Kenny Beck, WG’87, is the 18th President of the Wharton Club of New York. We look back at the history of the Club and its leaders, and talk to Kenny about why he is an unabashed advocate for the Club today.
Paul Paulson, WG’59, founded the Club for graduate students in 1962. (see the Summer 2013 article on Paul). The Club took a significant leap in 1970 under the enthusiastic leadership of our second President, Bob Bedell, WG’68. Bob created the first Joseph Wharton Dinner in 1972, honoring David Mahoney, Chair of Norton Simon (see the Winter 2012 issue).
From 1973 until 1994, 13 Presidents served, often under the Chairmanships of Bob Bedell (1983 to 1987), and Andrew G. McMaster, Jr., WG’76, Vice Chairman of Deloitte & Touche (1988 to 1991) Those Presidents were:
Robert Grasso, WG’68
Robert J. Moran, WG’65
Robert G. Rogers, Jr., WG’69
Donald Challis, C’64, WG’66
John J. Trojan, Jr., WG’70
Richard S. Carmichael, EE’65, WG’69
David Bougopoulos, WG’75
Andrew G. McMaster, Jr., WG’76 J.
Michael Anderson, WG’68
Denis A. Keneally, WG’80
Paul J. Reszutek, W’79, WG’79
Carl Trop, W’81
Myrna de Jesus, WG’70
In 1992, the University of Pennsylvania made a huge effort to establish The Penn Club in Manhattan The University campaigned senior alumni to support The Penn Club. In that year and the next, the Club tried to hold the Joseph P. Wharton Dinner, but senior alumni couldn’t do both. In 1991, the last recorded dinner honored James D. Robinson III, CEO of Amex, with Leonard A. Lauder, W’54, as a passionate keynote speaker.
In 1995, Tom Courtney, WG’90, proposed fresh ideas to rejuvenate the WCNY and implemented them. Tom also discovered Nigel Edelshain, WG’93, who became President in 1999 (see the two articles in this issue — on Pages 4 and 8).
From 2003 until July of this year, Kenny Beck led the WCNY, revived the Joseph Wharton Dinner, and created a blueprint for how an alumni club can grow and thrive.
You have been President for 15 years. What are you going to do now?
I am going to Disneyland! Look, Wharton changed my life. I met my wife there. I made a lot of friends both on campus and through the Club, and started a student credit union. I sold a business, found my business partner, launched a business and got a phenomenal education. It is a lifelong commitment, and if you stay involved, it pays lifelong dividends (oh, what a Wharton thing to say). I am not going anywhere.
Isn’t that what FDR said?
No, he did not go to Wharton, and I am not going to die in office. Now that I am Chairman of the Board, I have a whole new agenda … we need a global alumni association!
How did you first get involved, and how did we get here from there?
I acquired an office furniture dealer in Manhattan and I thought the WCNY would be my competitive advantage. I went to a meeting and found 12 really committed volunteers who ran several quality events each year. I said, “Guys, this is not going to help me sell office furniture.” Nigel let me set up a Leads Council (a noncompetitive group of Wharton alumni who exchange business leads), and in nine months, I had over $1 million in sales. So it was in my enlightened self-interest to get more involved.
Today, we have over 250 volunteers and run 200 to 300 events, meetings and activities a year. But, more importantly, we provide real value to over 30,000 alumni in the New York metropolitan area.
What makes WCNY so different?
Most alumni associations run events. The problem is that most alumni do not want to attend events. We connect alumni to one another; to people, information and resources available only through the alumni community; and to the school.
Everything we do is based on three principles:
• Enlightened self-interest. You have to give to get, but when you help someone else, you wind up helping yourself, too.
• Tangible results. Networking and events are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. You should be able to find anything you need through the community; the events are just one channel of distribution.
• Small, interactive events. These are more valuable and effective than large, passive events. We would rather you be in a room with five Wharton alumni getting to know one another than 500 alumni listening to a speaker.
Then, it is all wrapped together by the concept of “Take the Call.” You have heard that once or twice before, right?
“Take the Call” has become a Wharton way of life around the world. How did you do it?
I didn’t — we did. I was in the right place at the right time, with the right skill sets. It was in my enlightened self-interest to get involved. I set the vision and the mission, created the organization chart, and filled it with the most talented, amazing people in the world — Wharton alumni. How could we go wrong?
The vision was that alumni associations can be more than a group of young alumni who run events. Alumni associations can and should be a valuable resource, available only to those who graduated. The mission is to help alumni and the school succeed. Everything flows out of the vision and the mission.
We have a shared experience. Only 90,000 people in a world of 7 billion people have ever attended our school. There is strength in those numbers, and we leveraged that strength to the benefit of all alumni and the school.
The fact is that the education we received while on campus was the best you can get. The experience was unbelievable, but it was only two or four years of our lives. We are alumni forever. It is in all our enlightened self-interest that the school and each of us succeed.
If you do not take full advantage of the community for the rest of your life, you are not getting the ROI on the time and money that you (and your parents) invested to attend. We basically redefined the purpose of alumni associations and proved that this new model can work to everyone’s advantage.
What did we do that was important to the evolution of the WCNY?
It’s all about relationships. Everyone always says that people are your greatest assets. We have great people. I would argue, however, that the relationships among the people are the most valuable — business, personal and with the school. We created an environment that encouraged and nurtured those relationships, and by the way, I took full advantage. The friendships I made through my involvement are unbelievable.
Establishing the infrastructure
The infrastructure we created is rigid enough that, when you do not have the right people in place, the minimum still gets done. But it is also flexible enough that, when you do have the right people, they can do remarkable things. We had great people, and they did great things.
From the vision and the mission, to volunteer management, budget and planning, and this magazine, the infrastructure we put in place allows people to pursue their interests, while helping the community and the school with enlightened self-interest as the driving force. (Have I said that enough?)
Finally, how amazing (though not surprising) is it that so many talented people are involved in our succession planning so that it can occur without any drama?
Regina Jaslow, W’97, is phenomenal. She started as a Committee Chair and then served as VP of two different divisions, and now, she is going to be President. The best part about it is she, along with all our other talented VPs, board members and volunteers (too many to name here, but you know who are you are), are prepared to take the Club to new heights.
Reviving the Joseph Wharton Awards Dinner
Celebrating the Wharton community is paramount. The breadth and depth of our alumni community are unbelievable. Historically, we have not done a good job of promoting ourselves. Recognizing Wharton alumni and their achievements is great for the entire community and the school.
It did not hurt that we donated $100,000 to the Wharton School, and sent the check this July.
Is there anything else you want to say?
To everyone, I say, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to serve as President of the Wharton Club of New York. It has made a huge difference in my life and, I hope, in your life, too.
The Wharton alumni network is your most powerful tool for business, social, career and intellectual growth. Use it … and Take the Call!