From the Quad: An Afternoon With Mr. Abess

By Andrew Stern, W’10

Leonard Abess, Jr.As he prepares for his final year on campus, a senior looks back on his most memorable Wharton experience.

Leonard Abess, Jr. Does the name ring a bell? Does it conjure thoughts of generosity?

Well, it should.

Back in November, the Spanish bank Caja Madrid paid Abess, W’70, $927 million for an 87 percent stake in his company, City National Bancshares. After completing the sale, Abess did something remarkable: He gave $60 million of his profits from the sale to 399 bank staff members and 72 former employees. Some of the checks topped $100,000. This amazing gesture earned Abess national attention. He was even praised by President Obama.

I had the unique privilege of meeting Abess during his April visit to Wharton. And as I look back on my time at Wharton I know few conversations will remain so vividly etched in my mind. I fully expect that the timeless lessons Mr. Abess shared will remain with me for many years to come.

“Think not of the harvest while planting.”

Many Wharton alumni tell students to “follow their passion.”

Mr. Abess reframed the lesson in his own unique way.

Abess asked each of us to think for a moment about how fully our pursuits actually aligned with our passions. My fellow students and I began to list some of the activities we’ve participated in during our years at Penn. The enthusiasm was tangible as students spoke about the activities they had loved most.

Which led me to think of my own academic passion organizational effectiveness. How can companies get the most from their people at work? How can organizations attract top talent and then retain it? These are the questions I want to help answer during my career.

Wharton has given me the tools to do so. In my time here, I have worked with

Prof. Stew Friedman, who has devoted his career to helping companies develop innovative work-life programs. I have presented a vision for Nike’s workplace of the future to the retailer’s vice president for human resources. And I have enjoyed rewarding conversations with Edana Desatnick, WG’88, whose pioneering work is rebranding HR.

At Wharton, I have not only discovered my passion. I’ve been given the opportunity to pursue it.

“Success requires that everyone want it, participate in it and get something out of it.”

Some of my best memories at Wharton involve time spent with Wharton alumni. The conversations I have had with Gabriel Mandujano, C’05, W’05, former executive director of The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation; Jeff Fluhr, ENG’96, W’96, founder of StubHub; Ellen Yin, W’87, WG’93, founder of Fork Restaurant & Bar; and Traci Lerner, W’81, investment manager at Chesapeake Partners, were particularly impactful.

As co-chairman of the Wharton Alumni Relations Council, I have seen first-hand how important these alumni-student interactions are. I encourage each of you to consider how you, too, can positively influence the student experience:

Attend a brown bag lunch. Speak at the spring colloquia event. Host an extern for a one-day job shadow. Just think of the impact you could make.

“I’m not perfect, but I’m constantly trying to improve myself.”

Few of us will ever be capable of matching Mr. Abess’s financial contribution the monetary impact he made in the lives of those City National Bancshares employees. However, all of us can and should attempt to mirror his ceaseless self-inquiry.

I believe Mr. Abess’ message can apply to all. His questions are ones that I still ask myself today, and I believe they are questions you should ask yourself as well.

Are you planting the seeds that will blossom into a fulfilling career? Are you also helping to lay the foundation for others’ future success? And most importantly, are you living a life congruent with your passions?

Andrew Stern, W’10, is from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He can be reached at sternau@wharton.upenn.edu.

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