A man who's living the dream
By David Sharos For The Sun November 26, 2010 3:32PM
Harold “Hal” Wilde is president of North Central College here in Naperville. For two decades, Wilde, 65, has led the staff and students at North Central, a position he describes as “the best job in the world.
Updated: April 19, 2011 5:20AM
Editor’s note: While Harold Wilde might not be the CEO of NCC, he has had just as much influence as the leader of a business. Here is his story.
To hear Harold “Hal” Wilde talk about his job as president of North Central College in Naperville, you’d honestly think, here is a man living the dream.
For two decades, Wilde, 65, has led the staff and students at North Central, a position he describes as “the best job in the world — to be the No. 1 fan of an extraordinary community of students, faculty and staff — and live on a historic campus in the heart of one of America’s finest cities.”
“Naperville is a great location for kids to come to school because in addition to the community itself, there are a lot of work opportunities for students, which means they can work while attending classes, which helps in meeting the tuition,” Wilde said. “This is a great institution that offers great value, wonderful extracurricular activities — and a terrific location.”
As the administrative leader of the college, Wilde has spearheaded so much growth that alumni from a few decades back would be hard pressed to recognize their former school. Undergraduate enrollment has increased from just less than 1,300 students to almost double at 2,400; the college’s curriculum was overhauled to offer broader-based programs, and the physical plant itself sports new additions, ranging from residence halls to a cyber café for students.
Reasons to stay
Wilde, who clearly continues to find joy in his job, said his energy and drive comes somewhat from his undergraduate days.
“I had a wonderful experience at Amherst College, and to some degree, there are many things here at North Central that are a lot like it,” he said. “You’d have to say there has been sort of a transfer effect from that experience and the one I’ve had here.”
A graduate of Amherst College in 1967, Wilde went on to earn a doctorate in government from Harvard University. Originally from Wisconsin, Wilde served several years in the Wisconsin state government, including four as the state’s insurance commissioner.
“Since I’ve been president, there have been about 10,000 students who have graduated, and many of them have gone on to make great contributions in society,” Wilde said. “That makes you feel pretty good about the work you’re doing.”
He also said those changes to the school stemmed from some self-assessment he made about a decade ago. One of the issues he questioned was whether he still brought value to the institution or whether he should consider moving on and allow himself to be recruited by someone else.
“I tell my faculty that teaching is one of those jobs that 50 years from now, there will still be people that remember you,” he said. “They don’t remember who the college president was. I could joke about it and say my years here are because of inertia, but the facts are that my wife loves the college and the job she has downtown (Chicago).”
Wilde is married to Benna Brecher Wilde, managing director of Prince Charitable Trusts in Chicago, and they are the parents of three adult children, Anna Wilde Mathews, Henry and Elizabeth Ty.
“And for me, I decided that I wasn’t worn out and that there were still things here at the college I wanted to accomplish.”
Goals to wrap up
Wilde admits that sometime in the next five years he does plan to step aside, but in the meantime, his efforts are directed at making a new science facility “worthy of North Central College” a reality, plus continuing efforts to raise money for scholarship endowments, and complete a five-year strategic plan so that continuity can be achieved by his successor.
“There are people on my cabinet with anywhere from 15 to 30 years experience with the college, and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of continuity here with our senior management,” he said. “The economic challenges that small colleges face are real, and that’s also part of the answer to the question about still having value to the college.”
Know a CEO/president The Sun should interview? Contact freelancer Dave Sharos at email@example.com.