Always Changing, Always Wharton

By Elisa Ludwig

Alumni Weekend 1Returning alumni see changes in Wharton, whether they are returning after five years or 80.

Before group study rooms, cohorts, learning simulations and the core curriculum, there were lecture-driven classes with little student discussion, professors smoking pipes in class, and punch-card computers. On campus for the 2005 Alumni Weekend, former students had a chance to reflect on Wharton academics through the past eight decades. And because Wharton’s most pervasive tradition is innovation, even the most recent graduates reported changes to the campus, curriculum and learning style.

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Henry Gartner W’25

Henry GartnerFew alumni can appreciate Wharton’s history like 101-year-old Henry Gartner, who was in town for his 80th reunion. “I’d say the campus has changed about as much as automobiles have changed since the invention of the original model T,” he said. Gartner, who hails originally from Newark, NJ, came to Wharton for undergraduate study in the 1920s because he was looking for an accounting background. “At that time, the school was very well known for its accounting department,” he said.

Gartner put himself through school by working—most often at a local A&P supermarket—and his after-school jobs cut a considerable chunk out of his study time. “I took classes until 3 p.m. and I worked until 10 p.m. I basically ate on five dollars a week. Then, in the summer, when the other supermarket managers went on vacation, I would take their place.”

Yet Gartner has vivid memories of his academic experience, particularly attending lectures in the school auditorium. “My favorite classes were Professor Young’s class on the constitution and another on the insurance of stock markets. Those are the two I seem to carry with me through the years.” Gartner parlayed his scholastic interests into a successful entrepreneurial career. He met his future wife while at Wharton, and after graduation they moved to Atlantic City where he got a job in an accounting  firm. In the 1940s, he founded the Garwood department store, one of the first of its kind in the region. Later, he started an early predecessor of today’s dollar stores in a trolley-car storage shed. He eventually expanded the Discount Shopping Center to four locations in South Jersey.

An active member of the local Jewish community, Gartner founded a synagogue and country club and served as president of both organizations. He also served as president of the local merchants’ association before retiring more than 30 years ago. Today he has two children, six grandchildren and 12 great- grandchildren. (One is currently considering applying to Penn.) At home in Boynton Beach, FL, Gartner still enjoys playing golf four or five times a week.

Before the 2005 Alumni Weekend, Gartner had last been on campus for his 75th reunion, when, he recalled, it literally rained on the parade. This year was different story. Leading the Old Guard in Saturday afternoon’s Parade of Classes, the sun was shining and Gartner was enthusiastic to be back at Wharton. “I never expected to attend my 80th reunion,” he said. “It’s absolutely overwhelming, but I’m thrilled.”

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Catherine Bonnier Grossman WG’80

Catherine Bonnier GrossmanCatherine Bonnier Grossman began the MBA program in 1978 after completing an undergraduate degree in economics at the Sorbonne in Paris. While Wharton has been international from the very beginning—the first four-person graduating class in 1884 included a student who became a member of the Japanese Diet and another who became U.S. ambassador to Brazil—Grossman was one of the first French women to attend Wharton. At the time, fewer women and international students attended U.S. business schools, but Wharton attracted more than its share.

“When I came to Wharton there were not many students from around the globe, though at the time it seemed incredibly diverse,” she said. She recalled that one November she woke up to discover the campus was largely empty, save for a handful of other international students who did not know about the American holiday Thanksgiving.

While at Wharton, Grossman, now a vice president in the Capital Advisory Group at JP Morgan in New York, first discovered her passion for international business. “I was fascinated by my Comparative Management class. We had a fabulous Italian professor who introduced us to different management practices and cultural differences in countries around the world. It was so interesting that I toyed with the idea of pursuing a PhD on the topic,” she said. Later, in a finance class, Grossman wrote a term paper on French banks’ strategies in the United States. While interviewing executives in New York, Grossman recalled that she got to sample lunch at the city’s best restaurants. “I thought, if this was banking, I definitely wanted to make a career of it.”

As a student, Grossman taught herself Spanish and joined the Wharton Latin American Association (WHALASA). The region has since become the focus of her entire banking career.

Grossman was in Philadelphia earlier this year with her son Jared, a junior in high school who is considering applying to Penn. A tour through Jon M. Huntsman Hall revealed just how far Wharton’s learning facilities have evolved. “There is an incredible amount of advanced technology at the students’ fingertips. When I visited the campus with my son we were impressed with the group study rooms where students can use the smart boards and download the information on their personal computers—it’s a great way to facilitate the sharing of ideas,” she said. “I still remember the huge computer in Vance Hall to which we used to feed punch cards. I typed my term papers on a mechanical typing machine with carbon paper—the electric ones were still pricey at that time.”

She also noted how the environment for international students has changed since the 1970s. “With the Lauder Institute, there is even more of an international presence at Wharton, and students there are actually obligated to spend two months abroad, which is something they did not do often when I was a student.”

Grossman began celebrating her reunion at the WHALASA-sponsored mixer at World Café Live on May 13th. Over the weekend she met up with some international classmates she had not seen since graduation: Isabel Alvarez, Carlos Zaldivar and Jean Jacques Bienaime. Twenty-five years later, she is glad she toughed out that first lonely November holiday. “Wharton took me from a provincial French view of the world to a new international level of thinking that I would never have gotten otherwise.”

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C. Donna Chapman-Wilson WG’85

Though Donna Chapman-Wilson has been back to Philadelphia regularly for recruiting trips and the annual Whitney M. Young Conference, she had not stepped foot in Jon M. Huntsman Hall before the African-American Alumni reception held there on May 14th.

C. Donna Chapman-Wilson“When you’re here for two years, Wharton is your whole world, but coming back gives you perspective,” she said. “Seeing these study rooms, the computers—I’m just amazed. When I was a student, we had Vance Hall. There was really no technology to speak of. We typed our papers on typewriters. I have to keep asking, ‘Where am I?'”

Before applying for her MBA, Chapman-Wilson got her undergraduate degree at Hampton University in Hampton, VA, and worked at the Federal Reserve. “I was probably pretty naïve going into it, but the school’s diversity of students—both in terms of geography and interests—opened me up to a whole new world.”

Partner and head of product management for structured products in the U.S. at Invesco in New York, Chapman- Wilson credits her success in the corporate world to the MBA program. “Its academic rigor prepared me to juggle the high-volume demands of my job,” she said.

At the same time, she’s found that the management lessons she learned at Wharton have been invaluable throughout her career. “After a few years, the quantitative lessons go away and what stays with you are the life lessons. Some of the classes I quote most often have nothing to do with my discipline, but have more to do with working with people.” She recalls a five-day management class taught over the winter break that was known as an easy way to get a course credit. “That class was supposed to be a quick pass, but in fact, it had a tremendous lasting effect on me. I learned about people skills, negotiation, shareholder value—all of which help me now in my work with clients.”

After graduation, Chapman-Wilson joined JP Morgan in securities sales and later moved into investment management. Over the years she has been active in recruiting Wharton students and she believes that today’s students who enter Wharton with a greater degree of work experience are more attractive to employers when they graduate. The younger generation she’s seen is also more versatile. Chapman-Wilson remembers that 20 years ago, most of her classmates were drawn to accounting and finance. “When I was at Wharton, you got a job on Wall Street or as a consultant, or if you were in marketing you looked for a big powerhouse firm. Today it seems there is more of an emphasis on other industries, and there are many more entrepreneurs coming out of the program.”

Chapman-Wilson, who is married and has one son, initially helped organize the reception with the hope of bringing together her former classmates. “I started calling people to come simply because we’d lost contact with each other. I noticed that the African American MBA Association (AAMBAA) started an online network, and since most of my classmates were not yet in it, I wanted to help them reconnect.” The reception grew to include all the African-American alumni attending the 2005 reunion, and Chapman-Wilson hopes that the reception will become an annual event.

s It may look different these days, but Wharton is still an important part of Chapman-Wilson’s life. “Everybody I talked to over the weekend said that this school changed them. At Wharton everything just expands—your relationships, your knowledge, your outlook.”

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Assaf Tarnopolsky WG’00

Only five years out of Wharton, Assaf Tarnopolsky’s memories are of a recent vintage. Even so, he has enough distance to offer an historical perspective on the way Wharton was back during the heady era of the dot-com boom. “It was a crazy time to be at Wharton. Businesses were growing at an unbelievable rate and it was exciting to be at this incredible school alongside bright, motivated people.”

Assaf TarnopolskyTarnopolsky has stayed actively involved with those bright, motivated people; he was one of the organizers of his five-year reunion during Alumni Weekend. At the reunion, Tarnopolsky attended his Saturday-night class dinner, met with several hundred of his classmates and even got a chance to relive his graduate student days by eating pancakes and sausage at Little Pete’s at 5 a.m. In his view, the school hasn’t changed all that much in half a decade. “I think it was world class when we were here, and it’s world class now,” he said.

As an undergraduate, Tarnopolsky studied law and society at University of California—Santa Barbara. He then got a high-ranking job at an Israeli-based startup, but found he lacked the business knowledge he needed to feel confident in that role. Fortunately, Wharton’s core curriculum brought him up to speed. “For someone like me who came from a nontraditional background, Wharton offered a solid base of fundamentals. I had never encountered statistics before, and I came away with the ability to perform complicated analysis.”

Tarnopolsky’s memories of learning at Wharton are not entirely rose-tinted. In fact, he failed an accounting class early on. “I had not taken math since high school, and I struggled mightily with the quantitative coursework. I had to retake accounting the next semester. The silver lining was that I got a second chance to learn the material and developed a good relationship with the professor.”

At Wharton, Tarnoposky met his future wife, Natalie Poon Tarnopolsky, WG’00, now a vice president in strategy at Wells Fargo. They live in San Francisco with their 1-year-old son, Max, and they are expecting a second child. After graduating, Tarnopolsky worked as director of international development at The Industry Standard, and when the magazine folded three years ago, he started his own business, Metro Crepes. As an entrepreneur, Tarnopolsky has been able to use his negotiation, marketing—and yes—accounting classes on a daily basis. He is now considering a return to the corporate world, possibly in media with an international focus.

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Mary Ellen Overbay WG’70

Alumni Weekend was an especially meaningful experience for Mary Ellen Overbay, who was in town for both her 35th reunion and her daughter’s graduation. Overbay, an economics instructor at Seton Hall University, marched in the Alumni Procession with Elizabeth, WG’05, on Sunday, May 15th.

Mary Ellen and Elizabeth OverbayIn fact, many of Overbay’s classmates were not in attendance—she originally matriculated with the class of 1971 but ended up graduating in December 1970. While she was at Wharton, Overbay was president of Wharton Women, whose total membership included 12 students. “We could meet in somebody’s living room,” she said. At the time, though, she took it for granted that she was the only woman in most of her classes. She was simply pursuing a subject she was interested in. Her minority status was no more remarkable than the fact that her classmates wore jackets and ties to the lecture hall.

In addition to Wharton Women, Overbay was active in the International Business Club and held a seat on the MBA Association. Overbay was also selected to be part of a Harvard-Wharton exchange committee, where she worked with 10 students to compare the two business schools’ curricula. At the time, case studies were not used frequently at Wharton, and the exchange committee was instrumental in bringing that teaching style to the program. Now case studies are only one of the teaching tools faculty employ, with Wharton’s team-based projects, Leadership Ventures, and technology-enabled simulations forming the new wave of business learning methods.

The then-advanced technology used by Wharton students in the late 1960s seems primitive by today’s standards, but the skills Overbay learned have stayed useful. “We didn’t have calculators—we used adding machines, while some of the engineers used sliding rules. One of our requirements was computer language, so if we wanted to do something analytic, we wrote our own program,” said Overbay. “We used keypunch cards that could be read by the university system, and we formatted the information into a spread sheet. Essentially, we were making our own Excel documents, and I’m not so sure it wasn’t easier. It was time consuming, but we had more control over what the computer actually did.” Overbay recalls that between classes, students would take their meals from vending machines and wait in line to use a single microwave—it was the first one she can remember ever using.

At Wharton Overbay focused her studies on finance and international business. After she completed her degree, she worked for Citibank in corporate lending, and later left to raise three children.

As a teacher and a mother of a recent MBA graduate, Overbay has seen the way business education has evolved. She believes the current cohort system at Wharton provides better opportunities for student interaction and group work, and that the exposure to prominent speakers is an added improvement to the MBA program. Still, Overbay knows her daughter chose Wharton for the same reason she did 30 years earlier. “It’s an excellent program with top names. That hasn’t changed.”

Elisa Ludwig is a Philadelphia-based writer. She also covered the 2004 Alumni Weekend for the Magazine.

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