Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
June 2007
Henry Wilde Named New Business Development Division Administrator

Lest anyone doubt new Department of Commerce's (Commerce) Business Development Division Administrator Henry Wilde's (will-dee) devotion to Wisconsin, just take a look at his baseball cap collection.

"I have about 17 UW baseball caps," he smiles, "and zero Harvard (his alma mater for both his undergrad and graduate degrees)!"

Henry Wilde
Henry Wilde

He explains that he is a "HUGE Wisconsin sports fan," citing trips to "both of Ron Dayne's Rose Bowls" as well as UW-Madison's basketball team's appearance at the 2000 Final Four as examples of his devotion – though the list could go on and on. He also scored tickets when the Brewers were in the 1982 World Series (something he hopes they will repeat in his lifetime), and holds his standing as a "proud Packer stockholder" up as further proof.

Indeed, since the Madison native's family moved to Naperville, Illinois, where he graduated from Naperville North High School in 1993, he has had a single-minded determination to return to Wisconsin. In fact, he allows, it was so important to him that on his first date with future wife Bree, he informed her that it was his intention to someday live in Wisconsin. If that was not something she was interested in, he wanted to get the deal-breaker on the table from the get go.

Fortunately, the Ohio-born, Oklahoma-raised woman thought that would be OK with her, which led to a second date, marriage, and 15 months ago, the birth of the couple's daughter, Mira Day.

Why such passion for the Dairy State?

"I'm a fifth generation Wisconsinite," he explains. He is thrilled to be back on his home turf while others in his family have chosen different routes. His older sister Anna (Wilde Mathews) and younger sister Ty are happily ensconced in Washington D.C. as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and at Princeton finishing up a PhD in economics, respectively – "ridiculously more accomplished than their brother, but at least I can rest on the fact that I am the only boy".

"People in Wisconsin are incredibly warm and welcoming," he explains. Just the sort of place he always knew he'd want to raise a family.

However, his years away from Wisconsin were not for naught. While he was not sure where he wanted to go to college, he opted to attend Harvard, which "didn't feel at all like me," because he thought it would push him to grow.

Majoring as an undergrad in African American studies, he acknowledges, may seem an unusual choice if you do not know him, but for Henry, it was a natural progression. Having spent his formative years living in Beloit, where his father Harold "Hal" was a vice president at Beloit College and his mother Benna was in charge of arranging special events and speakers, he was exposed to diversity at a young age.

"I loved living in Beloit (for that reason)," he says. "I still love it."

Through Beloit College, he was also exposed to prominent leaders and intellectuals from a broad range of backgrounds and ethnicities. He met Children Defense Fund president and founder –his future boss and "hero" - Marian Wright Edelman when he was 11, when she spoke on campus. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and William Julius Wilson, who were later Henry's professors, were also among the speakers who came to Beloit College.

He was most affected by Mrs. Edelman's commitment to help do something about issues of inequality in America, and cites "poverty, social and civil rights" as the issues that he cares most about. The summer after his sophomore year at Harvard, he interned at the Children's Defense Fund, which cemented his admiration for Edelman as well as his commitment to helping to ensure that low income children have the same type of opportunities that he did to succeed in school and in life.

The next school year, he realized that he could perhaps better equip himself to do that if he had some exposure to "business," something he found to be "foreign and scary" to him at the time. He was fortunate to have the opportunity to work for Monitor Company, a strategic management consulting firm, which gave him exposure to a broad range of industries, companies, and strategic problems. The theory at Monitor, he explains, was to "Take young and energetic people and put them on teams with experts to help solve crucial problems and provide strategic management advice" to Fortune 500 companies. It was an invaluable experience for him and lessons learned there are applicable here at Commerce.

Never one to shrink from a challenge, he combined his interests in business and strategy and issues affecting low income children and families in his future endeavor, co-founding (in 2001) Acelero Learning, headquartered in Harlem, which provides management services to Head Start agencies.

Henry knew that empowering the nation's low income families to lift themselves out of poverty and help level the business playing field would not happen overnight. Six years later, he is happy to report that Acelero is thriving. Though he is no longer involved in its day-to-day operations, he is "always" available as an advisor, and looks forward to volunteering with Madison's own Head Start program.

So what, one may wonder, is a man who is perhaps most comfortable sitting on the floor of a classroom reading to preschool children, doing working for a state agency as one of the head business development staffers?

As Henry explains, he has three "parallel" work-related passions – public service to help low income families; entrepreneurship; and the State of Wisconsin. Oh – and politics runs in his blood.

His father was former Governor Pat Lucey's speechwriter and later Insurance Commissioner. His great-grandfather was Wisconsin's longtime U.S. Senator Alexander Wiley, whose aide, Henry's grandfather Harold Wilde, Sr., married into the family.

Taking the helm of the state's business development arm is a "tremendous opportunity," says Henry, citing the revitalization of Milwaukee's low income communities and the promotion of entrepreneurial and minority business opportunities as a few examples of things he is particularly excited about. But, he adds, "I know how much I don't know! I have so much more to learn."

It's a bit too soon he says – only his second week on the job – for him to form any hard-held opinions. He says he has "inklings" of how he would like to proceed here at Commerce, but he needs time to process everything.

"For me – this position – this role at Commerce is to help create good jobs for the people of Wisconsin," says Henry. "Helping to grow businesses in this great state is an exciting thing."

When asked about his management style, he says that he hopes to foster "open, honest communication" adding, that "A new person can say what they want (to co-workers/employees), but over time my colleagues will see what I do. I expect that people will recognize over time that my openness, optimism and enthusiasm are genuine," which is what really counts.

Henry adds that "It's important to me that we always use data to make decisions. I am 'mission driven', but I want to know whether we are actually meeting our mission, so it's important that we try to collectively identify the outcomes we are driving toward – and then measure our progress toward those goals."

Seeing the Commerce employees he has interacted with so far as "talented, hard working" individuals, he has a good feeling that his passion for missions to better the business community in the state will find him in good company.

Currently commuting from Chicago where Bree, a Yale Law School graduate, is finishing up her clerkship for Appellate Court Judge Dick Cudahy, the Wildes plan to take up residence in Madison in August when Bree will sign on with a downtown law firm. They both spend every spare second doting on their "magical daughter Mira."

By the time Bree and Mira arrive, no doubt Henry will be pinching himself that his long held dream has finally come true. He's back in Wisconsin, has a loving wife and THE most adorable child ever (just ask him!) – as well as a new career that would most certainly meet the approval of all of his public-service-minded ancestors.

Life doesn't get any better than that!

-- Barbro McGinn

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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