University of Southern California

You Can Go Home Again
September 30, 2011 • by John D. Van Fleet

Yes, you can. I've done it three times. And each time I've come back has been better than the last.

For starters, I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for USC. My parents met in 1950 at Greek mixer up on Fraternity Row. They fell in love, were married, and after a couple of years, I was born.

Years go by. My mother took a position with USC in the late 1970s. After I spent most of the '80s as a blue collar hero, I decided to complete my undergraduate studies, and returned to the place where our family had begun, enrolling in the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.

I minored in Japanese, and not too many weeks after graduation, jumped on a plane bound for Tokyo. I wound up staying there for ten years.

Yet another job opportunity took me to Shanghai, where I joined the fledgling USC Alumni Club, and eventually met the folks who were launching the Marshall School's Global Executive M.B.A. (GEMBA) Program in Shanghai. GEMBA looked compelling. By then I had gained lots of international business experience, but had no systematic, rigorous understanding of business. I made a proposal to Marshall: "You're looking for a director for GEMBA, and I think I have the skills and experience that you need, but I don't want to be just your director. I want to be a student in the program, too. If you let me 'come home' and wear those two hats, we have the opportunity to learn an incredible amount about how the program works from the student perspective and enhance the program.

So I became both the founding director of GEMBA and a student in the first class. It was a challenge. Sometimes when I should have been focused on a lecture, I'd find myself concentrating on the staff setting up food for lunch down the hall, or on our next interview for prospective students. But overall, it worked out exceptionally well. That first class, GEMBA I, had its five-year reunion earlier this year.

After I recruited the GEMBA III class, I decided it was time to start my own business as an education consultant in Asia. I did that for four years, and then in the summer of 2010, Marshall contacted me and said that the role I'd held before was vacant, asking whether or not I'd be interested in coming back to USC a third time. The opportunity was too good to pass up, and I came home again.

Obviously, I'm a biased observer. But I'm convinced that what we're doing here in China is a remarkable initiative on the part of our school. The GEMBA program is one more great flag in the ground that contributes to USC's world-beating presence in Asia. By supporting Marshall and this initiative we're carrying USC forward into the 21st century and beyond.

You have one home that you can always come back to – and it flies a cardinal and gold flag.

John D. Van Fleet
Assistant Dean and Executive Director, USC Marshall School's Global Executive MBA Program in Shanghai (GEMBA)