“These are people with families, jobs, and lives, and they’re doing this program for the right reasons. They take the course content and immediately weave it into their professional and even personal lives – that’s what it’s all about.” – Professor Peter Fader

The Wharton School takes pride in its world-class faculty, who actively contribute to cutting-edge research, practice innovative teaching methods, and develop new coursework that reflects the evolving business world. These renowned educators set the standard of academic excellence in Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives (WEMBA). We asked Professor Peter Fader, Wharton’s Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia Professor of Marketing, to share his experience teaching in the program.

Why do you love teaching Executive MBA students?

The main course that I teach to undergraduate, full-time MBA, and Executive MBA students is Applied Probability Models in Marketing. I teach the course the same way for all three groups. I change almost nothing because I don’t like pigeonholing the students; they’re smart, they can handle it all. Here’s where the WEMBA students are unique: When the undergraduate students come up to me after class, they ask “Is this gonna be on the test?” When the full-time MBA students come up to me after class, they ask, “Is this gonna help me land my dream job?”

But when the WEMBA students come up to me after class, they ask, “Where can I read more about this?” And that’s it. They’ve stolen my heart.

Prof. Fader with a copy of “The Customer Base Audit,” published by Wharton School Press in 2022. (Image: Peter Fader)

These are people with families, jobs, and lives, and they’re taking this course for the right reasons. They take the course content and immediately weave it into their professional and even personal lives – that’s what it’s all about. I’ll keep taking that red eye to and from San Francisco as long as they’ll have me to teach such an extraordinary and unique group.  

Share some insights you’ve picked up through your involvement with WEMBA’s Global Business Week.

I’ve been teaching a course on Customer Centricity in Sweden for Global Business Week since 2018. One of the reasons I teach in the WEMBA program is because I really like to learn from them, as corny as that sounds. However, most of the time there’s still a barrier; I’m at the front of the class and they’re at the back of the class. Global Business Week breaks down that barrier and allows us to mix it up with more unstructured conversations and deeper thinking.

I’ve done this trip a half dozen times now and I hope I can do it forever. It’s a lot of work, because I want to make sure I put my best foot forward as a professor and that we put our best forward as representatives of the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania. It’s a true labor of love.

Was there one corporate visit that most resonated with you from this year’s trip? How did WEMBA students respond to that visit?

It’s one thing to talk about customer centricity in the classroom, but to see it in real-time at real companies is incredibly valuable. It gives students a chance to see the way this stuff happens in practice, probe and ask questions, and potentially even teach some of these companies how they could do things more effectively. SAS Airlines was a crowd favorite. Airlines are interesting, because on the one hand, they initiated some of the main building blocks of customer centricity. Every loyalty program we know today, dynamic pricing, sophisticated data analytics – those all go back to airlines. 

Professor Fader with Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify (center), and Kyle Altshuler, WG’22 (right). (Image: Peter Fader)

On the other hand, strategically for them, the focus has always been on operational efficiency. SAS is right in the crosshairs of that because they’re going through bankruptcy. Anko van der Werff, the CEO, talked incredibly candidly with us about their reasons for doing it, the journey through it, and their vision for the future. No slides, no script, just complete transparency. And the WEMBA students came well-prepared; they knew the issues because they’d done their homework, and he appreciated that. I can’t tell you how much these candid conversations mean to the class. 

What cultural differences do you see between the U.S. and Sweden as it relates to the way we do business?

If you think stereotypically, it’s a more collectivist culture, so you may expect the Swedish people to be a bit more open, honest, and collaborative. But there are more subtle cultural differences in Sweden that students may not even notice. For instance, when you land at the airport in Stockholm, you may notice that unlike at most airline terminals, there’s a lot of wood. Lots of light-colored wood and Nordic architecture and design. At first, you might write it off as an aesthetic choice.

The Ericsson corporate visit during a Global Business Week trip in Sweden. (Image: Peter Fader)

But in doing research for a book I’m writing, I learned from cultural experts that the Nordic people have a deep affinity for trees. The cultural significance of trees in Nordic countries is deeply rooted in their history, mythology, and everyday life. Trees are very long-lived, and Nordics weave trees and wood into their lives in a much deeper way than we do here in the U.S. The more I thought about this, I realized this is one reason I respect and admire Sweden and its people so much. My whole thing is customer lifetime value, building lifelong relationships with your best customers. There’s a real analogy between how a company should be building relationships with customers and the way the Swedish culture values trees. I just love that metaphor. These types of visits make you start thinking much more deeply. When you’re immersed in the culture it hits you in a different way.

Kendra King

Posted: January 25, 2024

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