The arts of the deal

Former orchestra conductor Itay Talgam’s TED talk
Former orchestra conductor Itay Talgam’s TED talk

In looking for leadership inspiration, Itay Talgam debunks what he terms the “myth of the maestro.” The former orchestra conductor has made a name for himself by looking at great orchestra leaders for ideas on how to create environments that value innovation and creativity and celebrate both individual and collective achievement.

In his much-watched TED talk, Talgam said, “[A conductor’s] happiness does not come from only his own story and his joy of the music. The joy is about enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time.”

His point speaks to the importance that lies in tapping the insights, knowledge and skills of an organization’s members; creating the space for each person to shine; and focusing individual efforts on an overall goal. Talgam’s observation resonates with me as both a chamber musician and an educator dedicated to the value of the liberal arts.

The metaphor of conductor as business leader illustrates, for me, the insight, creative synthesis and ability to communicate persuasively that liberal arts study fosters. These are essential skills for success, and they are intellectual habits that Wheaton’s distinctive interdisciplinary liberal arts curriculum encourages. A new national survey of business and nonprofit leaders affirms the advantage of this kind of education.

The study, conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the campaign Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP)—for which I serve as national co-chair—finds that an overwhelming 93 percent of employers prize broader and more flexible skills, such as being able to think critically, communicate clearly and solve problems.

Perhaps even more telling: 95 percent say that those they hire should demonstrate integrity, intercultural skills and the ability to keep learning. These are what will drive college graduates’ future careers, advance their earning potential and ensure their fulfillment substantially, well beyond their initial paycheck. In fact, more than 200 senior executives have joined with LEAP in a compact to promote broad-based learning.

Our college excels in this type of education. However, I am most proud of Wheaton’s restless nature, always seeking to improve the value of what we offer to students. That spirit infused the planning for our newest major: business and management. While business is not a traditional discipline in the liberal arts, our major fits Wheaton perfectly: it is practical, flexible and academically rigorous.

The faculty members who designed the business major outlined a course of study that builds upon our liberal arts strengths. It eschews the narrow focus of the traditional business program in that it extends beyond foundation courses in management, finance, accounting and marketing to embrace a wide range of interests and opportunities. Thus, it offers concentrations in five areas, including corporate ethics and the responsibilities of nonprofit organizations; balancing the profit motive with environmental concerns; and the emerging fields of data analysis and new media communications.

As you might expect, the business and management major includes a requirement for all students to participate in experiential learning opportunities, such as internships or community service positions. Long a hallmark of a Wheaton education, internships and other learning experiences outside the classroom allow students to apply what they know in real-world settings, to put theory into practice.

The establishment of the business and management major is just one of a number of efforts undertaken by our faculty to continually grow the strength, quality and diversity of the college’s academic programs. In just the past two years, our faculty members have also designed new majors in neuroscience and in film and new media, as well as new minors in Jewish studies, public health, and peace and social justice studies. This doesn’t take into account other innovative projects, such as the WHALE lab—a makerspace—for student creativity, and the Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities.

The business and management major, along with all the other new offerings at Wheaton, underscores the vitality of our learning community. More important, these programs sharpen the edge that we offer students in preparing for lives of leadership, intellectual curiosity and professional success. They will be ready, in short, to lead the orchestra as well as to contribute their own voices to the music of life.