Wharton Stories

Alumni Entrepreneurs Share How They Grew Their Companies at Wharton

It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “entrepreneurship is in the water” when students describe Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives. Indeed, entrepreneurship is a significant interest among many EMBA students at the San Francisco and Philadelphia campuses. We asked a few of our entrepreneurial alumni to tell us about the value of a Wharton MBA for their ventures and their startup experiences. Here is what they said:

Ataata logo

Michael Madon, WG’14 and Tim Jackson, WG’14

Campus: Philadelphia

Industry: Cybersecurity

Background: Previously, Tim ran his own accounting practice and had experience with an internet startup. Michael was an executive in the Treasury Department, where he helped develop strategies to identify and mitigate cyber risks and vulnerabilities.

Why an MBA: “I founded and ran organizations large and small in the Army and Treasury, yet I knew enough to know that while some skills overlapped, success in the private sector required a different set of tools,” says Michael. Tim was working at an alternative energy wind turbine company, overseeing the accounting and finance functions. To do something broader, he sought an MBA.

Current Venture: When Michael and Tim came to Wharton’s EMBA program, they didn’t know each other much less plan to start a business together. Two years after graduation, they launched Ataata, a security awareness platform.

Value of an MBA: “Michael took a job in the private sector after graduation and was hearing feedback from security officers that they needed more people to be aware of what is happening with cybersecurity. One thing that kept coming to mind from Marketing classes at Wharton was that you shouldn’t sell what you make, but rather make what you can sell. The market was saying that this is what we want to buy. Eventually, we realized that this is what we should be selling and we could form a business around it,” says Tim.

Click here to read the full story.

Silver Lining logo
Rel Lavizzo-Mourey, WG’15

Campus: San Francisco

Industry: Retail

Background: “After college, I did some consulting before going to acting school and working as an actor in New York City. That got me into the media world where I helped relaunch Honey magazine. I learned a lot about startups and fundraising there. I also met the owners of Minx, a company launched by two women who design and produce nail covers. I joined their team in San Diego, and we gained a lot of traction with celebrity clients.”

Why an MBA: “I had the idea for Silver Lining prior to coming to Wharton, but I knew I needed more business knowledge to really be successful as an entrepreneur. Knowing the hurdles facing startups, I wanted an MBA to be able to tackle the challenges that I would inevitably face.”

Current Venture: Rel founded Silver Lining Bespoke, a luxury outerwear company as a Wharton student in 2014. “The coats have an element of secrecy, as one side is traditional and the other side is wilder. The idea for the Silver Lining brand is to highlight the idea that ‘it’s what is on the inside that counts’ and to send a message of inner beauty to our customer.”

Value of an MBA: “You don’t need an MBA to start a company, but I’ve seen from first-hand experience that you do need an MBA to grow a company. I invested in a Wharton MBA because I know there is a lot of value down the line. All entrepreneurs get to the point where they hit a wall and need help getting over that wall. That help will come from having a formal business education as well as the Wharton network. Also, the Wharton MBA adds a lot of credibility to your resume. It shows people that you know what you’re doing and where you’re going.”

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Guru Hariharan, WG’14

Campus: San Francisco

Industry: E-Commerce Analytics

Background: “Shortly after coming to Wharton, I transitioned from my job at eBay to founder of Boomerang Commerce. I had conceived the idea for Boomerang after observing the increasing digital divide between e-commerce giants like Amazon and other retailers. It was Amazon’s analytical abilities that really set it apart. I wanted to offer all retailers the advanced analytical capabilities needed to survive and succeed. The specific goal of the company was to create a big data retail analytics platform to help next-generation e-retailers drive smart pricing and assortment decisions.”

Why an MBA: “I wanted to earn an MBA to learn the tools of the trade to become a CEO. I had spent my career as a technical employee at companies like Amazon and eBay, but I wanted to learn how to oversee an entire business. I also had an idea for a venture that I wanted to develop.”

Current Venture: Guru founded Boomerang Commerce Inc. in 2012 as a Wharton EMBA student.

Value of an MBA: “Being at Wharton throughout the startup process was very beneficial. First, my classmates were a great resource. I was able to get advice on everything from how to talk to CEOs and CFOs to product pricing. Second, I was able to target many of my classes to areas specific to my interests. For example, I took several courses on economics, pricing, and marketing. I was able to build in knowledge from those classes into the product.”

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Shelley Boyce, WG’95

Campus: Philadelphia

Industry: Healthcare

Background: Shelley worked as a pediatric surgical nurse before becoming executive vice president and director of a medical company.

Why an MBA: Shelley wanted to formalize her business education.

Current Venture: Shelly founded MedRisk in 1994 and currently serves as executive chair of the company, which is a leader in physical rehabilitation solutions for the workers’ compensation industry.

Value of an MBA: “I didn’t have plans to become an entrepreneur when I came to Wharton, but while there I gained the skillset, toolkit, and confidence to become an entrepreneur so when the opportunity came, I felt well prepared to take a risk.”

Click here to read the full story.

Thundermark Capital logo
Gleb Chuvpilo, WG’17

Campus: Philadelphia

Industry: Venture Capital

Background: Prior to Wharton, Gleb built several startups, including one that was accepted to Y Combinator. He also helped build Ride, a TPG Growth portfolio company that enables coworkers to find each other to carpool with an app.

Why an MBA: Throughout his prior roles, Gleb noticed a recurring theme: a knowledge gap in business development. “I wanted to get an MBA to fill that gap and learn what it takes to run a business.”

Current Venture: “I’ve been involved with several successful exits and given advice to VCs who are friends. I decided to make that more formal, giving capital as well as advice.” He founded Thundermark Capital, a venture capital firm which invests in early-stage technology startups in artificial intelligence, robotics, and computational life sciences.

Value of MBA: “I have the engineering and operational expertise, but the Wharton EMBA Program validated my skill set in the eyes of investors. It would have been much harder for me to start as an emerging fund manager without Wharton on my resume.”

Click here to read the full story.

Posted: February 23, 2018

Wharton Stories

Fig Loans: Building a Bridge to Good Credit

Fig Loans cofounder Jeff Zhou, WG’15 talks about how to turn bad credit into good credit–and how to find the right entrepreneurial opportunity–with Karl Ulrich, Wharton Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

Fig Loans is super cool for a bunch of reasons:

  1. They’re in the payday loans business, but they’re helping people rebuild their credit;
  2. The founders–Jeff Zhou, WG’15 and John Li, W’07, ENG’07, WG’15– are Wharton alumni who met and founded the company while they were getting their MBAs (fun fact: their first project, created at PennApps Hackathon two weeks before school started, was a game called Llama Run);
  3. Karl loves the way they identified the opportunity for Fig Loans;
  4. Their goal is to “survive indefinitely and to not rely on venture capital money, but to take it, instead, for purposeful growth.”

There’s so much here to love.

Basically, they help out people who messed up their credit in the past (think credit scores of around 520), so they don’t have access to credit cards or online lending—and who run into a financial emergency where they really need a few hundred dollars. Cofounder Jeff Zhou, WG’15 says that “the typical loan size is roughly between $300 to $500.” Recipient income levels are around $30,000-$90,000 per year, and they’re living paycheck to paycheck.

Fig Loans gives people those crucial small loans, at a fraction of the cost of your typical payday loan. That typical payday loan comes at a steep 662% interest rate, according to the Fig Loans website. Fig charges 190% for a first time loan–and they’re trying to lower the rate still more. While that rate does still sound extremely high, it comes out to, according to Jeff, “roughly about six bucks to borrow a hundred dollars for a month.”

The best part comes next: the second loan comes at a lower rate, and the third lower still, as people rebuild their credit. Then when a person’s credit score is about to be good enough for standard credit card rates, Fig Loans lets Capital One know—so that they can send out a credit card offer. Jeff explains: “Our goal is really just to be that bridge. We want to give people that opportunity to prove themselves, and then send them on their way when they’re ready.”

For more about points two, three, and four, listen to the full half hour interview—especially if you’re wondering how to find the right opportunity for your own venture.


Wharton Stories

Biomedical Innovation Dominates the Y-Prize Finale

Student teams came together at Penn’s Singh Center for Nanotechnology to battle it out for the 2018 Y-Prize, where nanoscale innovation was a running theme.

Participants, judges, and technology enthusiasts gathered at Penn’s Singh Center for Nanotechnology to see four finalist teams battle it out for the 2018 Y-Prize on January 30. Nanoscale innovation was a running theme at the Y-Prize this year — which marked the sixth Grand Finale for the University-wide, interdisciplinary competition.

Introduced at the Y-Prize kick-off event in September, this year’s technologies included:

  • Carbon nanopipettes developed by Prof. Haim Bau, which offer a promising way to inject liquids into cells and penetrate their nuclei.
  • Nanotribological printing, invented by Prof. Robert Carpick, which essentially involves additive manufacturing at the nanoscale.

The Y-Prize got its start in Penn’s GRASP Lab, but after two years expanded beyond robotics to feature other types of technology at Penn. The competition has incorporated a wide variety of nanotechnologies and biomedical engineering technologies over the past six years.

While the technologies have become more varied, they have remained cutting-edge, said Michelle Eckert, marketing and communications coordinator for the Mack Institute.

“One common thread runs through the competition from year to year: We try to choose exciting nascent technologies with unexplored potential, then invite students to unleash their creativity on them,” she said. “We never stop being surprised at the ideas students come back with!”

“Each year we invite the winning team back to speak to current participants about what they learned, so new teams get to benefit from that experience. There’s definitely a sense of momentum and growth to the competition as it becomes more established on campus.”

This Year’s Contenders

The teams had to deliver their presentations and defend their proposal in front of a panel of judges who asked about issues ranging from medical ethics to intellectual property law.

The pitches were decidedly biomedical, save for one team who found an application for nanotribological printing in the aeronautics industry. “Various teams used carbon nanopipette (CNP) technology to formulate exciting and innovative biomedical applications — ranging from detecting defective chromosomes in fertilized eggs to genetic cures for rare diseases, which have the potential for profit while doing good,” Prof. Bau said of this year’s pitches.


Team: Vikram Krishnamoorthy, C’20, W’20, George Pandya E’20, W’20
Proposal: Using carbon nanopipettes in a microfluidic system to manipulate cells in a more scalable and cheaper way

Cellview Sciences

Team: Henry Zhou, C’18, Ellen Naruse, W’18, Michael Lee, W’18
Proposal: Using carbon nanopipettes to create Chromosense, a testing procedure for IVF that will help discover chromosomal abnormalities in a safer, more accurate way.


Team: Sonali Chopra, WG’19, Kahini Shah, WG’19, Nikhil Raghuveera, WG’19
Proposal: Using nanotribological printing to create hydrophobic coatings for airplanes to make them more aerodynamic and reduce icing.

NanoXCell Therapeutics

Team: Daniel Lundgren, C’18, W’18, Patrick Lundgren, University of Oxford MsC’18, Shelby Wilkinson, C’18, W’18
Proposal: Using carbon nanopipettes to deliver gene therapies to patients with genetic skin diseases by transferring larger genes than viral vectors are able to accommodate.

“All of this year’s finalist pitches were very strong and would be worth pursuing beyond the competition, and we hope the student teams continue to do so,” said Prof. Saikat Chaudhuri, the Executive Director of the Mack Institute.

And the Winner Is…

Cellview Sciences took home this year’s Y-Prize. Composed of three seniors, Ellen Naruse, W’18, Michael Lee, W’18, and Henry Zhou, C’18, Cellview presented a device designed to reduce IVF miscarriage rates and lower the cost of genetic testing.

Coming from diverse academic backgrounds allowed the winning team to take a comprehensive approach to the competition.. Henry, a Biochemistry major, was in charge of coming up with a commercial product while Ellen, whose concentrations include Business Analytics and Marketing, and Michael, who studies Statistics, conducted market research and developed their business plan to make sure Henry’s idea was commercially feasible.

Y-Prize Winners Cellview Sciences
Henry Zhou, C’18, Ellen Naruse, W’18; and Michael Lee, W’18, of Cellview Sciences took home this year’s Y-Prize for innovative use of Dr. Bau’s carbon nanopipettes for testing fertilized embryos for chromosomal abnormalities that often lead to miscarriage.

“The Y-Prize has been deliberately interdisciplinary since its inception, which is part of what makes it so special. We truly believe that bringing diverse knowledge and perspectives to the table makes a team more innovative, and the competition results bear this out,” said Eckert. “Without exception, every winning team so far has been composed of students from different schools, or enrolled in interdisciplinary programs like Jerome Fisher Management & Technology.”

Their product, Chromosense, is a technology using Dr. Bau’s carbon nanopipettes for testing fertilized embryos for chromosomal abnormalities that often lead to miscarriage. Chromosense contains molecular beacons and a carbon nanopipette. It works by using the carbon nanopipette to inject molecular beacons, which can be designed to identify specific genomic sequences, into an embryo.

Once the molecular beacons are in the cell, they light up once they find the sequence they are designed to identify. This method can be used to count chromosomes and find mutated genes, thereby improving the health and viability of implanted embryos.

Cellview Science team members explain their technology at the Y-Prize Finale
Henry Zhou, C’18, and Michael Lee, W’18, explain the technology behind Chromosense at the Y-Prize Grand Finale. (Ellen Naruse, W’18, could not attend due to a case competition in New Zealand.)

What’s next for Cellview Sciences? The team is going to collaborate with their partners, including the main clinical collaborator, Main Line Fertility, to test their product and run a pilot program. And they will also compete in the semifinals of the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge.

– Elis Pill, C’19

Posted: February 21, 2018

Wharton Stories

How Machines Learn “Bias” and 9 Lessons on How Leaders Correct It

Image: Prof. Richard Berk
As part of One Wharton Week, professor of criminology and statistics Richard Berk told MBA students how analytics can produce biased results and how decision-makers can fix it.

Humans can show bias, but mathematical algorithms supposedly do not. So why did machine learning initially red-line some minority areas when Amazon first rolled out same-day delivery in Boston? Why has Google been found to show lower-paying jobs to women?

Where does that bias come from and how can businesses correct for it?

On February 13, Richard Berk, Professor of Statistics and Criminology in the Penn School of Arts and Sciences, addressed these questions in front of a packed room of MBA students. Called “Machine-Learned ‘Bias,’” the lunch-time event was offered during One Wharton Week and co-sponsored by the Wharton Analytics Club.

Prof. Berk’s work focuses primarily on criminal justice applications. He gave the example that men commit most violent crimes, so if you develop an algorithm to forecast risk, the risk will be greater for men. If men are more likely to be sentenced to prison, is this result biased or accurate and fair? The answer, according to Berk, is how you define justice.

Pradya Nandini, WG'18, introducing an event during One Wharton Week
Return on Equality’s Pradya Nandini, WG’18, introducing the session on machine learning.

There are three stages in algorithmic application.

  • The data on which an algorithm is trained.
    The code that is written.
    The decisions that humans make on its application.

In general, Prof. Berk was reluctant to offer answers, which he said is the province of leaders in business and government, not statisticians. He advised, “Ask stakeholders what to optimize for when you are building an algorithm. Build values into it. Write code that is honest, that does what it says it will do.”

Pradya Nandini, WG'18, introducing an event during One Wharton Week
Packed house at the machine learning session of One Wharton Week

Nine top takeaways from Berk’s lecture on how to use analytics and values to “unbias” algorithms.

1. “A good algorithm won’t introduce bias.”
If there is a problem, it starts with the data. For example, if Google is matching jobs to current salary and woman job applicants currently have lower salaries, Google will show lower paying jobs, reflecting the input data.

2. “To reduce bias, look carefully at how the data came to be and how it was gathered and quantified.”
If you have biased data, it will continue in the algorithm. You must know how the data is generated. If you can demonstrate bias in data, you can develop algorithms that make corrections.

3. “When you introduce fairness, it reduces accuracy.”
Algorithms predict outcomes, and the predictive accuracy of an algorithm is reduced if you want to eliminate gender, race, or other differentials in your results. Fairness may be preferable to an accurate result, but it’s a tradeoff.

4. “Algorithm is a computational tool, not a model that describes how the world works.”
Business leaders must learn the language and then ask the right questions of those providing algorithm. If it’s a model, ask a certain set of questions. If it’s an algorithm, ask another one.

5. “Push as hard as you can for transparency when using proprietary algorithms and models.”
In principle, algorithms are more transparent than humans — the human mind is a black box. However, many algorithms used in business are proprietary. Companies that license them won’t let you see the code, but you can ask how it’s built.

6. “When you can’t see how an algorithm is built, test it.”
Run a forecasting contest between algorithms to see the outcomes.

7. “Algorithms make mistakes. The goal is to improve on current practice.”
Even a perfect algorithm will make mistakes, but most will improve on human practice. For example, algorithms in criminal justice are demonstrably more accurate and more fair than human decision makers.

8. “You can build social costs into algorithms.”
Different forecasting errors have different costs. Is the cost of a mistaken “no” higher than a mistaken “yes”? Decisions makers can correct algorithms by applying human values and not just monetary ones.

9. “Algorithms don’t lift you out of the human condition. They leave you in it.”
There are fundamentally unsolved moral questions that algorithms bring to the surface. Take the example of self-driving cars, which have to be programmed to make decisions in unavoidable crashes that must choose whether to spare harm to drivers, passengers, or pedestrians.

— Kelly Andrews


Wharton Stories

How This Wharton Undergraduate Is Pursuing Her Passion for Homemade Ice Cream

Image: Julianne Goodman, back row center, with friends at her first ice-cream tasting party
Julianne Goodman tells how a Passion Project grant is helping her develop her own ice cream menu — and why Wharton tastes like spicy espresso chocolate.

Some of Julianne Goodman’s earliest memories are of making homemade ice cream with her dad. They began by scouring farmers’ markets for fresh fruit. Once they were satisfied with their selections, they transformed the fruit into custard, placed the custard into their Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker and froze the processed custard overnight. Then came Julianne’s favorite part, the taste test.

“Oh, it’s so good! Very creamy and rich, just super refreshing,” Julianne recalled with a smile. “[My favorite flavor] was a special mint with Sno-Caps.”

Since childhood, Julianne’s love of homemade ice cream has only intensified. Now, through a $300 grant from the Wharton Passion Projects Program, Julianne (who is earning a finance BS in Economics from Wharton and an economics BA from the College) is developing a tasting menu of homemade ice cream flavors based on seasonal products and local Philadelphia-grown ingredients.

Ice cream ingredients

Wharton Passion Projects Program

Passion Projects is hosted by Wharton Wellness and the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board. The goal of the program is to promote wellness and mental health within the Wharton community by encouraging students to pursue nonacademic passions. Passion Projects is entering its fourth year of nurturing students who exemplify the values of commitment, passion, and purpose.

Wharton freshman and member of Passion Projects committee Nick Amore said Julianne’s project felt “very genuine…She [is] someone with a very strong character. We thought that she’d be extremely motivated and ultimately do a really awesome job on the project, while also helping other students in the community.”

Throughout the semester, Julianne will be sampling ingredients, hosting tasting parties and honing her homemade ice cream to perfection. Her project will culminate in a final symposium in the spring where this year’s Passion Projects Fellows will present their projects to friends, family and peers in the Huntsman Hall Forum.

Julianne tasting a finished batch
Julianne tasting a finished batch

Developing a Tasting Menu of Homemade Ice Cream

Compared to store bought ice cream, homemade ice cream can be richer, creamier, and more flavorful, with fewer calories and more room for personalization. Julianne delineates between traditional ice cream flavors (chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel) and more experimental ones, noting the current trend is disrupting existing flavors. In the past couple years, ice cream flavors like lavender, dark-chocolate olive-oil, and pineapple-chocolate-basil have become increasingly popular. Reflecting this contemporary shift, Julianne plans to create a balance of unexpected ice cream flavors and much-loved classics for her tasting menu.

Making homemade ice cream is a creative and collaborative process for Julianne. She brainstorms ideas for different flavors, turning to Philadelphia farmers’ markets as a source of inspiration. She also collects ideas for ice cream flavors from her friends, online recipes, childhood memories, Dominique Ansel Kitchen and even job recruiters.

“I’ve talked to so many different interviewers about ice cream and their favorite ice cream shops,” Julianne laughs. “They know me as The Ice Cream Girl.”

Julianne, who plans to pursue a post-Wharton career in investment banking, does not envision becoming a professional ice cream maker, nor does she intend to sell her ice cream in the immediate future. But when she retires, Julianne hopes to open her own ice cream store. She loves seeing how different ice cream flavors come together and views ice cream making as a wonderful way to connect with friends. Homemade ice cream is the centerpiece of her childhood memories and now, some of her Penn ones.

According to Julianne, the Passion Projects Program is a reminder that Wharton students have passions outside of finance, accounting, and consulting. “It humanizes people,” she said. “There’s so much more to me than what you might see on my resume or what you might see when you see me walking the halls of Huntsman.”

When asked to describe Wharton as an ice cream flavor, Julianne said it would be a Spicy Espresso Chocolate — bold and intense with an “extra little kick.”

—Caroline Harris

Ice cream tasting
Ice cream tasting in Julianne’s apartment

Posted: February 19, 2018

Wharton Stories

Why These Wharton Faculty Love Teaching in San Francisco

Image: Prof. Patti Williams

Since its founding in 2001, Wharton San Francisco has been a hub of academic and entrepreneurial activity for Wharton students and alumni on the West Coast. Overlooking the city’s Embarcadero and a block from the Bay Bridge, the modern campus offers stunning views of the San Francisco Bay.

EMBA courses at Wharton San Francisco are taught by East Coast-based faculty who fly to San Francisco for class weekends. Wharton faculty love teaching on the West Coast. We asked a few of them to share what they enjoy most about EMBA students and our San Francisco campus. Here is what they said:

Prof. Stewart Friedman

Course: Total Leadership; Leading Effective Teams

“I’ve been teaching EMBA students every year since 2003 because I enjoy it so much. Wharton EMBA students are seasoned, mature, and have a humility in the classroom that makes them open and hungry for knowledge. The issues we talk about in class are present in their lives and it’s wonderful to see them immediately apply their new knowledge. They also are conscious of why they are in this program and have a great appreciation for Wharton’s academic mission. They take the program seriously and do the preparation required to get the most out of the class for themselves and their classmates. That makes my job a ton of fun.”

“I go [to Wharton San Francisco] for the students. I’m on a mission to bring what I know to this group of bright, ambitious, committed professionals who are looking to learn from the faculty and from each other. It also doesn’t hurt that the Wharton San Francisco campus is amazing. You sit in the dining room and have a beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay. And the classrooms are fantastic!”

Prof. Patti Williams

Course: Marketing

“[EMBA students’] capacity for work blows me away. These are people who have full-time jobs and often have families too, but they come to class ready to kill it every single class period. They are prepared to learn and are engaged in the material – they are ready to make the most of every moment in class. What continues to astonish and impress me is how much effort they put into the classwork despite all the other things they juggle. They are there because they really want to be there, and I can’t imagine a better teaching environment than that.”

“The students [in San Francisco] tend to have more of an entrepreneurship, engineering or technology orientation so they bring different perspectives and experiences to class. It’s interesting to have that variation on each campus. I like teaching both [campus] groups a lot and as a Stanford undergrad alum, I love the chance to get to the Bay Area.”

Prof. Ethan Mollick

Courses: Introduction to Entrepreneurship; Advanced Entrepreneurship

“Wharton’s executive MBA students are really smart, engaged with what they are learning, and care a lot about entrepreneurship. My classes are a great opportunity for them to be operational, but also to pause and think about next steps in their startups or businesses. Our classroom discussion is at a very high level because they bring in great insights from their careers. These are very fun classes to teach and hopefully to participate in.”

“There is a palpable energy in San Francisco because people in that area are very excited about entrepreneurship. I always learn something when I teach out there. And with so many successful Wharton graduates who are entrepreneurs and VCs on the West Coast, it’s a very supportive community.”

Prof. Minyuan Zhao

Course: Multinational Business Strategy

“Wharton EMBA students are fabulous. They are so engaged and prepared for class. For faculty, it’s very rewarding to see the learning happening in the classroom.”

“In terms of the classroom experience, the two campuses are very similar. The biggest difference comes from students’ backgrounds. The West Coast tends to have more students who work in technology or in startups. The San Francisco campus also fits the West Coast culture with big windows and an open feel. Another difference for faculty teaching on the West Coast is the time we are able to spend with students. When I’m in San Francisco, I tend to stay on campus the entire weekend and join students for dinners and group activities. I get to know them a lot better over the course of class weekends.”

Prof. Bobbi Thomason

Course: Negotiations

“[Wharton EMBA] students are all working in full-time, demanding jobs so it’s exciting to see them apply what they learn right away. In class, I ask them to talk about how their ongoing negotiations at work are going. Or, if they have upcoming negotiations, they get suggestions from the class about strategies. Sharing their experiences in the classroom makes it a richer learning experience for everyone.”

“Wharton’s San Francisco campus is unique because it primarily serves EMBA students. Having a space that is just for this program creates a closeness among the students, faculty and administrators. And during class weekends, students spend practically every moment together. It’s an immersive experience that I enjoy. It’s fun for me to talk to students over meals, and they are generous in inviting faculty to social events too. I also hold office hours and am happy to continue conversations via Skype and email in between class sessions when I am back in Philadelphia.”

Prof. Nicolaj Siggelkow

Courses: Management; Strategy and Competitive Advantage

“It’s exciting to teach EMBA students because they immediately try to apply the tools I teach them when they go back to work. Then, they’ll usually come back and tell me how it went; it’s fun to get feedback on what you teach. It’s also interesting to hear their perspectives during our class discussions. It’s often at a level that you wouldn’t get in a typical MBA classroom. For example, in a class session on outsourcing, we may have several students in the classroom who actually sell or have bought the services being discussed. The experience that students bring into the EMBA program makes the classroom experience quite special.”

“[As for teaching in San Francisco,] I was an undergraduate at Stanford, so I have some affinity to the area as well as friends living there. So, on a personal level, it’s always fun to visit San Francisco. Also, the types of students on the West Coast are a bit different from the East Coast. They tend to be more tech and engineering focused. It’s great to have a mix of students on both coasts.”


Wharton Stories

Wharton Dean Talks with Yicai at Davos about Growth Opportunities for China

Dean Geoffrey Garrett says electric vehicles could be the next big export industry for China and the country could be a leader in AI.

Click here to read this story in Chinese.

While attending the Davos 2018 World Economic Forum, Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett spoke about China’s focus on quality growth and future opportunities in artificial intelligence with Yicai Media Group, a leading financial news group based in Shanghai.

From Absolute Growth to Quality Growth

Garrett, the Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise and Professor of Management, talked about the importance of the move from absolute growth to quality growth for China. “It was always the case as China became more of a middle-class country and more consumption-led, that the growth rate would slow down,” he said. “So 10 percent growth into the future was unattainable, but high-quality 5 percent growth should be sustainable for a long time in China.”

He mentioned China’s focus on the reduction of pollution as an example of that high-quality growth. “If China can reduce pollution in cities like Beijing, that will be incredibly important for the lives of Chinese citizens, but it will also position China to be world leader in the production of electric vehicles, which could be the next big export industry of China,” he said.

The notion that there should be a second reopening in China signals that the Chinese government realizes there is still a lot to be done, such as reducing the inefficiency in the state-owned sector and enhancing the competitiveness of private enterprises. “China has liberalized its investment rules, particularly in financial services, and the outbound investment will increasingly become one of the largest features of the global economy going forward,” Garrett said. “What China has done is incredible, but everyone in China realizes now that there’s another stage that needs to be reached.”

Dean Geoffrey Garrett speaking with Yicai Media Group, a leading financial news group based in Shanghai, at the Davos 2018 World Economic Forum.

China Positioned to Lead in Artificial Intelligence

On the topic of AI, Dean Garrett explained that the worry that “the robots are going to take all the jobs” is actually quite a Western concern. “AI is an incredible opportunity for China going forward because of the quality of your technical education, science, and engineering,” he said. “It really is going to be a data-science-led world in the next five to 10 years, and China is incredibly well placed.”

He suggested that China is positioned to do even better than the U.S. in AI. “I was in a (Davos) session today when somebody said this year that investment in AI in China was 30 times as big as in the U.S. — that’s an incredible number. “I haven’t been able to verify (that number), but it tells me that China is positioned actually to lead in AI, which would be a first.”

With Alipay and WeChat pay, China’s two dominant mobile payment platforms, the Dean said one could argue that the core technology was invented in the U.S. by PayPal and other players then scaled in China. “But in AI, China could be in front of the U.S., and that would be a remarkable development,” he said. “If I were a young person in China right now I’d be saying I want to invest in technical education because that’s where China can lead and that’s where my future could be really positive.”

View the full segment with Yicai about China’s Economic Outlook and Dean Garrett’s thoughts on the future of AI in China.

— Colleen Donnelly and Zoe Qiao

Posted: February 15, 2018

Wharton Stories

How a Loan Forgiveness Fund Is Helping These EMBA Grads Sustain Social Impact Careers

Image: Katherine St. Onge, WG’16, on an impact tour at a Denver organization that teaches construction skills to at-risk students
These EMBA grads are using Wharton skills to transform social impact organizations, and the Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Fund makes it possible.

Working for a not-for-profit organization, Jodi Reynhout, WG’16, was a bit apprehensive about the cost of Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives. It’s a common concern for students working in the social impact field, as financial sponsorship is usually not an option for employers.

However, the availability of resources like the Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Fund encouraged her to self sponsor. The year after graduation, Jodi, Vice President of Administration for Esperanza, a nonprofit committed to strengthening Hispanic communities through education, economic development, and advocacy, received a $10,000 award from the Bendheim Fund. Graduates can apply once a year during the five years after graduation, and many receive the award multiple years.

Katherine St. Onge, WG’16, Director of Syndications and Institutional Partnerships at Calvert Impact Capital, said that the Bendheim Fund was also a factor in her decision to come to Wharton’s EMBA Program. “Going back to school meant taking on a lot of debt and I didn’t expect to earn a private-sector salary. The Loan Forgiveness Fund helped me decide to come to Wharton and was something I hoped I could benefit from after graduation.”

Last year, Katherine received $15,000 from the Fund and is planning to re-apply for future years. “That basically covered one year of my loan payments, which is very significant. This award shows that Wharton values the change I’m trying to make in the world and alumni pursuing non-traditional financial career paths.”

How They Are Making a Difference

At Calvert, Katherine enables individuals and institutions to invest in organizations that create measurable social and environmental impacts. Her job involves raising capital from a variety of investors, ensuring Calvert’s loan portfolio is sufficiently capitalized, and structuring loan syndication transactions for high-impact organizations.

She points to an affordable housing development that provides wrap-around services like daycare and employment training as an example of the type of investment her organization makes. It also invests in small businesses, lenders and funds that make an impact through financing the deployment of solar panels to off-grid communities in Africa.

At Esperanza, Jodi is making a difference via leadership across a broad portfolio of programs and interventions designed to transform conditions of economic poverty in low-income communities.

Jodi came to Wharton to “address community economic development and poverty alleviation efforts with the level of sophistication they deserve in terms of business approaches. I knew that Wharton would provide the level of rigor I needed to take my own – and my company’s – critical analysis to the next level.”

She added: “Nonprofits need to learn how to incorporate the tools and methodologies of the business world in their approaches to solving social problems, wherever possible and appropriate. We need to learn how to develop more diverse and nontraditional revenue streams, invest money in smarter ways, better quantify our impact evaluation, and make decisions based on data.”

At Wharton, she gained that knowledge and more. “My horizons were broadened in terms of understanding the approaches to effective social impact, whether achieved through nonprofits or other means.”

Katherine also came to Wharton’s EMBA program to gain business knowledge. Having recently transitioned into the impact investing space, she wanted to learn “hard finance skills” to accelerate her career.

Katherine said it was “definitely worthwhile. Wharton fostered my interests in this space and I learned tangible skills that are directly related to my job in impact investing, especially in advanced finance classes like corporate valuation. Impact investing doesn’t have a roadmap so having a good understanding of how traditional markets work makes it easier to translate into the impact space.”

She adds that Wharton also offers extracurricular activities for students interested in social impact like the ability to help plan the Wharton Social Impact Conference. “The School is clearly a thought leader in this area, bringing industry leaders, faculty and students together – and providing financial support to graduates committed to making an impact.”


Wharton Stories

Why Wharton’s EMBA Program is Worth Commuting to from Asia

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you fly six or 16 hours. You will grow with every challenge and figure out how to make it work, so make sure to pursue the best education possible and don’t limit yourself because of geography.”

With one of the longer commutes to Wharton, EMBA student Donatas Grabliauskas WG’19 traveled from Singapore to San Francisco in his first year and is now commuting to campus from Tokyo, Japan. Despite the long miles and airfare, he says it’s all worth it to earn a Wharton MBA.

“I wanted to make sure that I would learn as much as possible in a rigorous program. I didn’t want a watered-down MBA. Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives offers the full MBA in an executive format,” he explains, adding that he also wanted access to both coasts in the U.S. “Wharton’s EMBA Program is very unique because you can get exposure to the innovation and technology worlds of Silicon Valley as well as the finance and consulting worlds on the East Coast.”

In addition, Donatas, who works for Johnson & Johnson as marketing director, appreciates Wharton’s connections to healthcare.

When Donatas began Wharton’s EMBA program, he was commuting from Singapore, which meant a 15 to 17-hour flight each way. While his commuting time from Tokyo to San Francisco is shorter and more direct, it is still a 10-hour flight in each direction.

“The most challenging aspect of the commute is dealing with jet lag, but I’ve adapted by living in between the time zones. In Asia, I try to get up very early and go to bed earlier, so that when I’m in San Francisco there is less of a difference,” he says.

The other challenge is the financial side, as Donatas is self-sponsored. He explains, “I look at this as an investment in my education, which always has the biggest return on investment. I believe that it is important to have a learning mindset to grow and progress.”

He adds that the commute is also worth it for several other reasons:

Access to Professors

“I was surprised by the accessibility of the faculty. I’ve reached out to quite a few professors outside of class to discuss ideas and challenges I had at work. Not only were they willing to engage with me, I’ve been able to implement their feedback and research insights, directly benefiting my work. It’s like having top experts as your sounding and consulting board.


“I’m impressed with my classmates’ diverse experiences and expertise on both coasts. Whatever question I have — whether it’s in finance, law, healthcare or technology — I have classmates who are experts in those areas. It is a powerful resource.”

Senior Leaders

“Business leaders often come to campus to give talks and engage with students. I would never have that level of access to top leaders, especially outside my own industry, in my day-to-day job.”


“It’s been very valuable to deepen my quantitative and analytical skills as well as have access to the latest research on topics such as leadership. My classes are helping me to become a better leader and employee because my knowledge and skills are growing.”

When Donatas talks to prospective students about his commute, he tells them, “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you fly six or 16 hours. You will grow with every challenge and figure out how to make it work, so make sure to pursue the best education possible and don’t limit yourself because of geography.”

Posted: February 13, 2018

Wharton Stories

Five EMBA Parents Share Their Advice, Their Experience in the Program, and Their Child Care Solutions

Students and alumni share their approaches handling childcare, managing weekends away from home, and getting the most out of Wharton’s EMBA Program.
Parents in Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives find different ways to balance work, school, and family. Students figure out what works best for them and their families, including how to handle childcare, how to manage weekends away from home, and how to get the most out of the EMBA program.
We talked to a few students and alumni about their experience finding this balance. So what’s their advice for those with families who are thinking about Wharton’s EMBA program?

Keep in Touch with Your Class Manager

Dr. Marie Laure Romney, WG’18, Assistant Medical Director of Emergency Medicine Department at Kings County Hospital Center, is a second-year student on the Philadelphia campus and calls Brooklyn, NY home. Marie had her third child during her first year at Wharton.

Childcare: Marie’s husband works full-time so the couple moved her mother from Chicago to their home in New York to help care for their children during school weekends. Despite having a very organized calendar at home, there are still times when things don’t work out as planned. In those instances, her husband steps in to “pick up the pieces.”

Marie Laure enjoying some down time with her son and her two daughters. The youngest was born during Marie’s first year at Wharton.

Experience: “After having the baby, my classmates were very supportive. It was amazing to see how much they cared. That is part of what makes the Wharton EMBA experience so unique – you build deep bonds that you wouldn’t have a chance to build if you were just going home every day after classes.”

Advice: “Stay in touch with the staff, who are there to help students. My class manager checked in frequently to see what I needed. She even arranged a larger hotel room for me to share with my mom and baby when I was nursing on school weekends. The staff feel like family who are concerned about me as a person and not just as a student.”

Create “Weekend” Time with Your Kids During the Week

Maggie John, WG’18, Senior Process Engineer at U.S. Oil and Refining, is a second-year student on the San Francisco campus. A single parent of two young children (ages 11 and 5), Maggie commutes from her home in Seattle.

Childcare: Her father moved in with her to watch her children on school weekends.

Maggie John with her children and father, who moved in to help watch the children during the EMBA program.

Experience: “Going back to school as a single parent was a significant concern. The entire family was embarking on this new journey and it was important for me to minimize the impact on my kids’ lives. But this was an important cause and I wanted my children to see me work towards my goals.”

Maggie says her classmates are a “tremendous source of support,” especially the four other single parents in her cohort. When working in teams, she makes a point to talk to members about her schedule limitations. “I always tell my team when there are certain parts of the day when I’m not available. Everyone has their own limitations and we are very supportive of each other.”

Advice: Maggie converted Tuesday evenings into “weekend time” to make up for time away at school. Instead of focusing on school, they do something fun like going out to dinner or to a park. She also recommends establishing limits. “I’ve become deliberate with my time. I am comfortable saying no to commitments outside my goal areas,” she explains.

The Keys to Making It Work are Planning and Communication

Based in the greater Philadelphia area, recent alumnus Nick Lupisella, WG’17, Associate Director, U.S. Biosimilars Immunology Engagement Strategy Lead at Merck, didn’t have a long commute to campus, but finding balance for school weekends was still a priority.

Nick was a father of one with another baby on the way when he started the program — but by the time he graduated, he and his wife had three kids under the age of 3.

Nick and his wife welcomed two boy to their family during his time in the EMBA program.

Childcare: When Nick was accepted into the program, he and his wife had conversations with their parents to let them know they may need extra support. “They have been a tremendous help and are always on-call to lend a hand,” he said.

Experience: “We have plenty of challenges like our kids getting sick, high-profile work projects – whatever life throws at you. Everyone comes into this program with high personal expectations and great work ethics, but we soon realize that other parts of our life do not stop and we need to figure out a routine while working together to succeed.”

Advice: “There are times when it is extremely challenging to find balance and you need to take a step back and try again. The keys to making it work are planning and communication. It’s very important to have your partner on board with this program as it is a big sacrifice for them too. You need to align expectations so you both understand the time commitment and the reward.”

Be Thoughtful about What You Can Do and What You Cannot Do

Askay and his wife with their little girl, who they welcomed during his first year in the EMBA program.

An engagement manager at ZS Associates in San Diego, Akshay Mehta, WG’18, is a second-year student at the San Francisco campus. He and his wife welcomed their first child during his second term in school.

Childcare: “My wife and I had a conversation around how we would manage having a baby while I am in the program and came up with a plan. I also tell her my schedule in advance so we can find times to connect. I don’t want her surprised by anything or to feel like she isn’t a priority.”

Experience: “Be transparent with your study team and let them know if something comes up at work or home and you need support. Then, in the next assignment, do more than your share. Everyone is busy and needs support from time to time. By being honest and proactive with your classmates, you build trust and they will provide that support.”

Advice: “It’s hard for ambitious people to say no, but lack of sleep takes a toll. You need to learn to create boundaries and be thoughtful about what you can and cannot do.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate

Recent graduate Erin Talbot, WG’17, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Analytics at LightStream, SunTrust, now lives in San Diego, but commuted from Washington, D.C. as a student on the Philadelphia campus.

When she applied to Wharton, her son Jacob was 1 and she had her second son during the program.

Childcare: “I applied in Round 1 so that I would have more time to make arrangements if I was accepted. When I was admitted, we started making deliberate choices to make our routine more manageable. My husband decided to dial back his work, we moved into the [city] to cut down on commuting time, and we hired an au pair.”

When Erin applied to Wharton, her son Jacob was 1. She welcome her second son during the program, with lots of support from classmates.

Experience: “Of course I was concerned about how all of this would work, but I also was confident that it would be OK. As a parent, you’re already used to juggling a lot of commitments and concerns at once. You’ve learned how to manage busy times at work when your baby isn’t sleeping through the night and you’re exhausted. I knew that the EMBA program would be challenging and require a lot of time, but I already knew a lot about time management.”

Advice: “If you’re a new parent or thinking about expanding your family during your time at Wharton, I’d say go for it. Everyone at Wharton has some type of personal challenge he or she had to overcome to participate in the program. Being pregnant is just a more visible challenge. There were actually seven new moms in the class following mine. If you do decide to come to Wharton and grow your family, know your limits and be very honest about what you can and cannot do. You will need a good support system, and to delegate some things. But having a baby shouldn’t hold you back from doing this program.”

Posted: February 9, 2018

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