2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Ledford Powell, Wharton School

Ledford Powell (“Ford”)

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (Wharton San Francisco)

Age: 51

“Single father with equal custody of two children, surgeon, chairperson, educator, researcher, runner, and innovator”

Hometown: Newport Coast, CA

Family Members: two children; Aidan Powell (16) and Samantha Powell (13)

Fun fact about yourself: I was a swing voice in a classical 100 voice choir, I ran 50 miles for my fiftieth birthday, I enjoy water skiing in Lake Arrowhead and snow skiing in Utah. I once spent an entire evening at an event where many of the guests had mistaken me for Tiger Woods.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

CSU Dominguez Hill, BA Biology

University of Rochester School of Medicine, MD

UC Irvine, Surgical residency, ABS

UCSF Thoracic Surgery Fellowship, ABTS

Where are you currently working?

Pacific Thoracic Surgery; President and CEO in Laguna Hills, CA

Johnson and Johnson; Consultant and Advisory Board, National

Providence Health; Thoracic Trauma, Surgical Executive Committee, CA

Chest Wall Injury Society; Program Mentor, infrastructure committee, National

Memorial Care; Medical Executive Committee, Orange County, CA

Memorial Care; Credentials Committee, Orange County, CA

Providence Health; Research PI, clinical trials, Orange County, CA

Applied Medical; Consultant, Orange County, CA

Acute Innovations; Consultant, Orange County, CA

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Memorial Care; OR Committee Chairperson

Memorial Care; Chief of Surgery

Memorial Care; Chair Tumor Board

Men’s Life Balance Support Group

Shadow Program for Pre-Med students

Volunteer Free clinic

Faculty for American College of Surgeons

Volunteer for the lung cancer support group

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

Orange County Medical Association Top Thoracic Surgeon 2022

Dean’s List, The Wharton School

Hoag Hospital; Top Performer

Providence Health; Top Performer

JNJ Leaders and Legends

I am particularly proud of the students that have participated in my shadow program that pursued professional education in medicine. They restore my joy of teaching, learning and research. Also proud of the surgeons that have attended my training course and went on to develop successful programs in their home institutions.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The practice of thoracic surgery is heavily focused on the management of cancers of the lung and esophagus. About a decade ago, I recognized a changing trend in the state of California primarily related to population lifestyle choices. These changes would decrease the number of early-stage lung cancers and esophageal cancers, but would potentially increase trauma. Chest trauma was an area that was well studied but poorly managed. I studied diseases of the chest wall and specifically developed a new procedure, which our community refers to as the “Powell procedure.” It is a minimally invasive approach to the management of chest wall injuries, rib fractures and reconstruction. This required a coordination of industry support, research and development, physician support and education, and hospital leadership. After developing the procedure, I began to collect data and presented our outcomes at local and national meetings. I launched an 18-month educational campaign, developed a new product, and collaborated with industry leaders. These accomplishments led Johnson & Johnson to recognize me as a leader and legend in the field. I have also been recognized by the Chest Wall Injury Society (CWIS) and the American College of Surgeons (ACS). I travel all over the country training surgeons how to perform this operation, and I have helped many hospitals create programs using my experience and continue to innovate in this area. To this day, it is my competitive advantage and has helped redefine many aspects of thoracic surgery, orthopedic surgery, and trauma surgery.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Christopher Geczy, Investment Management, FNCE 705

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The list of executive MBA programs that I strongly considered was limited. I wanted a program that would challenge me, push me outside of my comfort zone and give me the opportunity to explore things that I never considered. The Wharton School was all those things. The Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania is known to be a heavy quantitative program with a particular interest in global economy. When I compared the experience at the Wharton School with that of many other top ranked MBA programs, my decision to attend the Wharton School became clear. I am extremely pleased with my choice.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? There were so many skills that I learned during my MBA program that I was able to implement immediately after my first weekend at Wharton. Many of those skills were operational. However, the greatest skill I learned was the ability to effectively lead a team of individuals and motivate your team members to perform at their highest level. I lead many teams and some team members are naturally motivated and some need encouragement. One of my colleagues seemed unhappy in his role at the hospital and tended to negatively impact other team members. Taking the skills that I learned in negotiations, strategy, influence, and leadership, I was able to find a way to connect with this individual, spotlight his strengths and encourage him to bring his best every day. Instead of working against the mission of the team, he began to inspire others to focus on the mission of the program, engage in research, and improved his overall performance. Situation awareness and a willingness to consider an alternative perspective, allowed me to see and accentuate this individual’s real potential.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I am smiling as I read this question because my staff has jokingly said I am a professional juggler, juggling “bowling” balls every day. Each ball is large and heavy, and I always have at least ten in the air. When something new is added I just throw it in the mix and adjust my pace and rhythm.

I am a single father with equal custody of two incredible children, president of a successful thoracic surgical practice and deep commitments to my community and its infrastructure. My life before Wharton was a well-coordinated dance between family, work, fitness, and special interests. Marketing Week however was a unique opportunity and challenge at Wharton. We spent a week in Philadelphia immersed in an intensive educational experience. Early mornings and late nights. To get the time off, I needed to coordinate my co-parenting schedule with my former wife, surgical coverage at 3 hospitals, leadership duties in the health care system, and educational responsibilities. Part of my competitive advantage in surgery is that I have developed a unique minimally invasive surgical procedure to treat injuries to the chest wall. Despite training hundreds of surgeons on the technique, very few surgeons perform the operation without a mentor present.

As I was preparing to board my airplane at LAX to travel to Philadelphia, I was called from the operating room by a surgeon requesting my immediate help on a challenging case. Fortunately, my flight was delayed, and they were able to face time me into the operating room allowing me to talk the surgeon through the procedure and assure that the patient had a successful outcome. This is common when I travel. Zoom technology allowed me to conduct consultations for complex cases while I was away, in between lectures and workshops.

In addition to work, there were family responsibilities. Our children are both involved in many activities both academic and extracurricular. These activities require frequent engagement of both parents. I continued to make myself available to help our children with essays and math assignments, despite the time difference. I also read books with my daughter most evenings before going out to social events at Wharton. My former wife, mother of our children, is also in a master’s program in health care and needed my input on selected research projects. She was working on a lung cancer project, one of my areas of specialty. I helped by proofreading some of her essays while trying to study for my Marketing classes. From a leadership standpoint, I serve as the chair of the Operating Room (OR) efficiency committee and Chief of Surgery. Unfortunately, we had several high priority issues that needed to be addressed in the hospital and could only be addressed by the Chief of Surgery. Marketing week also presented an opportunity to engage my East Coast colleagues in multiple social events and I was able to participate in all those activities.

Despite the demands from work, family, and leadership I was fortunate to obtain a letter grade of “A” in Marketing. I met several great students from the Philadelphia campus, many of which I have maintained contact. At the end of the week, I traveled back to Southern California with a series of new hospital patients that needed semi-urgent surgery. I drove directly from LAX Airport to three different hospitals and continued to operate for the next several days. Despite the challenges, the overall experience was incredible, and I would not change any part of it.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? This is a rare opportunity to grow as an individual, interact with people from various backgrounds and industries and potentially redefine yourself. While it is nice to have a clear plan for your future, keep your mind open to all the opportunities that are available to you. Take electives that challenge you; this is where I learned the most. Contribute in class; this is where I recognized that I had something incredible to share.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Many people have different experiences in their MBA programs. I recall one local surgeon sharing his MBA experience with me as I embarked upon my journey. He did not attend the Wharton School. He shared that he was the same person at the end of the program as when he entered the program except now, he had MBA behind his name.

My experience was the complete opposite. I am a different person at work, at home and in my social life. I can recognize unique opportunities at work and most importantly take advantage of those opportunities. I am far more effective at communicating as well as invoking others on the team to communicate. I am a more effective leader; I am fully aware of my risk aversion metric and manage it better when making financial and corporate decisions. My deep understanding of operations management has also allowed me to be more effective in my leadership role. Personally, I am a better person and a better father.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I have very few regrets with regards to the program; the learning experience was incredible. It seems crazy to say I wish I had more time considering the volume of material that was covered during the program. There were many electives that were offered, I wish was able to participate in all of them. I was pleased to discover that I may have the opportunity to participate in some of these electives even after graduation.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Ulrich Schwabe; we were paired as team members in our first year and had an incredible connection. Despite our difference in age, country of origin, and profession, we developed a special bond. That bond was strong even during remote learning and became even stronger in person. We are similar in many ways especially with regards to our work ethic, values, and intrinsic drive. Ulrich at face value is confident, strong, and outspoken. Ulrich with me is vulnerable and self-aware. We are both fully aware of our strengths and weaknesses and are candid with one another. I admire the fact that he has the capability to evaluate himself, seek peer evaluation, and strives to make himself better. He is a brilliant man, with a huge heart, and a dear friend. He has leaned on me to help him learn how to connect with others, and manage insecurities and emotions. It has been a joy to share many of my personal experiences with him and learn many things from him as well, including excel modeling.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I looked at a handful of MBA programs that I greatly respected and spoke with several colleagues that attended full-time MBA programs, online MBA programs as well as executive MBA programs. The executive MBA program offered the experience of a full-time program on a schedule that accommodated the challenges of my professional and family life. I steered away from the part-time programs, I sensed less of a community in the part-time programs. I want the opportunity to learn from my classmates and have more team building opportunities.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I recall being asked this question during the interview process and I will share now what I said then. I am keeping my options wide open, after all, I cannot predict the person that I will become nor the opportunities that will develop. Fast forward almost 2 years later, as I approach the end of my executive MBA program, many opportunities lie before me, and I am confident in all of them. I have increased my engagement with Johnson & Johnson corporations through the medical device division and the advisory board of their robotics division. I have been approached by three different companies with regards to my IP medical device for minimally invasive chest wall surgery. From a leadership standpoint, we are currently in negotiations with the City of Hope Orange County to coordinate surgical oncology care through a large multidisciplinary surgical group. I will maintain my thoracic surgical practice as we continue to develop many of these opportunities. The best is yet to come.

What made Ledford such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“Ford is many things: a world-class thoracic surgeon, an engaged member of the Orange County community, and a doting father to two teenagers—just to name a few. He has won countless awards in medicine and volunteers his time to community support groups, pre-med shadow programs, and free clinics. Ford is the kind of exemplary Wharton EMBA student that others look up to, yet he remains humble in a way that only makes him more impressive.

Students admire Ford’s unassuming strong presence in class, as well as his curiosity and penchant for asking good questions. His enthusiasm for life-long learning is a reminder to us all that there is always room for growth and improvement, no matter how much you have accomplished in life. It’s amazing to see how Ford was able to apply traditional business skills like negotiations, leadership, and influence directly to his practice to improve delivery and quality of healthcare.

Students like Ford offer invaluable contributions to the program not only because of their many accolades, but because they offer a unique perspective that our students appreciate. When Ford gets a “work call,” it very well could be an urgent request from the Pacific Thoracic Surgery Operating Room that only he as Chief of Surgery can handle. It takes a high degree of tenacity to provide that level of supervisory support from the other side of a phone call, FaceTime, or even other side of the country. Ford’s executive presence makes it look easy, and this is just one of the reasons he is so admired by his classmates.”

Barb Craft
Director of Admissions, San Francisco



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