Amid global pandemic and growing racial injustices, how an EMBA from Weatherhead has helped Frank Whitfield lead as Mayor of Elyria | Weatherhead School at Case Western Reserve University

Amid global pandemic and growing racial injustices, how an EMBA from Weatherhead has helped Frank Whitfield lead as Mayor of Elyria

Posted 7.22.2020

As a high school student, Frank Whitfield, MGT '19, knew his career goals included completing his MBA.

“I’ve always been passionate about business and the power of entrepreneurship and how it can change the trajectory of your life while making a difference in your community,” Whitfield said. “So that’s what initially drew me to wanting to pursue an MBA back in high school.” 

After completing courses at Lorain County Community College and finishing his bachelor’s degree at Cleveland State University in nonprofit administration, Whitfield accepted a position at the Nord Family Foundation in Amherst, Ohio. Part of his role was to develop and connect nonprofit executives to leadership and organizational development opportunities and provide grants to the nonprofit organizations. 

While building these relationships in the community, Whitfield felt the need to refine his coaching skills. This realization led him to sign up for the Weatherhead Executive Education Coaching Certificate in 2013. 

“I immediately fell in love with Weatherhead,” Whitfield remembered. “I just felt at home, I felt welcomed, I felt like I was where I was supposed to be. My first class was taught by Dr. Melvin Smith, an African American professor at Weatherhead, so I immediately saw this as a place for me.”

His positive experience while completing the certificate made selecting a school for his Executive MBA simple. Whitfield enrolled as a student at Weatherhead in the fall of 2017 while he was the President and CEO of Lorain County Urban League. 

“The professors I had were great, my cohort was amazing and the international trip to Dublin, Ireland, and Glasgow, Scotland, really opened my eyes, too” he said. 

Before finishing his EMBA, Whitfield felt called to run for mayor of Elyria, a city in the Greater Cleveland metropolitan area. Applying concepts he learned at Weatherhead throughout his campaign, Whitfield was elected in a landslide victory as the first African American mayor of Elyria in November 2019.

But his first full year as mayor has been far from easy. Facing challenges from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to racial injustices around the country, Whitfield has had his hands full, but leaned into his education from Weatherhead to help lead his community during these difficult times. 

He recently met with the Department of Public Health to discuss racism as a public health crisis. During the meeting, Whitfield discussed design thinking, journey mapping and other applicable concepts he learned throughout his time at Weatherhead. He and his team plan to use these concepts to look at the journey of Black citizens in his city–from family life to educational opportunities–and then dissect the data to identify the gaps that exist in the system. 

“I was literally pulling out materials from class in that meeting,” Whitfield said. “What I learned in the program has definitely been relevant to me.” 

Whitfield’s professional experience in a civil rights organization prior to becoming mayor of Elyria allows him to feel comfortable navigating conversations about race, although he says back then, the overall knowledge around racial injustice wasn’t quite there yet.

“Now, there’s such a heightened awareness around the racial disparities, and there’s an interest in learning. I’m excited to see what may come of it,” he said. 

The ongoing coronavirus has been challenging for all leaders, but Whitfield says leading with compassion–another skill he learned through the EMBA program–has been his priority to stay in tune with his community members. 

As the pandemic escalated around the world, the need for digital transformation in Elyria was expedited. That’s why Whitfield teamed up with his former professor, Youngjin Yoo, and other Case Western Reserve University employees to assist in the development of a new app that will help manage risk during the pandemic. 

“The app is one example of how technology can help individuals manage their risk during the pandemic,” Whitfield said. “We’re going to continue working with Case Western Reserve and Youngjin to make sure our community members are equipped with not only the technology, but the skills they need to be empowered during these times.”

Looking back, Whitfield remembers during that first class with Dr. Melvin Smith and being required to create a personal vision to identify his values and goals. He says this exercise set the tone for the rest of his experience, stating his family–wife Kaleena and three daughters Octavia, Sophia and Eliza–as his motivation. 

“I knew that an MBA from Case Western Reserve wasn’t only going to give me the skillset to control my destiny, but it would also open up more doors for my family.” 

Whitfield encourages anyone looking to get ahead in their career or make a difference in their community to consider the EMBA program. 

“I have a lot of emotional attachment to Weatherhead. I feel indebted to the school,” he said. “I really feel like it changed my life.”

Learn more about Weatherhead’s Executive MBA program.


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Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University cultivates creativity, innovation, and purpose-driven leadership to design a better world.