To Dr. Tom Wren, the past is a laboratory for the study of leadership.

“The idea is that you can use the past to find case studies to think about the way leadership plays out or should play out,” says Wren, who is retiring at the end of the fall semester.

A renowned historian and legal scholar, he has spent the last two decades diligently working to explore the past to gain insights into leadership for future leaders and scholars. As a result, he has made significant contributions to the field of leadership studies.

His book, “Leader’s Companion: Insights on Leadership Through the Ages,” is in its 16th printing. Many of the Jepson School’s alumni say they keep a copy of it in their offices – and use it often.

In all, he has written or edited nearly a dozen books that shed light on the art and discipline of leadership.

“Leader’s Companion” grew out of a need. As an inaugural faculty member of the Jepson School, he was tasked with shaping some of the first leadership studies courses, including Foundations of Leadership and History and Theories of Leadership. 

“Early on, we were trying to figure out how to teach the Foundations course,” says Wren. “I knew a book like this was needed. So it was really about pulling together everyone’s ideas.”

As passionate as the Ohio native is about research, he is equally passionate about teaching. A two-time recipient of the University’s Distinguished Educator Award, he practices something he calls “whitewater teaching.”

“I ask the students questions, and if they get out of the channel, I nudge them back in,” he says with a laugh. “I’m in the aisle with them guiding them by the elbow instead of at the front of the room.”

His favorite leadership studies course is “whatever I’m teaching at the moment” – although he admits an affinity for courses with a historical bent. 

The biggest surprise of his academic career “is that it never got old,” says the bowtie-wearing professor, who is known among students in part for his sharp, scholarly appearance. “The beauty of teaching is that it’s never the same twice.”

He considers teaching at the Jepson School a special privilege. “The Jepson School is easily one of the most important and exciting events in higher education in the past 20 years,” he says, reflecting. “And it’s a warm, friendly, intellectually engaging place with great colleagues.”

His tenure also includes serving as interim dean and as associate dean for academic affairs – a role he is stepping into again during his last semester while Dr. Terry Price is on sabbatical.

Although he will be busy during his last semester, he is already making plans for the future. The plans will not come as a surprise to his colleagues or former students.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time doing research at the Historical Society,” he says with a laugh. “And I’m finally going to be able to finish a book I started working on almost 15 years ago.”