William Pepicello, Ph.D.
President, University of Phoenix
Describe your very first job and what lessons you learned from it.
My first job was reading gas meters in Erie, Penn., as summer employment. I learned the importance of being on time and that the work had to be done regardless of the weather or other harsh conditions, which included crawling around grungy basements, avoiding aggressive dogs, and in one case a small riot.
Describe your first job in your industry and what you learned from it.
My first job in higher education was as an assistant professor of English at the University of Delaware, teaching freshman English. This job taught me that I really could have a positive effect on students’ lives. I also learned the value of connecting with students. Even in classes of 100, I made it a point to learn each student’s name and to talk to them when I saw them on campus. I have on occasion over the years run into one of these students, and surprisingly I still remember their names — and they mine.
What were your salaries at both of these jobs?
I read gas meters at about $5 an hour, and my first teaching job garnered the princely sum of $12,000 a year.
Who is your biggest mentor and what role did they play?
My most significant mentor was Dr. George Johnson, the dean of arts and sciences at Temple University, where I taught in the ’80s. He taught me that being good was not good enough. He saw my ambition and helped me learn to think out of the box. Most importantly, he taught me that I should follow my passion, and that if I did this and was open to change, I would find success.
What advice would you give to a person just entering your industry?
The same advice that Dr. Johnson gave me many years ago. Higher education is in a period of significant change in America, and it is not an easy path to follow. But it is a very satisfying and vital profession. This is truly a time to focus on one’s passion for education and follow the path that presents itself. It has led me from being a professor of English and classical languages to my current job (who’d have thought?). And there is not a day that I don’t wake up energized and eager to get to work. Every day is an exciting new adventure.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
I would still want a career that keeps me connected and that ties to one of my passions. I have over the years done lots of radio and TV spots, as well as writing the occasional newspaper column. So, getting out of the box, I’d really love to do a morning drive-time talk show, probably sports talk. I even have the name: Pep Talk. So far Doug and Wolf aren’t biting though, and Phoenix has a great complement of sports broadcasters. But a guy has to dream …