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Jonathan Broder

Chief Legal Officer at Conrail

Education:

Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts, ‘19
Master of Liberal Arts, University of Pennsylvania ‘11
Juris Doctor, Temple University ‘83
Bachelor of Arts in History, Oberlin College ‘80

For Jonathan Broder (Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts ’19), balancing his professional and academic pursuits means bringing his passions into alignment: his workplace was the focus of his studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “I've always been a lifelong learner, and I'm very passionate about my company,” says Jonathan, who is both Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer at Conrail. “I really wanted to tell this company’s story in a way that would keep the reader’s interest.”

An alumnus of Penn’s Master of Liberal Arts program, Jonathan knew that the Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts (MPhil) program would offer both the flexibility and the structure he needed to research and write a corporate history with heart. “I could write hundreds and hundreds of pages on this topic,” Jonathan admits, “but the MPhil really needs to be focused. Given the rigor and the length of the work, this felt like the right place.” 

As a railroad operating company with assets divided and shared by two regional railroads, Conrail is a unique entity within the larger fabric of the United States railroad industry. Prior to that division, Conrail was one of the largest railroads in the country, created out of the wreckage of the Penn Central bankruptcy by the federal government. The company’s genesis encompassed “a very intentional experiment in deregulation,” Jonathan explains. “Conrail’s current structure, which serves three large metropolitan markets, allows competition between two large railroads for the benefit of customers, and is a potential model that could be used in other areas.” The evolution of American railroads, including their former monopoly position and government intervention, can offer valuable lessons in our present era of tech giants dominating e-commerce and social media, Jonathan suggests.

At Conrail, Jonathan had access to company archives and extensive professional contacts; at Penn, Jonathan could place his company’s chronology in historical context by taking elective courses in industrial history, corporate business models, and government deregulation. With the guidance of a railroad historian at Penn and business model expert at Wharton, Jonathan constructed a customized bibliography and narrowed down his focus to a history of federal railroad regulation, with Conrail as a touchstone in each policy era.

Researching and writing on a part-time basis while managing his full-time responsibilities at Conrail created an ambitious schedule, but Jonathan appreciates his advantages: with his company fully on board with his project, Jonathan had the benefits of tuition reimbursement and research assistance, and the structure of the MPhil program allowed Jonathan to meet his goals on a timeline that worked for him. “My advisors have been helpful in keeping me on track but also giving me the breathing space I need to do this right—because I didn’t want to do it halfway,” he says. Now on the verge of hoping to pitch his research as a full-length book, Jonathan reflects that his work benefited from the part-time pace. “I’ve been steeped in and thinking about it and working on this project for so long that it almost wrote itself,” he laughs.

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