University of Phoenix

The current issue of Fast Company has an interview with John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix and my former boss.

The Hard Life and Restless Mind of America’s Education Billionaire

John’s is a real rags-to-riches story. The article begins:

    John Sperling was born dirt-poor, fell in with Communists, and became a union organizer who led a strike that ended in disaster. Today, he runs the world’s largest for-profit university — and a company whose shares are defying gravity on Wall Street.

Today John is on the upper half of the Forbes 400 list of the superrich. 140,000 students, all adults, attend the University of Phoenix at 41 compuses. UoP Online has 60,000 students and is growing at a mind-boggling 60% annually.

In 1976-7, I designed the University of Phoenix’s Bachelor of Science in Business program. At the time, we were the “Institute for Professional Development” in San Jose. It was a zany place to work.

When I was laying out the flow of the business program, explaining that accounting should come before finance, John opined that it shouldn’t make a whole lot of difference. Teach someone to talk with a businessman, and by God, he’d be a businessman. That shouldn’t take very long. What? A few weeks?

I developed forty facilitator guides — the entire senior year curriculum, recruited faculty, and managed student recruiting, but I refused to move from the Bay Area to Phoenix. Today I wouldn’t be on the Forbes 400,000 list if they had one.

John’s book Rebel With a Cause is amazing in its honesty. For example,

    “One day, the miracle happened—my father died in his sleep. In the morning when my mother told me my father was dead, I could hardly contain my joy. I raced outside, rolled in the grass squealing with delight. There I lay looking up into a clear blue sky, and I realized that this was the happiest day of my life. It still is.”

John came down with prostate cancer in the late seventies, and most of us figured his days were numbered. He’s 82 now, and continues to amaze his doctors at Stanford Medical Center.


Posted by Jay Cross at February 19, 2003 08:28 PM | TrackBack
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