Ivy league incentives

Sir Francis Bacon’s assertion that knowledge is power may well be a universally accepted truth, but rarely does the sentiment lead to widespread enthusiasm for the educational portion of an incentive trip. It’s perhaps unsurprising when most experiences of offsite classroom sessions are usually little more than tokenistic displays of powerpoint clichés and the enthusiastic use of corporate buzzwords by company directors. 

Adam Leslie, managing director of New Zealand’s Graffiti Events, feels that it is a lack of awareness about the opportunities available combined with the foresight to take the plunge with education-based incentives that is the problem. Indeed, he believes that the future incentives market will lean heavily on learning and has facilitated what could easily be considered the new gold standard in the field.

Academic Excellence

In 2012, Leslie arranged a seven-day incentive trip to the US on behalf of a leading New Zealand-based financial services company. The trip included some exceptional activities, including cocktails on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and a charity baseball match against the New York Police Department. At the  core was a three-day business-management course, delivered by the prestigious Ivy League institution, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Leslie says: “The participants were all independent business owners who sold a range of the client’s insurance products. For the client it was vitally important that the attendees learned something valuable, but the programme also had to have a true business benefit in line with the company’s other strategic outcomes. 

“To meet those requirements, the education aspect had to be outstanding. Whilst we always knew the reward elements would take place in New York, we identified that the calibre of learning we wanted could only take place at an Ivy League school.”

Established in 1954, the so-called Ivy League began as an athletic conference which included eight of America’s oldest and most exceptional private universities. Today, the term continues to bind those eight schools – which include Princeton, Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania – but under a banner of academic excellence and prestige, as well as sporting rivalry.

Leslie explains that from the outset, the University of Pennsylvania, despite being an exclusive institution, was receptive and incredibly adept at tailoring the business-management course to the group’s specific needs. He says: “We had to put together a brief and the university made a course that could be effectively taught over three days. The course was given the title ‘Best Practices: Module One’ and, although it was tailor-made for this specific group, a similar course could easily be structured for any organisation or group of people who have a sales element to their role. 

“This was quite a mature group with a few of the guys  in their 50s and 60s, so the concept of an education programme as part of a traditional reward programme took a little convincing. I had to provide a personal and informative one-to-one dialogue system to help alleviate their concerns. After the fact, though, they really identified with why it was good to have that experience and not just for them but for their businesses as well. Even I completed the course and I have no background in financial services and found it incredibly useful.”

Future Credits

The course received an exceptional 95 per cent approval rating from the participants and Leslie hopes he can bring students back every year. At present, students receive a course-completion certificate, but it’s Leslie’s hope that an ongoing relationship with the school will lead to greater academic rewards, such as credits that can be transferred to full qualifications. He says: “I believe that the inclusion of high end professional development components will form the basis for many future incentive programmes. This trip demonstrates that it’s a win-win situation for everyone. From the client’s point of view, the trip is a unique motivational tool to encourage their agents to sell their product. The educational aspect, though, means that the participants can sell better, increasing their own business. For the universities, it’s another string to their bow, demonstrating that they can provide tailored products to business groups whilst extending their own international network.”

Graffiti Events is the first company in New Zealand to specialise in such an exceptional education incentive. Since this first trip Leslie has discussed further educational opportunities with the University of Pennsylvania and has also begun communications with Oxford University to pursue similar opportunities in the UK. It seems, then, that he’s not the only one who sees the thirst for knowledge as the most powerful incentive of all. 

Sample Itinerary


Approximate cost of the six–day programme: 
US$15,000 per person inc. flights from New Zealand 

Days one to three

Three day Ivy League Professional Development Programme

• Delivered by the Wharton School of the University 
of Pennsylvania

• Personalised academic programme

• Content included client retention tactics, critical thinking and strategic decision making

• Union League Dinner with Wharton certificate presentations

Days four to six

New York Reward Programme

• Three nights Accommodation at the Waldorf Astoria

• Central Park horse and cart tour

• Statue of Liberty Tour

• Ground Zero tour

• Gala dinner at New York Stock Exchange

• Charity baseball game with the NYPD with US$10,000 donated to widows and orphans of 9/11


Organiser Graffiti Events

Contact Adam Leslie

Tel +64 21 686 027

Email Adam@graffitievents.co.nz

Website graffitievents.co.nz

Graeme Park


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