January 4, 2008

Plan Well and Execute

Cornell Wright ’74 helps businesses realize their goals

When Cornell Wright ’74 speaks with clients and colleagues, he closes with a simple statement: “Plan well and execute.” He followed that mantra during nearly 20 years with IBM Corp. and is still guided by it today as principal of the Parker Wright Group, the management-consulting firm he founded 13 years ago in Stratford, Conn.

Another, more personal, mantra might be “Pray fervently.” That is what he and his wife, Joanne, did in 1994, when he was considering leaving IBM to go into business for himself.

“We did a lot of work in the yard, and we actually prayed on it,” he says. “Then I went to a church revival-week service. The minister who was preaching that evening said, ‘It doesn’t matter whether you work for Xerox or IBM, you’ve got to build your life on the rock.’”

He took those words to heart and took the plunge, but not without some trepidation, because “IBM had been my business foundation and development,” he says. He had held several positions with IBM, including systems engineer, marketing representative, marketing manager, and manager of consultants in the insurance industry, and he’d worked in Bethlehem, Pa.; West Orange and Princeton, N.J.; and Hamden and Milford, Conn.

But, being true to his business mantra, Wright had planned well for his move, studying for an MBA at the University of Bridgeport. He completed the degree in 1994 as he began his new career as a consultant. His current work focuses mainly on customer service for clients in financial services, telecommunications, marketing, manufacturing, and the public sector. “Customer service is kind of like the glue that holds the whole thing together. It’s the best way to compete in the marketplace,” he says.

Wright also writes a biweekly column for the New Haven Register and has taught six different business courses, including marketing, customer service, and management, as an adjunct faculty member at Housatonic Community College.

While he has experienced a few sleepless nights since going out on his own (“worrying about the business and the management and the growth and development”), he has no regrets.

“I’ve never looked back on that as not being a right decision. I absorbed it all, I did it all, I made it happen,” Wright says. Now, “I’m like a black belt in planning. I’m capable of customizing research techniques. I sit down with the clients, talk to them, and listen to them. I’ve seen a lot of different things over time. I’m pretty good at helping people realize what their issues are and helping them resolve their situations.”

In addition to maintaining his base of paid clients, which include nonprofit organizations, Wright is a leading volunteer in his community. He is president of the boards of the Community Economic Development Forum and Greater New Haven Business and Professional Association and a member of the boards of the United Way of Greater New Haven and Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. He also is a member and past lieutenant governor of the local chapter of Kiwanis International.

His Lafayette experience helped shape his sense of responsibility to give back to his community, Wright says. As a member of the Association of Black Collegians, he helped produce the College’s first black arts festival and helped implement the Black Children Can program, bringing children from Easton on campus, helping them with their homework, and teaching them about both black history and college life.

Wright says his liberal arts education – he majored in American studies – has served him well over the years, despite the warnings he heard that he’d have trouble finding a job. His answer, both then and now, has remained simple: “My degree will not help me get a job; it will help me keep whatever job I get.”

In fact, his educational background and business experience give him a unique view of the problems his clients face, he says (and credits Lafayette with helping shape his “soft skills,” including how to handle business-related social events, as well).

“I have a business-process perspective, an information-systems perspective, a customer-service perspective, and an American-civilization background. As I work with clients to understand their internal culture, I’m well-prepared.”

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