My first quarter at Wharton has been an unbelievable experience. When I last posted, I was just getting my druthers after a fun but exhausting Pre-Term experience. I had also deluded myself into thinking that I’d do a couple posts last month. Negative. Out of nowhere, I was blind-sighted by a flurry of quant problem sets, group projects and papers along with mammoth amounts of reading.
I can only speak for Wharton when I say this, but this is definitely not the place for someone who struggles with quant or rigor. While the professors in classes such as Statistics and Managerial Economics (which we call “Magic” due to its course abbreviation MGEC) lead very engaging lectures, those lectures are largely conceptual. You’ll need to do a good deal of reading and attending office hours and recitations on your own or with your learning team (or a hired tutor; but we’ll talk about that later…maybe) to be prepared for the exams.
This is only exacerbated by the fact that 40-60% of the people to your left and right in a place like Wharton already know the information cold and will be driving up the average for the curve. A buddy of mine who is a second year told me about one of his MGEC exams last year that had a mean score or 94 having been a fairly difficult exam (as a point of reference, he had worked in banking prior to Wharton). Fun times indeed. According to the 2nd years, my class won’t care much about grades past Christmas once it hits us that A) this isn’t undergrad and we are here to network with future power players and set up our next career moves–which takes a ton of socializing–more than one could ever imagine or plan for and B) Wharton has grade non disclosure and perfect grades won’t really give you a better result in recruiting or in your start up. In fact, they could make said results worse since you’ll need to be hitting the books while everyone else is going on excursions, meeting for brunch, out at pub and happy hour and working 8 to faint on start up ideas.
The Beauty of a Large Program
A year ago when I was an applicant, I wasn’t too fussy about the size of a given program. I seriously considered programs such as Haas and Tuck that had about 250 or so students up to the 800-900 Wharton- or HBS-sized classes. And even though I chose to go with a larger program, I still do see the benefit in either; however, there are some strong benefits to a larger program that I have begun to appreciate.
The biggest benefit (as I see it, of course) is the sheer depth of talent, interests and experience across so many areas of professional and personal endeavor. One of the concepts taught in my Innovation class taught by Christian Terweisch is how having A) a larger number of entries , B) more variation among the entries and C) some pre-screening/selection process that encourages the best/most motivated entrants to come forward in the first place gives you a better shot at a higher quality output in a tournament of selection. All business schools have such a process; and you can really leverage the knowledge and resources of your peers to an astounding degree in large programs.
I’ve seen this play out firsthand as even the most random and obscure requests for information, contacts, industry experience, geographical/cultural knowledge, startup resources, or even impromptu weekend getaways are soon met with anywhere from several to a flood of respondents on my class’ Facebook group. I’m quite sure that if I wished to arrange a last minute healthcare startup trek to Tel Aviv with 5 company visits, I’d have a set of names and emails for not only the company visits but hookups on airfare, hotel accommodations and food within the hour.
Another benefit of a program this size is the many sub communities that it is comprised of. As somewhat of a loner, I initially though that Wharton might be a bit too loud and rah-rah for me. I was certainly overwhelmed with all the partying, handshaking and talking during pre-term. For me, that lifestyle would have not been sustainable. However, once we were introduced to the broader community, we began to be broken up into smaller and smaller learning groups for core classes.
Most recently, the clubs all did their spiel and we had the opportunity to join more intimate ecosystems based on interests. It is in this stage of my social journey at this school that I feel I have flourished most. Some of my most rewarding experiences thus far have been as a result of my interaction in groups that I have chosen to be a part of such as AAMBAA (the African-American group), Rugby, The Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI), and The Founders Club. Those are at least the groups in which I have chosen to spend the majority of my time. I’ve also joined a few other groups that I will interact with more at a later date as what they have to offer becomes more relevant to what I want to get accomplished at a given time. Those groups include the entrepreneurship club (the Founders Club is a more intense sub group of the e-club), the technology club, the golf club, and the scotch & whiskey club.
A New Data & Analytics Club at Wharton
I’ve mentioned in past posts that the WCAI and some of the work being done by Peter Fader and Eric T. Bradlow greatly inspired me to choose to come to Wharton this past spring. Since my arrival, I’ve gotten to know Prof. Fader very well and my foot work combined with the resources and backing of the WCAI have resulted in a new club geared at Wharton students who have an interest in analytics.
Wharton West recently had a panel in San Francisco featuring panelists from Amazon, Wells Fargo, Electronic Arts, Deloitte and StubHub among others that gave Wharton students and alumni an opportunity to explore how customer-level analysis is applied across industries, understand recent trends and analytics methods, and to network with professionals from leading companies in customer analytics roles.
We’re looking to duplicate that effort on the east coast with some additional programming, including a People Analytics conference in the spring that is being organized by one of my classmates who formerly worked at Google. Fader and I were pretty happy to see the overwhelming interest in the club when about 70 or so people showed up for our informational meeting.
A lot larger things are coming down the pipes to benefit students who are interested in this area as we begin to ramp up and organize. A part of the reason why Wharton sent the most interns to Google a summer or two ago had a lot to do with a rigorous data analytics class taught by Fader that has become an unspoken required course for people who want to walk out of Wharton as data rock stars. A lot of the momentum that we’ve been able to build a in a short amount of time is due to the efforts of Rocco Spinelli from the WCAI office and Mike Foley, who was hired full time to specifically focus on increasing student-facing initiatives in analytics for Wharton students.
The US Open
A while ago, about 250 or so of my classmates descended on Queens, NY in Wharton t-shirts to take part in the US open. It was a perfect example of some guy in my class who randomly asked “hey, who wants to go to the US Open” in our Facebook group. A month later, 4 charter buses were leaving Philly full of drunken Whartonites. It was an absolute blast, and I just might do it again next year.
The Wharton White Party
A more planned big event that I got to experience was the Wharton White Party, thrown each fall by Out4Biz, the school’s LGBT organization. Needless to say, it was a helluva good time for all.
One issue that I’ve been going back and forth about is recruiting, which is weird, because I had decided that I was not going to recruit before I even got here. The conflict is that all of the best companies recruit here; which, can lure even the most anti-recruiting person to want to leverage just a bit of that access.
In my case, I’ve grappled with whether or not vie for a Google internship over the summer to experience the culture and learn what I could about how they conceptualize and roll out products. Sounds innocent, doesn’t it. The deal, however, is that my cofounder–barring unforeseen circumstances–planned for us to spend the summer in the San Francisco Bay area working together and networking prior to both enrolling in Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco program for next fall.
For a while, I told myself that I might be able to handle both. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It was a preposterous notion. I came here to finally get the opportunity to go balls-to-the-wall on entrepreneurship. I can always get a job if I need one, especially with the Wharton brand, which is why you come to a school like this in the first place; thus, my decision is final. No interning or recruiting for me short of a startup disaster. There; its settled. Let’s move on before I change my mind again.
Entrepreneurship at Wharton
So a few days ago, my co-founder–a classmate of mine–and I applied for Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program (VIP). The VIP is kind of a mini accelerator that helps start up teams validate faster with the help of mentorship, accountability and a little cash. More importantly, it is pre-requesite and gateway into other entrepreneurial support programs and larger cash awards here. If we don’t make this cycle, we can apply again for the summer; but it would be good to go through the school year with that support.
We submitted an application, a 2-page executive summary, our resumes and a 3-4 minute video pitch–all of which I felt were pretty strong. Regardless of this one outcome, I’m most excited about how well our skills compliment each other’s. I did a little programming long ago on undergrad internships and in my first job out of college. I don’t consider myself a developer but know just enough to be dangerously strategic in building out business strategies that depend on software. I’ve also spent years working in corporate sales, marketing and operations. I’m definitely an implementer.
My co-founder, on the other hand, did a CS minor at Stanford undergrad and has spent his entire post-school career living and working in the Silicon Valley, first in finance and then in venture capital. He eats, sleeps and breathes that culture. He’s seen a thousand pitches and tends to know most of the tech founders that are discussed in our business cases for school. Finance, tech and fundraising are his strengths. I really look forward to what we are going to build.
Thus far, I’d have to say that the single most rewarding–and painful–experience that I’ve had thus far has been as a member of the Wharton Wharthogs Rugby team. The team is mix of guys like me who had never touched a Rugby ball prior to arriving at Penn and experienced guys who either played domestically in undergrad or are from places such as Ireland, Australia, the UK, France and Argentina where rugby is a way of life in the same way that American football is here.
The Wharthogs are definitely the tightest-knit group at Wharton. Prior to joining, I was especially impressed with the fact that it has a very active alumni association that helps the team with sponsorship for tournaments and gear as well as jobs. I’ve gotten several emails requesting responses from hogs that are interested in working at McKinsey and the like via our list serve. I respect when organizations take care of their own.
We also have a large number of veterans among the hogs. I have a great deal of respect for our men and women who’ve served in the military and I enjoy hearing about their experiences. The modesty of these guys is astounding, especially when you learn of some of the life-or-death missions that most of them have been on. There is also an ex member of the Australian special forces on the team.
Some of the things that every hog looks forward to are our trips. Each year we play in a big international rugby tournament and several domestic tournaments. Last spring break, the team traveled to South Africa to play and sight see there. This year, it will be Argentina and I cannot wait. This fall, however, we’ll be travelling to a tourney in Bermuda and will also go out to Stanford’s tournament.
Just this past weekend, we hosted our own annual tournament–Hogfest–here in Philly. We welcomed CBS, Columbia Med School, Cornell, Yale, Duke and NYU for a two day tournament. We served roasted BBQ’d hog, had the paramedics on deck and Out4Biz served as our DJ’s. A few hundred Wharton students came out to support and everyone just had a great time. Even better, we won the tournament, which we haven’t lost in a number of years. I have a lot of respect for the other teams, though.
Columbia is always a force and the Cornell team gave our B team (mostly newbies along with a few experienced 2nd years for leadership) a smacking in the opening round. Our A team steamrolled over pretty much everyone and even the B team pulled it together in the end for a decisive victory over Yale to win that bracket. Our women’s rugby team, The Wildabeasts, won their bracket as well.
All in all, about 8 people ended up at the hospital between all the teams; but I don’t think anyone’s injury warranted an overnight stay. As usual, my body needed about 5 days to recover from the beating. Playing tackle with a bunch of 180-220 lb guys with no pads for protection is no joke; but I freaking love this sport. I probably spend more time on YouTube watching the New Zealand All Blacks than I do watching Monday night or even college football these days.
Another Wharton tradition that I’ve gotten to take part in recently was Walnut Walk. Each fall, about 800-1000 students from the program bum rush downtown Philadelphia wearing “business on top; party on the bottom”. For guys, this generally means boxers but it can also mean a kilt, a too-too or Louis Vuitton tights depending on the interpretation of “party”. For ladies, it means similarly silly getups, not to exclude leggings, short shorts or even a pamper.
It was pretty hilarious seeing hundreds of people crawling bars dressed like this as if everything was normal. The most fun for me, however, was the walk home. I live a few blocks east of “The Wharton Bubble” in Center City Philadelphia, so at some point I was the only person for hundreds of yards walking around looking like a bozo. I did my best to keep a straight face as if nothing was wrong and just observe people’s reactions; but I ended up getting stopped by 2 or 3 groups of people who asked me to explain. I obliged.
Prospectives Visiting Wharton
Just as I was lamenting the amount of work that had been piled upon me last week, I walked into one of my management classes about 40 minutes early and walked right into the middle of some prospective students visiting campus. I was so glad to no longer be on that side of this equation. Good luck to all of you who are applying. I remember what that felt like and it wasn’t fun.
I also got a chance to meet up with 1 or 2 of my admissions consulting clients, which was great as well.
Things go really quickly once you get into business school; in fact, they begin speeding up from the moment you get accepted and start being invited to admit weekends. You spend the better part of a year in suspense about something that is going to happen. Then once it happens, things move so quickly that you hardly have time to think.
Each semester at Wharton is broken up into two quarters, and next week marks the end of this quarter, which means final exams for quarter-long classes and midterms for full semester classes. While I”m not obsessing over grades too much, I’ll be deep in the books all week just making sure that I can keep up and walk away with a good grasp of the material. It’s hard to believe, but 1/8th of this experience is already over. That’s crazy to even think about.
Global Immersion at Wharton
This is the time of year when international opportunities begin popping up. There was student–led trek to China that filled up so fast that the spots had been taken before I could even respond to the email. I found out last week that I won the lottery for a spot on the India Global Immersion Trip that will occur during the winter break after Christmas. In typical Wharton fashion, the students who ended up on the wait list for that have simply decided to organize their own trip and tail gate us. There’ll be another GIP group visiting Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Jordan on a middle east tour. This spring there will be GIP’s to South America and China. Perhaps I’ll be able to swing one without giving up Argentina. Then there’s a trek to Kenya that I have my eyes on. Words of wisdon: if you’re coming to b-school, save, save, save!
The Wall Street Journal and Wharton Admissions
Before I wrap this post up, I want to put in my 2 cents on all the hoopla that has been stirred up by this article in the WSJ regarding Wharton’s application volume and the departure of its former admissions director, Ankur Kumar. A day or so later, professor Adam Grant published this response; first on LinkedIn and then on The Huffington Post.
First, I think it is important to note that practically every 6 months to a year, some media outlet posts an article about how a top MBA program has “lost it” or “may be losing it” based on some data point that has dropped. It really is a part of a larger dialogue around the value of an MBA period. If you’ve seen any of these debates play out on LinkedIn or Bloomberg, they can get pretty heated. Interestingly enough, the people who seem to be the most upset about the issue tend to be those who don’t have one–and definitely not one from an elite institution.
A lot of this debate has gotten steam over the years in lieu of a flurry of Zuckerberg-like start up success stories of people who quit–or never attend–college and go on to build successful companies. What these stories leave out, however, is that such people are highly privileged and often well connected such that an MBA–or even a college degree–hardly presents them with any incremental growth in their network or exposure to opportunities. It’s as if people who either don’t want, don’t have a need or are at some level jealous of elite MBAs want to argue those of us who see value in these degrees down about why we should question that value; and attacks on individual schools–the more prestigious schools in particular–is the typical go to method for producing hot headlines that turn heads and go viral.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg posted this article about how HBS was supposedly “loosing its luster” because its average salary for graduates had dropped a piddly $5k. Last year there was this article about how top MBA programs across the board were seeing declining apps, yet were retaining the quality of their applicant pools. You would have thought the sky was falling with Columbia’s apps dropped 19% in one year. This year, they’re reportedly fine. They also reportedly retained high quality applicants during that slump. Go figure.
The thing is, it makes pretty good sense that of those who might have applied to a particular top school that decide not to that those with weaker profiles are more likely to drop first. I seriously doubt that the 3.7 Princeton undergrad with 4 years at McKinsey is the one saying “screw an MBA; who needs it.” It would also be sad if other schools further down the reputation list were salivating over such stories hoping that this now means that their school has a shot at toppling those at the very top. For starters, that isn’t really happening–at least not in any way that will sustain. All of the so-called super elite schools have been both up and down in the prestige rankings in general over the past 30 or 40 years. It goes in cycles; but they never move too far down and always rebound, just like the football programs at places like USC or Oklahoma.
It takes more than a couple of years of less than perfect data to topple decades of brand and network strength. What’s more is that its not even about that to begin with. This is really about a larger dialogue on the relevance and ROI of the MBA; and what better way to challenge that than to target any sign of imperfection seen at the top of the heap?
While data points such as the number of applications is not really up for debate, my personal experience at Wharton is much more commensurate with Adam Grant’s Huff Post article. Hardly anyone who actually goes to Wharton sees it as a finance school. Finance will always be a core strength of Wharton, but the school’s offering has long since diversified beyond that, which is evidenced by the decline in the percentage of graduates who go into finance and the increase in areas such as tech, healthcare, entrepreneurship and even analytics. Additionally, I always find it interesting how those on the outside (of any organization) looking in speak as if they have more insight on what is happening within an organization than those who exist in its ecosystem day in and day out. It doesn’t really make any sense.
Still, I do believe that Wharton’s administration may be sleeping on the job from a branding perspective. I don’t know, perhaps they should call Kellogg since branding is one of their core competencies. What I do know is that the administrations failure to properly brand the school has had little to no bearing on the quality of curriculum, faculty, students and especially the boundless opportunities that are available to anyone coming out of Wharton. Maybe their knowing that is what makes them so lax on the issue. If that is the case, I hope their attitudes change sooner or later…or that they are replaced by more passionate people with different attitudes. At the same time, I don’t really buy the WSJ’s assertion that the branding issue lies with companies that recruit; for instance, tech companies in particular are hiring Wharton grads in droves both into established companies and startups. Again, there is no shortage of plum opportunities here.
When I toured admit weekends, there was a clear distinction in the polish and pedigree of the Wharton students. I’ve literally thanked both Ankur Kumar and Tiffany Gooden for having chosen such a high quality group of individuals for me to get to be classmates with. And if you want to matriculate into the very best companies post MBA–both new school and old school–the fact remains that your opportunity to do so will be far greater here than just about anywhere else besides the usual suspects of HBS and Stanford. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to change.
Regarding the departure of Ankur Kumar, she’s actually a friend of mine and quite frankly I was wondering how long she was going to continue to commute from New York to Philly. As far as the impetus for her resignation, I’m not privy to her business like that; but I will say that an admissions director’s job is to capture the largest possible pool of interested candidates and choose the best quality class from that pool. Their job is not to market the university as a whole or be the primary driver of interest. The people who I have the honor of being in class with each day are a testament to the great job that Ankur and her admission team have been doing at just that. The fact of the matter is that there are tons of amazing, highly qualified people who get turned away from Wharton and every other top school each year simply because there just aren’t enough slots to take them all. That is still a problem at Wharton and I doubt that it will cease to be one anytime soon.