Werner Zorman First to Hold Annenberg Chair in Leadership at Harvey Mudd College

Share story

Harvey Mudd College welcomes leadership development expert and entrepreneur Werner Zorman, the first to hold the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Chair in Leadership, an endowed professorship funded jointly by the Annenberg Foundation and Howard Deshong III ’89 and Jeannette Deshong.

“Werner is smart, energetic and committed to helping our community build the leadership capacity called for in our mission statement,” says Jeffrey Groves, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.

Zorman, who will join the Department of Engineering faculty, believes leadership skills can be learned, and he starts with certain bedrock principles that he wants his students to absorb.

“As a leader, it’s all about knowing what you want to be different in the world,” he says. “A leader, by definition, wants to change or introduce or do something they can’t do on their own. If you want to change something big in the world, you need a team. So you need to be able to enroll and motivate them, make them want to be part of your cause and then reward them.”

Zorman has many years of experience in the business world. A native of Austria, he worked for two decades at Nokia, the innovative Finnish cell phone and computer manufacturer. He advanced through the ranks and eventually headed Nokia’s Leadership and Development Program for North America, a position he held from 2009 to 2012. He left to run his own company, then moved to Cornell University, where he served as associate director of the Engineering Leadership Program.

Zorman came to Harvey Mudd in part because it allows more personal contact with students whose lives he hopes to impact. “Here there are 200 new students a year. At Cornell, it’s 800 a year, so there’s no way you get anywhere close to meeting all your students,” he says. “At Harvey Mudd there are so many opportunities to get to know most students. It’s better for me, for how I teach and establish relationships.”

Besides experience, Zorman brings other valuable skills to his work. “One of my strengths is that I’m going to see your potential really, really clearly, often before you see it. I can highlight what someone’s strengths are, their talents, and help them fine tune and develop them.” He also has a special interest in meditation and the character virtue of resilience.

Zorman’s pathway to a university job was decidedly roundabout. He came from a blue-collar background— his mother was a seamstress, his father a bus driver—and Zorman’s initial career path called for getting a skilled trade job as a telecommunications technician. At 15, he enrolled in trade school.

At 18, he decided a change was in order and began taking high school classes from 6 to 10 p.m. after a nine-to-five job. He was 23 when he completed high school. He then studied computer science at Vienna University of Technology.

For Zorman, one of the attractions of Harvey Mudd is its collaborative culture. He loved it from the first moment he stepped on the campus. Now that he will teach leadership here, he wants students to become aware of the importance of culture within organizations.

“Part of leadership development and helping people to develop leadership skills is that a good leader creates a culture,” says Zorman. “You always have a culture. But if you don’t do anything, you might have a culture you don’t want.”

Zorman’s first rule of leadership begins with future leaders looking inside themselves. “Part of leadership is determining what’s important in life,” he says. “What do I stand behind? What’s important to me? First you need to be able to lead yourself.”