Wharton gives back

It may seem to be an odd match: The Wharton School and the U.S. Marine Corps.

But these two institutions—one a leading center for business education, the other one a premier military unit—have been successful partners in a unique, and somewhat grueling, program called the Quantico Leadership Venture.

For the past eight years, the Marines have been helping Wharton MBA students learn about resilience and leadership through the Quantico program. Now, with the creation of a scholarship program named after a fallen Marine, Wharton is returning the favor.

Earlier this fall, Wharton announced the establishment of the Captain Robert M. Secher Scholarship program, which each year will allow a Marine Corps officer to attend Wharton Executive Education programs.
Secher, who served with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and was one of the key contributors in shaping the Quantico program for Wharton, was killed on Oct. 8, 2006 while conducting combat operations in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He was 33 years old.

“We had a core group of people, including Rob, who really did a lot to design the Quantico program so our students would get as much out of it as they now do,” says Jeff Klein, director of the Graduate Leadership Program for Wharton Leadership Ventures. “He also did a lot to build support within the Marines, encouraging the Marines to get involved in these kind of programs. That was Rob’s role.”

The contributions of Secher and his colleagues at Quantico have helped create one of Wharton’s most popular leadership programs.

The Quantico experience, which puts participants through both military exercises and leadership challenges, draws more than 500 applicants each year—for just 180 spots.

More than 1,000 Wharton MBA students have completed the program since its launch.

“It’s an experience and learning program,” Klein says. “We put students in tough situations and then have them make choices. We also create time within the program for self-reflection, group discussion. We hope that we can help these students learn about themselves, and how they can help lead in other organizations.”

The program’s popularity is somewhat surprising, given how grueling the experience is: Participants are whipped into shape by drill sergeants. They wake before dawn. They have to crawl through the mud and slop of a real-life Marine obstacle course.

But along the way, Klein says, the students also learn important lessons about teamwork, perseverance and, of course, leadership.

It’s a lesson the Marines are uniquely positioned to teach, Klein says.

“We’re trying to reinforce the feeling of resilience within leaders, and the fact that leaders of all kinds are going to face all kinds of challenges,” Klein says. “And regardless of your success or failure in the last challenges, you have to go and face the next one.”

Originally published Nov. 1, 2007.

Originally published on November 1, 2007