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William J. Rothwell

William J Rothwell

Hall of Fame Class of 2023

William J. Rothwell’s successful career in adult education, primarily in the advancement of training and development, spans more than three decades. Before becoming a faculty member at Pennsylvania State University in 1993, he logged nearly twenty years of experience in government and the private sector. His professional and research background has allowed him to bridge academic discourse in workforce education with industry best practices to teach and research complex issues, significantly contributing to workplace learning, succession planning, and talent management.

As an engaged scholar and researcher, Rothwell’s primary passion is developing future scholars and leaders. He has conducted multiple studies in workforce development and has contributed significantly to the literature of the field. His publications include many books, book chapters, and more than 150 articles, as well as numerous national and international presentations on professional management, organization development, succession planning, and human resource development. Rothwell continues to support and mentor students who graduated more than thirty years ago, modeling his belief that developing individuals goes beyond mere education.

Among Rothwell’s other notable achievements, he helped professionalize workplace learning and development through his work in the global competency studies conducted by the Association for Talent Development (ATD). He co-created a globally recognized professional certification for workplace learning/talent development professionals (the Certified Professional in Talent Development [CPTD]), helping to shape the direction of an entire field of practice. In 2012, he won the ATD’s prestigious Distinguished Contribution Award.

Rothwell’s single greatest contribution to adult and continuing education is the advancement of succession planning. His approach to succession planning has gained international recognition for shifting away from a concentration on top leadership to an inclusive, collaborative, and comprehensive approach that involves identifying key roles and competencies critical to achieving the organization’s goals.

Rothwell stresses the importance of developing an individual’s talent through a competency-based approach to prepare for roles the individual has never played before. This encourages organizations to place a calculated value on providing education training to employees and promoting diverse talent at all levels of the organization. His most notable work, Effective Succession Planning, has been widely cited by practitioners and scholars worldwide. His publications on the competency-based approach include the frequently cited books Mastering the Instructional Design Process and Competency-Based Human Resource Management.

As a scholar-practitioner in succession planning, Rothwell is a sought-after consultant and has worked with many organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. He consulted with clients across thirty-five nations and delivered workshops for organizations such as AARP, Landmark Insurance, and the Cleveland Clinic.

While Rothwell is known internationally for his expertise and leadership in human resource development and talent management, he would say his most worthwhile achievement is the success of his students and advisees. He has guided more than one hundred students/alums in writing, coauthoring, and coediting books, book chapters, and articles, helping to establish the role of novice researchers and writers in the academic arena.

Penn State recognized Rothwell’s breadth of scholarly work and commitment to his students with the Outstanding Researcher Award in the College of Education in 2016 and the Graduate Faculty Teaching Award for the university in 2004–2005. In 2022, after being nominated by 104 of his previous PhD students, he was awarded the designation of Distinguished Professor.