Dec 15, 2014

Access to Leaders: Tuck’s Unique Visiting Executive Program

 By Anna Liu T’15

Anna is originally from China and came to the U.S. to pursue graduate study. She worked in various health care organizations, including nonprofit, health care facilities and managed care for ten years in Los Angeles. Her husband, two daughters (7-year-old and 5-year-old), and she drove across country to start a fresh life in the woods.

In addition to learning from intelligent, aspirational and diligent peers, Tuck provides an incomparable benefit; close and personal interactions with successful industry leaders through the Visiting Executive Program (VEP). I often joke that it is always good to sign up for lunch or dinner with visiting executives, even just for the food. While I have gotten to try some of the most delicious meals offered in Hanover, what I find most beneficial about attending a small group dinner with a visiting executive (usually 6-8 students), is the opportunity to have thoughtful and personal conversations with business leaders. At Tuck, these opportunities are abundant.

When I started attending the VEP dinners in the first year, one of my motives was to learn how to talk to executives. Unlike some of my classmates who have worked closely with senior management in large corporations, or with partners in consulting, VC, or PE firms, I had little direct interaction with executives high on corporate ladders. Those executives seemed to have an intimidating aurora around them. However, through these dinners and talks I’ve discovered they are "normal" people, just like us, tackling problems of work and business as well as personal life, on a daily basis. Also like us, they have their share of failure stories and learning-through-mistakes experiences.

I have certainly gained a lot of insight about the economy, specific industries, and what it’s like to be a leader in a renowned company, but the conversations I found most memorable were more personal.  Conversations on how they made career choices when they were just out of business school, how they balanced work and life, how they coped with challenges in conflicting situations, how they dealt with stress, bias, and ethical issues, and even what they miss most about their two years at Tuck. I remember a number of executives talking about how they made important career decisions for family reasons. I remember a great female CEO sharing tips on how she delivers with a presence despite her petite figure and soft voice. I remember alumni constantly reminding us to cherish Tuck's resources, the experiences offered, and encouraging us to get to know more people from different backgrounds. I also remember finding the best ski place for my kids during a casual talk over dinner and wine at Pine with a consulting manager!    

There are other ways to take advantage of the VEP as well, such as attending the class in which the visiting executives are invited to speak, or signing up for an office hour, a coffee chat, or a round table discussion. Except for the class, all the other settings limit the number of attendees so we can have individual talks or close discussions in a very small group. Being in a small town away from big cities actually gives Tuck a unique advantage: visitors don't just come and go, in and out of an event within a few hours. Instead, they usually stay at least for a day. While they get to take in fresh air in the beautiful woods of the Upper Valley, Tuck students get to take full advantage of their presence by packing the day with a full schedule of chances for students to interact with these busy, difficult-to-catch leaders.

Now, probably 30 lunches and dinners later, I have also learned about an essential quality of being a great leader: the generosity to share wisdom of life and the willingness to coach a new generation of leaders. These visiting executives (Tuck alumni or not) devote so much time -- and in many cases, do so once or twice a year -- to come to our campus in the woods and to talk around the clock, often for an entire day. I think all of us who have benefitted so immensely from the VEP, are left with the deepest gratitude and look forward to carrying on the spirit of nurturing new leaders in our future careers.

Photo: Visiting Executive, Sam Allen, CEO, Deere & Co., Fall 2011