Jean Wihbey is the provost for Palm Beach State College’s Palm Beach Gardens campus.
As the campus’ chief executive officer since 2009, she is responsible for providing leadership to a campus of more than 8,600 students and 225 employees.
Name: Jean A. Wihbey
Hometown: My original hometown is Middlebury, Conn. My new hometown is Palm Beach Gardens
Education: Master’s degree in counseling from Southern Connecticut State University and Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Connecticut.
Family: I have five brothers and sisters, 10 nieces and nephews
First paying job and what you learned from it: I worked at a florist, and loved it. I have a love for agriculture and a strong creative side. I learned the art and business of the florist and at 25 opened my own shop called Jean’s Greens. It was a great experience and I learned so much about business practices, community relations and employee management.
First break in the business: The florist didn’t offer too much of a break in business, but I added the service of marrying people as a justice of the peace. I can truthfully say “I married a lot of people!” I married people in the driveway of the florist, in the woods, at convalescent homes, in tents, restaurants, parks and many other interesting venues. It provided me with a lot of stories!
How your field has changed: As for higher education, the field is dramatically changing.
Our future is directly impacted by the possibilities created by leaders’ decisions now. And while some of these decisions seem wise now, the contradictions will have lasting effects. For example, community colleges have four sets of simultaneous conditions:
1. A valuing of business partnerships, economic and workforce emphasis that is at odds with resource needs.
2. An organizational architecture that is designed for dynamic growth yet is misaligned with outside forces mandating or desiring reduction.
3. State college success is measured by access and growth yet it has not favored completion. This is shifting, and we will see how the access door will be affected with the elimination of mandatory placement testing at the state colleges. In other words, college prep courses are necessary and without them many students will “sink.” PBSC is working to do everything we can to support the first-year students.
4. The media is not helping with its constant questioning of the value of education and ignoring the lifelong benefits of a college education. While cost is rightfully being questioned, people have choices. We need more people passionate about the need and desire for higher and lifelong education.
I believe the worst thing we can do is become attached to status quo because the possibilities are so great. We can achieve more and create new ways of doing business. We can have opportunities but need good plans, resources, greater speed of execution and the support of our community and stakeholders. Community and state colleges in Florida are extraordinary with low tuition and many successes. Who we are, how we do business and our intended results are in redesign mode.
Best business or leadership book you have read: I really enjoy reading the Harvard Business Review. I get a lot of useful ideas that have been tested in the business world and really have impact.
“The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You” by John C. Maxwell
“Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink
“How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie” -one of my all-time favs…an oldie but a goodie!
I’m a magazine reader so I read: Time, Better Homes, WOOD, Inc., Southern Living ( I love to cook), Florida Trend, Higher Ed journals…
Best piece of business or leadership advice you have received: Know yourself, have mentors, and make time for your interests and family. A balanced life is entirely possible and more gratifying.
What you tell young people about your field: That being a part of an educational enterprise is the most gratifying and enjoyable experience. You get to work with creative, smart, dedicated and inspired people — students and employees. Being a part of educating people is a gift since our work is helping people change and improve the quality of their lives.
Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? On two occasions I had colleagues tell me about employees who I was going to supervise. They said they were challenging. I thought that under a new leader they may have a reversal! I think my ego was saying I could bring these people out of their disposition. Well, that did not happen. It just delayed the inevitable and the process for dealing with these employees was exacerbated. Bottom line: Listen to the advice of others about employee performance. They are telling you the truth.
What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? Lots of positive in business development, residential expansion and cultural enrichment. Areas of potential development for north county include airport, hospital, educational, and residential community expansion, to name some. Palm Beach County has good energy possibilities, a biotechnology and healthcare focus, as well as jobs opening up, great restaurants and fine education. The future is bright and sunny!
Power lunch spots: J. Alexander’s, Cheesecake Factory, Carmines Gourmet Market in Palm Beach Gardens.
Where w would find you when you’re not at the office? I love dining and sitting outside so you will probably find me at a local restaurant after work half the week. Otherwise, I’m in my garage - my girl cave - where I relax making stained glass panels. Or, you can find me on the golf course. I love golf and don’t get out there enough.
What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? I look for people who have passion about the job they are seeking. If they talk about students and how they can add value to our students, as well as going beyond the classroom or desk, they have an edge I am looking for. I also look for people with an interest and knowledge of technology since education is embedded with technology tools. The candidates should be a good representative of the college’s desire for excellence.