Pacific’s Westgate Center at the forefront of training future leaders

Peter Johnson

Peter Johnson, director of the Westgate Center for Leadership, speaking at a leadership training session in San Francisco.

The success of American businesses will depend on developing the next generation of transformative leaders, according to the head of Pacific's Westgate Center for Leadership, housed in the Eberhardt School of Business.

“Any problem a business or organization has at any level can be traced back to leadership,” explained Peter Johnson, the center’s director. “Companies often have different excuses for their struggles, but every problem in any organization is leadership based. We are offering programs and resources to help organizations be successful through better leadership practices.”

Established in 1991, the center was officially named in recognition of financial support from Edward W. Westgate, a former member of Pacific’s Board of Regents. It offers certificate training programs for current and future managers of transit agencies, business and government agency leaders, and members of nonprofit boards.

In fact, its Transit and Paratransit Management Certificate Program is the largest transportation leadership training program in California and provides services to agencies around the United States. More than 200 transit agencies nationally have sent employees through the leadership program including the California Department of Transportation, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Orange County Transportation Authority, SamTrans and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.

“We aim to provide a thorough understanding of what it takes to be a successful transportation manager,” said Johnson. “Participants learn basic principles of transit regulations and mandates, management, marketing, risk management, human resources, operations, budgeting and leadership.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Westgate Center developed an online version of the transit certificate series.

“The course helped me to reflect on my organization in many ways during COVID-19 and the drastic changes to every aspect of our operative services,” said a participant from SamTrans. “The training provided tools to identify challenges and how to manage our financial shortages to insure future success.”

Through its Management Certificate Program, the center has worked closely with local law enforcement and fire agencies, municipalities and government boards on the transformations taking place in management, technology, and strategy. Recently the Center worked with the Stockton Police Department to develop a strategic plan to build trust within the local community.

“Good leadership creates trust and enhances the motivation, morale and performance of a community,” explained Johnson. “We put together a survey for the Stockton Police Department on actions that would create trust in the community and they used it as part of their strategic plan.”

The Westgate Center is now working with Pacific’s Department of Public Safety to develop a strategic plan.

“Peter’s leadership skills have been an excellent tool to explain and guide my team at Pacific in the development of our plan.  Not only has this exercise provided us with a road map to where we want to take the department, but the process has been an excellent team building effort,” said Grant Bedford, Pacific's executive director of Safety and Security and chief of police.

Since 2008, more than 175 Northern California nonprofit organizations and 900 leaders have participated in the Westgate Center's Nonprofit Training Program, designed to develop leaders serving on nonprofit boards. The program builds a bridge between board members and management enabling the board and their organization to reach their full potential.

“Today it is important that organizations are governed by people who understand their role as a board member in leading their organization,” explained Johnson. “People want to be effective board members, but don't always have all the knowledge or experience.”

The program recently received funding from United Way of San Joaquin County to create forums for nonprofit agencies to advance their work during the pandemic. Local nonprofits participating include the Boys and Girls Club of Tracy, Child Abuse Prevention Council of San Joaquin County, Children’s Home of Stockton, El Concilio and Visionary Home Builders of California.

"This is a win-win for  United Way and Pacific— providing the Westgate Center an opportunity to work with the local community and an investment in the future of our local nonprofit agencies throughout San Joaquin County," said Amy Ferrell, director of community impact for United Way of San Joaquin County.

The Westgate Center will host a half-day leadership conference on Sept. 17 for local nonprofit leaders.

“It's a free event and we will be inviting local community leaders to help them strategize about ways they can have a greater impact in our communities,” said Johnson. “Through these efforts we are trying to successfully develop the next generation of leaders and strengthen the communities in our three campus region.”