Wharton MBA for Executives Program Alumnus Applies Curriculum to Not-for-Profit World

When Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, was attending Wharton’s MBA for Executives Program, working for a nonprofit organization wasn’t part of his career plan. He had actually applied to Wharton’s program with the goal of transitioning from a marketing role at Pepsi into the field of healthcare management.

However, during his time at Wharton, he discovered a new area of interest – wealth management – that ultimately led him into the not-for-profit world. After graduating in 1996, he took a position as an investment advisor at Goldman Sachs in private wealth management and joined the board of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) where he was “blown away” by how many kids were growing up without fathers.

He recalls, “I wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids and when NFI’s founder asked me in 2000 if I would leave Goldman for the world of nonprofit management, I said yes. A lot of times people struggle between success and significance. Success is often viewed from the perspective of how much money you make, but at the end of the day, I wanted a life that was also significant and I had an opportunity to do something significant here.”

The NFI’s mission is to increase the proportion of children raised with involved, responsible, and committed fathers.  Under Warren’s leadership, the group runs a variety of activities such as public awareness campaigns and providing high-quality fatherhood resources directly to fathers, community- based organizations, businesses, prisons, military bases, hospitals, schools, and churches

He notes that one of the biggest challenges in the not-for-profit world is getting the message out for your organization and making an impact. “At nonprofits, there are similar issues to a business setting, but with less capital to work with. You have to get people to stretch themselves to accomplish your mission, but you can’t use a financial ‘carrot’ to motivate people. It’s also very competitive, perhaps more so than in the business world because dollars are scarce, results can be more difficult to measure, and returns are long term. It’s not like Apple and Dell where they can introduce a new product and the market will quickly tell you who wins,” he explains.

Fortunately, he’s found that pretty much everything he learned at Wharton has been “incredibly applicable” at the NFI. “Whether it is operations management, product development, or human resources, what I learned in school is all transferable to what I’m doing here. I think of my leadership class with Prof. Michael Useem and human resources class with Prof. Peter Cappelli all the time.”

Warren adds that having gone through the program with classmates from so many diverse industries has been useful for him at the NFI as well. In addition to helping him think about business issues from different perspectives, he’s also been able to work with a few as consultants and one former classmate currently sits on the organization’s board.

“Working in the nonprofit world, you have a different perspective on what you expect to get back from an MBA. You don’t go into nonprofits to get rich, but to be enriched,” he says. “For those of us in nonprofits, the ROI of an MBA is gaining a broader understanding of the different types of business issues that apply regardless of whether you are at IBM or a not-for-profit. And to be able to build deep relationships with your classmates is also a real return on your investment.”