In 2017, Smeal College of Business Board of Visitors member Richard Bard and his wife, Pam, invited board members to their Colorado home for a strategic discussion about who we are and what we aspire to be as a business school. We had great discussions, but if you have ever engaged in such an activity, you’ll probably agree that it can be difficult to put into words what sits at the core of oneself or one’s organization.

As luck would have it, I had with me a copy of Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. I read it on the way home.

The book explores why some people and organizations are more innovative, influential, and profitable than others. It also offers a framework for leadership that Sinek calls the Golden Circle. At the center of three concentric circles is why, followed by how and then what. That taxonomy would have helped us at the retreat, as we often got sidetracked by what and how as we explored Smeal’s why. Nonetheless, the reading has shaped the development of our brand.

Focusing on why is key, according to Sinek, because people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about brands and the significance they bring to organizations and institutions. I’ve come to appreciate that a brand is an emotional proposition with its key stakeholders — in our case, the alumni, students, faculty, staff and others who place their trust in our college.

I asked board member Tom Buday, the former head of global marketing at Nestlé, to lead an effort to bring greater clarity to Smeal’s brand. Under his leadership and with the engagement of a subcommittee of talented fellow board members, we held facilitated conversations with faculty and staff; commissioned a survey for key stakeholders; and had one-on-one discussions with senior faculty members. We explored several critical questions, including: What do we believe? What is our core purpose? What benefits do we offer? What are the reasons to believe that these benefits are real?

This work provided the foundation for what we call the Smeal brand essence, which crystallizes our core belief and purpose:

We believe that effective leaders adapt and grow throughout their careers, creating meaningful value for themselves, their organizations, and their communities. Therefore, we develop lifelong partnerships by inspiring learning and fostering connections that will help people adapt, develop, and grow as effective leaders.

With this first issue of Smeal Magazine, we begin a focused, strategic endeavor to tell the Penn State Smeal brand story. Our commitment to lifelong engagement inspired the cover story, which focuses on five individuals who have enrolled in or completed multiple Smeal professional graduate programs in pursuit of their career ambitions. We hope that this article and others will resonate with you.

In the coming months and years, we will tell our story and amplify, in a consistent and authentic manner, our unique position as a global leader in business education.

Of course, a trusted and respected brand requires more than compelling stories and consistent messages. It must be experienced by our stakeholders in every interaction with Smeal. I look forward to sharing more about this exciting work, which is already underway.

Charles H. Whiteman

Photo by Steve Tressler