At a recent gathering of the Wharton community, I was asked what seemed on the surface like a simple question: How much of the credit for one’s path to success in a chosen field can be attributed to an individual’s own self-determination and talent, and how much can be attributed to the institutions that fostered that individual? It is an interesting question, a bit like the chicken and the egg, and an almost impossible question to answer with any analytics when one thinks about business school.
Why should we even care about this question?
The simple answer is that the Wharton community/brand/model is a living, breathing entity, and its long-term strength relies on fostering a community of supportive, loyal, and emotionally invested individuals who are all willing to give back their time and treasure. This typically only occurs when individuals believe that Wharton was a foundation block in their successes.
While difficult to measure, and somewhat amorphous, this intangible quality continues to measure the success of a sustainable “business model” for graduate education.
So here is my answer: Individuals, especially high-performing, type-A personalities (like most if not all of our Wharton classmates), deserve significant credit for their success. Hard work, ambition, tenacity, judgment and intelligence are all criteria for that success—many of which we were born with or developed before we stepped a single foot on campus. Taking it a step further, many of us have built our own individual brands and have done that largely as an individual outside of the business school setting.
Having said that, I would then argue that Wharton is one of the few instances in our lives where the group of people assembled as classmates, faculty and staff made us stronger as students, thinkers and people. Who deserves credit for providing the backdrop, curriculum and feedback loop with which to help us realize our full talents? Who deserves credit for putting each one of us in a position whereby we can literally fly anywhere in a world of 6 billion people and feel confident that we will find like-minded leaders grounded in similar skills, judgment and integrity?
For those attributes that we now possess and that help us every day, we should all provide appropriate credit to the Wharton School for probing, pushing, pulling and creating such a rich environment for growth.
To each of you, I pose a challenge: Think about this question personally, and demonstrate your thanks and loyalty to an institution that will always be a part of your individual success.
Enjoy your fall season.
Bruce D. Schulman, WG’99
President, Wharton Alumni Executive Board