Building the Business Case for Sustainability: Gwendolyn McDay

Attracted at first by the “great aura” of Wharton, an MBA graduate leaves the School prepared to pitch social responsibility to the C-suite.

Photo credit: Tommy Leonardi

Photo credit: Tommy Leonardi

Gwendolyn McDay, WG’13, wanted to learn enough finance to be able to persuade her employers to implement sustainability protocols. Environmentalists often lack the business savvy to be persuasive, says McDay, an environmental engineer who was superintendent of a chemical manufacturing company before entering Wharton.

“Here is where I can learn the language of business,” she says of the School.

“I can find places where sustainability makes sense for the bottom line and then pitch those projects, ideas and strategies to the C-suite in a way that is compelling.”

But she learned so much more than that.

“I didn’t come expecting the personal development, the leadership development and the focus on values,” she says.

Some of that “really transformative” development occurred after McDay became co-coordinator of the Class of 2013 Leadership Fellows. She trained and coached 36 second-year MBA students, who themselves coached first-year students.

McDay came to Wharton when she and her then-fiancé (now husband) Dan Bowser moved after he finished a residency in oral surgery. She opted to apply to Wharton, remembering its “great aura” after attending a conference there. Now part of generating that “aura,” McDay has come to appreciate the power of the Wharton brand. She recalls a meeting in Texas she attended during a summer associate position with Deloitte Consulting. Starting a conversation with her formidable tablemates felt awkward, she admits, until a partner from Japan learned she was a Wharton student. He was an alumnus.

“It was awesome to just make that connection in Texas with someone from Japan,” McDay says.

Following graduation, she will join the rotational management development program in the Philadelphia office at Brazilian-based chemical firm Braskem. The company recruited only at Wharton and one other school, she says, and she had the added benefit of meeting with the chief financial officer in person. Now armed with the language of business, sharpened leadership skills and the rest of her Wharton knowledge toolkit, McDay is ready to become that champion of sustainability. 

—By Anne Freedman

Editor’s note: Read more about Wharton’s Class of 2013 and five other individual class leaders in our cover article, “Diverse, Resilient, Ready: The Class of 2013.”

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