By Stephen J. Morgan
Alums on how Wharton has changed – or not – over the last half-century.
If you want to get an idea of how different the Wharton School is today from the way it was nearly 50 years ago, just talk to people like Jack Curley, W’54, and Nivee Amin, W’02.
In Curley’s day, for example, the guys in his classes – and they were nearly all men – could take their evening meals at Houston Hall as part of their tuition package. But unless you showed up wearing a coat and tie, you would go hungry.
Amin finds that amusing. “We can wear pajamas to our meals!” she says in an interview just a few days before graduating. Having to get dressed for dinner, she says, “is definitely a foreign concept.”
If, on the other hand, you want to get an idea of how much the School has remained the same, all you have to do is talk to those very same alumni.
“I was offered three jobs walking out of Wharton because the School had a great reputation then, and it’s been enhanced since then,” says Curley, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Bala Cynwyd, PA, and still lives there.
Amin, too, was attracted to Wharton because of its reputation. “I knew I wanted to study something to do with the economy, but I wanted a practical business background because I eventually want to get into the health care industry,” says Amin, who hails from Ellicott City, MD, and has accepted a job in public finance with Morgan Stanley in New York. “Wharton is the best business school for undergraduates.”
To learn how Wharton has evolved over the years, the magazine talked with alumni and faculty members who attended or taught at Wharton during every decade since the 1950s. Some of the individuals the magazine tracked down still work in the Philadelphia area; others are scattered around the world. Some have stayed close to Wharton by serving on boards and committees; others are less actively involved with the School, but still feel affection for it. Some work in big cities; others in small towns. Some are entrepreneurs. All get excited when they talk about their work and about their school days.
Friends from the 50s
Curley and his good friend Tom Jones, WG’58, have deep Philadelphia roots. They grew up in the same neighborhood, were roommates at Penn, and belonged to the same fraternity. Jones attended Penn as an undergraduate, majoring in engineering.
After graduating, Jones and Curley went to work at an up-and-coming company called IBM. Both men also served in the armed forces. Jones has lived in New York for a long time, but the two remain as close as only men who have known each other since the second grade can be.
“Jack tries to pretend he’s a curmudgeon, but he’s a young curmudgeon,” says Jones, a former vice chairman of the Wharton Club in New York City. Jones says Curley still tells the same jokes that he did decades ago.
Of the three job offers he received, Curley took the one from IBM. “IBM was a growing and expanding company,” Curley says, even though computers had yet to become a significant part of IBM’s business. “IBM was in the business of time-clock punch-card machines and electric typewriters. Computers started to come in the late ’50s and early ’60s. IBM was not as well known as it is now.”
Curley’s era has a black-and-white- photo feel to it. He graduated two years before Dick Clark became host of American Bandstand at the old WFIL-TV studios at 46th and Market Streets in Philadelphia. During Curley’s time at Wharton, trolley tracks dissected the campus, and classes moved from Logan Hall to a new building called Dietrich Hall.
As for international exposure – to fellow students, cultures, and business issues – Curley’s was limited. One of his teachers was an assistant professor of geography, Michael Dorizas, a “burly Russian” the students called Big Mike, who periodically hauled out a projector and showed movies he had taken behind the Iron Curtain using a 16mm camera. The quirky photography reminded Curley of Hollywood’s silent films. Still, Curley says, the teacher’s movies “showed you a world beyond 34th and Spruce.”
Curley today is president of E-Z Tax, a startup company that installs computers in poor neighborhoods so that low-income people can file tax returns directly with the IRS and avoid paying fees to tax preparers.
If Wharton’s international curriculum in 1954 was not as extensive as it is now, it would be unfair to say that it did not exist.
“I was one of the few people who majored in what was called international commerce in those days,” says Jones. “I became an officer of the Propeller Club, a club for international business students. The club’s name related to the propellers of freightliners, because international commerce up until that time was mostly at sea. In fact, I did my thesis on IBM and its international business.”
In 1966, Jones was selected to be a White House fellow. Jones’ interest in things international grew partly out of his experience serving in the U.S. Army’s Second Armored Division in Germany in 1955 and 1956. Ironically, Jones says, “When I went to work at IBM, I was advised not to work overseas because I would get too lost in the shuffle and not be able to move ahead.”
Jones today is president and CEO of Fifth Generation Computer Corp., which designs and assembles servers for telephone companies and universities for use in speech recognition.
Cinderblock walls and vinyl floors
Janice R. Bellace, CW’71, a longtime faculty member in the Legal Studies Department and former deputy dean of the School, says there are many things she remembers about Wharton in the tumultuous 1960s and early 1970s, but the first thing that comes to mind is the old Dietrich Hall.
“It had these pale green cinderblock walls and vinyl tile floors,” she says. “You looked down long corridors and went into classrooms where seats were bolted to the floor and the professors were at the front of the room on platforms. Even by the late ’60s, the building seemed old fashioned.”
More than a few alumni echoed Bellace’s remarks about the aesthetically challenged nature of Wharton’s physical facilities. Michelle Smith, W’96, remembers the first time that she, accompanied by four girlfriends, took a stroll on Locust Walk. She was not impressed. “I said, ‘Oh, that’s it?'” Whereas Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall struck Smith as functional, Vance Hall seemed to her a bit of a “dinosaur.” “I thought it was a temporary building and that the plan was ultimately to build something else,” she says.
“When you compare our school to others, one of the big things is that other schools have established business campuses,” says Richard Murray-Bruce, WG’02. “Harvard Business School’s architecture is similar. It’s all self-enclosed, which promotes a concentrated culture. Wharton didn’t have that. There wasn’t a great place to meet on campus. That’s a subtle thing, but it created a fractured environment that will change radically when Huntsman Hall opens. Huntsman will create a central place to meet, and that will change how people feel about coming to Wharton.”
A few good women
Bellace, who earned a law degree from Penn and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, also remembers being “the only girl” in her accounting class. At a time when women were wearing miniskirts, she recalls being the only student in that class to be asked to write on the blackboard. “Women could not wear slacks prior to 1970,” she says. “There was a dress code for both men and women, and I was the only woman. At the time I felt self-conscious.”
But it was a male teacher, Alan Choate, who saw that Bellace had promise and encouraged her to enroll in law school. She also was befriended by another faculty member, Fred Kempin, who was the vice dean and director of the Undergraduate Division and taught a course in business law. “Fred later hired me [to teach his comparative Anglo-American law course when he was on leave in the fall of 1977] and told me I was the only student of his he ever hired.”
Edvige Barrie, WG’76, also recalls how it felt to be a young woman in an environment dominated by young men.
“There was a two-week course you had to take if you didn’t have a strong background in Fortran programming, something we all use today on a daily basis,” says Barrie, whose nickname is pronounced “Veej.” “In Fortran, I could barely understand what we were doing. There was an inventory problem I was trying to solve in our group. I was the only female. I said, ‘We should do ABC, and that will solve the problem.’ There was no reaction. Five minutes later, a male member said, ‘We should do ABC,’ and everybody said, ‘Great idea!’ What it showed me was they couldn’t hear me because I was female and had been discounted. That happened on more than one occasion in life, not just at Wharton. I didn’t feel I had to fight any great discrimination battle, but I had to fight a bias based on gender.”
Bruce Hoffman, W’66, says there may have been fewer than a half dozen women at Wharton during the early 1960s. Hoffman recalls meeting one student who told him “she was an only child, and her father had a business, and he wanted her to find a husband.”
For his part, Curley does not remember a single woman in any of his classes in the early 1950s.
In the old Dietrich Hall, an observant person could indirectly deduce the absence of women students – the original bathrooms on the ground floor were for men only.
Wharton students in the ’60s and early ’70s were just as eager to build careers as Curley and Jones were in the ’50s. The difference, though, was that many Penn students during the Vietnam era took a hostile view of business.
Hoffman says his four years on campus were as quiet as the ’50s. It was the calm before the storm of the anti-war movement.
“It was sports and fraternities and parties,” he says. “There was a very modest interest in politics. Most people were concerned with making the transition from high school, getting into a fraternity and doing what you wanted to do. Vietnam changed that.” Hoffman, president of I. Levy Sons, Inc., a New York marketing company, and a former president of Wharton’s Alumni Board, says he began to hear of political ferment at Penn only after he had left to study for a master’s at the London School of Economics.
Hoffman also remembers early murmurings of the environmental movement. “There was a big save-our-open- space campaign. When I first went to campus they were still building the new library [Van Pelt], which took up all that space on Walnut Street, and they were knocking down a lot of the old buildings.”
Frank Fountain, WG’73, a senior vice president at DaimlerChrysler in Michigan, remembers some protests affecting Wharton. One occurred when representatives of Playboy magazine visited the School.
“In the early ’70s, [Playboy] was doing quite well financially, and they had even begun to recruit MBAs. In the auditorium in Dietrich Hall, the whole meeting was taken over by a protest group from the broader University, who took control of the microphone.” Fountain says there was also “a nervousness about some companies, like chemical companies and defense companies involved in the Vietnam War, being visible on campus. It was that kind of an atmosphere.”
Ross Webber, emeritus professor of management and former vice president for development and university relations, has met countless alumni. He says the ’60s and ’70s were pivotal years in many ways.
“When I met with alumni, I found that the older alumni, in reminiscing about their experiences, seemed to identify with the great teacher, the great lecturer, they had – the Sol Huebners and the George Taylors,” says Webber, who began teaching at Wharton in 1964. “What struck me was the memories and admiration for somebody bigger than life, particularly somebody who had strong personal positions on issues and who were idiosyncratic in their lectures. That whole style today works for very few people because the whole classroom style is participative.”
(Solomon S. Huebner, who earned a PhD at age 22, founded the world’s first academic program of insurance instruction and research at Wharton in 1913. During World War II, management professor George W. Taylor served as chairman of the federal War Labor Board, which had the power to regulate wages in all industries.)
Webber also says that the change in management techniques over the last 30 years “was definitely related to the culture change in the late ’60s and ’70s, when respect for authority declined so much. We never had a counterrevolution here at Wharton, but there was less willingness to accept the word from on high. Even in business today, the most common form of influence is persuasion, not expert power or authority or coercive power. The manager today has to have the ability to persuade.”
With the winding down of the Vietnam War, the resignation of President Nixon, and the Arab oil embargo of 1973, American students learned that “American omnipotence was an illusion,” Webber says. “The whole anti-business orientation of the early ’70s began to evaporate rapidly as people discovered that the U.S. had to pay attention to economic activity. The result was a sharp expansion of students’ interest in business and management.”
The counterculture era also saw African Americans begin to seek admission to colleges in greater numbers. Two African-American students, Fountain and Milton Irvin, WG’74, worked together with other MBA students to form the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference, named for a former executive director of the National Urban League. The annual event, designed to bring students and business leaders together, has evolved from a half-day lecture series to one of the largest student-run business conferences in the country.
“We founded Whitney Young at a time when there was tension between African-American students and the administration,” says Irvin, who today is the executive director responsible for recruiting, training, and professional development for the fixed-income department at UBS Warburg in Stamford, CT. “There was no rallying point for African-American students at that point. We were new to the world of business.”
Irvin first thought of majoring in labor relations but switched to finance when it became clear that most of his peers were doing so. He was so new to business that he had never heard of many of the most prominent names in capitalism. “Three weeks into the school year, I see everyone running toward the auditorium,” he recalls. “They said, ‘Gus Levy from Goldman Sachs is here.’ I said, ‘Who’s Gus Levy and who’s Goldman Sachs?’ A student looked at me and said, ‘If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be here.'”
Irvin made it a point to learn what job opportunities were available for a person with a degree in finance and was later offered a summer job by Goldman.
Irvin was not the only student to feel out of place. Barrie was accepted at Wharton immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree in painting from Penn. “I basically went to Wharton because I liked business but didn’t have a firm plan.”
Barrie, now a media relations consultant working with Colgate University and Hamilton College in upstate New York, also had to work extra hard at her studies because she held a demanding job as the first manager of Philadanco, an African-American dance company in West Philadelphia. “Once I got to Wharton, I didn’t have enough money to make it through, and my father hadn’t committed to lifelong support,” she says. Today Philadanco is a multimillion-dollar enterprise.
Wharton was also an eye-opener for Tom Leavitt, WG’82, who is senior vice president of Merchants Bank in Burlington, VT, and president of Wharton’s Vermont Club. Like Barrie, Leavitt arrived at Wharton the same year he graduated from the University of New Hampshire.
Everything about Wharton, smack in the heart of a big city, was different from Leavitt’s experience in college. At New Hampshire, Leavitt was the star quarterback on the football team. At Wharton, he was just one of hundreds of new students. All of them were at the top of their game academically, and more than a few were prominent: one of Leavitt’s classmates was Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., son of the former Philippines leader.
“As I dug into the curriculum, I could see clearly that, in contrast to a state university, which had been my experience in a more provincial region, Wharton would open the world to me,” Leavitt says. “The fact that the curriculum offered international business, along with the diversity of the student body, meant that I was not only going to get exposure to an urban setting but also a global perspective, and that was most exciting to me. I was intimidated by that also.”
Hey, kids, let’s put on a show
Wharton students have never succumbed to the temptation of all work and no play. Charles Seymour, Jr., WG’75, was a key figure in bringing out the artistic side of his classmates. He oversaw a series of theatrical productions – The Fantasticks, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and Company – as part of a program called Wharton and the Arts.
Seymour directed all three plays and appeared in two of them. Seymour once sold real estate in Europe and the U.S. for a living, but says he really wanted to be an entrepreneur in a field he loves.
“I’m the fourth generation of my family to work in the same community theater [the Players Club in Swarthmore, PA],” says Seymour, the owner of Cloche d’Or Productions in Wallingford, PA, a film, video and still-photography company. “I’m not necessarily a guy who’s going to be on the cover of a magazine as a great corporate leader.”
While at Wharton, Seymour says people frequently asked him how he found time for both theater and his rigorous coursework. “I would say, ‘How do you find time to breathe?’ It is what you need to keep going,” he says.
Seymour’s productions are considered by many to have laid the foundation for the Wharton Follies, which debuted in 1976 and recently celebrated its silver anniversary. This year, the musical review drew more than 2,200 audience members at performances in Philadelphia and New York.
An international perspective
“In the late 1960s, most Wharton students were interested in finance and accounting,” says Bellace. “And there always were people who were going into their parents’ business.” Nowadays, though, “the School is so international, both MBA and undergraduate,” Bellace says. “It’s just changed dramatically. The students, in being interested in what’s going on in whole world, compel the faculty to be much broader. One of my students asked me, ‘How would this policy work in Morocco?'”
Tien Shang (Sam) Chang, WG’77, was here during the transition years between a domestically oriented Wharton and today’s global flavor. A finance major, he saw the need for more international emphasis in the business community at large while working as an investment banker in New York in the 1980s. Conducting financial analysis of loans being made in Mexico and Brazil, he advised that there was no way those loans would be paid back. Despite his sound analysis, the company’s competitors were investing in the region, and so it, too, blindly joined the fray, to disastrous results. Around the same time in 1983, Wharton founded the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies and initiated the joint MBA/MA in international relations. “Wharton has moved in the right direction,” says Chang, now based in Moraga, CA, with CYHT Corp. “Business leaders now need to apply international perspectives to every transaction.”
“I think the curriculum was extremely international,” says Gautam Chand, WG’92, chairman and CEO of Instanex Capital Consultants in Mumbai (Bombay), India, a financial services consultancy that owns the Skindia GDR Index, a depositary receipt index. “I don’t remember a single day when I felt what I was learning was not applicable in other parts of the world.”
After graduation, Chand had ample opportunity to put his learning to the test.
“When I returned to India, they were starting a new stock exchange in Bombay, which would be totally electronic. I came back to take up membership and to work on that,” Chand says. “It was incredible. This was back when the Internet wasn’t being widely used, and India did not even have telephones that worked properly. And here we were developing a country-wide system using modems, the Over the Counter Exchange of India. That’s no longer in business because they came up with an even larger concept to trade all stocks, called the National Stock Exchange of India. I was part of that. I saw the writing on the wall. I was one of the first members of the National Stock Exchange when it was formed in 1994. It was set up to take on the 100-year-old Bombay Stock Exchange, which had become very unsystematic. It was run by a club of brokers and didn’t always work in the best interests of investors.”
With the advent of the cohort system, students also found themselves working intensely with others from around the world. Richard Murray-Bruce, a native of England who turned his summer job at the Boston Consulting Group in London into a full-time position upon graduation, says the cohort system has had “a sea-change impact on the culture of the school. Having that collaborative experience built into the core curriculum promotes instinctive teamwork.”
Then and now
Jack Curley and Tom Jones have never met Richard Murray-Bruce or Nivee Amin. But chances are they would have a lot to talk about if they were to sit down at Jon M. Huntsman Hall this fall over coffee: how Wharton has changed, and how it has stayed the same.
Although the school has changed dramatically in many ways – not least of which in the quality and quantity of the buildings that students, faculty, and staff call home – the forces that drive students to excel and to make their marks in the world are the same as they always have been.
Says Webber: “We attract students who are highly self-disciplined and highly ambitious. They want to be movers and shakers, and by and large they’re willing to put effort into that.”