The Center for Applied Research, Inc. (CFAR) was founded as a private firm on September 1, 1987 by Vincent Carroll, Nancy Drozdow, Tom Gilmore, Larry Hirschhorn, and Lynn Oppenheim.
Born out of the intellectual and academic movements of the 1970s and 1980s, CFAR began as the only multi-disciplinary research center within the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. After roughly 10 years at Wharton, by mutual agreement and continuing support, CFAR was spun out to become a private firm in 1987. Our Founders joined together as serious thinkers with deep mutual respect and a shared belief that they could make it work as a private consulting firm with academic roots that included continuing ties to Wharton. Their combination of skills, assets, and professional experience laid the foundation for what CFAR is today.
As a firm, CFAR represented an innovative, practical approach to consulting, in a young industry replete with experts who were full of ideas, but short on real-life application. Our Founders had both, and they knew how to activate them to help clients get results. CFAR employed multi-disciplinary teams, applying a problems-based approach to align the expertise with the client problem—representing both a unique capability and a differential stance from our competitors.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, CFAR established a prestigious, committed client base—organizations driven by mission, with leaders unafraid to take hard looks at the inner-workings of their organizations in the service of strong relationships and solid economic outcomes.
As today, our clients came from both non-profit and for-profit worlds, and ranged from loosely-coupled to highly structured organizations.
Living at the intersection of the hard (finance, operations) and the soft (legacy, interpersonal dynamics), family businesses were an ideal setting to apply our ideas and capabilities. At the time, the study of family businesses was a new field in need of a steady hand. CFAR Founder Nancy Drozdow was among the forward-thinking cohort of emerging leaders who organized the work of practitioners, researchers, and academics, developing a new field. Nancy was involved in the founding of the Family Firm Institute (FFI), where she led the conference from which the groundswell of disparate thinkers and practitioners came together to stake out the new institute, now the leading association worldwide for family enterprise professionals (and where our current President, Debbie Bing, has served as Board Chair since 2019). Nancy is now a founding member of the 2086 Society, whose mission is to set direction for the advancement of practice, through FFI’s 100th year. We helped found the field, and we continue to shape its future.
Our Healthcare Practice has always focused on bringing integration to an industry susceptible to fragmentation and change—and working with leaders navigating new futures. CFAR Founders Tom Gilmore and Larry Hirschhorn were already widely respected psychodynamic thought leaders at the time of our founding, bringing with them ideas embedded in the then-burgeoning studies of systems thinking and organizational development that are, today, fundamental to every healthcare executive and organization.
September 1, 1987: (from L to R) Vinnie Carroll, Nancy Drozdow, Tom Gilmore, Lynn Oppenheim, and Larry Hirschhorn the day CFAR spun out of the Wharton School.
We shaped healthcare leadership through the design and delivery of the earliest nursing executive programs, including the Johnson & Johnson/Wharton Fellowship Program and the Robert Wood Johnson/Pew Charitable Trusts Program. We built on this extensive work with innovative research in the emerging field of interprofessional education and collaboration, and played a leading role in shaping the future of family practice and primary care in the US. Tom Gilmore’s and Lynn Oppenheim’s early partnership with the Association of American Medical Colleges laid the groundwork for our extensive work with leaders of academic medical centers and professional societies across the country. We continue this tradition today, where many of our Principals serve as faculty in programs including Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine and the Harvard Macy Institute and as local and national leaders for the American College of Healthcare Executives.
As CFAR grew, we expanded our operations to Cambridge, MA in the late 1990s. As we had done in Philadelphia, we strengthened connections with the academic world of Cambridge and Boston and over time have built a strong client base there.
In 2016, Debbie Bing became President of CFAR, marking the transition to CFAR’s second generation of leadership; overall, we have five second-generation owners actively engaged in the business. On April 1, 2019, Richard Levin & Associates, one of the earliest and most recognized names in executive coaching, formally joined CFAR—a natural evolution of an already successful relationship, designed to help us deliver even greater value to our clients. Today we serve clients from our offices in Center City Philadelphia and the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, as well as virtually from our home offices.
As our name indicates, CFAR has always been a consulting firm with an “applied” focus: we bring ideas to life through our work, using them to resolve very practical dilemmas that get in the way of organizational excellence. And we remain on the cutting edge of the problems that our clients face today, whatever they are—those that are often not yet clarified, systemetized, or understood. Though the world may have changed, our mission remains the same as that day in 1987: to help leaders activate organizations to achieve their highest aspirations—productively, meaningfully, profitably, and with impact.
Over the Years
Management Sciences Center formed with Russ Ackoff as its first director and was renamed Management and Behavioral Sciences Center (MBSC)
The Busch Center splits from MBSC
Wharton Applied Research (WARC) splits from the Busch Center and Jim Emshoff named WARC’s first Director
WARC creates first Wharton family business programs, the first ever academic outreach programs, anywhere, for family businesses
MBSC and WARC merge to become the Wharton Center for Applied Research
The firm goes private as of September 1, 1987, operating under the name Wharton Center for Applied Research with Vinnie Carroll as President
Nancy Drozdow gets a regular column in BusinessWeek’s Family Business Newsletter
Larry Hirschhorn’s books Managing in the New Team Environment: Skills, Tools, and Methods and The Workplace Within: Psychodynamics of Organizational Life are both published
Tom Gilmore’s book Making a Leadership Change: How Organizations and Leaders Can Handle Leadership Transitions Successfully published
Larry Hirschhorn and Tom Gilmore’s paper “The New Boundaries of the Boundaryless Company” published in Harvard Business Review
Lynn Oppenheim becomes President
Richard Levin’s white paper on children’s reactions to stress was distributed globally by the United Nations the day after 9/11
Larry Hirschhorn receives a best practice paper award from the Academy of Management for a paper on Sandler O’Neil’s resilience after 9/11
Managing in the New Team Environment and Making a Leadership Change both reprinted
The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas published
Debbie Bing’s paper “Crowding Out the Space: The Weakness of a Strong Leader” wins the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations’s (ISPSO) first Harold Bridger Award
Jennifer Tomasik awarded the Regent’s Award for Early Careerists by America College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)
Nancy Drozdow wins The Richard Beckhard Practice Award from the Family Firm Institute (FFI)
Debbie Bing named as a member of the Professional Advisors Committee for the Boston Foundation
Nancy Drozdow elected President of the FFI’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter
Jennifer Tomasik’s report for The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Lessons from the Field: Promising Interprofessional Collaboration Practices, published
Debbie Bing named an FFI Fellow
Jennifer Tomasik named as a Fellow of ACHE
Jennifer Tomasik appointed President of ACHE Rhode Island
Jennifer Tomasik appointed President of ACHE Rhode Island
Carey Gallagher awarded the Regent’s Award for Early Career Healthcare Executive by ACHE
CFAR named in Forbes’ 2016 listing of America’s Best Management Consulting Firms, placing in both the Healthcare and the Strategy categories
CFAR hosts inaugural event in Gilmore-Hirschhorn Lecture Series with Tom Gilmore’s “Small ‘L’ Leadership, Significant Results: My Journey in Consulting”
Dynamics of Consulting program launches
Strategic partnership with Isaacson, Miller formally established after decades of collaboration
Carey Gallagher named as a Fellow of ACHE
Debbie Bing elected Board Chair of FFI
Jennifer Tomasik elected to the ACHE Council of Regents, representing Rhode Island
Nancy Drozdow selected to join the newly formed 2086 Society, a small group established by FFI to guide family business research for the future of the field
Richard Levin & Associates merges with CFAR
CFAR becomes a Business Partner of The Predictive Index