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Pepperdine | Graziadio Business School

About Dr. Chris Worley


My name is Chris Worley. I am a member of the Theta class, which was the eighth class in the MSOD program, so I have a long history there. Currently, I am Research Professor of Management at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, and this is my third time being part of Pepperdine. I was Director of Academic Affairs, then a faculty member, proceeded through and got tenure and all that stuff, and then have returned again for the third time as a member of the faculty.

This has to go under the myth of story telling. This is social history, right? And because I was in the Theta class, I sort of got a sense of what happened in the program at the beginning.

And as the story is told, Pat Williams, who was the founder of the program, had developed the Master of Science and Organization Development program. It was based on a certificate program that had been developed by NTL. It was a very short sort of few day, maybe week-long sort of program and he decided that it needed to get expanded. Pat was a graduate of the Ph.D. program at UCLA, and had gotten his degree in organization development and felt like the program... a master's degree was needed kind of in between the undergraduate and the graduate level.

Pat was a faculty member at the Cal State University San Jose campus, and had developed the program. He'd developed the curriculum, he had... his first class was admitted, he had all the checks in hand, he had all the faculty lined up, and it was ready to go. All that was needed was an approval from the California State system, and as academic institutions are want to be, that required a certain amount of bureaucracy and form filling and things like that.

He'd gone through the process at Cal State San Jose, he'd moved it up through the hierarchy within the Cal State system, and basically all he needed was the signature of the chancellor of the Cal State system to proceed with the program. On the day of that meeting, he came in, met with the chancellor, the chancellor had reviewed all the materials, he basically said though this is a great program, it costs too much, reject, and sent Pat on his way out the door.

Pat was obviously disappointed. He was concerned about how this was all going to go ... now what? And he ran into an adjunct professor who was working with the Pepperdine School of Business and Management in Los Angeles. And this professor said, you know, "This is horrible. What you should do is you should call Pepperdine." And as the story goes, as Pat used to tell it, the professor gave Pat a dime and said, "Here, go call him," and gave him the number of the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the time, Duke Page. And Pat called Duke Page, said here's what I got. Duke himself was a psychologist and was quite familiar with organization development. On the faculty at Pepperdine at the time, was a gentleman by the name of David Peters who would become the first director of MSOD.

Pat called Duke, told Duke what the situation was, Duke asked Pat, "Could you come down to Los Angeles anytime, this week, next week?" Pat did, they met, they brought David Peters into the room, they said, "This sounds great. Pepperdine should do this." Pepperdine became the home of MSOD, and the rest is history. That's it.

So within the Pepperdine program, there is this phrase about the long grey line, which the phrase originates at West Point, and the uniforms of the cadets are grey. And so the long grey line refers to the line of graduates over time.

Pat was an officer in the Army, and so had... a lot of his thinking was developed by that experience in the Army and he began to apply that idea to the people who were coming out of MSOD, and suggesting that what we were trying to do was change the world one class, one person at a time. And so the notion that MSOD represented a long grey line became one of his monikers, one of his metaphors for referring to how we were going to change the world. And the long grey line now has sort of been adopted by the alumni as a way of thinking about respecting and honoring those who have come before me, and preparing myself for a life of service, and then passing that along to the next set of graduates who come through the program, and continuing to extend the long grey line of MSOD.

MSOD for me was sort of a confluence of some streams that were going on in my life at the time. I'd graduated, I had kind of interest in psychology, I had an interest in environmental issues, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I had wanted to pursue a doctorate and that sort of didn't happen in the work I was doing in Colorado. And so I met, while I was working at a small boutique consulting firm, I met a guy by the name of Walt Ross, who was a partner in this consulting firm, but he was also becoming the Associate Dean at Pepperdine.

And again, there was this sort of confluence, an interest in OD, an interest in change, an interest in psychology. And Walt suggested, well, maybe you should get a Masters of Science in Organization Development. At the time, my first reaction was why would I want another master's degree. I already had a master's degree. And he said, "Well yeah, but this is different." And a friend of mine who was also at this consulting firm was getting his MBA at Pepperdine, and he said, "Yeah, it's a pretty interesting school, you should try it out."

So, MSOD was sort of an opportunity to pivot a little bit in the career in what I was doing and where I was going, and it seemed to answer and address some questions that I was having about who am I and where am I going and what's my contribution going to be in the world.

And in going through the program, it also in addition to sort of being a confluence, it also generated the questions which would then occupy the rest of my life. I understood what organization development was about, and at the time, it was a very process oriented, group based, individual based sort of questions that we were asking and problems we were trying to solve. And at the same time, it began to ... you know, as I was doing the work, it was sort of, well there's more to this than just a set of group issues and change issues related to individuals. There's a context that was taking place. There were changes that were going on in the world. This work was taking place within organizations, and I wanted to sort of say was there a way to take this stuff and marry it with this broader set of changes that were going on.

And MSOD helped me start to ask those questions. MSOD helped me form the questions about what is the relationship between change and organization, strategy, organization design. And from there, again with Walt's sort of encouragement and help, I went on to get a doctorate in strategic management at USC. But all of those questions, all of those streams sort of came together at MSOD and those new questions began to form as a part of my process in the program.

Got it, yeah. So the question is sort of something about my legacy, and as you think about my legacy and MSOD, it has this sort of interesting twist and turn, because I'm a graduate of the program, I then went away to get my doctorate in a field related to organization development, became a faculty member somewhere else, and came back to Pepperdine as a faculty member. And when Walt left the school and there was an opening in the MSOD program, I was asked by the school if I would come in and teach at MSOD for a year or two.

And I said, "Sure, happy to do that." And about 15 years later, I then sort of backed away from the school again. My legacy, part of my legacy here has to do with the eight years that I was the director of the program. And so for me, the question of what's my legacy, it's a bit of a package for me, because coming in as a graduate of the program, becoming a faculty member of the program, beginning to think about where the program was, and then becoming director of the program, for me the legacy kind of ends up being this package of stuff.

I'm particularly proud of those first five, six years of my work as director, because it was during that time that we revised the curriculum. It was during that time that we redesigned the program and added the international stuff. It was during that time that we actually formed the alumni association. It was during that time that we actually created the Founders' Scholarship. And it would be a mistake, it would be gross overstatement to say those are my ideas, but I was part of the conversations. I helped steward all of those things through. I brought the notion of Non Nobis Solum to the program.

So there's a package of stuff that I'd say is part of my legacy in the program, in terms of the things that I think I did while I was the director and sort of put in place during that time that as I look back on all the things, the different international sessions, we opened France and Mexico and China, so I look back at those times and I think, I would like to point to that package of stuff and say that's part of my legacy in the program.

Got it. There's a reason that I've come back again to the program, all right? This is my third time sort of being involved at Pepperdine University and the School of Business, and there's a reason that I've come back for this third time, and it has to do with this question of what's my legacy going forward over the next 10 years.

It's my sense that in the world today there's a bunch of change going on, whether it's populism, diversity and inclusion, digitalization, globalization. I think there's some really big trends that are happening in the world right now. And as I look at that set of trends, as I look at the impact of those trends on the world, on organizations, and on people, I have this sense that what organization development does, specifically what the MSOD program does, is sadly, sorely wanted, needed in the world. And one of the reasons I've come back to MSOD is to say, "What can I do? What's my contribution now to the program in a way that brings the program forward to meet that need, to answer that quest, to answer that question, to answer that call that I see in the world?"

And so I hope that if we're doing this interview in 10 years, and assuming I'm still around, then I would hope that I'd be able to say, "I made a contribution that took MSOD from where it is, and I made it big. I made it just really ... I took what we've been able to do so far, and just put it on, you know, just ramp it up, amp it up, and multiply its impact exponentially." That's kind of what I hope is going to happen over the next few years.