By Natalie Pompilio
The scramble for the perfect summer internship begins almost as soon as MBA students step on campus. There are countless resumes sent and interviews conducted as MBAs seek that ideal position—the temporary job that could launch a career.
But at Wharton these days, not every student aspires to a summer on the trading floor, or a Manhattan high-rise.
More than ever before, Wharton MBAs are applying their newfound business knowledge in nontraditional environments—nonprofits, fledgling start-ups, charitable organizations and more. In late August, we spoke with five Wharton MBAs who took the road less traveled for their summer internships.
They made little or no money. They put in long hours. They took on challenging tasks—and humbling ones, too. But they said the lessons they learned were invaluable. And the impact they made, priceless.
Their experiences speak to the many different doors that can be opened by a Wharton MBA—not to mention the varied interests of students who seek one.
Working on the Dock of the Bay
The work was vastly different than what Wu—who previously worked with a Shanghai chemical company—was used to.
But so was the culture.
She and her Bayshore colleagues spent the work week sharing a home in a bucolic setting near the water, breaking bread together nearly every night and building a bond that transcended the workplace.
“I have never lived abroad before this, and never in a real U.S. home. This was a great way to get to know the organization and the people,” said Wu, who wants to focus on strategy management.
Wu and her team also worked hard.
They developed a business plan to help the organization optimize its resources, interviewed locals about the value of Bayshore’s programs and studied peer organizations as well. At summer’s end, the team recommended that Bayshore add a boat-building program and take steps to increase its visibility by making its waterfront headquarters a place to hang out on weekend evenings.
“In a big organization, you can’t see your impact. You may think anyone can replace you,” Wu said. “But here, you really felt like what you did will have a huge impact.”
A ‘Priceless’ Opportunity
Thanks to Michael Millington, WG’10, and Jaclyn Casavant, WG’10, Philadelphia may soon to be home to more homeowners and college graduates.
The pair spent their summer helping the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania streamline and improve the Individual Development Account program, which was created to help Philadelphia residents save money for a college education or for a down payment on a home. “It was an opportunity to use my business experience and problem-solving skills for the good of the community,” said Millington. “To me, that combination is priceless.”
Both Millington and Casavant had previously worked with Wharton Community Consultants, which provides advisory services to Philadelphia-area nonprofits and community organizations. And both had seen first-hand the impact that the group’s work could have. Their experiences inspired them to dedicate their summer to the United Way.
The Individual Development Account program had been around for six years. But officials found it was a challenge getting participants to meet their goals. To find out why the program wasn’t working, Casavant and Millington conducted research, analyzed comparable asset- building programs and interviewed key stakeholders, eventually preparing a report that recommended, among other things, how to better identify prospective participants and leverage the resources of the partner organizations that implement the program. The pair remain in touch with their United Way mentor and are excited to see if their suggestions have the desired effect in the year to come.
Says Millington: “If one more person were able to buy a house from our efforts, it would have all been worth it.”
Patience Pays Off
Even as June approached and her classmates left for internships far and near, Sheezan Bakali, WG’10, held out. She didn’t want just any internship. She wanted, in her words, a “really cool” internship.
She found exactly what she was looking for at Proper Cloth (www.propercloth.com), a just-launched online retailer of high-end, custom-made dress shirts.
After seeing a write-up about the company, Bakali took the bold step of calling up company founder and owner Seph Skerritt and asking him if he needed an intern. She said she would work for free.
“I talked him into it,” Bakali says.
It was a good decision. Bakali helped Skerritt prepare an advertising plan, firm up the company’s brand identity and streamline customer service procedures. Bakali also spent a day down in the factory, learning the proper way to measure men for shirts, and later hit the streets. Literally.
Standing outside a Manhattan bank, she persuaded well-dressed businessmen to come up to Proper Cloth’s offices to try out the website and provide feedback.
“This summer was the opportunity to see what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and have a business riding on your own abilities and drive and nothing else,” says Bakali, who was awarded a Wharton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship. “I’ve been a little bit nervous about whether I have the mettle to do it myself and this was the real thing. I learned a lot watching one guy boot-strapping it, building a business with his own two hands.”
Of course, there can be drawbacks, even to the seemingly perfect summer internship.
“Every time I meet up with my classmates,” Bakali says, “I want to measure them for a shirt.”
A Worthy Cause
King, 27, an accomplished tri-athlete, learned about the foundation while participating in the LIVESTRONG Challenge, a series of bike rides that serve as the foundation’s signature fundraising events.
He began lobbying for a summer position last September, but LIVESTRONG officials were hesitant. “In March, I sent them an entrepreneurial business plan combining sports and fundraising,” King said. “By that afternoon, they called me to confirm the summer internship.”
At the foundation’s Austin, Texas-based headquarters, King used his MBA skills to analyze the organization’s largest fundraising events and find new ways of optimizing participation and cash flow.
“Without money, there is no mission, and that’s where I thought I could help,” he says. “I felt that they would go to the ends of the earth to help one more cancer patient. This attitude translated into a collaborative and entrepreneurial work environment where new ideas were welcome.”
The organization’s openness impressed King. So, too, did the commitment of those who worked for it.
“There was always something going on where you thought, ‘Wow. How are they calling this work?’” King says. “While Lance was raising global awareness in the Tour de France, cancer patients and their families were a constant source of motivation at the foundation. They sent videos and some even cycled across the country to raise awareness and personally show their support. These interactions reminded me why I was there.”