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7 Questions with John Wensveen
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7 Questions with John Wensveen
Name: John Wensveen, Ph.D.
Current title: Chief Innovation Officer, NSU & Executive Director, Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation
Current organisation: Nova Southeastern University
Dr. John Wensveen is Chief Innovation Officer at Nova Southeastern University and Executive Director of the Alan B. Levan NSU Broward Center of Innovation responsible for overseeing a multimillion-dollar public-private partnership to support the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem by attracting and retaining industry-leading entrepreneurs, technology, sources of investment capital, and supporting resources to create a premier innovation center and technology hub.
Prior to this role, John served as the Vice Provost of Academic Schools at Miami Dade College providing direct leadership and direction for the College’s professional education programs. He was responsible for creating corporate relationships with local, regional, national, and international boards and organizations and with leaders of foreign governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations.
John has extensive academic leadership experience including Professor and Head of the School of Aviation & Transportation Technology at Purdue University, Dean of the School of Aviation at Dowling College, and Professor of Airline Management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
John has held a variety of industry leadership positions including Partner/EVP at Mango Aviation Partners, Global Head of Airline Advisory Services at Radixx International, President of Airline Visions, Executive Consultant at InterVISTAS, Senior Director at Marriott Vacation Club International, Vice President of International Affairs at MAXjet Airways, Director of Strategy and Communications at Corporate Visions, and Manager of Pacific Rim Flight Operations & Passenger Services at Canada 3000 Airlines.
John is an External Instructor at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a Certified Instructor at the Turkish Aviation Academy (Turkish Airlines), a frequent contributor to the media, provides expert witness testimony, and is author of two leading industry books including a "best-seller" (Air Transportation: A Management Perspective and Wheels Up: Airline Business Plan Development).
John earned Masters and Ph.D. degrees in International Air Transport and Business from Cardiff University (United Kingdom) and a B.A. in Geography and Transportation Land Use Planning from the University of Victoria (Canada). Currently, he is working toward the U.S. Coast Guard, Masters Upgrade (100 Gross ton license) certification.
In his free time, John is an avid boater, scuba diver, and enjoys hitting the open road in the RV.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
I have been fortunate to hold executive leadership positions in industry and higher education and despite the differences of each environment, I find culture and communication to be challenges. Given this, I view challenges as opportunities and the larger an organization is, the more difficult it is to maintain a defined culture. Additionally, the larger an organization is, the more challenging it is to create seamless communication processes. One of my missions as a leader is to constantly strive toward building a culture of innovation which translates to a mindset. Often, employees are scared to be creative for fear of failure and I encourage innovative thinking knowing there will be failures along the way. We learn from failures and use such experiences to make us smarter and stronger. In terms of communication, culture is often defined by this and one of my other missions is to make sure communication is flowing in all directions and everyone has a voice that is heard.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I am not sure where to start but let's start with John as a young boy at the age of 3. My parents dressed me up in a U.S. Air Force pilot suit and took our family to Hawaii for Christmas. It was my first airplane ride and when taxiing to the runway, the 747 jet had an engine malfunction resulting in an emergency evacuation of the aircraft. That was the day I acquired the aviation bug and consequently had a successful career in the airline business. Without reminiscing all the details of that day, the lesson is that an "experience" shaped my life and I use experiences to learn. The events of that day follow me every day. Throughout my life, I have been thrown a number of curve balls and I learned to be resilient and chase my dreams both personally and professionally. Going back to my childhood, I set lofty goals for my career and such experiences have created opportunities to travel the world and learn from others. I am so thankful to have had influential people in my life along the journey and I owe much of my success to mentorship.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
No two days are ever the same and this is something I love as I have never been a 9-5 desk jockey. Typically, I wake up around 530am and spend an hour reviewing and responding to emails and social media. I then get ready for work and kiss my wife, Lisa, and our Frenchie dog, Fiona, good-bye. My commute to work is short and I am usually in the office from 730am until 7pm. Or, under normal times, I am on the road frequently attending community events. I start every day with a "to do" list and rarely check off everything on the list because of the curve balls thrown throughout the day. I love waking up not knowing what today will bring. I usually have a late dinner with my wife and use that time to catch up on life. I then address e-mail again and try to get to sleep from 11pm to midnight. Self-care management is an area I need to improve on!
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The importance of collaboration! A good leader does not sit in an ivory tower and it is important to stop, look, listen, and learn from those around you. I have also learned the pros and cons of "perception" and how important it is to act as a facilitator that engages employees rather than tells them what to do.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
"Run Silent, Run Deep'' by Edward Beach is a great WWII submarine book (and movie) about a crew headed to the Bungo Straits in Japan. The crew faces numerous challenges with the expectation they will never make it home alive. Various strategies are applied underwater and the lesson is, run silent, run deep, and emerge when you are ready and prepared to tackle the obstacles at hand. The plot of the book has greatly assisted me with the strategic planning process and I highly recommend this resource to others. If you read the book with an open mind, you will learn how to set a game plan, define the end objective, develop steps to achieve the objective, and assess outcomes.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I am a huge believer and supporter of succession planning. I think it is important to speak with every employee, at all levels, to assist in creating a career pathway no matter how big or small the dream is. I also believe in providing resources to strengthen the skills of employees with the goal of making them the best they can be. I fully recognize employees may or may not stay at an organization so lets make them great while they are with us and make them even greater when they leave for a new opportunity. This type of leadership style is truly an engagement model with ROI for all.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I once had a boss who hired me to be innovative and when I started bringing successes, I was told, "you're too innovative and you need to scale back." I was caught off guard and that was the day I knew the environment I was working in as a senior executive was not for me. In short, I was not appreciated! Thankfully, and purely my accident, I was recruited for a C-level opportunity that I pursued and I will never forget the day I accepted the offer as I knew my talent and ability to make great things happen would be appreciated. I am so excited to wake up every day because the environment in which I currently work supports innovation and big dreams do come true! There's no such thing as being "too innovative!"