An Uncomfortable Side Effect of Success

Is that a degree behind your back?

Is that a degree behind your back?

First, know that I am honored to have earned a Wharton MBA. Wharton is the most intellectually stimulating place that I have ever been. However, as an entrepreneur, sometimes I hide the fact that I have a Wharton MBA. Why?

For a starter, Poets & Quants estimated that 16.8 percent of Wharton MBA applicants were admitted to the school in 2012. Supposing this acceptance rate is average, a typical MBA class size of 800 means that 4,762 people applied and 3,962 applicants were rejected. If we multiply these nearly 4,000 rejected Wharton MBA applicants over 50 years, we generate almost 200,000 potential business people that just might harbor a grudge against the School. And that’s just the rejected MBA applicants; when we include undergraduate rejections, MBA for Executives rejections and all other Wharton program rejections, we Wharton graduates could be dealing with more than a half-million rejected people.

Therefore, I sometimes hide my affiliation until I feel comfortable that my Wharton credential will work for me rather than against me. Am I alone in hiding my Wharton degree at times?

Steve Smolinsky, WG’79, has. He explained: “I mention my Wharton MBA when it is useful. When I deal with smaller companies, Wharton to them implies high-level knowledge but also that I am an expensive expert. When dealing with small organizations, I don’t talk about my education at Wharton at all. When dealing with larger companies, I always use it—it helps. However, being part of a premier business school can be very off-putting – we tend to be stereotyped.”

Or an ace up your sleeve?

Or an ace up your sleeve?

I have observed Wade Roberts, WG’76, underplaying his Wharton education, and I always wanted to ask him why. Finally, Wade told me, “Perhaps it’s from my public-company manufacturing background, but on the shop floor people sometimes assume that as a Wharton guy, you are bringing complexity to the situation or an aura of elitism. Therefore, I underplay my Wharton education at times and bring it up when it’s relevant.”

Adam Moskow, W’82, admitted: “When negotiating on behalf of a client, I hide my Wharton degree so those I’m negotiating with aren’t intimidated and so they act naturally, because being a Wharton guy in a negotiation can be looked at like being a lawyer. But in business development, I put Wharton out there 100 percent of the time. It’s a real selling point and often what people remember quickly in a positive way.”

How about you? Do you ever hide your Wharton degree? Click this survey link and let us know.

Editor’s note: The survey is not sanctioned by or carried out by the Wharton School but rather is an unofficial effort on the part of the author.

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