Wharton Stories

Do What You Enjoy: Recent Wharton Graduate Shares What Kept Him Grounded

Image: Christian Butts performing with Pennchants, Penn's all-male a capella group.
Christian Butts, W’18, explains how he balanced his interests inside and outside the classroom with a variety of work experiences and research opportunities at Penn.

A Cherry Hill, New Jersey native, Christian Butts, W’18, grew up singing in the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale. Not only did he get to know the city very well through choir, but music also took him overseas and ignited academic interests that he’s still pursuing today.

“My first exposure to traveling abroad was going to Spain and Germany with the choir,” Christian said. “It got me interested in international relations, history, and languages in high school. So, when I was deciding what I wanted to do during my time at Wharton, I knew it would involve international relations or policy, and BEPP was there for me.”

Concentrating in Business Economics and Public Policy (BEPP) and Social Impact and Responsibility at Wharton, Christian explored his diverse range of unique interests and experiences at Penn — including music, public policy, and international relations. As a 2018 Wharton Peer Advising Fellow, he appreciated the opportunity to share his wealth of advice with younger students.

Outside the classroom, Christian pursued his interests in diplomacy as a member of Penn’s International Affairs Association (IAA), where he helped plan and fund a free conference for high-school students as part of the IAA’s Community Engagement and Outreach branch. He was also a Perry World House Student Fellow, engaging in a variety of seminars, projects, and activities focused on critical global inquiry.

He still found time to put his musical talent to good use at Penn, too. Christian performed with Penn’s all-male a capella group, the Pennchants, and was part of the Samba Ensemble.

When asked how he juggled everything, Christian said that he stayed happy and grounded by doing what he loves.

“I balance everything a day at a time… although I do plan! If you look on your calendar two weeks in advance and add up all the things you need to do, it can get very overwhelming very quickly,” he explained.

“If you try to knock out things that are doable and do things you like, it becomes a lot easier. I’ve had less stress during my last three years at Penn, just because I’ve been trying to take classes I like more and do things I like more.”

Embracing a Variety of Work Experiences

In addition to his involvements at Penn, Christian has also worked for a variety of different organizations and causes — from academic research to investment banking — over the past few years. He interned for Morgan Stanley, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and the African American Chamber of Commerce. He learned a lot from each unique experience.

During the summer after his freshman year, Christian took two five-week internships: one at New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s office, and one at the African American Chamber of Commerce.

Christian said that three years — and many classes — later, he’s now able to look back on his internships under a different light.

“At the African American Chamber of Commerce, I learned a lot about how nonprofits run, and the kinds of tasks they need interns for. Understanding those as a senior is different from doing them as a freshman. After taking classes like BEPP214 (The Nonprofit Sector: Economic Challenges and Strategic Responses), I understand why the director asked me to do certain things,” he explained.

The following year, Christian took on an entirely different role: he worked at the SEC, in its Division of Economic and Risk Analysis (DERA). Then this past summer, Christian took a position on other side of the financial services world when he worked for Morgan Stanley, a prominent global investment bank. “In my internship after sophomore year, I learned more about how finance actually goes into the SEC’s rules… The DERA is filled with Economics and Finance PhDs who do a lot of data analysis,” he said.

In addition to his internships, Christian has also been a Wharton Public Policy Research Scholar since his sophomore year.

“I’ve been able to study international trade policy through that program. When they had a fellow come my junior fall, I took the opportunity to help her out with research,” he said. “During my four years at Penn, I did a lot of research, and I enjoyed every year of it — that’s why I gravitated towards economic consulting post-grad. I’ll be using the skills I’ve gained.”

Future Plans

Next, Christian is going to work for the Brattle Group in D.C., where he will be doing economic consulting. Having studied BEPP and Social Impact, he’s excited for the next few years and hopes to pursue his other academic interests in international relations, law, and policy later on.

“Coming into Penn, I was very interested in law! I thought for sure I would go to law school, and BEPP was part of that equation. It still is, but I think working for two to four years and getting some experience with economic consulting will help enhance my skill set,” he explained.

“I’d still really like to go to law school, and maybe do international trade or development law.”

— Linda Zou

Posted: May 21, 2018

Wharton Stories

Three Reasons This MBA Student Helped Pioneer a New Dual-Degree Program in Education Entrepreneurship

To fulfill her passionate commitment to education, Wharton student Cindy Dexin Liu, WG’18, GSE’18, worked with administrators, faculty, and mentors to become the first graduate of a new MBA/MSEd offered with Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

Cindy Dexin Liu came to Wharton with a big goal. She wanted to create a global network of schools that focus on purpose-driven, personalized learning. While at Wharton, she learned about Penn Graduate School of Education’s new program in Education Entrepreneurship, launched in 2014. Cindy applied and was admitted, finishing her second year at Wharton and her MSEd degree simultaneously as the first graduate of a new dual-degree MBA/MSEd program offered by the two schools.

“Cindy approached us about her deep interest in education during her first year at Wharton,” said Dr. Jenny Zapf, Director of Education Entrepreneurship at GSE. “At that time GSE Associate Dean Matt Hartley and I were working closely with Lisa Rudi [Director of Dual Degree Programs] and Stephan Dieckmann [Deputy Vice Dean of Wharton Academic Affairs]to create a new dual degree pathway for MBA students interested in education entrepreneurship. Over the first three years of our program (we’re now in year four) many Wharton students had expressed their interest but we had no way to bring them into our program that maximized the value of their Wharton education.”

Now four MBA/MSEd students are enrolled.

The new MBA/MSEd dual-degree program is designed to help graduates create, finance, and manage innovations in complex, multidisciplinary educational environments. After one year at Wharton, students begin 13 months of classes in GSE’s executive-format program concurrent with their second year at Wharton. Graduates may enter fields including building education technology ventures, designing schools, scaling social impact initiatives, and leading innovation in educational organizations and corporations.

“Educating students from both business and education is part of our program philosophy,” said Dr. Zapf. “We believe that to succeed, MBAs need to understand education culture, practice, research and marketplace. In turn, educators must become experts in business essentials and entrepreneurial practice.”

Each student produces a capstone project, which involves researching, prototyping, testing, and iterating on an education program, service, application, or other product. By using resources of both Wharton and GSE, Cindy turned her capstone project turned into a new school, the first step in her long-term goal to transform education.

Cindy cited benefits from the combined Wharton and GSE program that helped her realize her goals.

1. The community

Cindy has developed close relationships with both Wharton classmates (especially in the Semester in San Francisco). She credits Wharton classmate Christian Villaran, WG’18, as one of her most trusted resources.

“He is also doing an education-related startup right now and had several startups in this field already,” she said. “He helped me to think through how to approach important decisions and negotiations, and he shared his experience with me to strategize a lot of conversations in this process.”

In addition, Cindy had a strong cohort of Education Entrepreneurship classmates — educational practitioners from London, Dubai, Vietnam, China and around the world — to lean on for firsthand advice about educational systems and practices.

2. The integration of classwork

Because the MSEd is executive format, the classes meet one weekend a month, while Wharton classes take place Monday through Thursday, allowing both programs to run concurrently.

“At Wharton I concentrated on my business classes, so in Education Entrepreneurship, my education classes were especially useful,” Cindy said. “The program has a lot of business classes which may be helpful for my classmates who have stronger education background.”

Because Cindy’s Entrepreneurial Management major in the MBA program had prepared her on the business side, she doubled up on Education classes. With the new dual-degree pathway, Wharton students can use their electives and transfer credits to cover 60-70% of the tuition for the Education Entrepreneurship program.

“For me, the Foundation of Education talks about education philosophy, curriculum design, and really set a framework for me to design my own curriculums and classes,” she said. “Another class I used was Economics of Education, which talks about the macro environment of education space in the United States.”

3. The mentors

Mentors are an element of the Education Entrepreneurship program that have helped Cindy integrate and apply knowledge across the two programs.

“One of my mentors in Education Entrepreneurship is Christian Talbot, the founder of Basecamp School and an experienced head of school in innovative private schools. He’s been very responsive whenever I bug him, so I’m really grateful,” she said.

Cindy also described Dr. Zapf, the director of the Education Entrepreneurship Program, as an unofficial mentor. “I discuss with her every single decision point of my venture, because it’s so new to me,” Cindy said. “She was able either to give me direct advice or connect me to the right resource.”

Read more about how Cindy used the resources of Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco to help launch a new school.

— Kelly Andrews

Posted: May 18, 2018

Wharton Stories

How This Dual-Degree MBA Leveraged the Semester in San Francisco to Help Open a New School

Cindy Dexin Liu, WG’18, GSE’18, benefited from the close community and West Coast entrepreneurial network of Wharton San Francisco to co-found a Palo Alto alternative school.

Many Wharton MBAs try something new during their two years at Wharton. Cindy Dexin Liu started a school, and the Semester in San Francisco helped make it possible.

Cindy graduated in 2018 with an MBA in Entrepreneurial Management from the Wharton School and a Master’s in Education Entrepreneurship from Penn GSE as part of a new dual-degree program she helped establish. She began working on a school design as part of her education capstone project, using the resources of Wharton and Penn — including a Semester in San Francisco — helped her make her project into a reality. Under the leadership of Cindy’s partner, Jingjing Xu, the new K-8 school, Imagination Lab School will enroll its first students in Palo Alto in fall 2018.

“I definitely expected to open a school someday,” Cindy said. “But in a two-year, three-year, or even five-year timeline.The opportunities I came across in the Bay Area really accelerated my plan, and being able to co-found a school with someone who is experienced and resourceful has been rewarding and meaningful to me. It’s taking off at a speed that I didn’t imagine.”

The Path to Penn

The daughter of entrepreneurs, Cindy grew up in Nanjing, China, where she was involved in both business and educational nonprofits from an early age. It was her experience in nonprofits that taught her the importance of business acumen. “I found that charity, no matter which country we’re talking about, is very, very inefficient,” she said. “I think it’s really important to figure out a way to do sustainable charity, to do things more efficiently.”

While attending the University of California, Berkeley as an undergraduate, Cindy started the Spring Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on fundraising and designing summer educational programs for underprivileged orphans back home in China.

“That organization solidified my passion for not only social impact, but actually narrowed my interest down to education,” she said. “I realized education is the lever for any individual to transform their life.”

After college, Cindy took a turn at consulting with Bain in Shanghai, but she kept sight of her passion.

“I knew that all the detours I was taking would help me do social impact and education a lot better,” she said. “As soon as I kicked off this process, going to the Education Entrepreneurship program, I knew it was the right time for me to use all the toolkits I collected in the past years and directly use them to build upon my dream, which is education.”

Cindy Dexin Liu

Semester in San Francisco

Because Cindy considers the San Francisco Bay area her homebase in the U.S., when she enrolled at Wharton she knew she wanted to participate in the Semester in San Francisco. At the same time, she’d discovered and been admitted to the MSEd in Education Entrepreneurship program at Penn’s Philadelphia campus. Fortunately, the two schedules didn’t conflict.

Because the MSEd program has an executive-style schedule, Cindy was able to fully participate in Wharton classes, community, and networks in San Francisco, returning to Philadelphia for education classes once a month. Read more about how Cindy benefited from the dual degree MBA/MSEd program.

“The structure worked out perfectly,” she said. “It allowed me to be away when I need to and just come back every month to Philadelphia for class. A lot of my classmates fly in from London, Dubai, Vietnam, China, all parts of the world. Flying from West Coast to East Coast is nothing compared to them.”

At the same time, she was able to concentrate on her classes and school when she among the smaller San Francisco Wharton cohort.

“Being in San Francisco allows you to internalize a lot of things,” she said. “But at the same time, the Semester in San Francisco is a very cohesive community like a family. I also spent a lot of time just being with them and hanging out with them. A lot of really important thought partners I had for my project are from my cohort in San Francisco. I very actively and very frequently brainstorm with several specific classmates and they give me very valuable suggestions along the way.”

The Wharton Semester in San Francisco location was the perfect homebase for researching her capstone as well.

“The flexible class schedule allowed me to do a lot of outreach and networking,” Cindy said. “I initiated a round of more than 10 to 15 school visits around the nation. I visited the most innovative independent schools in the United States. I observed the classrooms, talked to school founders, and had very in-depth research into those schools. And that research actually set a really strong foundation for my own school design. The Semester in San Francisco totally enabled me to do the whole thing,” she said. “I wouldn’t even know my co-founder if not for that program.”

The Semester in San Francisco was the right place at the right time for Cindy to turn her capstone into a real school. When Altschool, a tech-backed Bay Area experimental school in Palo Alto, announced that it was closing, an opening was created in the local educational space. Cindy worked with her partner Jingjing Xu,  CEO of ETU US, worked to fill the gap for the students, parents, and teachers who were displaced.

“I jumped right on the project, trying to accelerate my school, and acquire as many educators and families from that school as possible to see if we can use the legacy, the curriculum, and the spirit in our new school,” she said. “We were able to fundraise for seven figures from different strategic partners, and we did a lot of structuring of the school — building a team, finding a space, a lot of nitty gritty, small decisions.”

The resulting school, Imagination Lab School, is part of the Global ETU family, a nonprofit K-8 school led by Altschool’s founding head of school. The curriculum incorporates a personalized, project-based learning experience and a global perspective with summer international exchanges for students and teachers. “A lot of our strategic partners are outside of the United States so we’re able to expose the students to global opportunities even at the very beginning of our school,” she said. “My partner has a lot of connections both in Palo Alto and in other parts of the world, including China.”

What’s Next

Although Cindy’s school is scheduled to open in the fall, after graduation she’s pursuing another path.

“I actually decided with my team that I will only be active during the start-up phase, and I will remain as a resource and volunteer afterward,” she said. Cindy has ambitious plans to transform education, and her experiences have taught her that she has more to learn in order to make the biggest impact. She decided to join a 7-year-old charter school in California, Yu Ming Charter School, as its Director of Operations and Strategy.

“I want to see great school models duplicated and scaled in other parts of the world,” she said. “So I really believe that we have to figure out what education works best, whatever it takes. Then we can think about out how to lower the cost, scale it, and then to democratize it to other kinds of communities around the world.”

— Kelly Andrews

Posted:

Wharton Stories

Watch: Video Highlights from the 2018 MBA Graduation Ceremony

Keynote Speaker
Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder & CEO of Chobani

In a speech that brought the audience to their feet, Hamdi Ulukaya shares the business and life lessons he learned on his journey from arriving in New York City as an immigrant from Turkey to CEO of the most influential yogurt brand in the world.


Student Speaker
Stu Barnes-Israel, WG’18

Drawing on his experience as a Captain in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, Stu Barnes-Israel, WG’18, talked about the urgent problems facing the world and the great reward that comes with living and working to solve them.


Pre-Ceremony Video: “We’re Ready”

Meet seven members of the MBA Class of 2018 and hear about the impact the last two years has made and what they hope to achieve as the newest Wharton alumni members. Before these soon-to-be graduates marched into the Palestra with their classmates, the above short video kicked off the official ceremony.


To watch a replay of the full 2018 Wharton MBA Graduation Ceremony, visit Wharton’s YouTube channel here.

Posted: May 16, 2018

Wharton Stories

The Most Inspiring Quotes from Wharton’s 2018 Graduation Speeches

Some of the brightest minds in business — and business school — shared these words of wisdom, and they’re not just for new grads.

When you’re a few steps away from collecting your diploma and starting the next chapter of your life, the words of wisdom shared at your graduation can get lost in the excitement. Often you need that inspiration long after you’ve walked across that stage.

So if you missed the advice at your own graduation or you need a few words of optimism to dig a little deeper, feel free to take some inspiration from Wharton’s graduation speakers this year.

 

“In my hut in Afghanistan, there was a quote etched on a wall – ‘Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.’ It’s a truth I think about often. We’re not at our best sipping mimosas on a beach. We’re at our best when we’re fighting for our lives. We’re at our finest in the passionate pursuit of a cause that is righteous and just and bigger than we are.”

MBA Student Graduation Speaker Stu Barnes-Israel

Stu Barnes-Israel, WG’18, Wharton MBA Student Graduation Speaker

“Think about things as differently as possible. Understand that because you are going against conventional wisdom, you should expect to be criticized by those with a vested interest in the conventional wisdom. You should just take it as noise — don’t let it change your mind. You are going to be called an idiot moments before you’re called a genius.”

Wharton EMBA San Francisco Speaker Safra Catz

— Oracle CEO Safra Catz, W’83, L’86, MBA Program for Executives San Francisco Graduation Speaker

“If you think about it, 75 percent of the S&P 500 were founded during a period of economic uncertainty or recession, and when you think about that, that’s when the great things happen. The ability to pivot during those periods of time is incredibly important.”

Wharton EMBA Graduation Speaker Bill McNabb

— Vanguard Chairman F. William McNabb III, WG’83, MBA Program for Executives Philadelphia Graduation Speaker

“The single greatest takeaway from this school is that people define our experience; and any person from any place has something to teach us.”

2018 Wharton Undergraduate Speaker Kenneth Ye

Kenneth Ye, W’18, Wharton Undergraduate Student Speaker

“We live in an environment that more than ever is trying to divide people whether based on differences in belief, ethnicity, geography, or politics. As leaders, we are positioned to not only change this narrative, but bridge the divide.”

EMBA San Francisco Student Graduation Speaker Vidya Krishna Murthy

Vidya Krishna Murthy, WG’18, Wharton San Francisco MBA Program for Executives Graduation Speaker and Cybersecurity Risk Manager at Becton Dickinson

“I can tell you with absolute conviction that managing compassionately is not just a better way to build a team, it’s a better way to build a company… It’s not just about what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s about how you’re trying to accomplish it.”

2018 Wharton Undergraduate Speaker Jeff Weiner

— LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, W’92, Wharton Undergraduate Graduation Speaker

“If you want to fly high, in business or in life, you’ve got to keep your feet on the ground, and stay rooted to see what matters most. … The Chobani journey has taught me something special: what matters most, in business and in life, is the difference you make for other people, for your community, for your country, and for humanity.”

2018 Wharton MBA Speaker Hamdi Ulukaya

— Chobani Founder, Chairman, and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, Wharton MBA Graduation Speaker

“There’s more than one way to improve society. You don’t have to work for a nonprofit or a benefits corporation, just create something new. Add value in whatever you do.”

Wharton EMBA Graduation Speaker Gregg John

Greg John, WG’18, Wharton Philadelphia MBA Program for Executives Graduation Speaker and Business Manager for National Expansion at Capital One Financial

“Perhaps there is no road as Doc Brown says in Back to the Future. Perhaps you’re the pioneer. That, of course, is the fascination with research… It’s likely that it works out but not necessarily exactly as planned but that’s the thrill of blazing the path.”

Wharton Deputy Dean Michael Gibbons

— Wharton Deputy Dean Michael Gibbons, Wharton Doctoral Programs Graduation Speaker

— Colleen Donnelly

Posted:

Wharton Stories

Wharton Resources That Helped This Doctor Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

Image: John Chou (left) with classmates
Soft skills like public speaking add unexpected value for Dr. John Chou, WG’19, in the Wharton MBA Program for Executives.

When Dr. John Chou, WG’19, came to Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives, his fear of public speaking prevented him from addressing large crowds. It even made him reluctant to talk in class. However, he recently gave a toast at a reception for over 100 admitted students and regularly speaks out in class. He credits several aspects of the EMBA program for his new public speaking skills.

“I’ve never enjoyed speaking in front of large groups. I get nervous and forget what I want to say. I came to Wharton for its rigorous focus on finance, but I discovered that the program also teaches soft skills like public speaking that are just as valuable for business leaders,” said John, who overcame his fear of public speaking in four ways at Wharton.

Coaching

Wharton offers several types of career and leadership coaching for EMBA students, including working with EMBA’s Senior Advisor on Group Effectiveness, Prof. Peter Kuriloff. “I had several sessions with Prof. Kuriloff to talk about my fear, why it occurs, and how I can manage it. He helped me think about my responses to public speaking and we practiced several techniques. That helped a lot!” said John.

Classmates

“The environment in Wharton’s EMBA program is very warm and supportive, which makes the risk of trying things a lot lower. I was honest with my classmates early on about my fear of public speaking and how that impacted my ability to contribute in class. They encouraged me to speak up and share my thoughts. They would say, ‘John – you know about this and should speak to this point.’ That helped alleviate some of the fear,” he said.

Toastmasters’ Club

John also joined the student-organized Toastmasters Club to get even more practice with public speaking. At each meeting during school weekends, students give both prepared and impromptu speeches and receive feedback from their peers. “It was helpful to work on this skill in such a safe environment with classmates, who share an interest in improving their public speaking ability.”

Communications Class

In addition, first-year EMBA students take a required core class on Management Communication, where they learn the essentials of persuasion, gain confidence in public speaking, and receive feedback. “In the first part of the course, we learned how to structure arguments and about different aspects of public speaking. The second part of the class focused on more specific types of persuasive speaking like how to deliver a speech on an innovative idea for a startup. We also practiced speaking with a teleprompter, which is a unique skill. Everyone is taking the same risks with public speaking together, so that made it easier,” he said.

One of the biggest lessons about public speaking, noted John, is that leaders need to deliver certain messages regardless of how they are feeling. “During one of my practice speeches, I received feedback that my facial expressions and body language didn’t match my message. My speech was intended to rally the troops to fight something, but in my mind, I was second guessing what I was saying and felt tired. That came across to the audience. Through feedback in that class, I learned to not let my emotions take over whether I’m talking in class or at work.”

John adds, “The skill of public speaking becomes more important as you ascend the leadership ladder because it impacts how you are perceived by others and how you relate to people. This skill can make or break you as a leader so it’s a very valuable part of the curriculum at Wharton.”

Posted: May 15, 2018

Wharton Stories

Top High School Teams Face Off in 2018 KWHS Investment Competition Global Finale

“We learned a lot from these teams, not just about different financial techniques and concepts, but also about being active participants in our community to further the goal of financial literacy.”

More than 100 high school students, along with their families, advisors, and mentors, traveled from around the world to Wharton’s Philadelphia campus to participate in the 2018 KWHS Investment Competition Global Finale on May 5.

They were all soon reminded of another journey, the one that brought them to that moment on the 8th floor of Wharton’s Jon M. Huntsman Hall. Ten weeks of team trading, deliberating, and strategizing, resulting in the submission of 300 final investment reports.

Two regional finals in India and China, providing the top six teams from those countries the opportunity to travel to the Global Finale and compete against students from Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Malaysia, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States — 18 top teams, all prepared on May 5 to give the 10-minute presentations of their lives.

They would go in front of a panel of six industry experts, several representing the day’s sponsors – Aberdeen Standard Investments, Dechert LLP, Dilworth Paxson LLP, Finclusive Capital, Principle Quest Foundation and UBS — in hopes of winning the title as the competition’s most savvy, reliable, and creative asset-management team.

Each PowerPoint or Prezi-supported presentation, delivered by four to nine students, communicated the group’s unique investment strategy, as well as summarizing its competition experience, takeaways, and team dynamics. In the allotted time of 10 minutes to present and five minutes for questions from the judges, students articulated their tactics and tools, incorporating details about proprietary algorithms, top-down, bottom-up analyses, risk attenuation and yield capitalization, qualitative and quantitative approaches to stock selection, Porter’s Five Forces and SWOT evaluations, and more — all guided by a long-term, client-focused mindset.

And the Winners Are…

It was a journey with an inspirational destination. Following 18 thought-provoking team presentations, Saturday’s judging panel selected six top teams – three winners from the top 12 teams in Region 3 and three global winners from among the full scope of competitors. Regional winners received trophies and global winners received trophies and $5,000, $2,000 and $1,000 respectively for their schools from Dilworth Paxson law firm in Philadelphia. Here are the results:

1st Place, Region 3

All You Can Eat Buffett

2nd Place, Region 3

Medici Capital

3rd Place, Region 3

ALPHA

1st Place, Global

All You Can Eat Buffett

2nd Place, Global

The Alchemy of Investments

3rd Place, Global

Scion Capital

Winning Strengths

The day’s winners were especially strong on content and creativity, punctuated by strategy pitches that dazzled the judges on a professional level.

Team All You Can Eat Buffett from Virginia, U.S., won top honors both globally and regionally: (l-r) Sachin Muralidhar, Maansi Taori, Sid Muralidhar and Suchet Taori.
(From left) Sachin Muralidhar, Maansi Taori, Sid Muralidhar, and Suchet Taori, members of Team All You Can Eat Buffett from Great Falls, Virginia, won top honors both globally and regionally.

Take, for instance, the team who took home the first place global prize: All You Can Eat Buffett. Their unique team investment strategy included a self-created, machine learning-based natural language processing algorithm that used news outlet information to predict stock market trends. The team’s multi-layered presentation incorporated humor and even the results of a direct outreach to competition client Jack Abraham.

2nd Place global winners, The Alchemy of Investments from Amity International School, Noida, India, led here by chief investment officer Jahnvi Vig.
The Alchemy of Investments team from Amity International School, Noida, India, took second place in the global competition, led here by chief investment officer Jahnvi Vig.

Second place winner The Alchemy of Investments delivered a sharp, enthusiastic and engaging presentation articulating with color and confidence its ALCHEMACRO model that reviewed economies using macro-level factors. Alchemy advisor Manvir Singh Rana, who has guided many top teams in the competition, including this year’s Pied Piper Investments, said that he is more than a teacher to his students, he is “an awakener.”

Scion Capital — who came in third place — communicated a strong client-first philosophy and brought in its team leader, Mohammad Darvish, at the end via video conference for a compelling Q&A with judges. Darvish, an Iranian citizen, was unable to secure a visa to travel to the U.S. for the competition finals.

This competition has been a great learning experience, indeed a roller coaster ride, reflected Jahnvi Vig, student team leader and chief investment officer for India’s The Alchemy of Investments.

“It was the first of November when our trading journey began and we started to explore the world of finance, until the fourth of May, when we got to meet brilliant brains from all around the world and learned the skill of negotiation [from Wharton Professor Maurice Schweitzer],” she explained. Jahnvi was one of more than 100 students who also attended the KWHS Investment Competition Learning Day on Friday, May 4, for an afternoon of speakers sharing insights on business, University of Pennsylvania admissions, and careers in asset management. “We have come out to be a group of seven confident and engaging students who have the power to tackle all obstacles that come our way.”

What Impressed the Judges

While the teams’ exploration of new knowledge and financial concepts was, at times, challenging, it was nothing compared to the task laid out before the Global Finale judging panel – to select winners from among a passionate room filled with imposing young minds and hearts.

The panel of judges at the KWHS Global Finale

Following the presentations, the judges offered a few thoughts on the day.

“In a world where divisiveness, tribalism, and rancor seem to rule, today was very much a reminder of what holds us together, and that there is a common culture — a common desire for knowledge, information, and teamwork,” said David Lawrence, founder of RANE and long-time managing director at Goldman Sachs, who urged students to always remain humble and to remember that there are no stop-gap measures in life, but only a genuine need to absorb the volatility in the stock market as well as in interpersonal relationships, and to learn from them both. “Each and every team that participated here in this room or remotely was exceptional. I can say that after being at Goldman Sachs for more than 20 years.”

Vanguard Chief Journey Officer Saras Agarwal, WG’07, said, “I’m impressed by the thoughtfulness that you bring to what you’ve done here. Clearly there’s a lot of effort. As you think about your careers going forward, have the courage in your convictions. Be purposeful in what you’re doing and be confident as you make decisions.”

“Chris Demetriou, Aberdeen Standard Investments’ CEO who was speaking here this morning, came right over to me and assured me that my job was definitely under threat in the next year or two,” quipped Iain Gillespie, corporate strategy manager for the Americas at Aberdeen Standard Investments , alluding to the students’ talent and out-of-the-box thinking.

Tackling Financial Illiteracy

The importance of financial knowledge is a key message of the KWHS Investment Competition, as well as the broader Knowledge@Wharton High School initiative, which promotes business literacy and financial literacy globally among high school students and educators through content, competitions and seminars. Financial education and access emerged as a theme that shaped the tone of Saturday’s event.

Drawing comparisons to his firm’s work related to racial inequality and the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school segregation case, Dilworth Paxson partner John Squires suggested that financial illiteracy is the separate-but-not-equal and disparate impact that is befalling today’s global citizenry.

“In the U.S. alone, 40 million people are underbanked or unbanked, and 2.5 to 3.5 billion people globally,” noted Squires, who began his career as chief IP counsel for Goldman Sachs and today is considered one of the world’s thought leaders in fintech, block chain, cybersecurity and risk. “As a firm and on behalf of one of our sponsors FinClusive, we are taking that to task, tackling financial illiteracy head-on and working with Knowledge@Wharton and KWHS to remove that as an issue. Financial access should be a basic human right. And with all the good works you’ve done here today, I think that you’ve experienced that. Be ambassadors for the knowledge that you’ve gained.”

Many investment competition teams have already started doing just that. Pied Piper Investments of Noida, India, for example, spreads financial literacy through its Piper Press newsletter, while neighboring team The Alchemy of Investments conducts community outreach on financial education through in-class visits and even a TED Talk on personal finance skills. Countless teams involved in the competition, both finalists and otherwise, have started investment clubs in their schools to develop their passion for investing and promote financial engagement and knowledge among their peers.

Sid Muralidhar, team leader of regional and global winning team All You Can Eat Buffett, counted a focus on financial literacy among his most valuable takeaways from his KWHS Investment Competition Global Finale experience.

“We met and befriended some extremely talented students from across the world – from a team in our home state of Virginia, to a team in Norway, and teams in India and China – and were very proud to be amongst them as finalists,” noted Sid, who is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Great Falls.

“We learned a lot from these teams, not just about different financial techniques and concepts, but also about being active participants in our community to further the goal of financial literacy. Hopefully, these connections and friendships will lead to some form of collaboration in the future to ensure that individuals can save, achieve their goals, and retire safely. We will continue to share information gleaned through our own research and experiences to others. In fact, we have already offered to help Wharton’s alumni outreach in Brazil take our experience to help students from Brazil participate in this competition – hopefully, they become the agents for change in their country.”

Sid added that the KWHS Investment Competition was instrumental in teaching him the power of teamwork in a secondary-education world that often advocates individual success. “Each member of our team was assigned a specific role, but more importantly, we had to find ways to support one another and compromise when we had disagreements. Each member brought a unique perspective and skill set to the table. Today, students are under pressure to outperform their peers to be admitted to college, but this competition taught us that everyone that is a team player, and shares and learns, is a winner.”

— This story was adapted from an article that originally appeared in Knowledge@Wharton High School

Posted: May 14, 2018

Wharton Stories

Top 5 Developments in Analytics From 10 Years of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative

Since the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative was founded 10 years ago, analytics have moved out of the back office and into headlines and C-suites. Wharton Professors Eric Bradlow, Pete Fader, and Raghu Iyengar reflect on the changes.

On May 9 Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI) celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a reception prior to its annual conference, Successful Applications of Customer Analytics. During the past decade, the discipline and practice has taken hold across industries, and Wharton marketing professors Eric Bradlow and Pete Fader, founding directors of WCAI, have been on the front lines working with research partners, students, and alumni.

Eric Bradlow and Deborah Wahl
Prof. Eric Bradlow with keynote speaker Deborah Wahl, G’93, WG’93, CMO of Cadillac

Knowledge@Wharton sat down with Prof. Bradlow and Prof. Raghu Iyengar, both current co-directors of WCAI, and Prof. Fader to discuss the changes in customer analytics over the past 10 years. You can find the full story and podcast at Knowledge@Wharton, or read highlights here:

Analytics are everywhere.

Iyengar: “What you see now is that there are many companies who have their own analysts. They are thinking about what are the problems that they want to solve at the company. At the same time, there is a limited bandwidth – the in-house analysts can’t work on everything.”

Bradlow: “The set of companies that have very little analytics capabilities is shrinking — and that’s a good thing. It’s shrinking fast.”

Prof. Raghu Iyengar
Prof. Raghu Iyengar

More “translators” are needed.

Bradlow: “What every company wants is someone who knows business, has the softer skills, but also knows analytics. If you want to think of it, we always talk about this Venn diagram. On the one side you have people with business knowledge. Well, there are a lot of graduating MBAs. There are a lot of people who know analytics. But people that sit at that intersection — that intersection really has not grown as fast as I thought it would.”

Iyengar: “Translators, people who are well versed in the analytics part of it, that’s great. But they also know how to manage teams. They know how to manage people who are also doing the analytics. One of the things that we’ve done with WCAI is run a very successful executive education program where we talk about three things: tools, talent, and metrics. And this idea of talent, how do you hire the right set of people? There is a difference between, let’s say, a data analyst, a data engineer, and a data scientist, and a person who can in some sense talk to all of them.”

Barriers are breaking down.

Fader: “It used to be that we’d be appealing just to those geeks and nerds within the marketing organization. But we’re seeing that analytics is a great way to break down some of the barriers. And we’re seeing just genuine conversations happening between the marketing folks and the CFO office and research and development, talent management, and so on…. We’re also seeing a greater sophistication in the skills that they have. It used to be, ‘Can we do this for them?’ And now it’s, ‘Can we help them do it better on their own?’”

Analytics still can’t solve problems without human understanding.

Iyengar: “You want to always start with a business problem. I think it’s becoming increasingly easy for many of us, when you have a conversation with companies, to start with a business problem, but that’s something we’ve seen all along, which is many times they get so involved in the problem itself or the solution that they don’t understand the problem.”

Bradlow: “There are lots of different what I would call ‘rote’ tasks where computers, artificial intelligence machines and [other applications] can actually replace [humans]. In some sense at the end of the day, we need things that are scalable and automated. That’s true. But there is also still going to be an art to it. …

“But wouldn’t it be great if in some sense all the decisions that can be made in a large-scale automated way are made in that way? That leaves us humans, who have limited capacity, actually spending time on those more subtle and difficult decisions.”

The next wave of analytics is not just customer behavior but neuroscience.

Fader: “Most of our research is about watching what people have done and projecting what they’re going to do next.

“But the really cool stuff coming up is the stuff that isn’t necessarily behavior: Neuroscience. And when we were first setting up it was kind of Star Wars far out there, ‘this will never happen.’ But, it is happening and it’s happening fast…. Once we can really get inside people’s heads and once we can really integrate what people are seeing and thinking and planning, it brings a whole new dimension to the kinds of data that we have and therefore the kinds of analytics that we’d want to use and the kinds of decisions that firms would make.”

Find the full story and podcast at Knowledge@Wharton.

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Wharton Stories

AlphaSense: An Intelligent Search Engine for Business

AlphaSense cofounder Jack Kokko, WG’08 talks with Karl Ulrich about how his days as an analyst—and as a Wharton Executive MBA student—inspired him to create an intelligent search engine for business.

A Big Problem for Analysts

As an analyst at a big Wall Street bank, Wharton Executive MBA grad Jack Kokko spent a lot of time digging through information, and he vividly remembers the feeling of “fearing that you’re missing something critical that’s putting a billion dollar deal at risk.”

Other analysts need no longer suffer as Jack did, thanks to Jack himself, CEO and founder of AlphaSense.

In Jack’s words, “AlphaSense is an intelligent search engine for knowledge workers in corporations and financial firms. We’re doing to business information what Google did for the internet. We’re organizing it and making it really fast and easy to find the information you need as a business professional.”

A Wharton Solution

The idea for the company came to Jack and his co-founder, Raj Neervannan, also WG’08, when they were doing a class project “very similar to my analyst days,” and saw that, “this problem still was there, that it was still incredibly hard to find information. It was very manual. All of these search technologies and other machine learning, AI, other technologies that had come about for many consumer applications, you had consumer web search engines and other things making things incredibly easy to find information in the web, but none of this really applied in the business world for finding business information.”

How Does AlphaSense Search?

With AlphaSense, you run a search much as you would on Google, but “what comes back is information that’s relevant for a business use case.” AlphaSense searches not just for your exact search term, but for business or financial synonyms as well, so “you don’t have to think about what words a company executive might be using in talking about the concept your searching for.”

Jack explains: “We have hundreds of algorithms that are reading every line of text and categorizing information. So our system knows what company or companies are being talked about in a given document, what industry it’s about based on the language, and many other things that help you quickly narrow down your search to a given industry, to a specific set of companies.”

But Is It A Normalized Data Set?

The results contain “content from thousands of sources, many of them licensed.” That content includes research from many Wall Street firms, including the meta data that analysts add, “but then we also apply our own AI algorithms on top of it. And our algorithms kind of do a second layer of analysis on the same kinds of things because when you have thousands of Wall Street analysts tagging research, some are doing a great job, some are doing a poor job.”

Finally, “to have kind of a really normalized data set where you can rely on that one search engine going across all these thousands of sources, you have to have everything normalized. And so we add the algorithmic analysis and tagging on top of it to correct any human mistakes or misses.”

An Information Edge

Unsurprisingly, AlphaSense has been met with cries of delight from the analyst community—once they learn about the product. Jack and his team still have to go out and sell AlphaSense, because his customers, “they’re not searching for that information edge, because they didn’t know that it was even out there, so you kind of have to go out and proactively reach out to them.”

“Today we have hundreds of hedge funds and other investment firms using the product,” Jack says. Plus they’ve raised around $35 million in VC funding, according to Crunchbase.

All because Jack and Raj thought their Wharton homework should be less work. For today’s students, if they’re using AlphaSense, it is.

Posted: May 10, 2018

Wharton Stories

Penn Team Wins First Hult Prize Ivy With Automated Light Switch

Michael Wong, W’19, Co-founder and CEO of Instahub, talks persisting through failure and the future of a simple device that saves energy one light switch at a time.

At the first-ever Hult Prize Ivy competition on April 7, six finalists gathered at Penn to pitch their answers to the Hult Prize 2018 challenge: build a “scalable, sustainable social enterprise that harnesses the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025.” The Ivy competition is a new addition to the Hult Prize initiative, and was created by Tiffany Yau, C’18, with the intention to draw student participation from Ivy League universities.

A Penn team of Wharton and Engineering students won the Ivy competition with their snap-on light switch, Instahub, which turns lights on and off by detecting motion in a room. The device was created with simplicity in mind to solve the complex and expensive installation process that usually follows traditional lighting automation. It was initially beta-tested in buildings across Penn’s campus – including Harnwell College House, Stouffer College House, W.E.B. Du Bois College House, and Jon M. Huntsman Hall – where some are still installed.

As regional Hult Prize winners from all over the world prepare for the upcoming eight-week accelerator program at London’s Ashridge Castle, Instahub’s Michael Wong, W’19, reflects on the resilience and determination that brought his team this far.

Their Second Chance

Last December, Instahub won Hult Prize@Penn, which qualified them for Hult Prize Boston, one of the 15 regional finals across the globe. At Boston, Instahub lost – but the failure was far from disheartening.

“We win here, we lose there,” Michael said. “If we lose, it’s fuel to our fire. We thought, ‘there’s a pattern to what the judges are saying, and we should listen.’”

They re-worked their pitch, strengthening their social impact angle. “People don’t think that forgetting to turn off the light can contribute to someone’s health or impact the environment. It’s how we tell the story.” Their revisions paid off at Hult Prize Ivy, where judges told the team they believed in their passionate vision.

Proving Instahub’s social impact may be an ongoing challenge, but Michael imagines a day where the device could even employ its motion sensors to save a life. “When people ask us, ‘You want to change the world with light switches?’ We’re going to confidently say, ‘Yes absolutely.’”

Moving Forward

Instahub’s preparation for the accelerator program in London includes raising capital, working towards getting safety standard certifications, and researching ways to keeping their process truly green by, for example, using recyclable materials. This summer, they will be joined by graduate and undergraduate interns, some who may be interested in learning how to launch their own ventures.

The team is also considering developing Instahub to influence human behavior for the greener. “If it can incentivize you to turn lights off, that’s the biggest impact I think we can make,” Michael said. “People are not only going to be more resource-conscious with lighting, but also with everything else.”

The idea was inspired by a pilot-test done in a dorm computer lab, after which residents themselves began switching the lights off more often. Someday, Michael hopes Instahub can become a “backup” to turning off lights.

Following the accelerator, the top six teams will pitch one last time at the Hult Prize Global Finals at the United Nations Headquarters, where the winner will be awarded $1 million to further their startup. Although the competition is steep, Michael is proud of what his team has achieved, and looking forward to networking at the event.

Instead of dwelling on the pressure, the team will be focusing more than ever. “This is beyond a competition – this is our dream,” Michael said. “And if we want to pursue our dream, we can’t let losing a competition stop us.”

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