Connections That Run Deep

By Elisa Ludwig

Anyone who attends Alumni Reunion knows: there’s nothing like seeing a friend in person.

Alumni connections run deep, as anyone who attends a reunion weekend would attest. More often than not, these connections extend beyond School events and into the daily lives of alumni who have maintained friendships through years of relocations, career changes, and major life events. Class notes—which our readers admit they turn to first in each edition—provide one way of keeping up with these changes. But, as the individuals we profiled below indicate, there is nothing like seeing a friend in person. (And, as in the case of Mark Hodak, WG’86, and Theresa Boyce, WG’85, surprising new connections can come out of these events as well.)

More than 1,000 alumni and guests came to Philadelphia in May to participate in reunion. With plenty of sunshine, food, opportunities to mingle and hear faculty speak, the weekend served as the perfect backdrop for friends to come together after spending time apart.

Reuniting (for the past 50 Years)

Bill Nikel, WG’54, and Roy Peterson, WG’54

Bill Nikel, WG’54, and Roy Peterson, WG’54, didn’t really need a reunion. Friends for 50 years, the two Wharton grads still see each other on a regular basis. Instead, they came to reunion weekend to meet fellow alumni, observe the changed campus, attend lectures, and bask in the sun on Lehman Brothers quad. As it happened, the chance to celebrate a half-century friendship was just an added bonus.

Nikel and Peterson met during their first year at Wharton. Both men majored in marketing and shared several classes, some taught by the legendary Reavis Cox, the department’s first chairman. Nikel, who was born in Boonton, NJ, came to Wharton after completing an undergraduate degree at Ursinus College, while Peterson, who was born in Worcester, MA, came from Upsala College. Between their common academic interests and similar undergraduate experiences, Nikel and Peterson had plenty of things to talk about and quickly developed an unusually durable bond.

After graduation, Nikel and Peterson stayed friendly, meeting up at an occasional Broadway show in New York or a beach resort in Maine with their wives. (Both men married in the mid-1950s.)

They both continued on to careers in marketing, with Peterson moving to Minneapolis and Nikel moving to Newport News, VA. For a time, each was busy raising a family (Nikel has four children; Peterson has two)and they lost touch. But when Peterson came back to the East Coast, Nikel was among the first people he contacted. “I found his name in the alumni directory and gave him a call,” says Peterson.

These days, the two classmates meet every six months for lunch, usually at the Bear Mountain Inn in the Hudson Valley. Peterson, who worked for Lever Brothers (now Unilever), Dow Chemical and Shaffer Clark before retiring eight years ago, now lives in Somers, NY, with Linda, his wife of 48 years. Nikel worked for JC Penney, Lukens Steel and the Noland Company, among others, is semi-retired and works as an independent consultant specializing in career counseling, team building and executive coaching. He lives in West Caldwell, NJ, with Nola, his wife of 50 years.

For Peterson, the reunion was his first visit back to campus since 1954. He left Wharton after a year and half to join the service—he ended up getting a job at Pillsbury instead—and got his diploma in the mail. “One of the reasons I came back was because I never walked at graduation,” said Peterson.

During the weekend, he finally had the opportunity to walk in the graduation ceremony.

“I was the last one. I was carrying the flag, and as I came around—the oldest guy at the ceremony—all the students perked up. I waved the flag and gave a little wiggle and said ‘I made it.’ They all laughed and cheered.”

Nikel, who has been active in the Wharton clubs in both New York and New Jersey, tries to come back to campus at least once a year, but there are always changes. “My wife and I lived on 31st and Spruce while I was at Wharton,” says Nikel. “I was shocked to see a huge high-rise that’s there now.”

“The reunion was fantastic. It was really special to take Roy and Linda around and show them all that had changed on campus,” says Nikel. For his part, Peterson enjoyed seeing the changes. “I hardly recognized anything! But there was so much energy and enthusiasm—not to mention the state-of-the-art facilities—and that was great to see.”

And it won’t be long until they’ll have a chance to reminisce about the reunion in person: Nikel and Peterson plan to meet this summer at the Bear Mountain Inn.

A Chance Meeting

Marc Hodak, WG’86, and Theresa Boyce, WG’85

Neither Marc Hodak, WG’86, nor Theresa Boyce, WG’85, was celebrating a class reunion at the opening night reception on May 15. But though their classmates were not around, they felt plenty of nostalgia standing in Huntsman Hall that night. The couple met at the building’s opening in 2002 and they are getting married next year.

Actually on campus for the Alumni Association meeting— Boyce serves as a board member—Boyce and Hodak saw the Friday night party and Saturday picnic as a chance to celebrate their own two-person reunion. “It’s one more touch point to be grateful for. Being involved with another Wharton person has been fabulous,” says Boyce.

Even though their time at Wharton overlapped, Hodak and Boyce did not know each other as students. Both were active in student life, and one fleeting extracurricular connection eventually brought them together. While working as a reporter for the student newspaper, Hodak wrote about Boyce’s campaign for president of the Marketing Club. (She won.)

Seventeen years later, when Hodak encountered Boyce at the opening of Huntsman Hall, she looked vaguely familiar to him. “I’d just come down from New York and was touring around the building for the first time when I saw her. Then I heard her name, and it clicked.”

At the time, Boyce was working in brand development for Lennox International in Dallas, TX, but the two quickly developed a long distance romance. They got engaged in July 2003, and she moved to New York at the end of the year.

The turn of events may not have been surprising for Boyce, who has long been an active member of the Wharton alumni network. “Over the years, I’ve been involved in the Wharton club in whatever city I was in. Many of the best friends I’ve made have been Wharton grads,” says Boyce. She remembers once calling up Robert Crandall, WG’60, then-CEO of American Airlines, looking for job leads, around the time when she was thinking of relocating to Texas from North Carolina. She was shocked when he called her back from his yacht in the South Pacific to offer advice and encouragement.

For Hodak, though, the 2002 event at Huntsman Hall marked a recently revived interest in nurturing Wharton connections. After graduating, Hodak lost contact with his classmates, and for more than a decade, he was focusing on his career in management consulting and raising his two sons, Max and Sam, from a previous marriage. Earlier that year, he’d decided to go out on his own as a management consultant and began to meet Wharton alumni through the New York Club. Since then, he has been rediscovering the virtues of the Wharton network, and Boyce’s involvement has encouraged him to get even more active.

“I’ve been carrying Theresa’s bags to alumni meetings. I like coming to Philly with her for these events: I’m reconnecting with a lot of interesting people,” he says.

The soon-to-be newlyweds definitely plan to attend their 20-year reunions in 2005 and 2006, but it’s a safe bet they will be back on campus before then.

Mini-reunions All Over The World

Marta Lieb, WG’99, and Florencia Jimenez-Marcos, WG’99

Talk to Marta Lieb and Florencia Jimenez-Marcos, both graduates of Wharton’s Lauder Program in 1999, and you’d think that Miami Beach was just a couple of bus stops from Paris. The two alums have managed to maintain a close friendship—and even as classmates around them screamed with excitement at seeing long-lost pals, their meeting at the reunion was hardly dramatic. “I see Marta all the time, so it wasn’t such a big shock,” says Jimenez-Marcos.

Lieb and Jimenez-Marcos met when they both began Lauder’s French program in May, 1998. With the intense schedule, they bonded quickly, finding common ties: Lieb came to Wharton from Sao Paolo, Brazil, while Jimenez-Marcos was born in Argentina. As an international student, Lieb found their mutual support system invaluable, and Jimenez-Marcos, who had been in the U.S. since she was 5, helped Lieb acclimate to life in Philadelphia. Lieb can remember taking trips to IKEA in a tiny car and coming back cramped between furniture boxes. “When I got here, I didn’t even know what IKEA was,” she says.

For their first-year summer program in Paris, the two sublet an apartment from a Wharton alum who was working in Asia. Lieb recalls having difficulty getting to sleep because they were up all night talking. “We had a great time discovering together all the idiosyncrasies of Parisian life, love and the pursuit of the perfect croissant,” says Jimenez-Marcos, who thinks of that summer as a fantastic bonding experience that cemented the foundations for what she expects will be a lifetime of friendship.

After graduation, Jimenez-Marcos moved to Miami Beach, started her own real estate consulting firm, The Biscayne Bay Group, and married a fellow Wharton alum, Xavier Gonzalez-Sanfleiu, who she met on a blind date in an airport. Lieb got a job at the Estee Lauder Company, which led her to a position at L’Oreal in Paris. She is currently in the process of moving to London where she will be marketing director for L’Occitane. Lieb is engaged to Fabien Lered and plans to marry in 2005.

These days, Lieb regularly consults with Jimenez-Marcos by phone about her nuptial plans. Lieb helped Jimenez-Marcos find a headpiece for her wedding, which Lieb will wear at her own upcoming ceremony.

Having graduated fairly recently, both Lieb and Jimenez-Marcos find that they are still very much entrenched in their Wharton social life. “I talk to other Wharton classmates every week, if not every day,” says Jimenez-Marcos, who has hired and worked with Wharton acquaintances at her firm. “We end up having mini-reunions all over the world on a fairly regular basis.”

At reunion, Lieb was delighted with the turnout and the chance to revisit the past with classmates. “You just remember how many amazing people are at this place. On the other hand, I’d say it was bittersweet, because you know you can’t return to those two years. It made me want to go back.”

Whether in the States or in Europe, the international business grads will continue to conduct an ongoing foreign exchange program of their own. “Marta has come to visit me in every place I’ve lived, and several members of my family have even stayed at her place in Paris. She is just like another sister now,” says Jimenez-Marcos. The two friends plan to meet again at the end of the year in Miami.

A Tight-knit Circle

Coleman O’Murchu, WG’99 (WEMBA XXIII), and Mark Chandler, WG’94 (WEMBA XVIII)

Not many people get to go to their class reunion with their boss. This year, though, Coleman O’Murchu’s five-year reunion happened to correspond with Mark Chandler’s ten-year reunion. Both colleagues completed the Wharton MBA for Executives (WEMBA) program in the 1990s, and both came to the Friday night WEMBA reception to gather with classmates and friends.

O’Murchu and Chandler ended up in the same office through circumstances that were not so much coincidence as the general good fortune of people in a tight-knit, supportive circle.

Graduating from WEMBA in 1999, the Irish born O’Murchu traded in a career in chemical engineering and joined BioSupplies, a startup in Philadelphia that created software for microbiologists. He eventually became CFO and sold the company’s assets in 2002. When it came time to look for a new position, it was only natural that he began to search through Wharton channels. He first called an associate, Jim Bodine, WEMBA XVIII, who, after hearing about O’Murchu’s desire to get involved with a young company, suggested he call his classmate, Mark Chandler. A couple weeks later, O’Murchu was at a Wharton event in Old City and his wife pointed out a man across the room. The man, who had once dated her sister, was Chris Olivia. Olivia and O’Murchu got to talking, and Olivia also recommended that O’Murchu contact Mark Chandler. “Within days, I had two different recommendations for this guy, so I knew I had to call,” says O’Murchu.

Chandler was working at BTG, a technology and intellectual property investment firm that helps burgeoning companies take their ideas from their early, raw stages to the next level. O’Murchu called him and they met a couple times at BTG’s Conshohocken office. “I wanted to do some projects for the company as there were no full-time openings at that time, and it turned out Mark was looking for help and strategic support to get some projects off the ground. But the day I came to the office with a prepared draft of a consulting agreement, he told me there was a permanent opening and asked if I would be interested.” O’Murchu joined BTG’s venture capital group, but currently works as associate vice president of strategic business development.

O’Murchu, who lives in Wayne with his wife, Connie Hofmann, and two-year-old son, Liam, continues to be an active member of the Philadelphia Wharton Club and attends events hosted by the Wharton Healthcare Alumni and Wharton Private Equity Alumni associations. “If anybody ever calls me from WEMBA or Wharton I always try and help them out because I know I have been helped out by others in the past,” he says. “I also understand the challenge of trying to take your career in a new direction in a tough market.”

While he is back on campus at least once a month, O’Murchu enjoyed seeing so many familiar faces at the reunion. “I’ve found that the WEMBA network, within the Wharton network, is extremely tight. There’s just a small number of us and because so many of us stay in the area, we have more opportunities to stay in touch,” says O’Murchu. Bodine, O’Murchu, Chandler and Olivia were all in attendance at the WEMBA reception, demonstrating that the network is still going strong.

The Home Team

Sharon Ryan, WG’99, Sean Jiam, WG’99, and Juan Carlos Garcia Sanchez, WG’99

When they were first starting to work together as a learning team, Sharon Ryan, Sean Jiam and Juan Carlos Garcia Sanchez didn’t have much in common. “We had very different backgrounds, personalities and career goals,” says Ryan. Five years later, the classmates caught up at the reunion and realized they in fact had a lot more in common now: they had shared the Wharton experience.

Both Jiam, who works at San Sierra Homes, in San Marino, CA, and Sanchez, who works for Banca Privada in Monterrey, Mexico, came a long way to be at the reunion. Ryan, who lives in Princeton, had a shorter distance to travel, but was no less enthusiastic about the event. Two members of the team, Orin Herskowitz and Robin Pollack, were not in attendance.

As most Wharton grads would attest, the learning team can be a powerful bonding force for first-year students, and for many, it is the first real opportunity to work closely with people from different backgrounds. “I think we were a typical learning team, in that we were five people who probably would not have come together on our own. There was some tension at times, but there was a lot of fun, too. Over the course of the year we learned each other’s strengths and how to be productive by leveraging our differences. Carlos is from Mexico and we used to joke that our team name should be ‘mole,’ like the Mexican sauce made with chile peppers and chocolate—it’s something that doesn’t sound like a good combination, but it really is.”

These days, the “mole” team continues to stay in touch through occasional e-mail and phone contact. Before she moved to Princeton to become a brand manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Ryan worked for General Mills in Minneapolis, MN. On one occasion, Carlos and his wife flew in from Mexico for a Vikings game. (He’s a huge fan.) “I’ve heard from Orin Herskowitz since graduation, too. He and his wife had a baby recently,” says Ryan.

While reunion was the first time Sanchez and Jiam were back on campus since graduating, Ryan has visited Wharton a few times over the past five years, mostly as a recruiter. “But that wasn’t nearly as much fun, because everyone I knew had left by then. The reunion was wonderful! There was a great turnout from our class, and it was fantastic to be able to catch up with so many classmates. It was fun to see Sean and Carlos again, and it would have been nice to see Orin and Robin, too.”

For Sanchez, reunion reinforced the understanding that even when he’s been out of the communication loop, he has a lasting bond with his learning team. “I’m never afraid to get in touch. We’ve been through a lot together and I don’t feel shy emailing out of the blue,” says Sanchez, “Once you go through the learning team experience, you’re never strangers.”

Elisa Ludwig is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.

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