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Thunderbird Partners with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics

By Susan Zobott

Strategy in the desert
Participants were shuttled into the barren Arizona desert and divided into teams. A different skill station was assigned to each team member (map reading, compass navigation, flora and fauna, area landmarks, and score/timekeeper). And with that, an exciting desert-orienteering activity began. Deploying the various skills each had learned, participants navigated from station to station. After successfully navigating to each station, the teams took a creative photo of themselves and solved a riddle in order to earn points. These executive participants weren’t just playing games in the desert for entertainment. It was a strategic, immersive activity designed to showcase the use of leadership and teaming skills in a non-traditional environment – skills these participants were learning as part of the Global Leadership Development Program (GLDP) developed by Thunderbird Executive Education for Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL), a shipping logistics company that is jointly owned by two Nordic giants of the shipping world—the Swedish Wallenius Lines and the Norwegian Wilh. Wilhelmsen Group.

Participants were challenged to integrate many different types of information to form an overall strategy that was efficient and best suited to the skills of the individuals on the team. The creative learning method and unique desert atmosphere resulted in teambuilding and camaraderie, which is precisely why the GLDP is proving to be such a powerful program.

A tangible impact on current WWL leaders
For the past four years, the relationship between WWL and Thunderbird Executive Education has evolved from content provider to trusted partner in the talent management and development of WWL’s global leaders. In the fall of 2010, Thunderbird was uniquely positioned to assist WWL in the retention and development of their top talent to continue organizational growth and market impact. As a result, the Global Leadership Development Program (GLDP) was created and has now been delivered to a cadre of over 50 WWL leaders drawn from multiple geographies and roles to further promote collaboration and cross-cultural understanding. Thunderbird’s ability to customize and adapt its program content has proven to be an asset as WWL experiences a period of great transition and change as it prepares to create clearer alignment and efficiency within all of its business units around the globe.  

The WWL GLDP is a competency-based global leadership program that develops global strategic thinking capabilities, creates a “teaming and collaboration” culture within the various WWL businesses, and builds the necessary skills to understand and influence the complex decision making required to implement a successful global strategy. The program is underpinned by a strategic challenge project tied to business initiatives within WWL. In addition, multi-level coaching is offered to assist in strengthening the capabilities of participants to drive the execution of the company strategy and increase their ability to positively influence and impact key stakeholders across multiple cultures and beyond organizational boundaries. Partnering with Thunderbird is a big benefit for WWL.

“Utilizing Thunderbird’s Executive Education, as well as Thunderbird’s Executive MBA program, for several of our executives brings common terminology between our employees from different functions, locations and management levels. This creates alignment throughout the company,” says Tom Solberg, Global Head of Human Resources at WWL.

The GLDP has already created great impact for WWL, driving growth, innovation and transformation for the organization in the three years it has been running.

“WWL’s senior management, the Global Leadership Team (GLT), is very committed to this program,” says Paul Kinsinger, co-academic Director. “We are thrilled with how well the program is working!”

The GLDP is structured into three modules with components that include three face-to-face residential weeks, in-market experience, strategic team projects, individual and group coaching and project presentations to the Global Leadership Team (GLT). In each module participants are given tools to help manage the change the company is going through and to impact strategic planning initiatives assigned by the GLT, such as strategies for new regions such as Africa and new opportunities presented by technology advances.

Program Structure:
Module 1: High Performance Leadership (Thunderbird campus)
Focus on self and impact on others

Module 2: Business Leadership Across Cultures (An “In Market Experience” that takes place in an emerging market of increasing importance to WWL)
Focus is on leading in a transitioning global economy

Module 3: Strategic Leadership in Action (Thunderbird campus)
Leadership as a source of competitive advantage

The impact of this program is seen in both the participants’ learning capabilities and their ability to network – within the company from different regions and functions. By the time the participants finish the program, they are experts in their functions and leave the program as global leaders. “There is great impact once they are back in their roles,” says Solberg.

The next generation of WWL leaders
In 2013, WWL launched an MBA Rotational Graduate Program in collaboration with Thunderbird Career Management Services. The response by interested Thunderbird students far exceeded WWL’s expectations and resulted in approximately 55+ potential candidates to fulfill six internship slots. The graduate program matches Thunderbird MBA students within WWL’s regional offices around the globe based on their interests and capabilities. In addition, the successful completion of the program provides students a position within the company upon completion of the program.

“I have been working with other business schools and Thunderbird for a decade. Never before have I seen such a powerful integration of executive team program participants enabling such an impactful journey,” says Solberg.

Thunderbird looks forward to a continued partnership with WWL…

WWL in the desert

WWL participants during their desert-orienteering activity.


WWL Classroom

WWL participants in class at Thunderbird Executive Education.


WWL closing dinner

WWL Global Leadership Development Program closing dinner.

Susan Zobott is a marketing manager at Thunderbird Executive Education.