Nigel Edelshain, WG’93, left his native England for America to study marketing at Wharton. Today, Nigel runs a digital marketing agency, BigFish Digital Solutions (to help companies become big fish in their local ponds), and is VP of Marketing for longtime magazine publisher, Wainscot Media. Nigel has enjoyed a front-row seat to the Club’s success, and shared the key milestones accomplished by Kenny’s management team.
“Your most important job is finding your successor.”
New York is a big city. I’m still not sure how Tom Courtney, WG’90, heard about the entrepreneurs’ club that I had started for Wharton alumni. He did, and invited me to visit the Wharton Club of New York. I became very active in organizing events and other initiatives for the Club, and when Tom’s term expired in 1999, I was elected President!
In 2002, Tom, who had become Chairman of the Club, told me, “Your most important job as President now, is to find your successor.” Tom and I assembled a Club Nominating Committee, which included Hans Albeck, WG’74; Dana Michael, W’82; and Allen Levinson, W’77, WG’78. Well, you know how that story ends. We chose Kenny Beck, WG’87, as the new President of the Club. Looking back, I consider that one of my best decisions. I remember thinking at the time, “Kenny seems to have all the right ingredients to be President, because it requires someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, and that is something Kenny has plenty of.”
This year, our Board made an equally important choice, to pass the mantle of the Presidency from Kenny Beck to Regina Jaslow, W’97, and the Chairmanship from myself to Kenny. It has been an amazing 15 years for the Club and for the Wharton alumni community in the New York region. I’d like to mention four areas that made a difference.
1. Becoming financially sound
At one of our early board meetings, I remember Kenny announcing that our goal would be to grow the WCNY bank account to $1 million, which we could then use as an endowment for the Club and its membership.
When I heard that, I thought, “Well, this guy is clearly mad,” because the Club had only $40,000 in the bank. As the previous President, I was proud to have been hands-on in all aspects, from running events and increasing membership. I felt I knew quite well the operations of the Club and its ability to generate cash. I thought, “There is no way we are going to generate $1 million to put in the bank.”
I was wrong. At the WCNY board meeting this year on June 15, Roe Bonelli, WG’99, the Club’s Vice President of Finance, announced that we now have $1,388,208.23 in the bank.
Wow! Having embraced such a challenging goal and helping to accomplish it — that is an incredible feeling. It was one of those “did this really just happen?” moments. It reminded me of the feeling I had when I got that my acceptance letter from Wharton.
2. The Dinner Returns
So, how did Kenny and the Club’s management team beat the odds and make this crazy goal happen? The first part was vision. Kenny had an audacious goal, and he had a vision of how we would get there. The biggest part of this vision was bringing back the Club’s at-the-time dormant Joseph Wharton Dinner (the “JWD”). This took courage.
You see, the Club’s dinner had become an issue in the past. The situation was complicated, and it did not seem like something that was safe to wade into … to me anyway. But Kenny was not going to be put off. He announced he would bring the dinner back, knowing what a large revenue generator it had been for the Club in the past, and knowing it would drive us on to that goal of $1 million in the bank.
In fact, the dinner has done a lot more for Wharton alumni and the school than just create a fiscally strong Wharton Club of New York. It has raised the visibility of the Club many times over with the most senior and influential alumni in our community, bringing them even closer to the school and making them more aware of all the opportunities to give back to up-and-coming alums. It has strengthened the alumni network for all.
3. Take the Call
Words matter. To me, the Club always stood for networking and helping alumni benefit by connecting with other alumni. Kenny knew this, too, but condensed the several sentences we used to explain this, to three essential words: Take the Call.
That simple phrase stuck. And the fact that it stuck is incredibly important. More and more alumni “got” the concept that, when another Wharton grad or undergrad called (or emailed) them, it was in their interest to respond and it was their duty as part of the community.
If you take the call, then someone will take your call one day when it really matters to you. As Kenny would say, it’s “enlightened self-interest.” Getting this idea to stick was a big deal for all Wharton alumni.
4. First donation to the School
The Club just donated $100,000 to the Wharton School. I believe this is the first time ever that an alumni club has donated to the school — certainly of such a sizable amount.
Donating to the school speaks to the Club’s intentions of strengthening the lifetime value of a Wharton education. We’ve already made huge strides in improving the alumni experience, and now, we can contribute to growing the student experience.
A strong organization of volunteers
I mentioned that, when I was President, I was proud of the fact that I was “hands on” with the Club events and operations. In hindsight, I had a lot to learn about running a business.
From his first week in office, Kenny went about building a strong organization of volunteers. These volunteers were organized into teams, and an actual organization chart was developed. Projects were delegated to the appropriate team.
The result? The Club can achieve many times what it could when my small team tried to run the whole show. We now offer more events and more benefits for Club members than ever before.
Kenny’s biggest contribution
The Club has come so far in the past 15 years, but there’s so much more to do and so much potential in what the alumni network can be for you. I believe history will show that Kenny’s biggest contribution was finding our new President, Regina Jaslow. From what I’ve seen already, she has a great vision for the Wharton Club of New York that will make our Wharton degree even more valuable in the future than it is today.