2017 Best EMBAs: Todd Wilson, Wharton (San Francisco)

Todd Wilson

Wharton EMBA (San Francisco)

“Adventurous, courageous, and dedicated husband, father, and executive with an insatiable desire to learn.”

Age: 50

Hometown: Point Richmond, California

Family Members:  Meg (wife of 27 years), Olivia (daughter, 23), Spencer (son, 21), & Tatiana (pseudo-daughter who joined us from a Chernobyl-affected area of Belarus, 30)

Fun fact about yourself: I took an unorthodox path for college.  After a career that began on Wall Street at age 18, which later led to becoming a software entrepreneur, I went back to get my Bachelor’s Degree at UC-Berkeley at age 42.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California – Berkeley, BA History; Wharton University of Pennsylvania, MBA.

Where are you currently working? SVP, IT at Clif Bar & Company, a leader in healthy, nutritious energy bar snacks.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Vice Chair of Marin Covenant, a social impact not-for-profit.  Volunteer for Changing Gears and Alameda Food Bank.  Member of local chapter of Toastmasters International.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of becoming proficient in the quantitative skills required by the Wharton program.  It had been 30 years since I last took any serious math classes (high school precalculus), so it was a rigorous process to learn the required basics and then become comfortable with the curriculum expectations.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I founded an innovative software company in 1999; weathered the dot-com bust and also the aftermath of 9/11; as CEO, built and then sold the company; and helped transition the team into great opportunities within the acquirer, Microsoft.  I am most proud of this achievement because it took immense courage and persistent to accomplish, and nearly every other startup during that period failed.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite course was Management Communication: Persuasion and Communicating Change. Understanding scientific frameworks to develop strong communications skills in crisis management, change management, and impromptu speaking has greatly increased my effectiveness as an executive leader. I have already had the opportunity to put this learning into practice by leading our organization through a transformational stage of growth.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? As a young employee working on Wall Street, I had two colleagues who I admired as exemplary in technical and leadership competency.  They had both earned an MBA from Wharton and that solidified my gold standard in business schools. That assessment was confirmed decades later as I began to consider and evaluate an EMBA.  I searched for the best quality and found that Wharton was still at the top. I did not apply to any other schools.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education?  During the second half of 2016, I was tasked with two major systems implementations that were each bigger than any project ever undertaken by Clif Bar. Industry studies show that 72% of such projects fail and we were trying to accomplish two which meant the probability of both succeeding was less than 8%. We transitioned to self-manufacturing, tripled the number of employees and locations, and exponentially increased the complexity of our systems and processes. At the same time, my daughter had just graduated college and I had committed to a family vacation to celebrate. For nearly six months, I rarely returned home.  I flew between school (San Francisco) and each new manufacturing facility (Idaho and Indianapolis) and squeezed in a family trip to Greece between two class sessions. This period also included the Wharton EMBA global business week in Singapore and Vietnam. My wife would join me in San Francisco for the class weekends. Both projects were successful. My academics did not suffer, and I am still happily married. I learned, through hands-on training how much greater my capacity is than I first expected, and also how to integrate work, life, and school rather than balance those domains. It was only possible through the unwavering support of my wife and kids, as well as the support of my employer and supervisor.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program?  It is important to completely count the cost of committing to a rigorous tier one EMBA program.  It was the most challenging experience of my career, though also one of the most rewarding.  It is essential to make sure you have complete support from your family and company or it will be difficult to succeed.

What was your biggest regret in business school?  My biggest regret is not having sufficient time to completely explore every facet of every topic in each class.  There was such a wealth of great learning, but not enough time to get to all of it.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire my classmate Amir Moradi. Amir and I were in the same first-year study group. He is gentle, loyal, resilient, thoughtful, and supportive to everyone he meets.  His amazing journey includes an escape from exile in Iran, overcoming learning challenges, and adapting to a new culture. He has become a very successful physician and is a devoted husband and father. His personal example is a model I aspire to imitate.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I knew I wanted to go to business school when I quickly learned just how little I knew from friends and coworkers who had completed business school. I was barely out of high school and had not yet gone to college, but I could clearly see the value of a business school education.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…better-rested, but far less equipped to achieve my professional goals, and would still be relying entirely on instinct to be an effective leader rather than tested frameworks and quantitative capabilities.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? My favorite company is my current company, Clif Bar & Company, because of its values-based approach to business. This has not only been formalized through the “5 Aspirations,” but is an intentional and integral fabric within the company.  The 5 Aspirations are Sustaining our Business, Sustaining our Brand, Sustaining our Community, Sustaining our Planet, and Sustaining our People. These are not just slogans, but benchmarks that are lived out and used for all decision-making and activity within the organization.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? Currently, Wharton is unwavering in expectations on attendance. While I understand and agree in principle, EMBA students who inevitably experience major life events during the course of the program and are unjustly penalized when such life events occur. I would create a more lenient attendance policy for EMBA students.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I aspire to become the CEO of a dynamic, category-leading company.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I most want to thank my wife for her sustained and resolute support. It would not have been possible to endure the challenges of school and work without her unwavering commitment to my success.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?  I would like to be remembered as a thoughtful, decisive, and courageous leader.

Favorite book: John Adams by David McCullough.  It is the fascinating story of an unsung hero of the early days of this country that is as vividly historic as it is romantic.

Favorite movie or television show: My favorite movie is The Princess Bride. It is a wonderfully-crafted story of class struggle disguised as a period, romantic comedy.

Favorite musical performer: Billy Joel. He is as entertaining today as when I was in high school.

Favorite vacation spot:  I have visited exotic destinations around the world, but my favorite vacation spot is nearby in Lake Tahoe. There is an unmatched serenity for me that is as much about familiarity and memories as it is the majestic surroundings.

Hobbies?  I am a private pilot, an avid snowboarder, and love to read.

What made Todd such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Todd is the consummate executive MBA student.  He came to the program at a time in his life and career when he knew he was capable and ready to take on more for his organization, but he knew there were areas that needed development. He saw the Wharton MBA for Executives program as the way to gain the practical and theoretical knowledge he needed while being able to move grand plans forward with his employer, ClifBar.

From its first stages, Todd’s career took a non-traditional path via Wall Street in his first post-high school profession which then led him other senior level opportunities at Mattel and in the 90s to start his own tech company.  He survived the dot.com bust and successfully sold and transitioned the company to Microsoft where he helped with integration. Todd could have taken a life break at this point, but he was ready for his next educational foray and successfully attended and graduated from Berkeley earning a Bachelor of Science degree with Honors in History. With more professional growth came the realization that he needed even more to be a change leader and Wharton was the answer to help get him to that next level.

Todd is the perfect blend of entrepreneur and corporate leader. He thinks strategically and is pragmatic in his communications and decision making, this was refined through his Leadership courses. Todd’s maturity shone through in the classroom where he garnered respect from every classmate and built strong friendships across the whole class.

I don’t know exactly how Todd managed all that he had going on during the MBA program. He juggled family, school and senior level responsibilities to help get two new factories set up and open in Idaho and Indiana. Todd used the program opportunities provided to immerse himself in courses and independent study to achieve his personal and educational goals. Being surrounded by a learning community that is diverse, hungry to learn and to share helped him accomplish this.

Todd’s quiet leadership shone through as he stepped up to be Master of Ceremonies for the Quaker dinner with his class. He was able to encourage classmates to share their experiences and appreciation for one another and for their accomplishments over the past couple of years.  He set the tone for a rich, trusting and warm close to this 2 year experience.”

Bernadette (Bernie) Birt
Executive Director of the MBA Program for Executives in San Francisco