It Takes a Village: A Lauder Heir Doubles Down on Peer-Based Leadership Development

The wharton school. Photo: SINITAR/shutterstock

The wharton school. Photo: SINITAR/shutterstock

William Lauder, a son of Leonard and Evelyn Lauder and a grandson of Estée and Joseph Lauder, graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in economics.

These days, he's executive chairman of the Estée Lauder Companies, with a net worth of roughly $1.15 billion. Given the scope of his day job, it's not surprising to learn that he has a deep affinity for leadership development in an ever-changing global economy and has made this area a focus of his philanthropy. Whenever we find a donor putting money behind leadership development programs, which is pretty often, it's usually someone who's handled some heavy responsibilities. 

Lauder recently committed $4 million to endow the William P. Lauder Wharton Leadership Fellows Program at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

According to the school, Wharton Leadership Fellows are a community of "second-year MBA students who mentor, coach, and support first-year students in developing their potential and strengthening their performance as learning teams. Over the course of 15 months, the fellows receive intensive leadership development opportunities that first focus on enhancing their own abilities and then transition to hands-on experience building those skills in others."

"I have always believed that great leaders are also great teachers, coaches and mentors," Lauder said.

This peer-based strategy feeds into Lauder's holistic view of leadership development: Lauder also designs and teaches a course at Wharton, Decision Making in the Leadership Chair, with a top-down approach that brings business and civic leaders into the classroom to share lessons with second-year MBA students.

Of course, the Lauder family name is synonymous with philanthropy, both individually and through Estée Lauder Companies Inc. William said, "The DNA of giving has been a part of our company since its founding by my grandparents, Estée and Joseph Lauder, and it has been reinforced by my father Leonard, my mother Evelyn, my uncle Ronald, and many of our family members."

William and his family also have deep ties to Wharton.

Lauder is a member of the University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees, the board of governors of the Lauder Institute (founded by Ronald), the Wharton Leadership Advisory Board, and a lecturer in the Wharton School. A few years back, we reported that Ronald, Leonard and William pledged $10 million to a new fundraising campaign at the Lauder Institute for financial aid, outreach and tech upgrades.

"William Lauder’s contributions to the Penn community extend far beyond his generous financial support," said Penn President Amy Gutmann. "William is an active presence on campus, sharing his time and insight with our students enrolled in his popular MBA course and providing exceptional advice and guidance to university leadership as a member of the Penn Board of Trustees."

At the end of the day, leadership development remains William's most cherished cause. And by arguing that it takes a village of "extraordinary mentors" to develop global business leaders, William continues to carve out a unique philanthropic brand distinct from his famously generous family members.

"I’ve been consistently impressed by the ways in which Wharton Leadership Fellows enhance and contribute to the learning culture at Wharton," he said. "I am thrilled to support this outstanding program’s continued growth and evolution."

In related news, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded Brown University's Leadership Alliance a $1.25 million grant that will fund summer research opportunities in the humanities, business, and social sciences for underrepresented students.