The past 10 years have been eventful ones for Wharton | San Francisco, the Wharton School’s home base on the West Coast. In its first decade of existence, the campus has seen the average size of its enrolling classes nearly double. It has become home to such signature Wharton initiatives as the Entrepreneur-In-Residence program and Prof. Karl Ulrich’s cutting-edge modular courses. It has built strategically important relationships with West Coast companies across numerous sectors—entertainment, technology, aerospace and others—and it has welcomed such dignified Commencement speakers as Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., C’87, and Paul S. Otellini.
In other words, it’s been a pretty good 10 years.
Doug Collom hopes the next 10 will be even better.
Collom, who has served as Vice Dean of Wharton | San Francisco for the past two years, believes the campus is on the verge of a breakthrough—one that will ultimately make it a major player in business education not only in the Bay Area, but for the entire West Coast, from Seattle to Phoenix.
What is going on at Wharton | San Francisco?
We have numerous initiatives aimed at bolstering the campus’ presence on the West Coast, strengthening relationships with companies in the region and generally creating a better sense of place. That last task, at least, will be made easier next year, when the School will make its much-anticipated move into the stunning hills plaza building, which may one day be recognized as the Huntsman Hall of the West Coast.
You are moving into your new home next year. How important is this for your campus?
You have to see it. First of all, it’s a big improvement in terms of space—from 25,000 square feet at our old site to 33,000 at Hills Plaza. That’s more than a 30 percent increase, and we need that for our growth plans. From a design perspective, we’ve got an internationally renowned architect designing the space. We’ll have killer views. Everything will be state of the art. It will just be a wonderful venue, and to my thinking, one that’s on par with the elegance and stature of Huntsman Hall. When you walk into Huntsman Hall, you think to yourself, ‘Now, this is a serious institution.’ When you walk into Hills Plaza, with its prominent signage for the Wharton School on one of the biggest streets in San Francisco, you’ll get the same sense.
What is your main strategic focus right now?
We’re expanding the suite of services and activities on the campus to include more companies from the area and more outreach activities, and that includes increasing our focus on executive education on the West Coast, while at the same time continuing to use the MBA as the cornerstone of the operation. What’s going on now is, really, a full-court press to expand the executive education program and to get it going in San Francisco and the West Coast in general.
How are you working to improve the visibility of Wharton | San Francisco out on the West Coast?
We’re doing a lot right now. Over the past two years, we’ve done about 15 or 20 events, bringing in the local business community, and they’ve all been sellouts. We have no problem getting people onto the campus. We do workshops for entrepreneurs, and we’ve got an active program to expand our relationships with business, and have contacted 60-80 companies through the alumni we know. We’re also focused on redefining our relationships with the local media and the local business press. We’re making some progress, but more needs to be done.
How do you sell Wharton | San Francisco to prospective students?
First and foremost, we ask ourselves, ‘Why would somebody want to go to school here?’ And, really, there are a lot of reasons. One is that it’s absolutely a way for them to advance their careers. Wharton consistently ranks as a top school throughout the world. We’re the only Ivy League school on the West Coast, and there are a lot of Ivy League alumni who live out here, so we are desirable to them. Also, our program is very immersive. Our students go to class together, study together, stay in hotels together. They get to experience a lot of bonding while in this program. We believe that this is the single hardest MBA program for executives to get into, anywhere.
You’ve been there two years. How has the adjustment been for you? And what are some of your achievements so far?
I feel like I just navigated my way through the first year, learning about the institution, and I do think we’ve had our successes. The successes we’ve had in outreach have been enormous, and I take personal pride in some of the various speakers and events. We’re pushing for more collaboration. We’re going to expand our presence in Southern California. Everything we do here is to create a platform or a center for campus life.
How much collaboration exists between the Philadelphia and San Francisco campuses?
There is a great strategic tailwind coming from Philadelphia to make sure that Wharton | San Francisco is a success, and that it rises to a level of parity with the Philadelphia campus. I’ve been very impressed with the degree of support and encouragement and we’re seeing more and more of it. More faculty are coming out here to work with different industries, and we’re seeing a lot more interconnectedness between the coasts in general.
Though your campus is part of the Wharton School, it is located in a much different market, business-wise. Do you take that into account when planning your programming?
On the West Coast, of course, technology is the dominant sector. We’re at ground zero of Silicon Valley, renowned as one of the most important centers for innovation in the world. That’s one substantial difference, and it leads to a second difference, which is this: I think there’s a much different expectation about jobs on the West Coast. People redefine themselves and change careers much more frequently, so we need to take that into consideration. We definitely believe that our outlook includes investment banks, consulting and also technology, health care and the Southern California aerospace industry. It’s about the entertainment industry. It’s about biotech as well. We have to play to a very diverse audience.
Looking ahead for a moment, where would you like to see Wharton | San Francisco in five years? Or 10 years?
I’d like to be able to walk down the street in San Diego, ask somebody if they know about Wharton | San Francisco and have them say, “Yes, I’ve heard a lot about it, actually.” That’s key–to have succeeded in having a strong presence and brand. And I really think everything else is a subset beyond that. We’d definitely like to develop new activities and programs and reach into new geographic areas. We need to establish more of a presence in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. I would like to see more faculty out there on possibly a rotational basis, or as temporary residents, with them staying here for a period of six months to a year. I think we could leverage that in pretty amazing ways. For instance, as part of that kind of established faculty presence, I’d like to see Wharton | San Francisco recognized as a leader in the West Coast technology sector. I think we can make a real impact in the business community out here.