Melanie Zhao, W’13
One abiding thought that Melanie Zhao, W’13, Benjamin Franklin Scholars & Joseph Wharton Scholars, carried from school is that, “Everything works out because you make it work out.” She quickly put that maxim to use when, two months after moving to Manhattan and starting her first job after graduation, she realized 100-hour work weeks would not be sustainable. “I loved the industry, but I couldn’t even unpack the boxes in my apartment,” Melanie recalls. She took action, applying for and obtaining a position at the marketing firm, Digitas, where she is very happy. “It’s important for me to aspire to be and to respect the senior leadership of the firm, and I feel that way at Digitas. I was lucky to make that move, because it’s not easy finding a new job. Wharton gets credit for making me better prepared, attuned to the interview process, and just being there on the resume.”
Melanie recently attended her first homecoming as an alum. “Honestly, school was the most amazing experience — beyond the professors, and the name, it was the environment itself, so I had to come back to see friends. Plus, it’s nice to get out of the city.” Melanie grew up far from large cities, in South Carolina, and wanted to attend Wharton to pursue marketing. Her two favorite classes were on consumer behavior and creativity taught by Professor Rom Schrift, and behavioral economics taught by Professor Jason Dana. She also loved her stint as a VP of a start-up with entrepreneur Felicia Curcuru, W’07, because it gave her so much real-world experience and strategic thinking insight. Beyond her classes, Melanie served as a VP on the Restaurants Committee for the Undergraduate Hospitality and Travel Club, a team member on a Wharton Field Application project, and a member of Penn Chamber.
At Digitas, Melanie works in strategy and analysis. “We do program optimization, segmentation, new project and revenue stream assessment.” I currently work with a large financial firm, and a large insurance firm. For one client, I’m helping craft its strategy in the mobile space. It’s interesting, because insurance products are so different from the usual branded consumer good. You can’t just order it online with two-day shipping, and it’s a product you hope you’ll never have to actually use. Brand strategy is like a really fun and interesting puzzle to tackle.
Outside of work, Melanie is involved with Fighting Chance, a nonprofit that aims to change the way domestic violence is portrayed by the media and her generation, and helps victims of domestic violence escape abusive situations.