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Pepperdine | Graziadio Business School

About Stephen Pile


I'm Stephen Pile, Nu Class, 1988. One of my most important roles is supporting faculty member and learning group consultant for the MSOD program, but I'm involved in a lot of other activities.

The MSOD program was really my stepping stone from management into organizational development. I was able to make that transition because of the program and using it. I have an engineering background, a technical background, I was in management, and led many teams. And the last one, major team, that I led was a grassroots startup that required a huge amount of social and technical work together, and getting people to work together. And it was through that experience, it was a four-year experience of starting this thing up, and I was in charge of all the technology for the control centers and so forth.

One of the fascinating things about my journey in organization has been that no matter how sophisticated, no matter how perfect our technical designs are, they don't work if the people don't want them to, or if they don't understand it. I wound up working with lots of OD people when I was in the management role, and I became an amateur OD person myself in the organization. And my life can be considered a life of brochures, we didn't have Google or anything back then, but I walked into one of the OD people's offices to just shoot the bull, and on his desk was a brochure around the OD network. And I was reading the brochure and I said “This is what I want to do, I want to go, this looks interesting, they're really talking about organizational life and making it better.”

So I went to that in 1983, and I went to that conference in LA, and the first workshop I went to was Kouzes and Posner, who are now famous in the world of organizational development. They're young people just doing work on leadership. I saw Juanita Brown, she was just beginning to do the World Café stuff, and then Bob Tannenbaum did his closing speech on holding on and letting go. And I walked by a table and picked up a brochure on Pepperdine MSOD Program. And I read the brochure and went, “I have to do this.” I went back to the organization, at that time I was in management. They were counseling me not to move into OD, it was career suicide, I was a hypo, I was the number-one ranked person in my group, and I said, “But I want to do this.”

So I turned in my resignation letter, and I wrote this letter carefully. I gave it to my boss, who I really loved the guy, and especially after I saw his reaction. His reaction was to lay the letter on my desk and tell me to tear it up, that it was crazy for me to leave. And so he said, “We're going through all these transitions in the organization, they're huge, and you should be a part of that.” He said, “I will send you to any school you want to go to, and I will pay for it on the expense account.” And I went, “That's a deal I can't refuse.” So I wound up going to Pepperdine.

And what I wanted from Pepperdine was not what I got, but I got what I needed. The experience of going through that program... What I expected I was going to get was, like a lot of us, we were going to get lectures, I was going to take notes, I was going to get smart about organizational theory, and I'm already good at the OD stuff. What I found out was self as instrument was key to the program. So while we were working on theory, we were working on ourselves, both at the individual, the group, and the large-system level. And when I left that program, I was a much bigger person. I think about... Life is really just coming home to yourself, not changing yourself, and the program was instrumental in bringing me closer to being myself. Coming home to myself.

That was the transformational component, but in the meantime, I was moving from management into organizational development and committing career suicide, as some of my senior people told me. The interesting thing is, I did a Master's thesis on leadership. Leadership development, it was a longitudinal study of 35 people, from vice president down to second level. And I didn't do this strategically, but I did it because I cared about leadership, and I wanted to see if there were ways that we could help people become greater leaders by one-on-one intervention. And what happened, the unintended consequence of that, is I made deep friends with every one of these 30 people that I worked with. I've talked to their subordinates, I give them 360 degree, feedback, it kept it completely out of the HR stuff, and I became friends with them.

And very quickly, after I came back, I moved up three levels, and I became the worldwide head of organizational development, reporting to the President. So, it was a magical time, and he was a great promoter of OD, my leader of the whole executive team was, and so I see that as instrumental. That was changing my trajectory, was moving from management to OD and doing it in a way that was just exciting and powerful. We were making big things happen.

It's those things that live on afterward, those memes in life. And I think that's exactly how I see legacy, so it's a matter of those moments that I have with people, and I have many opportunities to do that because I coach and I mentor at this stage of my life. And I wonder about a couple in France that I bought a bottle of wine for secretly because they looked so much in love, and I'm thinking part of my legacy might be that right now they have kids and are going, “You remember that time that we got that invisible bottle of wine, popped up with a little note about 'You're obviously in love,' and how it transformed us.” Or a leader who I worked with whose spent four years developing a complex trans-organizational system to get rid of sickle cell, to cure sickle cell forever.

Legacy's something that you can touch, too, it's not just the meme, but I think those memes are the most important, the things that we plant in there. But I'm also a social activist and use photography, so I've done stuff in domestic violence.  The one I just finished, it was on income inequality, based on Occupy Wall Street. I'm continuing to roll those things out. That'll be something we'll sit on a coffee table, probably only with my relatives, but it's there, and it's tangible, it's something you can touch. But it's the memes in my family, in my friends, in my clients that matter the most to me.

I reacted to that question too. I'm not longing to do anything. I'm longing to do what I'm doing right now. Sometimes I joke that I'm 74, I'll be 84 then, I'm just hoping I won't be in a nursing home. But if I am, I like to think... I make this crack sometimes, especially in the program, when I'm first meeting people, I go, “I'm just hoping that every class will leave me a few friends, two or three, that might visit me in the nursing home.” It's building those kinds of relationships, so I don't really long for anything. I long to continue to be... I think the word that I love most around what I do now is just to be useful. Is just to be useful to people. Useful to the couple on the street that's looking for directions to the Walgreens, or to the, I live in downtown Manhattan, or to the World Trade Center. And being useful in that level, being useful with my sons, being useful with my clients. And I find that a freeing way of thinking about my life at this stage. You know, it's being useful about important things.