By Greta Sowles
In discussing his entrepreneurial point of view in business, Dr. Joel Wiggins describes his experience with startup businesses by saying that they have to be creative, lean, innovative, quick in decisions and generative of new ideas. “It feels a little like education is moving into an environment today where leaders in education need to act that way, “ said Wiggins, who began his tenure as Crown College’s newest president on July 1.
Wiggins’ entrepreneurial experience brings a different angle to leadership at Crown. Before accepting the presidential call, Wiggins was the CEO of Enterprise Center of Johnson County near Kansas City. Previous to that, he was the Executive Director of the Austin Technology Incubator, a non-profit that helped early stage companies launch, get funded, grow, create jobs and generate wealth for people. In addition to this experience, Wiggins also has 16 years of ministry experience at churches in Illinois, Virginia and Nebraska.
It is Wiggins’ diverse range of professional experience and leadership that make this transition exciting for Crown. “Our students and community will benefit tremendously from Joel’s leadership,” said Don Berglund, Crown’s Board of Trustees chair. “He has the vision, business acumen and deep Christian faith Crown needs to move powerfully into our next century.”
Wiggins’ vision for Crown has an overarching theme of service, as he emphasizes that he exists for the students rather than the other way around. “Being at the top of the organizational chart just makes me the chief servant of all,” said Wiggins, who wants to make the Crown experience the best it can be for each student.
Beneath this large theme are three interconnected pillars of academics, faith and global service.
“It needs to be a challenging and diverse academic experience,” said Wiggins, also adding that students need to come out of college prepared for the world they are going to serve.
Wiggins wants Crown to be a place where students can embrace and explore their faith in a safe environment. Additionally, Wiggins hopes that Crown will be a place where students can make global connections, which may include intercultural experiences, international experiences, and experiences with different professional associations.
Beneath these three pillars are five more practical ways that Wiggins’ vision will play out in the future: international or intercultural experiences for each student, an internship for each student in his or her chosen field of study, reducing debt for students, improving job placement services, and teaching students to make a Christian difference today rather than only in the future.
“I don’t know that any of those things are specifically different than what we have ever done before, but as we bundle that for every student, I think it should be a richer experience,” added Wiggins.
“Our global focus isn’t just going to be mission focused but it is going to be business and mission focused,” said Brian Wright, senior director of PR and college relations at Crown College.
The business mind of Wiggins will play out in all of these areas.
“What do we need to do to change in order to anticipate where the market is going, where students are going, where the economy is going? We are not going to always get that right, but it is a forward-looking approach as opposed to a backward looking approach,” said Wiggins.
There are challenges that come with the entrepreneurial approach to education and leadership at Crown. “Being entrepreneurial is not easy,” said Wiggins. “The game is always on — you’re always pressing forward.”
Wiggins parallels this to his Christian faith by saying that faith requires that one is always pressing forward. “It’s not like I can just go out there and change things, I have 150 people to bring along and 1,400 students. But I need to be out front so that people can see where we are going.”
Wiggins would also like to improve community knowledge of what Crown is and what it is doing. This involves both the Carver County community moving in and the students from Crown moving out.
“Crown is a great place, and I think it is a good community. We have a great mission, and I think we have great challenges ahead of us, but none of the challenges are challenges that are the bad kind,” concluded Wiggins.
Perhaps even more unique about President Wiggins than his entrepreneurial mindset is his authenticity. In recent introductory videos of Wiggins, he claimed that he would like to be known as the “party president.”
“When I talk about being the ‘party president,’ it’s about having great conversations with interesting people in our house or wherever we do it,” said Wiggins.
Wiggins and his wife Kathy hope to have get-togethers at least once a week at their house in Chaska, which he stated is much too big for the two of them. These parties may be a Monday night football night, meetings with faculty, athletic coaches, athletic teams, other student groups or simply others from their neighborhood.
“It gets you down below or beyond what you expect to talk about,” said Wiggins.
“He does view it as serving the students, and that is just another example,” added Wright.
Wiggins and his wife have two unmarried children who live in Colorado Springs and right outside of San Francisco. Wiggins and his wife have been to all of the presidential libraries and museums and have made it their next goal to visit every major league baseball park in the United States.
After first getting his passport at the age of 45, Wiggins has since made the most of it, traveling extensively, including every state in the continental United States and many international countries.
Additionally, Wiggins is writing his first book from research he conducted on entrepreneurs who sold businesses for between $50M-$500M.
• Crown is a private, Christian college of about 1,300 students located in St. Bonifacius. It has nationally ranked online and on-campus degree programs. For more information about Crown or Wiggins, visit www.crown.edu.
Contact Greta Sowles at [email protected]