Alumni Association leadership conference set to inspire volunteers

John Patishnock
June 14, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jim Stengel knows audiences well, more so than most anyone else. As a world-renowned marketing expert and thought leader, he knows how to connect with people and what will resonate with them.

This is especially true for the Penn State alumni audience.

Stengel’s next opportunity to connect with fellow Penn Staters arrives later this summer, when he’ll keynote several sessions during the Alumni Leadership Connections (ALC) Conference, taking place Aug. 3-5 at University Park.

The conference will give Alumni Association volunteer leaders the opportunity to learn and share best practices, and also hear key insight from experts.  

“I hope they have a great time, and I hope they are inspired and feel lifted up with the experience,” said Stengel, a 1983 Penn State graduate who received the Alumni Association’s Alumni Fellow Award in 2008. “I hope they use the time to refresh and feel a sense of renewal that will help them as an alumni leader.”

After graduating from Penn State, Stengel emerged as a world-leading marketing executive and consultant, and capped a 25-year multinational career at Procter & Gamble as global marketing officer from 2001 to 2008. He was responsible for an $8 billion advertising budget and nearly 7,000 people.

In 2008, he partnered with his wife, Kathleen, a 1984 Penn State graduate, to establish The Jim Stengel Company LLC, where Jim serves as president/CEO. Having written for the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and Forbes, Stengel also has written two books: "Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies" and "Unleashing the Innovators: How Mature Companies Find New Life with Startups."

Four years ago, the Stengel family made a $1 million gift to endow Alumni Association volunteer programs, with Jim saying his family has maintained a strong connection to the University through the Alumni Association. He wants leadership development to be an evergreen priority, so alumni can always have this opportunistic path to also stay connected.

Stengel family (ALC Conference) photo

In 2014, the Stengel family made a $1 million gift to endow Alumni Association volunteer programs, with Jim saying at the time: "Kathleen and I — along with our children, Claire and Trevor — are thrilled to provide a means of permanent financial support to undergird efforts that will enhance the development and effectiveness of alumni leaders."

IMAGE: Penn State Alumni Association

This is where the ALC Conference comes in, with about 200 alumni and student volunteers from across the country expected to attend. The annual event provides a series of seminars, webinars, and other training resources developed to connect alumni group leaders with each other in a professional and open format.

The conference rotated regionally last year — taking place in Philadelphia, Nashville, and Las Vegas — with the Alumni Association hosting the conference at University Park every other year. 

The Stengel family gift has increased available resources for the conference, including keynote speakers at events, the ability to host a greater number of people during the conference, and also expand it to include Blue & White Society leadership. 

“It has been said that, ‘You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.’ Jim and Kathleen’s support of Alumni Association volunteer efforts breathes life, inspiration and pride into every volunteer impacted,” Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford said.

Among other topics, Stengel will discuss courageous leadership, and how alumni leaders can learn, develop, and self-evaluate this trait. 

“I’m doing a lot of thinking in this area,” he said, “and it’s relevant at any point we’re at in our career, to think a little more about that concept — what it means and why courageous leadership is important.”

Alumni leaders attending the conference will answer a series of questions, allowing them to see where they’re strong, where they can get better, the level of courage they have, and benchmark their performance. 

“I hope attendees walk away thinking about what courageous leadership means to them, what and how they can do it better,” Stengel said. “It’s a commitment to themselves and to their teams, and it applies to their work and to Penn State.”

Leadership development with alumni has always been needed, Stengel said, though it seems more important than ever with the accelerated pace of everything else: increased work and family tasks while technological advances change how people communicate and learn. 

For any Penn State alumni — whether they’re attending the conference or not — Stengel says to understand what’s going on in your life and don’t overcommit. Sample on a small scale, such as attend a meeting or football watch party, and “try something new.” 

The result — sustaining a tangible tie to Penn State — can make the effort well worth it, as Stengel hints. He and Kathleen met while they both were earning graduate degrees from the Smeal College of Business, and Jim was changing the arc of his career. He acknowledged it’s a little unusual for grad students to have such an affinity for their university, though he said that he and Kathleen had such a great experience while at Penn State, where they met and fell in love.  

That emotional component has always been there since, and it’s sure to remain. 

Even if you can’t see it, you can feel it. 

“It’s wonderful to get back to campus, and we just absolutely love it,” Jim said. “We get a lot of energy every time we do it, and it is such a special place for Kathleen and me.”

Editor’s note: Visit to connect with an Alumni Association affiliate group, and for questions on the ALC Conference, contact Regional Director Charlene Gaus at or 814-863-7498. 

  • Jim Stengel_Forum Lunch photo

    On one of his many return trips to Penn State to share insight from his 25-year multinational career, Jim Stengel served as the guest speaker during a forum lunch in April 2016. On headlining the 2018 ALC Conference, Stengel said, “It’s wonderful to get back to campus, and we just absolutely love it. We get a lot of energy every time we do it, and it is such a special place for Kathleen and me.”

    IMAGE: Patrick Mansell/Penn State
Last Updated June 28, 2018