A man speaks in front of onlookers during a meeting.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Jackson.

The Warren Bennis Leadership Initiative (WBLI) will create the infrastructure, momentum and resources needed to launch the Warren Bennis Leadership Institute. 

During a two-year period (academic years 2021-22 and 2022-23), the WBLI will accomplish the following goals: 

  1. Energize stakeholder (campus and Cincinnati community) interest in the creation of a multi-disciplinary leadership institute at the University of Cincinnati.

  2. Curate existing UC leadership capabilities (e.g., programming, thought leadership, related centers/initiatives), while identifying further opportunities and potential gaps.

  3. Build sustainable revenue-generation through executive education leadership offerings.

  4. Fuel momentum of the annual Warren Bennis Leadership Experience (WBLE).

As the university’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here is about creating impact by positively transforming our community and society in measurable ways. Through experiences both inside and outside the classroom, UC empowers individuals to be leaders, to boldly question and enable change, to think next, act now.

The WBLI is a place where leaders are made. It is a place where individuals will come to think of themselves as leaders. The WBLI builds on the legacy and leadership lessons of Warren G. Bennis. It offers the UC community an opportunity to be shaped and sustained in their own lives and roles as leaders.

The Beginning

The Warren Bennis Leadership Experience was established in 2015 by undergraduate student Jack FitzGerald (A&S ‘17, ‘20). Below are Jack’s words and reflections on how it all began:

When I was a teenager, my dad had me read Warren Bennis’ "On Becoming a Leader" as a punishment for staying out past curfew. I recall my dad asking me, “Do you want to be a leader or a follower?” Years later, I was reading about Bennis' work to establish a leadership program for first-year students and was surprised I could not find a more visible legacy of Bennis on UC’s campus. Then I met Tom Humes (BUS ‘71, A&S ’77).

A man in a blue shirt and a man in a blue shirt and black jacket smile.

Jack FitzGerald and Tom Humes

Humes, who worked for Bennis during the 1977 campaign to gain state status for UC and was the chairman of the UC Board of Trustees at the time, challenged me to start something that would bring Bennis’ legacy back to campus. Humes believed it was important this effort came from a student because he received the same challenge and mentorship from Bennis himself.

I met with Humes, and several students and key players at UC, to form the initial Warren Bennis Leadership Experience (WBLE) planning team, which included:

  • Bill Mulvihill (BUS '70), who worked for Bennis during the conversion to state university
  • Jay Chatterjee, FAICP, Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus, DAAP
  • Charles (Chuck) Matthews, PhD (BUS ’90), Distinguished Teaching Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy
  • Donna Chrobot-Mason, PhD, Associate Psychology Professor

Before graduating in the spring of 2017, I gave a TEDx Talk at TEDxUCincinnati to share the history of the founding of the Warren Bennis Leadership Experience as a student and inspire students to get involved in the planning of future events.

From Event to Initiative

Thanks to dedicated UC alumni Neal Novak, JD (A&S ’73, LAW ’77), and Joan Linhardt, MD (A&S ’72, MED ’76), WBLE is well on its way to becoming a strategic initiative and, eventually, a center for leadership studies and excellence, at the university. Read more from Jack FitzGerald:

Neal and Joan contacted me in fall 2017, while I was living in San Diego as a Jesuit Volunteer after graduating from UC. They explained that they had learned about my work with WBLE. Neal worked as Bennis’ driver and Joan as a nanny, both living at the Bennis residence in Clifton for a period of time during their undergraduate studies.

They were contacted by the University of Southern California to donate to USC’s efforts around Bennis, but felt more of an affinity for an effort at their alma mater instead, given their relationship with the Bennis family. Neal and Joan commissioned me to travel to where Bennis taught at USC and go through the “Bennis papers” at the USC libraries to find information that would be helpful to their work back at UC.

A man and two women pose for a photo.

Jack FitzGerald, Jennifer Heisey, vice president of alumni and donor experience for the UC Alumni Association, and Kate Bennis, daughter of Warren Bennis.

When I completed my Jesuit Volunteer Corps service in fall 2018, I relocated back to Cincinnati to attend grad school at UC. Joan extended the same generosity and experience to me that she received from the Bennis family, and invited me to live at her family’s residence. In the two years that followed, I continued to work with the Warren Bennis Leadership Experience while Joan and Neal became more involved in the legacy work. I completed my Master of Arts in Psychology, submitting a thesis on what it would take to establish a leadership institute at a major university, an effort that involved benchmarking, needs assessments and a review of Bennis’ work.

Linhardt and Novak formed what became the Warren Bennis Leadership Institute Preliminary Advisory board. This advisory board was formed to discover what it would take to create a leadership institute in the name of Warren Bennis at UC. The board was made up of family and friends of Bennis, alumni, faculty, staff and students, including:

  • Kate Bennis, daughter of Warren Bennis
  • Will Bennis, son of Warren Bennis
  • Jay Chatterjee, FAICP, Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus, DAAP
  • Donna Chrobot-Mason, PhD, Associate Psychology Professor
  • Bruce Hopple (BUS, JD)
  • Tom Humes (BUS ’71, A&S ’77, HON ’16)
  • Peter Landgren (CCM ’78), President, University of Cincinnati Foundation
  • Chuck Matthews, PhD (BUS ’90), Distinguished Teaching Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy
  • Bill Mulvihill (BUS '70)
  • Jack Rouse, Emeritus Professor, former chair, UC's College Conservatory of Music
  • Richard (Dick) E. Thornburgh (BUS ’74, HON ’09)
  • Dave Williams
  • Myron (Mike) E. Ullman III (BUS ’69, HON '06)
A group of people pose for a photo.

From left: WBLI Academic Director Donna Chrobot-Mason, Lindner College of Business Dean Marianne Lewis, WBLI Coordinator Jack FitzGerald and student members of the Warren Bennis Leadership Experience team.

The board created a proposal for UC President Neville G. Pinto, PhD, connecting the legacy of Warren Bennis and the Next Lives Here strategic direction to the opportunity to create a leadership institute in the name of the "Father of Leadership."

President Pinto accepted the proposal and welcomed the pursuit of creating the Institute, tasking Lindner College of Business Dean Marianne W. Lewis, PhD, with leading the effort. While the initiative is housed by a college at the university, it is interdisciplinary and open to all.

In the summer of 2021, Dean Lewis formally appointed Chrobot-Mason as Thornburgh Academic Director of the Warren Bennis Leadership Initiative (WBLI) and FitzGerald as the WBLI coordinator to bring WBLI to the Warren Bennis Leadership Institute.

In 2012, Tom Humes flew to the University of Southern California to interview Warren Bennis about his time as president of the University of Cincinnati. In this video, Warren reflects on his life’s work and proudly claims he would not have been the scholar he was if it were not for his years at UC. “They were the most important learning years of my life,” Warren said.

Support the Warren Bennis Leadership Initiative

Honor a legacy of leadership and help develop the leaders of tomorrow by contributing to The Warren Bennis Leadership Institute Fund.