School Love Actually

Alumni still have a love affair with their alma mater. But the strongest bonds are born when two Whartonites grow lifelong romances with each other on campus.

By Paul Richards, C’10

Valentine’s Day approaches. No matter the timing, we thought it worth celebrating relationships— those that bloom on campus and flourish into lifetime relationships—by speaking with a few of the Wharton couples in the community.

 

Barbara & Pierre

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Barbara and Pierre celebrating together and with their WG’79 friends (and ancient artifacts) at their graduation cocktail party at the Penn Museum.

As she waited in line to join the European Club, Barbara Levi, WG’79, had no idea she was about to meet her husband.

As a French-speaking Peace Corps alumna, Barbara was immediately drawn to the club. She was also drawn to the French-accented voice behind her that boldly announced he was joining all of the clubs she signed up for.

“I just thought, who is this character?” She laughs. “What a crazy thing to say!”

That character was Pierre Levi, WG’79, a French engineer and fellow MBA student. The two exchanged numbers and as Barbara says, “one thing led to another.” Today, they have been married for 31 years with two children, aged 27 and 29—one of whom is also a Penn graduate.

On campus, the duo spoke a mixture of French and English while attending happy hours, working together on group projects and helping each other through the intense curriculum.

As an engineer, Pierre excelled in mathematical courses.

“While I was taking copious notes, he was basically doodling,” jokes Barbara.

Her expertise shone through in finance, in which she graduated with honors, and she was also able to assist Pierre gain fluidity with his English.

Their first date was a trip to see the Philadelphia Orchestra, where Riccardo Muti was principal guest conductor of a Beethoven piano concerto. The couple still follows his career today.

“Any time he’s playing in Europe, we try to see him,” says Barbara. “He’s aged with us.”

After Wharton, Pierre worked as a commercial attaché at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Barbara worked for Bank of America in New York. Then, Pierre was offered his dream job working for McKinsey in France.

“I thought that was the end of our relationship,” Barbara says.

And it was for a while—until one day Pierre visited Barbara in New York and casually asked if she’d ever thought of working in Paris. She had. Bank of America put her in touch with an affiliated merchant bank, BSFE, which hired her.

A few months later, Barbara hinted that she had a visa problem.

“Pierre likes to say that I proposed marriage,” she says.

Whoever asked whom, they were married in 1982 in Paris. They remain in the City of Light to this day.

Barbara spent a decade at the merchant bank and then transitioned into a position as head of industrial and mining projects at Credit Lyonnais—becoming the first woman with the title h’omme d’affair (business man) at the bank. She retired in 2013 as a senior banker responsible for the hotel industry.

After six years at McKinsey, Pierre worked a number of jobs in different industries—head of the food can division at Carnaud Metal Box; head of the fiber and polymer division at Rhône- Poulenc/Rhodia; and CEO of Faurecia, an automobile equipment supplier, to name a few. Today, he works in private equity.

Both Barbara and Pierre are engaged Wharton alumni. Barbara, for instance, recently arranged for Jeremy Siegel, Wharton’s Russell E. Palmer Professor of Finance, to address the expatriate community in Paris. Pierre is a past president of the Wharton Club of Paris.

 

Randi & Robert

Walter Mondale was shellacked in the 1984 presidential election, but he was the unlikely starting point for another Wharton couple. When Randi Brosterman, W’81, WG’88, and Bob Hutchens, WG’88, were introduced by a mutual friend, they bonded over voting for the woe-begotten liberal candidate.

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Bob and Randi at their 1988 Spring Prom, slightly better dressed than their first year

“We both said, ‘Oh, you were the other one!’” Bob recalls.

Their introductory meeting had been arranged because Randi received a summer job offer from Touche Ross, where Bob previously worked. Initially intending to talk business, however, they ended up chatting for the next three hours.

“That conversation still keeps going today,” says Randi. “We talk about everything under the sun.”

Later in that first year of their MBAs, Randi asked Bob if he was going to the Spring Prom.

“Bob showed up with a corsage,” says Randi. “Actually, my mother mailed me a dress.”

“We were the most underdressed people there,” Bob adds.

In year two, Bob asked Randi out well in advance of the dance and secured a tux, but he still brought a corsage and Brosterman still received her dress via the mail, this time from her sister.

Throughout their time on campus, they found themselves working together several times, like in their banking class when, after Randi missed the first day and had yet to choose a partner, she learned that Bob was also partner-less. They went to the White Dog for a three-hour brunch to discuss the course.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Private banking? Good topic!’” says Randi, after which the course never arose again during their brunch conversation.

Dating was surprisingly taboo back then—despite that, Randi and Bob know of about 10 marriages from the Class of ’88.

“Nobody let each other know they were dating,” says Randi.

Bob agrees: “It would be like dating somebody you worked with.”

This made their public displays of affection all the more meaningful to each other. Randi still recalls the moment Bob held her hand as they walked into their second prom.

After graduation, they accepted job offers with Touche, the company that is now Deloitte, but in different cities. The relationship seemed destined to fade—until the winter of 1989. They both ended up with clients in Upstate New York, and they began dating again. They traveled to France together, using frequent-flyer miles accumulated during consulting gigs. In 1990, they were married.

“Bob lived in Detroit at the time, and I remember doing wedding planning from Helsinki,” says Randi. Their wedding was in New York and featured a table of Wharton alumni. Their mutual friend, Dan Arrowood, WG’88, was best man, the same friend who first introduced them four years earlier over Touche Ross.

They have been married for 23 years, have raised two children and remain active in the Wharton community as philanthropists, endowing both an undergraduate scholarship and MBA fellowship for female students. Randi recently celebrated her 25th anniversary at Deloitte, and Bob recently retired from Booz & Company and is now the head of strategy for a biotech startup.

They credit their successful careers and relationship to teamwork and matching personalities.

“This has not been a solo act on either of our parts,” says Randi. “There’s been an ebb and flow through our careers. As one was ramping up, the other would level out. There’s been a lot of give and take, a lot of dialogue.”

Editor’s note: Did you meet the love of your life at Wharton? Tell us about it. Send pictures (old and new) and/or your story (video or old-fashioned text) to magazine@wharton.upenn.edu.

 

Toks & Dayo

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Dayo and Toks at their Spring Prom in 2008, a well-deserved date night for the busy young parents

Toks Olabisi (née Roluga), WG’08, almost let her husband get away. At a Penn Club event for prospective MBA for Executives students, Toks noticed a fellow Nigerian name on the registration list—Dayo Olabisi, WG’08. “Dayo” is a unisex name, so she wasn’t sure if she needed to look for a man or a woman. Not seeing anyone who appeared to be Nigerian, she assumed Dayo had never showed. Toks ran to catch the elevator to leave and had to stick her hand in the doors to keep them from closing. Safely inside, she glanced at her elevator mate’s nametag. It was Dayo. She asked if he was Nigerian—he was—and that began the conversation.

“Apparently, he was checking me out,” she jokes now.

Dayo asked for Toks’ number, and being that he seemed like a genuine, happy man, she gladly traded contact information. A few days later he called. They shared an interest in Asian cultures and art, and they planned to meet at the Met.

“I thought he was an art connoisseur, but he was just trying to impress me,” she says. Coincidentally, they were both accepted to the Wharton MBA for Executives Program—Toks was sponsored by her company, Deloitte, and Dayo worked simultaneously as the director of network engineering at CheckFree Corporation in New Jersey. Initially, Toks would commute to New Jersey to drive with Dayo to Wharton, but the pair quickly realized it would be easier to move in together.

“We had to be legally married, though, or our parents would kill us,” she says.

They had a court wedding in September and, after winter finals, traveled to Nigeria for a formal wedding with families and friends.

Not content to combine just one major milestone with their MBAs, the couple soon decided to have a baby. Their first child was born two days after their final exams the next December. Toks and Dayo were blown away by the support of their classmates, which included the requisite American tradition: a baby shower.

“We got into the dining room one day and they surprised us with a cake and a gift card,” Toks says.

The couple was also lucky to have family support as they completed their degrees; their mothers were willing to travel with them to Philadelphia on school weekends to help take care of the baby.

Another benefit was access to two study groups, and Toks found herself easily integrated into Dayo’s group, affectionately known as the UN-10, tagged with “United Nations” because all of its members came from different nations.

“It was particularly helpful that we both were going through the program,” says Dayo. “We empathized with each other.”More than anything, they relied on each other and learned to work as a team.

Despite the challenges of having a baby during the intense MBA experience, Toks and Dayo still managed to enjoy their time on campus. Dayo was introduced to sushi through regular trips to one of University City’s longstanding restaurants, Pod, and they both traveled to China with their management class where, being both pregnant and black, Toks describes herself as being “quite the exotic figure.”

Today, the couple lives in Atlanta, where they welcomed a second child in 2010. Toks continues to work for Deloitte. Dayo’s company was acquired by Fiserv, where he now works in an expanded role.

 

Han & Michelle

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Han and Michelle survived campus as a couple, despite being placed initially in the same cohort.

For Han Chen and Michelle Liu, both WG’97, Wharton took their strong relationship and made it unbreakable.

The pair met as 18-year-olds during their first year of college in China, but Han transferred to finish his undergraduate education in the United States. Even so, they continued a (very) long-distance relationship and, Han says, after graduation they “really wanted to be able to have a second chance.” They knew they had met their matches.

The two were married in China in 1992 and were dedicated to staying close to one another. Michelle was able to earn an assignment from her Chinese automotive company to work in investor relations in New York, and Han worked on the technology side of JPMorgan.

When they both earned admittance into Wharton’s MBA Program, they were excited. They had never had the opportunity to learn in such a rigorous setting before. They quickly found out that Michelle was the more diligent of the two.

“I think she was admitted first, and I probably had some spouse brownie points,” jokes Han. “I’m usually the procrastinator of the two of us.”

They loved Philadelphia and the program, but as diligent as she is, Michelle found the experience challenging.

“The first year at Wharton was really different from Chinese schools,” she explains. “It was a very steep learning curve for me.”

Because Michelle kept her surname, it was not immediately apparent on paper to administrators that they were married. As a result, they were initially placed in the same cohort, which Michelle quickly rectified.

“We wanted to meet other people,” she says.

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Having a spouse to lean on, on the other hand, was essential to their experience. Han adds that he was also grateful not to have to compete daily with his own wife.

“At home you have somebody you can feel very free and open to discuss basically everything,” Michelle says. As a couple, they remember not just the classroom experiences, but the day-to-day aspects of going to school with a spouse, like Michelle’s regular delivery to Han of hoagies from Greek Lady between classes. For fun they patronized a favorite oyster bar in Center City, which they still think about today.

Han departed private equity to run the Super 8 brand of economy hotels in China. Michelle continues to work in the financial industry as CFO of Hexun Technology Co. Together, they helped form the first Wharton Club of Beijing and are delighted to see the Wharton alumni community growing in China.

And they are still grateful for their time together in Philadelphia.

“In a way, it also prepared us for what we’re doing now,” says Han. “We have one CFO and one CEO in a family with three kids—that requires a lot of coordination and cooperation.”

Editor’s note: Seriously. We want the stories and pictures from your campus love story. Send them to: magazine@wharton.upenn.edu.

 

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