It began more than two decades ago, as a handshake deal between John Wooden and a Midwestern marketing executive named Lynn Guerin. Guerin was seeking a partner to share sports leadership lessons and apply them to business, specifically with managers at Toyota Motors North America. 

“As a young athlete growing up in northern Ohio, I knew the reputation of John Wooden, but that was all,” Guerin recalls. “As I got to know him over the first years of such leadership deals, I was awestruck at his wisdom, humility and compassion. You just did not see that often in the world of business. And I wanted to share that.”

Guerin is the CEO and co-founder of The John R. Wooden Course, an educational certificate program based on the coach’s legendary Pyramid of Success, which he introduced to his first UCLA basketball team in 1948. Endorsed by the Wooden estate, the 10-module course boasts a core curriculum and self-assessment tools based on the team-building skills and moral philosophies found in the Pyramid. Largely taught virtually, the course’s client list includes Nestlé Purina, Nissan Infiniti USA and the beloved burger chain In-N-Out. Courses have been taught all over the world, from Australia to the Dominican Republic. 

Tutors from the program’s headquarters in Temecula, California, visit a client company’s headquarters, where they host 90-minute sessions explaining to key executives how to read and utilize the Pyramid’s 25 blocks. Those managers then organize a “Wooden Day,” spreading the coach’s gospel with employees. Just as Wooden’s athletes did, participants start on the left of the Pyramid, focusing on the five triangles which deal with spirit, including faith, ambition and adaptability. They then move on to the five on the right, which address character through patience, honesty and sincerity. Gradually, the coursework works up through the pyramid, all the way up to the peak: competitive greatness. 

Guerin calls the Pyramid of Success “one of the biggest and most powerful ideas in 20th-century American culture.” He says Wooden’s principles — and the exemplary life the coach lived through them — are necessary now more than ever. “There has never been a greater need for the values of faith and empathy that make up the Pyramid of Success,” he says, “in helping people deal with modern life.”

Read UCLA Magazine’s Winter 2024 issue.