Staff Q&A / Ilene Wilder

Ilene Wilder, director of marketing and business development for the Business Services Division  Photo credit: Peter Tobia

Any time a student, faculty or staff member at the University has an eccentric or unconventional idea about how to promote or expand the Penn brand, it usually ends up on the desk of Ilene Wilder, director of marketing and business development for the Business Services Division.

When Penn Athletics replaced the Palestra floor in 2008 and Wilder was asked to create an environmentally friendly plan for the discarded wood, she came up with “Own a Piece of The Palestra,” an array of finely-crafted items made from the court’s original hardwood flooring.

After Naked Chocolate opened on Walnut Street, Wilder approached the owner to see if he would license with the University to offer Penn chocolate bars, which she says are on sale now “in milk chocolate and white chocolate.”

And last year, when the College Dean’s Advisory Board wanted to design their own T-shirts to sell at the Penn Bookstore, Wilder guided them through the process. She advised students as they wrote the business plan and proposal, and conducted a T-shirt design contest.

“They sold well,” Wilder says. “We sold out in the first run.”

Wilder is also responsible for promoting the amenities of the 21 different departments that Business Services oversees, including Housing, Dining, the Bookstore, the Penn Children’s Center, the Ice Rink, Parking, Transportation, PennCard and the Morris Arboretum. Some of her promotions include the faculty and staff frequent-buyer club cards at Penn Dining and the Bookstore holiday party.

She’s also the one behind the development of Penn desk accessory items such as the bronze replica of the Youthful Franklin statue, the University’s e-card and e-vite sites and the animated Penn holiday and note cards. She dresses the windows at the Bookstore, and also selected the artwork for the murals on the Bookstore walls.

“Business Services is always a player in the broader University initiatives,” Wilder says. “I’m in the right place because of the things that I do and the creativity that is required of me.”

The Current sat down with Wilder recently to chat about licensing the Penn brand, Business Services’ commitment to sustainability and the key to a well feng-shuied office space.

Q. You worked as a lobbyist and in marketing for architects and engineers before coming to Penn. What drew you to academia?
I never really knew that there was this kind of position available in academia so I was actually very excited when the position became available. What really drew me here, and what I was really excited about, was being on campus again, a beautiful campus, and working with the students. They keep you fresh. Every year you get a new generation coming in and they really keep you on top of what’s going on. Having opportunities to share my real-world experiences with these students who are going out to face the real world continues to be the element of my job that I enjoy the most.

Q. What are your job responsibilities as director of marketing and business development for Business Services?
Business Services delivers services and amenities to the campus and we engage in a lot of the commercial businesses that are revenue-generating. There are 21 departments in our division and I work with all of them in helping market their services to their appropriate audiences. I work with a lot of different groups across campus, Athletics, Alumni Relations, Admissions. I’m starting to work with the schools individually now because they want to get involved with selling their branded products. I reach across the University, and in that role represent our division, so I focus on how we can make sure that our division is participating in campus-wide events like Homecoming, Family Weekend, Alumni Weekend, Commencement and so forth.

Q. How has your architectural/engineering marketing expertise influenced your current work?
For most of my time working for architects and engineers, I didn’t have a big staff. In architectural and engineering companies, [it’s] kind of a one-man band, so you learn to be very resourceful. I don’t have any staff right now, and when you don’t have a staff, you’d better be resourceful. I am an extreme multi-tasker. I can do a whole lot of things at one time. I think the biggest skill that I’ve had throughout my career is I’m really good at creating relationships and networking.

Q. You are also responsible for the licensing of Penn products, correct?
I handle the licensing of any product that has the Penn brand. A big part of my job in the broader sense is to extend the Penn brand in a way that reaches all of our audiences. I usually say our audience is from 0 to 100 years old because I have the infants in the Children’s Center and then I have very, very seasoned alumni. When we talk about extending our Penn brand, it means different things to different people. People who graduated in 1956 had a different experience than people who graduated two years ago.

Q. Have you had any strange licensing requests that you had to turn down?
Probably boxers with the box in the shape of boxer shorts. That one sticks with me because he was so excited about the box being in the shape of boxer shorts. We get some fun things. We’re always trying to stay on top of the trends.

Q. Sustainability is a big focus in Business Services. Can you talk about some of your initiatives?
Sustainability is one of the initiatives that Marie Witt, the vice president of Business Services, takes very seriously. We have a lot of sustainability initiatives in our departments, including the products that we sell in the Bookstore. We look for vendors who not only offer products that are made of sustainable material, but also social responsibility. We have several of those vendors right now and I’m always on the lookout for vendors who are creating products that are sustainable in nature or made of recycled material. I do a lot of work making sure that promotional items are sustainable. If we’re going to give things away, they have to be made of recyclable material and with sustainable packaging. One of the big initiatives in our division overall is our sustainable transportation initiative. To help kick that off, we have four new shuttles that are run on propane, which is actually a cleaner fuel.

Q. You are also chair of the Burrison Gallery Advisory Committee. What kind of artwork does the Gallery feature?
The Burrison Gallery is a small little gallery that sits inside the University Club. My husband is an artist and I’m a former dancer so supporting the arts is something that is near and dear to my heart. It’s been fun. All the artists are connected to Penn: faculty, staff, alumni and their families. We’ve had a little bit of everything. We try to vary the kind of medium. Next summer, we want to have a show of artwork from members of the University Club. Anyone interested can contact me.

Q. Do you have any hobbies outside of work?
I’m actually the president of my neighborhood park, which is kind of like a whole other job without getting paid. I am an extreme environmentalist. If you go on my Facebook page, it says that I am a tree hugger and proud of it. I am the president of Columbus Square Park and as such, I work with everybody in our community towards keeping our park beautiful and green. I live across the street from the park so I have a very vested interest. And I also am a feng shui practitioner. I feng shui people’s offices.

Q. Do you have any general advice for keeping a positive office space?
Unclutter. Clutter is the No. 1 thing that you should avoid if you want a well feng shuied space.

Originally published on October 28, 2010