An interview with Vishal Gupta, WG’08 Affinity Groups Chair.
The Wharton Club of New York’s affinity groups create a platform for New York area Wharton alumni to connect with others who share a common interest around an industry or have similar professional goals. The affinity groups provide a sense of community, enable small group networking, build lasting contacts, offer a venue to share industry insights, and provide career, job and investing opportunities.
Through the affinity groups, the WCNY fosters the drive and creativity in alumni who want to take up leadership positions as volunteers and give back to the Wharton community.
What are some of the affinity groups?
We now have over 12 active affinity groups.
The more established groups are:
Wharton Entrepreneurs-Education and Resource Network (WE-EARN) led by Ross Klenoff, C’94, W’94
Wharton Hedge Fund Network (WHFN) co-chaired by Joëlle (Jewel) Huijnen, WG’03, Charles Kornblith, W’05,Victor Bonilla, C’05 WG’11, and Matthew Barbas, WG’12.
Wharton Private Equity Group (WPEG) headed by Thomas Nugent, WG’84
Wharton Association of Marketers (WhAM) co-chaired by Peter Hildick-Smith, WG’81, and Judy Hoffstein, WG’81
Wharton Media and Entertainment Network (WMEN) co-chaired by Chuck Forgang, WG’78, and Peter Hildick-Smith
Career Opportunity Group, headed by Marina Segal, W’00
Wharton Real Estate Investment Group (WREI) chaired by Celina Kuoch, W’98, Eric Bashford, WG’88, and Nick Petkoff, WG’02
Wharton Investment Management Group (WIMG) led by Dushyant Pandit, WG’79
Among the more recent affinity groups are:
Wharton Education Network (WhEN), which was “relaunched” with Jay Bakhru, WG’04, coming in as the Chair
Wharton Recruiters Affinity Group (WRAG) led by Antony Sandrick, W’04
Wharton Legal Affinity Group (WhLN), which was launched this November under the leadership of Lew Tesser, WG’74, to serve as a platform for alumni with legal and judicial backgrounds.
Another area where we are trying to make a foray is to give a geographic focus to the affinity groups. One case in point is the interest in international business, cross-border investing, and public policy in the U.S.-China context, or investment and growth opportunities in Africa. We have had initial successes and are trying to build on that.
What is your role as the Chair of Affinity Groups?
I focus on the organizational aspects of the affinity groups — namely, to help set up, establish and run the affinity groups. Then, there are various Club-level policy issues that are handled. Based on what we learn from the various groups, we have created a playbook to launch and establish an affinity group. In my experience, the leadership team’s creativity and initiative are key drivers of the affinity group’s success.
What have you learned?
The various affinity groups are in different stages in their organizational life cycles; to me, this provides a great experience to cross-pollinate ideas, share best practices, and leverage learnings among and across the various affinity groups. Let’s take a four-stage view on how this enables building a community around an affinity group:
Generating interest: WhEN was relaunched earlier this spring when Jay Bakhru took over as the Chair. An outreach campaign, followed by a survey to gauge the topics of interest, helped kick-start the group. This got alumni engaged and involved early in the decision-making process. Events are being planned, with folks having the option to volunteer for one of these events to get involved. We feel ideas can flow from every member, as when Kent Trabing, WG’01, asked the Club to form a legal affinity group, the WhLN, and nominated Lew Tesser to
lead it. WhLN had its first meeting last month, with an attendance of over 20 members to draft a mission statement, set a meeting schedule for the coming year, and form subcommittees to further the professional cause of alumni with legal and judicial backgrounds.
Building a core team: By driving educational and networking events linked to tangible outcomes, Ross Klenoff, Chair of WE-EARN, has done a tremendous job of making WE-EARN entrepreneurial in every sense of the word. This has led to the members forging long-standing bonds and building a core community of leaders who have been instrumental in taking the affinity group to the next level.
Sustaining the community: The WHFN is one of the oldest affinity groups, and since its inception in 2005, has done 47 events under the leadership of Jewel, Matthew, Vic and Charles. Their secret sauce has been providing a trusted source of industry information and driving attendance in events by inviting world-class speakers. This has had a drumbeat effect in sustaining the community around what may perhaps be the largest hedge-fund-focused alumni group worldwide!
Collaboration among affinity groups and in the club: In some cases, there are opportunities for affinity groups to collaborate with each other or within the Club on an event or guest speaker. For example, this summer, the WhEN cohosted an event with the Government Relations Committee on public-private partnerships. Also, the Non-Profit Affinity Group is partnering with Career Development Committee to promote an event on Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Tune in to the WCNY website for this upcoming event in early 2015.
Another area we would like to explore is a partnership between the WRAG and the Career Development Committee in reaching out to executive recruiters and providing them access to the Wharton alumni talent pool in the New York City metro area.
How can one participate?
I’d be happy to take a phone call or respond to emails from folks interested in volunteering with the affinity groups. We also have open positions listed on the WCNY volunteer page, and I’d like to give a shout-out for the Volunteer Orientation Night on January 20, 2015. This is a great way to meet the Club’s leadership and explore areas of “enlightened self-interest.”
Vishal Gupta contributed to this article, and can be reached at email@example.com.