Were you there? More than 1,860 alumni, family, and friends returned to campus in mid-May for the Wharton MBA Reunion Weekend. For three days, attendees re-connected with friends, heard valuable lectures from some of Wharton’s esteemed faculty, and exchanged contact information with fellow alums. Take a look at what makes these reunions so special.
Curricular Innovation and Ethical Values Dominate Dean’s Town Hall
On Friday, May 13, more than 100 alumni gathered in the Dhirubhai Ambani Auditorium for a Town Hall meeting with Dean Thomas S. Robertson.
“Our vision is to enhance our reputation as the best business school in the world and for the world,” Dean Robertson said. He described the three strategic pillars for the school—Innovation, Global Presence, Social Impact—each institutionalized through the creation of the new vice dean position.
“The idea is that we have to reinvent Wharton,” he said. “Twenty years from now, half of our graduates will work in industries that don’t exist today. We have to educate students to have an innovative mindset so that they will be able to lead.”
Part of that adaptation means global presence. Said Robertson, “We’re proud to be in Philadelphia, but we’re not a Philadelphia business school. We’re a global business school.”
He cited the new curricular innovation of Modular Global Courses—full-credit, intense four-day courses offered in ten international locations with coursework germane to the host country, often with the participation of local business faculty. For example, one course was offered in the UK about the European financial system, and another in Israel on technological development.
When alumni took the microphone to ask questions, the conversation turned towards recent high-profile ethical violations among several Wharton alumni.
“It’s devastating when it happens,” Robertson said. “We have been teaching ethics for 35 years, but some people don’t get it. We have a strong department of ethics and legal studies. It’s one of the hardest topics to teach because 75 percent of the people in the room don’t think they need it.”
The new MBA curriculum will continue to emphasize ethics, but there are limitations. “If you have 86,000 people, every now and then someonewill do something wrong,” he said. “You can’t teach someone to behave ethically, but you can only teach them to understand ethical sensitivities they’ll encounter.”
Other alumni asked about how Wharton’s new MBA curriculum would continue to enhance the School’s reputation for rigor.
“There’s a continuum,” he said. “Now we have eight required courses in our curriculum instead of ten. We’re still teaching a defined body of knowledge that we expect graduates to have. We’re also saying that within a specific subject area, such as accounting, there should be at least two ways of getting a well-specified body of knowledge. We’re confident that our students will graduate with a solid body of knowledge.”
At the same time, there will be more emphasis on leadership skills through written and oral communication, self-analysis, and reflection, Robertson explained. “If you can’t understand yourself, how are you going to lead other people? There will be more self analytics and 360-degree feedback over the two years that people are here, and we think that building selfunderstanding is key to leadership.”
Presidential Update on Penn’s Highest Priorities
University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann presented an update on “Penn’s Highest Priorities” to an enthusiastic crowd on Saturday of Reunion Weekend, packing Huntsman Hall’s 300-seat Ambani Auditorium and two overflow rooms with eager alumni.
Before a sea of red and blue—including two members of the undergraduate class of 1936, returning to campus to celebrate their 75th Reunion—President Gutmann noted that our school reunions are “as close as most of us would ever get to the fountain of youth.” “The memories flood back,” she continued, “but this time around, no one has to take finals.”
Read on to learn President Gutmann’s goals for the University. And don’t worry—there won’t be a final exam.
- To recruit the most talented and diverse class by ensuring Penn’s affordability and accessibility. “Nothing,” says Gutmann, “makes us prouder than Penn’s commitment to meeting full financial need for undergraduates.”
- To become the model university for interdisciplinary research and education. The Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professors— renowned faculty scholars who hold a joint appointment in two of Penn’s schools—represent an exciting step forward for this priority.
- To expand and strengthen undergraduate research opportunities across the University. (At Wharton, undergraduates can take advantage of the Joseph Wharton Scholars (JWS ), Wharton Research Scholars (WRS ) and University Scholars Programs, as well as the Wharton Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR ) and the Wharton Social Impact Research Experience (SIRE).
- To increase Penn’s resources and bring the University from “Excellence to Eminence” by successfully concluding the $3.5 billion Making History campaign. As of press time, The Campaign for Wharton has reached $450.2 million of its $550 million goal.
- To improve campus facilities, allowing the University’s world-class faculty and students to access world-class resources.
- To increase green space for the entire neighborhood of West Philadelphia, and to enable growth in the next half century by expanding campus eastward, toward Center City.
- To engage with Penn’s local community by improving local education, healthcare and economic opportunity, strengthening the local economy, and contributing academically based service.
- To deepen the University’s global relationships through institutional partnerships, student study abroad, and the promotion of international faculty collaboration.
The Panel on Entrepreneurship
On Friday, May 15, Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs hosted a panel of alumni entrepreneurs: Madi Ferencz, WG’71, who introduced Magic Sliders and is currently running two enterprises, Dr. Mauskop’s Migralex and a bioethanol fireplace company; Krish Krishnan, WG’96, CEO of Pinnacle Pharmaceuticals; and Steve Woda, WG’01, founder of BuySafe and now Kid Safe, which offers tools for parents to keep kids safer online.
Moderator Jeffrey Babin, C’91, G’95, fielded questions from alumni in the audience, and conversation never flagged. Despite the diversity of the panel, several themes emerged.
Go all in, and then hang on.
Ferenz: “You have to love what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. It’s a 24/7 effort and requires dedication and lots of energy. You can’t take your company to the ‘next level’ without it.”
Krishnan: “A lot of people who have good jobs think they can launch a business in the evening and weekends, but you have to be in a job all the way.”
Woda: “A startup is never boring. Up or down, the swings are massive. It can seem like the end of the world, and then you think you’re going to be the next Bill Gates. At the end of the day, I try to stay in the middle.”
Make the right hires at the right time.
Woda: “If you have experience doing something for 20 years that’s great, but the patterns that worked in your success might not work in overturning an industry. The wrong hires are very expensive because everyone else learns from them.”
Ferenz: “I look for people who can ‘think,’ not specific experience. You need people who are willing to do everything, from packing a product to carrying a shipment to analysis.”
Krishnan: “My first company had 18 employees. Now I know it’s better to outsource first because the skills you need when starting out are different than what you need later. This time we have six employees.”
Avoid VC money as long as you can.
Ferenz: “I looked for VC in the 1980s, and it turned out that they gave me money I might not have needed. I ended up giving the company away, and I was rushing to meet their timetables even though it wasn’t necessarily the right way.”
Krishan: “I don’t believe the venture model works in pharmaceuticals; your share gets very diluted because the cycle is so long. We went to really patient high-net-worth individuals. When we took the company public, they got paid.”
Woda: “My first company raised $30 million and I learned not to raise too much—you give too much away. One answer to keep the value yourself is to do everything as if you have no money. Before you spend money or raise money, figure out what you’re doing. Get the formula right and you’ll own a lot more at the end of the day.”
John Scully: “Mentorship”
At the Luncheon Celebration for the 30th, 35th, 40th, 45th and 50th Reunion Classes and the Emeritus Society, marketing guru John Sculley, WG’63, extolled the virtues of looking back and looking ahead. While many among his audience had not returned to campus for 30 years or more, Sculley himself showed no signs of slowing down. He said, “I’m [still] driven by curiosity. I have no interest in retiring.”
The former CEO of Apple and Pepsi-Cola Co., Sculley made a name for himself by transforming both companies into two of the world’s best-known brands. During his time at Pepsi (1978-1983), he was behind the famous ‘Pepsi Challenge’ and ‘Pepsi Generation’ marketing campaigns. Recruited to Apple in 1983, he helped to propel its Macintosh to become the number-one selling personal computer in the world.
But he didn’t spend his time addressing brands, marketing, or what it’s like to be a global CEO . Instead, he encouraged his fellow alumni to become what he termed “the best title I’ve ever had in business: a mentor.”
After leaving Apple in 1993, Sculley engaged his business acumen in a new endeavor— as a venture capitalist, through his family office of Sculley Brothers, and as a venture partner at Rho Capital Partners. In these roles, he’s had the opportunity to work closely with serial entrepreneurs, helping them to ease the transition through “transformational moments” and serving as a mentor.
He explained: “There is a thin line between success and failure. In the U.S.,we have permission to fail—that is what distinguishes us from other cultures. And that’s why we [as Americans] have created Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others have not… The most valuable thing that you do as a mentor is to share your failures; the failures are where we really learn.”
Sculley sees mentoring as more than an opportunity to share one’s insights with others; it’s an engine to fuel a lagging economy. Speaking to a shared obligation as Wharton alumni, he said: “How lucky are we that we went to a school this good that provided us with a terrific education and a remarkable network? While we’re approaching our final years, we can transfer our knowledge and experience to the talented young people at the other end, who are just getting started.” And, by creating these cross-generational partnerships, Sculley believes that we have a chance to “really get the U.S. economy back in the game”—through an investment in innovation, curiosity, creativity and the private sector.
Looking back to the start of his career at Apple, and to where Apple is now, Sculley noted the increasing speed at which their products were adopted. While it took eight years for the Mac platform to become accepted after its 1984 launch, the iPad was pervasive in less than a year, approximately 25 years later.
Á la Mr. McGuire in The Graduate, Sculley had one word for the audience looking ahead: Mobility.
Michael Useem: “Leadership”
Michael Useem, Wharton’s William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management, doesn’t just know leadership. He’s made a career of it.
As Director of Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, editor of the Wharton Leadership Digest, and author, co-author or co-editor of more than a dozen books on the subject—including The Leadership Moment, Investor Capitalism, The Go Point: When It’s Time to Decide, Learning from Catastrophes, and The India Way: How India’s Top Business Leaders Are Revolutionizing Management—Useem is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading experts in the study and practice of effective leadership, teamwork, governance, and decision-making.
So when he set out to determine the most important element for a would-be leader to keep stashed in her toolkit, many people were very interested in his answer. As his new book, The Leader’s Checklist: 15 Mission-Critical Principles, explains, and as Useem outlined for a packed Ambani Auditorium on Friday afternoon of Wharton Reunion Weekend, that one critical element isn’t mastery of the latest social media trend, or a naturally inspiring presence and flair for oratory, or even in-depth knowledge of the most intricate aspects of a chosen field. Rather, the single most valuable tool for a leader—and one that he says everyone should have on hand, at the ready—is a simple “leadership checklist.”
Useem’s checklist is both “complete” and “mission critical.” Drawing comparisons to surgeons and airline pilots—both high stress, high skill, high-consequence professions that utilize checklists to help ensure practitioner success—Useem recommended that every member of his audience develop their own internal checklist and keep it ready for those crucial leadership moments.
Each person’s leadership checklist can—and should—be customized for specific situations, challenges, and cultures. But the basic template, says Useem, stays the same for everyone. To be effective, that template must include such essentials as articulating a compelling vision, thinking and acting strategically, communicating persuasively, deciding “decisively,” managing relations and emotions, taking charge, and building leadership in others.
With their leadership checklist at the ready, Useem assured his audience, they would be sure to rise to any leadership occasion.