“Most people on the venture had never been onboard a tall ship, much less navigated one. I wanted to challenge myself to work with a new group of people under conditions I have never encountered before.” – Claudia Olsson, WG’24

For students in the Wharton MBA Program for Executives, learning extends far beyond the classroom. Wharton’s McNulty Leadership Program exposes students to exhilarating, hands-on learning experiences that further enhance their leadership and teamwork skills. Whether it’s training with the U.S. Marines in Quantico or learning firefighting essentials from the Fire Department of New York, the opportunities offered through McNulty Leadership Ventures are designed to break students out of their comfort zones. Claudia Olsson, WG’24, shares her experience as a crew member aboard the famed Robert C. Seaman’s marine vessel as part of the McNulty Leadership Tall Ships Sailing Venture.  

Tall Ships Sailing Venture

The Tall Ships Sailing Venture is designed to build teamwork, decision-making, and leadership skills. Over a continuous eight-day period in St. Croix, USVI, participants manage and operate the 161-foot ship in deep ocean waters through a partnership with the Sea Education Association (SEA).

“Most people on the venture had never been onboard a tall ship, much less navigated one,” says Claudia. “I wanted to challenge myself to work with a new group of people under conditions I have never encountered before.”

Each student has the opportunity to lead the Tall Ship during the McNulty Leadership Venture. (Image: Claudia Olsson)

Operating a tall ship involves a range of responsibilities to ensure the safety of the vessel and crew, as well as the successful execution of the sailing voyage. Claudia and 20 Wharton classmates from both the full-time and Executive MBA shared the responsibility of maintaining and steering the ship 24 hours a day. Operating in shifts, they took turns raising and lowering sails, monitoring radio and navigation equipment, conducting routine maintenance and inspections of the vessel’s equipment, and more. When it was her turn to run the ship for the day, Claudia gained a deeper understanding of how to lead a team under pressure.

“A lot of leadership skills transfer from one area to another,” she says. “When leading the ship, I was the decision-maker regarding navigation, crew management, safety, and communication with shore-based authorities and other ships. I’ve been sailing before, but never on a big ship like this. Because this experience was so far removed from my everyday life, it allowed me to gain perspective on how to manage unfamiliar, stressful situations. Being able to test my skills in a safe but unknown and challenging context helped me develop my confidence as a leader.”

Claudia notes that while strong leadership skills are crucial when operating a Tall Ship, knowing when to follow and let others lead is many times just as important. “To become an effective leader, you need to know how to play both roles,” she says. “When you are part of a strong team, no single individual is solely responsible for every aspect of the ship’s operation. Each crew member contributes to the collective effort, sharing the responsibility for the voyage’s safety and success. Knowing when to follow means recognizing when others are better suited to take the lead on specific tasks or decisions, which is hugely important whether you are running a ship or running a company. This venture helped us all become better leaders and team members in our everyday lives.”

Global Education Entrepreneur

Equipped with over 15 years of experience guiding organizations through digital transformation, Claudia was already an active entrepreneur in the education space when she enrolled at Wharton. One of the companies she founded, Stellar Capacity, focuses on developing digital skills and future-oriented leadership for individuals and organizations. Drawing from her experiences working in both emerging markets and high-tech areas of the world, Claudia believes that today’s rapid global and digital change will require a restructuring of leadership and the development of new skills better suited for a technologically advanced world. 

“My companies are in a very active scale-up phase,” she explains. “We’re starting to have a larger international impact and I felt this was a good time for me to enhance my strategic leadership skills. I chose Wharton specifically for its focus on providing very relevant knowledge related to the changing landscape and future of business. For example, learning from Professors Ethan Mollick or Christian Terwiesch about how artificial intelligence, large language models, and machine learning will impact businesses is incredibly compelling.”


Appointed a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Claudia has served in the World Economic Forum Europe Policy Group and in the World Economic Forum Future Council on Values, Ethics and Innovation. (Image: Claudia Olsson)

Frequently recognized as one of Sweden’s top business talents, Claudia has been appointed a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. As she continues to shape the future of digital education and leadership, her Wharton MBA stands to her commitment to excellence and her dedication to leveraging top-tier education for the betterment of industries worldwide.

Benefits of a Bicoastal Program

Students in the Philadelphia and San Francisco cohorts benefit from the option to study on both campuses. In the second year of the program, students can opt to take one course, one term, or even the whole second year on the opposite coast.

“I definitely want to make the most of my time at Wharton,” says Claudia.  “On the West Coast, there’s a greater concentration of companies in the technology space, whereas on the East Coast, there is a more robust healthcare and finance industry. I’ve met several classmates during my time in San Francisco  who work at Meta, Google, and Amazon, so the connection to the tech industry has been really beneficial for me. The best aspect of taking classes on both coasts is getting to know students from another cohort on a deeper level.”

WEMBA students often organize group trips and social outings during their time in the program and beyond. Here, Claudia poses with classmates on a group trip to the Grand Canyon. (Image: Claudia Olsson)

Tight-Knit Community

On the first day of Orientation, EMBA students are assigned to a learning team, which is a small group of students from diverse industries, backgrounds, and career goals.

“Going through the first-year curriculum with a learning team is important because we all have different strengths,” she explains. “If someone is unfamiliar with a concept in class, they just might have a member on their learning team who is an expert on the topic. I really enjoyed that my team members were focused on how we can grow to our full potential together.”

As she reflects on her time in the program so far, Claudia feels grateful to be a member of the Wharton community, especially in today’s uncertain times. “There is a lot happening in the world now, with geopolitical tensions, climate change, economic uncertainty…” she says. “Being able to discuss and analyze current events in real-time with faculty and classmates is invaluable because it provides a different lens on global developments. Ultimately, this enables us to have better foresight in our businesses. Especially now, operating on an international level, this program is giving me the frameworks and tools to make more informed business and investment decisions.”

Kendra King

Posted: January 9, 2024

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