How to Re-Enter the Workforce, Entrepreneur Style
- by Susan McDonnell
In the mid-80s, hair may have been bigger. The clash and bang of typewriters was louder than today’s sleek and silent tablet keyboards, but much of what continues to make Wharton special was alive and well back then, not the least of which was the entrepreneurial mindset of its students.
It was the beginning of the aerobics craze, remembered Susan Weil, W’84, she, her sister—a pre-med student at Penn—and their friends were exercising together every day. It was fun, it was social, and Weil recognized that it could also turn a profit. So she turned it into a business.
“The most important thing to being successful is to be able to see an opportunity and capitalize on it,” she told a classroom of Wharton undergraduates last month during the Wharton Alumni Colloquia series. “What was truly great was that I found something I loved to do, and I was making money at it.”
This spark of youthful entrepreneurship has engulfed her career today. She is co-founder of Weil and Wein—a New York-based executive coaching and career advisory firm. While it may be where she started, business ownership was not necessarily Weil’s planned career trajectory. Rather than a straight line, her path bent and curved, taking her on a journey that landed her at a somewhat unexpected place.
Upon graduating from the Wharton School, Weil entered the world of investment banking.
“I went into banking, originally, without necessarily putting a lot of thought into it,” she said.
She completed a two-year analyst program, earned her MBA at Yale and then returned to Wall Street. She started a family and left the workforce, moved to Hong Kong, back to the U.S. and then started to look for a job.
She teamed up with classmate Terri Wein, W’84, WG’88. Together, the pair supported each other through the job search process, but what they found was something else entirely.
“We were of the generation where we thought we could have it all, but we were having trouble having it all,” said Weil. “One of the things we learned during our search was that many, many of our classmates from Wharton—women—had left the workforce just like us and like us, were struggling to find a way back in.”
Weil and Wein established a more formal partnership, and their eponymous business was founded on their goal of supporting women in similar situations to themselves.
“We had tremendous success right off the bat,” said Weil. So, they decided to broaden their scope, helping clients not only look for work but to build their careers within their current organizations.
“We broadened what we were doing to help people succeed,” she said, “how to navigate politics, how to think about careers in the long run.”
Over the years—and with the support of Wharton faculty, who helped them conduct research on the next generation’s career perspective—the pair developed a proprietary method they used to place clients. Now, they are launching software based on that method, called Jobtreks. Weil said she never would have guessed that, when she launched her “traditional” career in finance, she would have ended up here—at the helm of a company she founded that now has a technology focus.
“We got our start at Wharton. We learned phenomenal skills and met terrific people who have helped us along the way,” she said. “We came back full circle.”
What’s most important when doing a job, any job, and being successful is simple.
“Do a great job. That’s how you build a career,” she said.
Editor’s note: Read our another blog based on this fall’s Wharton Alumni Colloquia series, “Two Wharton Alumni Sell the Alternative Business Career Path.”