(Oakland, CA) – It was almost exactly 3 years ago that I first began to seriously consider aiming for an MBA at a top program. When I look back on that time as I approach my last semester at Wharton, it blows my mind how close I came to NOT having made the decision to take this plunge. There are many people out there for whom coming to a program like this does not make a huge impact on their career; they are simply checking a box to ensure that they maximize their options down the road; but for me, it has allowed me to clean up a decade of misfortune and sub-optimal career decisions made based on ignorance and an overall lack of options.
A Semester in San Francisco
I have about 5 weeks to go in Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco Program, which was one of the key factors that had me choose Wharton over Booth and MIT, and it has not disappointed in the least. I will definitely move back out to the Bay Area after graduation and will work in tech. As I suspected, nothing can substitute the power of actually walking the streets of San Fran networking and meeting people in this industry. I’ve been here since May and am quite happy about the tight knit community of people that I’ve been able to surround myself with that I can return to after I graduate. I’ve also enjoyed my Wharton classmates in the San Francisco cohort. This has hands down been my most valuable and productive semester to date.
Congrats in Order
I would be remiss if I did not congratulate my MBA admissions consulting clients on their Round 1 success. Since I go to Wharton, I guess it only makes sense that I get a lot of help requests from people who are specifically targeting the school. They think that I have some magic sauce for getting into this particular school; but I don’t. Getting into all of the schools is the same process although there are some idiosyncrasies that you should be aware of in each (which I have covered in the past). At any rate, nearly all of my Round 1 clients who applied to Wharton have received invites to interview, and I’m working with them on mocks and strategies for their upcoming team-based interviews. I also congratulate those who have received invites to INSEAD, Booth, and MIT–other schools where I tend to get a disproportionate number of help requests from.
The Irony of Business School
Business school, unfortunately, is a fairly boring subject from a news perspective. Thus, the purveyors of b-school “journalism”–if that is what you want to call it–tend to recycle the same themes over and over in their sensationalized articles and op/eds. Graduation trends; rankings; gender and/or age discrimination. Add water. Stir. Recycle. Re-purpose. Kill yourself.
So lately, the old faithful “Is an expensive MBA relevant???? / Peter Thiel & Elon Musk Said (in 2009) that MBA’s are Useless!!!!” theme has been rearing its head and being passed around LinkedIn to get people riled up and arguing. Those who have these prestigious MBAs assert “bullshit! These degrees are extremely valuable!” Meanwhile, those who don’t have them and/or couldn’t get them scream “Ha! Totally useless. Why not just put that money into a startup instead (as if most people have $150k just laying around)??” I opine that the real truth is probably somewhere in the middle; as it is with most such philosophical debates.
In my not-so-humble opinion, “school” is the least valuable part of business school–at least it has been for me. I’ve received tons upon tons of value from Wharton; more than enough to encourage me to be a lifelong giver as an alumnus. At the same time, most of the classes annoy the hell out of me, taking valuable time that I could be investing in activities that matter such as building relationships, companies and organizations. I remember reading through a business case a few weeks ago and thinking “hmmmm…..I really don’t give a shit. This isn’t real business anyway. It’s Monday morning quarterbacking; not to mention that the world has changed 10 times since these managers were making these decisions.”
Some of my sentiment has a lot to do with my entrepreneurial bent. If I were looking to go into finance I would see things completely differently. But I like to build stuff; not run models on what other people have built. Yawn. In truth, the b-school curriculum is more geared towards analyzing what others have done than actually doing things yourself. And when it comes to business, I have no interest in sitting in the skybox flapping my gums and pontificating about what just happened and what might happen next. Fuck that. I demand to be down on the field getting bloody or not at the game at all. What’s the use of talking about shit when I could be DOING shit? That’s all I’m sayin’…but that’s just me. No–actually, its every (real) entrepreneur I’ve ever known.
Some classes have been really good though–especially those such as EAS590 Web Lean Launch Pad (Steve Blank’s syndicated course), Communications for Entrepreneurs (Pitch Class) and an Independent study that I am proposing for the spring–all of which I’ve gotten to use my startup tasks as coursework while learning the concepts that the course was meant to teach.
Last year, I took some really great trips to Bermuda and India during the fall, but didn’t go anywhere in the spring because I was so focused on getting the beginnings of my startup going. This year, I’ll try to catch up. Over the holiday break, I’ve joined a trek to Morocco. Then after that, I took up one of my classmates on an offer to skip coming back to the US after that trip and instead fly north to see Spain and Portugal. As a history buff, I’m particularly interested in looking for artifacts that show the relationships between these two regions that existed during Moorish rule of NW Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. The ending of the empire was one of the most influential tipping points in world history–mostly for horrible reasons, but hey, that’s history.
Building Stuff and Leaving a Legacy
Given the choice to study for a class and make an impact by building something larger than myself, I will nearly always choose the latter. Three of the areas that I’ve put a lot of time into this year outside of the startup have been Wharton’s Data & Analytics Club which I founded late last spring, the African American MBA Association (AAMBAA) (website under construction as of this blog post going live. Please excuse our dust!) and AAMBAA’s 41st Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial conference.
Since earning our charter a few days prior to graduation last spring, the data & analytics club has grown rapidly from its 40-50 or so charter members at the end of last year to a thriving community of 125+ strong data-enthused Wharton MBA (including an undergrad and a PhD) candidates. I got super lucky and was able to recruit/attract a couple of rock star co-presidents who have held down the fort marvelously while I’ve been away in San Francisco. That organization has gone from just me flapping my gums and pitching the club around wharton, to me plus some occasional help from dedicated people who would take the reins of, say putting on a data trek, to me and 2 other dedicated co-presidents driving each other crazy trying to not let critical balls touch the ground to now a full slate of 15 or so super bright and energetic executive board members that are running the heck out of the club as I personally fade into the background as more of a support figure. We also got our first student to get a job working for a data-related company after graduation last year as a result of club relationships. That is what I live for. Building things of value and then recruiting people who are better than I to run them and take them to the next level.
AAMBAA at Wharton, meanwhile, has been going through a metamorphosis as well. The leadership is committed to making the club less insular and more inclusive to (and valuable for) the broader Wharton community. This year’s president, Gena Brown, came in with tons of energy and an intent to take the club to the next level. We are currently bringing our re-branding initiative to a close with an updated logo, website and a new internal #blackatwharton initiative as well as new #diversityatwharton initiative that we will be collaborating with other diversity organizations such as Wharton Women in Business, Wharton Hispanic American MBA Assoc, Wharton Latin American Students Association (WHALASA), Wharton African Students Association (WASA), Caribbean Business Association (CariBiz) and Out4Biz, Wharton’s LGBT organization among others. We will be pushing pretty hard on these during the spring. Internally, we shot a promo video for AAMBAA and are just a few days from launching our new website.
I worked on similar projects last year for Wharton’s rugby team that I am an injured but gung-ho member of. Now my year long tenure in that role is eclipsing, but I do have some ideas on how the person who I hand my office off to in January can take the position to the next level above and beyond what I have done. Still, I’m proud that we were able to increase new member recruitment by 40% year over year after the years web presence and recruitment funnel improvements that I instituted along with several other efficiency improvements made by the other officers in that organization. That club consistently gets the highest member satisfaction ratings at Wharton each year.
A New Major at Wharton
I’m most excited about the prospect of a new major at Wharton that I’ve been able to be involved in supporting. After agreeing last year to declare the major of Behavioral Analytics, the data that tells the story of how and why people make decisions as customers, employees and just as dynamic humans in generall, my classmates Lisa (a true rockstar and force of nature) and I decided that we needed to codify what we were doing for the benefit of future classes. She then took the reigns and gathered a groundswell of support for this change, garnering a large number of signature as as well as statements from professors and students alike to push for this initiative. Wharton got a new dean this year and we could not be happier with him. I was, of course, delighted to learn that data talent production is one of his top priorities at Wharton.
It has been these and other similar experiences that have made my Wharton experience truly valuable and rich; and when I walk the stage in May I’ll be able to say that I absolutely, positively made Wharton a better place than it was when I arrived, which is my goal in any organization that I walk into. These opportunities have defined my MBA experience. This is #MyWharton .