02 January, 2016
I’m not an alum in demand. Perhaps because I started late in life, receiving my MBA at the age of 44, it never occurred to me to rise to the top of my industry. Instead, I do my job well, and then focus my energy on writing, researching entrepreneurship and puttering about the garden. I will not go down in history. So, I don’t raise my association to Wharton at work. Even as Founder and Editor of the Wharton Club of New York Magazine, when I invite alumni (who will go down in history) to be interviewed, I often forget to sign my letters with my postnominal abbreviation, WG’01.
I’m a bit of an outlier. Yet from my alma mater, there are many outliers — who impact the world beyond the Wharton School’s traditional strengths: consulting, banking, real estate and finance. For example, I’ve interviewed alumni who are:
- World experts in consumer satisfaction like James David Power, WG’59, of JD Power, and Brett Hurt, WG’99, of Bazaarvoice
- Entrepreneurial mavericks like Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, both WG’10, of Warby Parker, and Farhad Mohit, WG’96, Shopzillla
- Classic retailers like Roger Farah, W’75, of Ralph Lauren, and Jay Baker, W’56, of Kohl’s
- Titans of media, Brian Roberts, W’81, of Comcast; cosmetics, Leonard A. Lauder, W’54, of Estee Lauder; and the $3.4 trillion impact investing movement, D. Wayne Silby, W’70, founder of Calvert
From conversations with these diverse alumni, the common thread that I see is — what makes us alumni is as much the sweat, luck and courage to get into the school — as it is the hard work and teamwork to get out of the school.
I thought on this recently because I came across a news item on the 2016 presidential race in the Philippines, where one candidate suddenly proclaimed that another candidate, Mar Roxas, W’79 (who has served as the Secretary of Trade, Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of the Interior under various administrations), has lied all these years about being a Wharton alum. Even after a graduation certificate was shown, some declared that Mr. Roxas was not a graduate of the Wharton School, because he attended only the undergraduate program.
Now, the Philippines is one of my favorite countries, because the Philippine people are the biggest fans of my podcast, The Immigrant Entrepreneur. One day, I had over 12,000 downloads from that country.
I interview superstars like Slava Rubin of Belarus, Founder of Indiegogo, or Jose Prendes of Cuba, Founder of PureFormulas; CEOs and teachers (Steli Efti of Greece, Pat Flynn of the Philippines, Hiten Shah of Zambia and India, and Gary Vaynerchuk of Belarus); or people who move you to tears, like Due Quach of Vietnam. The Philippine people show heart and resilience, and in recent years, they are starting and growing more companies. Perhaps that’s why they listen to my interviews of people who are from tough places and creating outsized success.
So, for one of my favorite countries and, of course, my favorite school, I spent some time on January 1, to understand and shed some light on who are alumni! As it turns out, the confusion is that some elite business schools focus on undergraduates, while others do not.
The Wharton School does offer both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Thus, it has only one alumni directory and only one Dean, Geoffrey Garrett. Other schools offering undergraduate degrees are the Sloan School of Management at MIT and the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Business schools that offer only postgraduate degrees include the Booth School of Business (University of Chicago), Harvard Business School (Harvard) and Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern).
Are graduates from the undergraduate program less qualified than those from the postgraduate program?
You decide. First, it’s generally believed by students at Wharton (and I suspect at Sloan and Haas as well) that it is markedly more difficult to enter the undergraduate program than the graduate program, because it is markedly less expensive. Second, the Wharton undergraduate program has for years been ranked No. 1, whereas the MBA ranking slid from first for the first time in years. Third, in terms of contributions to society and back to the school, I know of comparisons made. If we look at individual alumni, besides the titans mentioned above (Roberts, Baker, Lauder and Silby), here are three more who attended solely the Wharton undergraduate program: Elon Musk, W’97 (Founder of Tesla and SpaceX); Jeffrey Weiner, W’92 (CEO of LinkedIn); and Jon M. Huntsman, W’59 (Founder of Huntsman Corp.; donor of Huntsman Hall, the main building for the Wharton School; and one of the America’s greatest philanthropists).
Whether one is attending the undergraduate or postgraduate school, I think most important is one’s thirst to learn. My own recollection is that, when I applied and was accepted into Columbia, NYU and Wharton for their MBA programs in 1999, it was on the basis of scoring high on my GMAT exam and a strong essay, because I’d actually dropped out of college two decades past (and needed quickly to finish a semester’s worth of classes online). I recall visiting Wharton’s Vice Dean Howie Kaufold, and confessed a lack of confidence in myself to keep up at what was rumored to be a grueling program. He told me, “Don’t worry. That’s our job to know what you can do here. We think you’re a team player, and you’ll add to the team.” Of course, I did struggle, but with my classmates’ help, I also excelled.
Allan Bloom wrote, “Education is the movement from darkness to light.” Whether it’s education in America or the Philippines, whether you help make history or simply help others, on any level, it is a worthy investment.