‘Wharton for Life’

Mukund Krishnaswami, W’96, EAS’96, WG’98, was baffled. When he was at Wharton getting his MBA in the late 1990s, life was rosy, and internship offers piled up like newspapers in the recycling bin. But here was his wife, Anna Ogoti, a first-year Wharton MBA student, looking exhaustively and finally, after much effort, pinning one down in late March of last year.

Even then, though, he looked upon it as happenstance, until he took the train up to New York for an appointment in April. On the way up, he sat with one Wharton student who was going north for an internship interview, listening to her lament about the dearth of summer jobs.

“Then, on the way back, I sat with another Wharton student, a young man, who had the same experience,” said Krishnaswami. “This was verging on April 15, and they told me that maybe as many as 40 percent of the class hadn’t gotten internships yet. It was unbelievable to me, but I knew there had to be a way to fix that.”

Krishnaswami went to his friend, Anjani Jain, Wharton graduate school vice dean, and basically said, “What can we do about this?”

“I told Anjani that I thought I could round up a few recent alumni who might be able to hire a few interns,” said Krishnaswami. “I didn’t expect too much, but I wanted to help.”

Jain sent him over to Peter Degnan, the head of MBA Career Management, who was very pleased with the offer to help given the challenging job market conditions and the struggles students were having finding the right opportunity.

“It was definitely a hard year for those looking for internships, especially those who wanted them in businesses like private equity or venture capital,” said Degnan. “Career-changers were having a particularly difficult time. Mukund’s efforts filled a critical gap and were a tremendous help to the students who were keen on this type of work experience. I was amazed at the support Mukund and his partners were able to generate in such a short period of time.”

After meeting with Degnan, Krishnaswami and his colleague, Deborah Moy, at The Krilacon Group, a Philadelphia-based financial advisory and investment firm for high-net-worth individuals and small-to-medium-sized businesses, set to work.

“The goal for Deborah and me was to get maybe 10 companies where we knew Wharton connections. Anjani thought that would be great, and I was convinced it was doable,” said Krishnaswami. “I thought I could reach out to maybe 20 people, and if half of them could help, that would be great.”

It was getting late in the spring, so Krishnaswami figured he had to set some important parameters. Those giving the internships would not have to have them be paid, or at least not have them with any high compensation. In return, the internships would be shorter – perhaps six weeks – so that if the students needed some kind of summer income, they could both have a professional internship and a short-term job later on. Krishnaswami and Moy would take on the responsibility of interviewing the students and pairing them with the companies. The companies would all be within commuting distance of Philadelphia so the students – since they were making no extra money – would not have to take on the added expense of finding short-term leases elsewhere.

“The response on both sides was more enthusiastic than we could have anticipated,” said Degnan. “Mukund came in and gave a presentation, and more than 100 first-year students came to hear him. Even more than that sent in resumes and applications.”

On the other side, within 48 hours, Krishnaswami found 15 firms willing to give at least two students summer internships. Most of the firms Krishnaswami and Moy contacted were in those hard-to-find jobs, in fields like private equity, real estate finance and venture capital. They made contacts with local firms like Lenfest Enterprises and LLR Equity Partners. Through some of her contacts, Moy, like Krishnaswami a 1998 Wharton MBA graduate, found that the GMAC Commercial Mortgage group in Horsham, PA, about 15 miles north of Philadelphia, would take another five to ten interns.

“GMAC was really up for this,” he said. “They had always had a hard time tapping into the Wharton students. Eventually, they took 20 interns in marketing, finance and operations.”

Jain told Krishnaswami that he had to think up a name for his program to give it sustained life.

“I wanted to use the acronym ATGAD. That was for ‘Alumni That Give A Damn’,” he said with a chuckle. “But then Deborah said I would eventually have to explain it, so I changed it to ATC, Alumni That Care.”

While it was stunning to him that he could get so many Wharton-connected companies to commit to giving these internships, Krishnaswami was still fascinated that so many worthy first-year students were without internships so late into the spring. More than 140 students initially applied, he said, and he and Moy ended up interviewing about 60 of them. Eventually, 44 ended up taking the internships the two matched them with. One of those was Jennifer Bass, a first-year student from Alabama who had decided she wanted to spend the next part of her career in the Northeast.

“I was a career-switcher,” said Bass. “I came from a background in operations, and I wanted to work this summer in private equity. Those jobs in this economy were tough to get, and I was working hard to get one and I had started way back in January. I was having trouble getting one without any experience in the field.”

Bass said Krishnaswami told her what kinds of things were available, and she merely told him what it was she wanted to do. Eventually, she was paired with the Fossicker Fund, a new $100-million fund based in Chicago and Philadelphia that looks for distressed companies needing late-stage financing.

“It was really useful to me, since I now want to buy a small business after I graduate,” said Bass. “The skills I learned about due diligence, modeling, valuation and the like will really help me when I start looking to buy that business. When I went to do this internship, I wanted to work in private equity. Since then, my perspective has changed a bit. But that is what an internship is all about.”

James Weiss was in a similar situation. The 28-year-old Weiss had come to Wharton after six years in the entertainment business.

“I didn’t want to go back when I was done,” said Weiss. “Much of my work was in marketing, but what I wanted to do was a financial role in private equity or venture capital.

“A lot of us come to school because we want to be career changers, and in a good economy, that is all right,” he said. “But now, as few companies as there were hiring interns, the ones that were doing so concentrated on hiring people with some experience already. When Mukund came up with this, I thought it was great. I was certainly willing to forego a salary to get the experience.”

The experience Weiss got was working side-by-side with Krishnaswami at The Krilacon Group.

“James was going to work the summer with one of our businesses, GlobalFit, which is like a health maintenance organization for health and fitness clubs, managing employee fitness programs,” said Krishnaswami. “But as I spoke to him, he expressed an interest in private equity, and by the end of his time here, he was working 95 percent of the time with me and doing research for GlobalFit on the side.”

“This is the kind of thing you come to business school for,” said Weiss. “The point is that you get to find a network, you get to take some risks. I can only hope that something like this continues for students in the future.”

For his part, Krishnaswami is ready to keep up the challenge, and he is hoping that Wharton will continue to encourage the connection between its current students and those who graduated in the recent past.

“I believe in things like ‘Wharton for Life’,” he said. “It’s like calling your mother, something you should think about doing all the time, something you should want to be connected to.”

Krishnaswami said that his experience with Alumni That Care and the support Degnan gave it was a positive sign that new ideas are welcome from young alums like him.

“We can’t write that big check yet, but something like this got 30 young alumni closer to Wharton and affected maybe five to seven percent of the MBA class,” he said. “We may not have real capital, but we have intellectual capital, so I hope this shows that Wharton can have unlimited potential for keeping people connected.”

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