school in the world, but who actually delivered on it and tracked metrics to make sure that it was true.

The way I like to describe Wharton today, which is different from how I would have categorized it in my earlier experiences, is that we are now a comprehensive “business university.” The size, scale, and scope of what we do is something that I know makes our alumni proud of their alma mater. We are very ambitious, we set strategic goals, and we achieve those goals, which is quite a thrill for everyone here.

Q8: What makes fundraising for a business school different from fundraising for other institutions?
Sam: Our alumni and our donors are business people by definition; they tie their philanthropy to explicit expectations. That is not entirely different from fundraising at a liberal arts college, but I find that the nature of the relationship that we have with our donors is set on a business proposition because of who we are, what we do, and why we exist.


Q9: How do you keep donors coming back, and engage new ones?
Sam: In the end, it is about our mission, which is to educate the future creators of economic growth. Our faculty research it, they teach it. Our students learn it and we equip them to go out into the world to generate economic growth, which creates jobs and stable societies. That is what we mean when we say that we are the best business school “in the world and for the world.” There are many components to a healthy society, but economic growth is a universal imperative.

Q10: Your current tenure at Wharton started toward the end of the very successful recent campaign. How was that?
Sam: I was on the team that designed the comprehensive university campaign at Penn before I left to do the same at Bucknell in 2006. It was really fun to come back to Wharton in 2010 to complete what I helped start years earlier.

Q11: What challenges did you face working on a campaign at the college level?
Sam: I came back to Wharton a year after the financial crisis. To finish a campaign under those circumstances was quite challenging; we had to make sure that we were talking to people who had the wherewithal to make the gifts and help us reach our goal. Fortunately, we were able to exceed our goal thanks to many generous donors.

Q12: There are so many ways for alumni to engage with Wharton, and many of them are based on a participatory commitment rather than a financial one. Does the gift of time eventually turn into the gift of giving?
Sam: We have spent a lot of time focusing on this and we think that we have finally gotten the engagement model correct. Historically, Wharton was perceived as being a more transactional development program that resulted in many prospects not feeling ready for the ask despite strong inclination to be supportive of the school. We hold ourselves to the principles of “moves management” in the development cycle — that strong engagement backed by appropriate cultivation will yield gifts to the school.

A complete redesign of our engagement programs has resulted in a re-energized classes and reunion program that I would describe as traditional, but still innovative. Also, we
have introduced a very robust engagement model that focuses on affinity groups. Our alumni clubs are both geographic and industry-based. If you work in banking, your peer group is going to live in Beijing, London, New York — all over the world, and so it does not matter whether you live in the same city as your peers. The uniting factor is that you have common professional interests.

Q13: Another alumni program is “Lifelong Learning.” Was that created under your watch?
Sam: Yes, but I cannot take credit for it. The original idea for “Lifelong Learning” came from the faculty, which means that it grew organically out of Wharton’s academic program. It brings academic content to our alumni in convenient and relevant ways. Whether we provide that content to alumni here in Philadelphia, take it to them where they live, or provide it online, their inclination to support the School increases dramatically if they participate in lifelong learning programs.


Q14: Wharton Executive Education is designed specifically for executives seeking new ways to lead, influence, and effect change within their organizations. What is behind this idea?
Sam: It’s the notion of a global village. When you bring students from around the world and from so many different cultures into this melting pot, you have the challenge of how to develop leadership for someone with an Eastern, Western, Judeo-Christian, or Islamic background. You’ll find that there are some common core qualities to leadership that anyone can adopt; it helps shape them into effective organizational leaders.

Q15: What sort of global impact is Wharton making?
Sam: Wharton is a magnet for students from all parts of the world. It is remarkable to look at the students, whether they are undergraduates or MBA students, and realize that they came here to learn similar things and to do it in a collective. This causes me to feel positive about the world, at a time when some people find it difficult feel much optimism.

Q16: You travel internationally quite a bit. What are some of your observations?
Sam: I meet Wharton alumni who are working in business communities that include people from all different backgrounds. What resonates with me is the shared experience, a common bond that is very profound.

Take, for example, the so-called tensions between U.S. and China businesses. When I see our American alumni doing business in China or Chinese alumni doing business in the U.S., it is clear to me that we all want the same thing: economic growth. We are all rowing in the same direction, and we do it collegially. I am sure these are tough business people and it is not always easy, but I do find it reassuring that these people know each other, they respect each other, and they do work together.


Q17: Work-life balance is of great interest to many in the development profession. Are you able to achieve what you would call a reasonable work-life balance with the demands of your job right now?Sam: I try to set the office tone and culture so that we fulfill our responsibilities in a way that is properly prioritized and triaged. Do I look at my iPhone before I go to sleep, just to make sure everything is quiet? The answer is, of course, yes. However, if you walked through my office and asked my professional staff, “What is your work-life balance?” I think they would say that we work hard and are very accountable for the work that we do. This is an environment where senior leadership, including the dean, understands that “work hard, play hard” requires time for both.

Q18: What is the best thing you have brought to the Wharton fundraising table?
Sam: I would say that it is a focus on deep, authentic relationship building as part of the discipline of the development cycle. I talk about clarity with my team all the time. It is probably true that all organizations deal with ambiguity, but I think it may be especially true in a nonprofit. If we can eliminate some of the ambiguity by being clear ourselves, that will set the tone of a great work culture. It also applies completely to our donor experience. We can be better fundraisers if donors know what we want.

If the question is, “How did that ask go today?” and your answer is, “Well, I’m not sure what they’re thinking,” then you didn’t really do your job completely. You have to be clear with donors, in terms of what you are asking, and be able to accurately gauge and understand their response.

Q19: Is there anything that you wish you had known when you first got into this field? If so, would it have lead you to do anything differently?
Sam: I wish I knew how fun and fulfilling this work is, and I wish I knew that there was no need to fear the ask. Fearing the ask is a huge barrier that new development people need to overcome. It probably keeps many people out of development and it almost kept me away too.

Yet, it turns out, the ask is the best part of the job. When you know someone so well that you can sit down together and ask them to make a gift, whatever that amount might be, it means that you have a very deep, close relationship with them. You are talking about one of the most intimate things in their lives: their wealth. To be in that role is very special.

Q20: What advice would you give to aspiring CDOs?
Sam: Keep the perspective and the balance of being able to successfully differentiate between the emergencies and the things that can wait until tomorrow so that you prioritize and triage correctly. I maintain a very even and predictable persona as a leader in the office. People know where they stand with me, therefore they do not fear it, and they take advantage of my open door.

There are four words that have influenced the way I think about my role at work. Many years ago, I was watching an interview on “60 Minutes” of a retired rear admiral of the Navy who was being honored as the very first female in that role. They asked her to describe the difference between management and leadership. Her simple and elegant answer was “manage things, lead people.”

That is my advice to aspiring to Chief Development Officers. Manage things and lead people. The difference between management and leadership is very profound and understanding the role of each will make a difference in your life as a Chief Development Officer.

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