Wharton Stories

Why I Decided to Turn My Urban Analytics Fellowship into a Thesis and Full-Time Job

A self-proclaimed “data nerd,” Ajjit Narayanan, C’19 worked on an urban analytics project through Wharton Social Impact’s WISE Fellowship throughout his time at Penn. Seeing tangible social impact outcomes, he decided to make the project the basis for his senior thesis and career.

Tell us about your path at Penn.

“Early on in my years at Penn, I took a couple of really cool urban studies and city planning classes and thought I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life. So, I became an urban studies major and along the way I also discovered that I had a passion for statistics and math.

At the end of sophomore year, I was trying to find an opportunity on campus that combined the two. I heard about the ‘Urban Analytics’ research projects through the WISE Fellowship with Wharton Social Impact, and that sounded like exactly what I wanted to be doing—the  intersection of city planning and data science.”

Tell us more about the Urban Analytics research.

 “Led by Professor Shane Jensen, the Urban Analytics research projects focus on how we can make neighborhoods more vibrant. Urban vibrancy is a concept in urban studies—how certain neighborhoods and certain communities are connected. And you can measure that in a variety of ways, like health, safety, and crime outcomes.

Different neighborhoods have different life outcomes for the people living in them. What interventions or policies can we make in certain neighborhoods that will create better life outcomes for the residents of that neighborhood? That’s the large question we are trying to answer.”

What specific project did you work on, and why did it interest you?

 “The focus of my work on this project was vacant lots. Philadelphia has a large inventory of vacant lots — around 40,000 of them — mostly due to de-industrialization and depopulation from the city. When people left the city, they left their homes and empty plots of land behind. Philadelphia is trying to determine how these lots can be more productive and valuable spaces for the community.

One thing the Philadelphia Horticultural Society does is turn these vacant lots into mini public parks. They throw out the trash and debris, plant some grass and trees, add a low wooden fence, and it becomes a green space that community residents can use however they see fit.

I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco where green space was abundant. I didn’t really realize the impact it had on me until I moved to Philadelphia. It was my first time living in a city and I realized that green space is a lot more limited in cities. Even when there are big parks, they’re concentrated in parts of the city that are usually richer and whiter than other parts of the city. For many residents in Philadelphia, green space can be hard to come by.

Vacant lots are mostly in poor and low-income neighborhoods.  What happens when these neighborhoods have access to green space that historically wasn’t there? I thought it would be interesting to analyze the impact of vacant lot greening.”

What data did you analyze?

“We pulled data from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society which is the organization that does the actual vacant lot greening. Professor John MacDonald in Penn’s Department of Criminology gave us a list of lots that they’ve greened in the past 20 years. We also pulled crime data from the Philadelphia Police Department. Then, we pulled data on the location of all vacant lots in the city from the Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections Office.

So we were able to say, ‘Okay, we have this list of vacant lots, some of them were greened and some of them weren’t greened. What do crime rates look like around the greened lots versus the control lots that weren’t greened?’ So we can do that comparison between the two.”

What did you find?

“Our biggest result was that greening seems to have a significant negative impact on particular non-violent crimes—robberies, thefts, and crimes of that nature. And that makes sense because robberies and thefts are place-based opportunity crimes. If you have lots of green space and people out and constantly monitoring the street, those kinds of opportunity-based crimes are less likely to happen because there are more witnesses.”

Why did you decide to make this project and this work your thesis?

“I really care about equity in cities. A lot of city planning revolves around how to make the lives of its residents better, and how to address inequities that have existed historically.

I didn’t really make the connection between that and vacant lot greening in the beginning, but the more I started to look at the data, the more I started to see where vacant lots were located. I saw that it really was an issue of equity because, like I said, the vacant lots were mostly concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, neighborhoods that were largely black and Hispanic, neighborhoods that were under-resourced.

I decided I wanted to make this my thesis because one, I thought the work was important, and two, Penn is a national leader in this research surrounding vacant lots. There’s research on the mental health benefits of vacant lot greening and how it affects residents who live in the neighborhood. There are also criminologists at Penn (like Professor John MacDonald) who have analyzed how vacant lot greening has affected crime from older data. So, there was a lot of institutional knowledge I could draw upon.

Professor Shane Jensen gave me the idea to make this my thesis. I asked him to be my thesis advisor, and he wholeheartedly agreed. He was as open and as inviting as a faculty advisor can be, and a great research partner.”

What got you excited while working on this project?

“If you walk around neighborhoods in West or North Philadelphia, you’re bound to run into one of these vacant lots. About a month after starting my fellowship, I was walking right by campus around 44th and Walnut, and I saw a vacant lot that’s since been turned into a community garden.

And I thought, ‘Hey, this is literally one of the lots in my dataset that I am working with.’ It was a great example of how communities could come together because it was a community garden. There’s also a rotating summer library there that people could put books in and take books out. It was really energizing to literally see the places I was studying, and see the impact they’re having in the community.”

Why are you passionate about this work? Why should others care?

“City planning as a field is very important to the development of cities. As more and more people are moving to cities, cities have to contend with how to actually plan for the influx of people and how to make city services available and equitable for all. That’s a hard process. A lot of municipal governments have traditionally made city planning decisions kind of ad hoc, or based on different, non-standardized analyses.

The one really cool part of this project is that we were able to use real data and data science to push city planners towards certain policy proposals that either worked or didn’t work. As a data nerd, I knew that the private sector uses data science to make money for really rich corporations, but there wasn’t as much work being done to use data science for real public good, or use data science to allow city governments to make decisions about how to best plan cities. This was a really cool way to get involved in that process and use data science for real public good.”

How do you think your research is going to impact Philadelphia? How do you think this work can make a positive impact in general?

“Our ultimate goal is that, by analyzing these types of public policy programs or place-specific interventions, we can go to city governments and say, ‘Hey, these are the policies that are working in these neighborhoods, and here’s how they’re working. Here are some of the ways that these policies are limiting, or can be made better.’ I hope that the work I’m doing is work that governments will hire jobs for. The ideal goal is to have city governments hire people to do this exact job.”

How does data allow us to better understand the cities informing these social impact policies?

“I think data is a good way to see, on aggregate, how neighborhoods are changing, or how policy proposals are affecting neighborhoods. But it is also important to understand the limitations of data in advancing goals related to equity and social justice.

A good example is the crime data that we were using from the Philadelphia Police Department in our analyses. It’s basically wherever the police record a crime or an arrest. In theory, it should tell us about where crimes are occurring in a city, but in reality, it’s telling us about where crimes are occurring and also where police are patrolling in a city. It’s not a true objective measure of crime.

Communities that are over-policed tend to be in low income and black and brown neighborhoods, so those are also the communities that show up most often in police crime data.

So, it’s about understanding the limitations of the data, but also using it to identify broad aggregate patterns that hopefully will illuminate some light on inequities. Data is limited by the people and the processes through which it’s collected.”

How has the Urban Analytics project positioned you for other internships or job opportunities?

“I got my last internship (and now my job) because of the skills I learned directly through this program. Last summer, I worked as a data science intern at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization in D.C. They’re doing research on the future of cities, how cities are changing right now, etc.

As a data science intern, I analyzed the impact of demographic and geographic bias inside municipal government datasets. The work I was doing with Philly municipal government data sets (such as analyzing bias in the location of vacant lots, looking at the impact of vacant lot greening on crimes) positioned me well for that internship. I recently signed a job offer to work there because the work was really interesting to me. It’s a natural continuation of the work I was doing here at Wharton Social Impact. So, in a lot of ways, the WISE Fellowship directly prepared me for internships and my job.”

Why should someone apply to this WISE Fellowship opportunity with Urban Analytics? To WISE in general?

“I think the best part about the WISE Fellowship is the community. The people you meet here are people who are also going to be interested and invested in social impact. And in the Urban Analytics project, people are going to be interested in social impact and data. I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of us, but finding those other people at Penn can be difficult. WISE makes it super easy to connect with and become friends with those people while working with super supportive staff.

If you’re at all interested in how cities are planned and how cities are designed, and if you’re a data nerd, this is the perfect place to be. You’re going to learn the perfect mix of technical skills and also meet people who are passionate about the same things you are. And they’ll direct you to resources and opportunities that can further your career goals, or your personal goals, in a way that I think no other place at Penn can do.”

Posted: June 25, 2019

Wharton Stories

Why This Visual Effects Artist and Documentary Director Pursued an MBA

Ben Murray, WG’19, plans to use his Wharton MBA to efficiently scale his businesses in the film industry and beyond.

Ben Murray, WG’19, began his career as a director and visual effects artist with a passion for documentary filmmaking. He worked his way to the top of his industry as a colorist and visual effects artist, while winning awards for his directing work.

In 2009, Ben launched his own picture finishing company, The Room. As his business gained momentum, he worked on films for legendary directors like Martin Scorsese, Michael Moore, and Ken Burns among others.

“I started that business in a vacuum, figuring everything out as I went along. The biggest revelation as a founder was that even if you minimize your own risk of exposure, you are now responsible for every employee’s livelihood and that is a great responsibility,” he said. “That experience led me to want an MBA. When I build more businesses, I want to make sure I have the training to do it in a way where I can scale to a larger size and scale faster.”

When Ben’s company was acquired by Technicolor in 2015, he became vice president of creative services. After a few years, the timing was right to go back to school, so he began researching EMBA programs.

“I liked how Wharton offers an undiluted MBA. If I was going to earn an MBA, I wanted to make sure that I got the training to grow a business. I wanted the most challenging program possible so that I would maximize my learning,” he said.

Coming from the film industry, Ben wondered what his classmates would be like. “I had some preconceptions about ‘business people,’ but I immediately discovered that there is creativity in every industry. Everyone at Wharton is here to learn, so we collaborate and learn from each other’s perspectives.”

Ben recalls how quickly he bonded with classmates during Orientation Week in Philadelphia. “We all had the same stressors that first week the program is designed to help you connect quickly with classmates. Wharton EMBA students have an extremely high EQ and are good at navigating interpersonal relationships. When you have that dynamic in a non-adversarial learning environment, you can achieve new levels as a team. That is not something you usually get to experience in the real world.”

He was also pleasantly surprised by how applicable classes were to his work. “One of my favorite returns on education has been the ability to take what I learn and test it in the real world. Some things work and some things fail, which makes the lessons hit home,” he said.

For example, Ben was able to experiment with ways to improve his communication process with direct reports. “I realized there isn’t much time in the day to do check-ins with 35 people; that was inefficient and frustrating for everyone. Applying what I learned in class, I set up informal organizations where I could learn what I need from my group, and everyone has mentorship and is empowered.”

He also applied classroom learning to model performance and productivity. “I was surprised that I could see patterns and red flags. We had the data previously, but we hadn’t used it this way. The quantitative aspect of this program adds a solid foundation to any qualitative argument and is a great starting point to come up with hypotheses for qualitative initiatives,” he said.

Now that he’s graduating, Ben decided to return to full-time entrepreneurship. One of his ventures began as a class project involving smart apparel concepts, but he’s also exploring opportunities in the film industry.

“I’m excited to be part of the disruption happening in media and to work in new and different areas. Wharton has expanded my opportunities and network. It’s given me the confidence to imagine,” he said.

Meghan Laska


Wharton Stories

General Motors’ A. Charles Thomas: Lessons Learned from a CDAO’s Journey from the Back Office to the C-Suite

During his keynote for the 2019 WCAI Conference, Chief Data & Analytics Officer A. Charles Thomas mapped out the evolution of analytics as he’s seen it in the last 20 years of his career.

The 150 faculty, students, and diverse professionals at the ninth annual Wharton Customer Analytics Conference were a testament to how much analytics has grown over the last 10 years. Wharton has been doing more than keeping pace. Today, student clubs, undergraduate and MBA analytics tracks, online programming, and a new home for faculty at the forthcoming Wharton Academic Research Building are all fueling the momentum.

“The way we make better-informed decisions is to be able to work with data scientists on unlimited data,” said Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett, opening the conference on May 16. “[Not] a blizzard of information — that could blind you. What we try to do is ensure that you can actually see the horizon.”

Dean Garrett speaking to a full room at the Inn at Penn.

Experts highlighted successful applications and notable disruptions across various industries. A day prior, attendees were invited to participate in technical workshops to hone their analytic skills.

“You’re going to hear all different kinds of speakers and I think that’s great,” said keynote speaker A. Charles Thomas, Chief Data & Analytics Officer (CDAO) at General Motors. “But I think the true value is rubbing shoulders with folks and hearing how they’re dealing with problems that are common across all contexts.”

In his keynote, Thomas outlined how the role of data and analytics has transformed over time and how companies can stay at the forefront.

Major Shifts in Analytics Roles

In the 90s, data and analytics were handled separately, and analysts worked as individual contributors. As analysts took responsibility for higher-level problem-solving and communication, they grew into trusted advisors, and then CDOs and CDAs.

Now, those responsibilities are handled by the CDAO. “You have to have singular accountability for data and analytics because you’ve got privacy, you’ve got all these other issues around legislation, around hacking and concerns,” explained Thomas. “Of course, I work with the Chief Information & Security Officer and Chief Privacy Officer. But I’m the singular tip of the spear for data, regardless of what kind of data it is.”

Analysts are now game changers with an aptitude for insight. Thomas said: “Ultimately, my job is to drive cultural transformation.”

After his presentation, Thomas sat down with WCAI Faculty Director Prof. Raghu Iyengar for an in-depth Q&A.

How Companies Can Lead with Data

Understand the business process. “My job’s not only to get people ready to lead conversations, but to make sure we understand the organizational processes so that we can inject analytics into the right place, at the right time, to get the maximum benefit,” Thomas said.

Connect the technology. A CDAO can help a company utilize all their analytics tools — or retrofit them to work.

Prioritize information. Don’t be blindsided by the volume and speed of data. Focus on insights and problem-solving.

Hold people accountable. “There’s too much pressure on analysts,” Thomas said. Everyone from top to bottom should be held accountable for what they do and business leaders have to help bring all the elements together.

Reward the results. Offer positive reinforcement (though a little “sibling” rivalry between teams won’t hurt either).

The Value of Storytelling

While serving as an advisor at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Information, Thomas wanted young analysts to understand the importance of diversity and communication. He believes that analysts should “not [be] completely enamored with Technology, Tools, Techniques, and really [focus] on the fourth T — which is Talking.”

He advises students interested in analytics to:

  1. Get your appropriate credentials.
  2. Be exceptional at what you do.
  3. Present an image that your family would be proud of.
  4. Learn how to differentiate yourself by mastering communications and storytelling.

“That’s the piece that separates the winners and the losers from the space,” added Thomas. “You can be not as good at analytics and better at storytelling, and still win.”

See the full conference agenda.

Gloria Yuen

Posted: June 19, 2019

Wharton Stories

What this Wharton Professor Wants Students to Know About Customer Centricity

Through two elective courses, an elaborate simulation, two books, and a Global Business Week in Finland and Sweden, Marketing Prof. Peter Fader offers EMBA students many opportunities to learn how customer centricity can drive profits.

Many students in Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives know Prof. Peter Fader because of his popular Probability Models elective. He also leads a Global Business Week trip in Finland and Sweden for EMBA students interested in studying customer centricity and predictive analytics. When he’s not teaching, the author of two books about customer centricity is conducting research on areas like the lifetime value of customers and sales forecasting or working at his company, Theta Equity Partners. We recently asked Prof. Fader to tell us more about teaching EMBA students and his ventures.

What do you enjoy about teaching EMBA students?

Fader: I first taught in Wharton’s EMBA Program 30 years ago in the core Marketing course. As the business world has changed, there has been an explosion in demand for knowledge about predictive analytics, so now I teach a fairly technical Probability Models elective. I enjoy teaching EMBA students because they are completely invested in learning. It’s not about the grade, but the insights from class that will lead to better decision-making — and greater profits.

What do you want students to get out of your class?

As arrogant as this sounds, I want students to see the world differently. I want them to understand the drivers of customer behavior. For example, why do people donate to a charity or choose between Uber and Lyft? I want to look at business outcomes, break them down into separate processes, and understand the nature of each one. For example, if I want to forecast a firm’s revenue stream, I break it down into how many customers they will acquire, how long those customers will stay, and how many transactions they will make.  That will do a much better job at predicting revenue than a typical ‘top-down’ approach. Many business problems can (and should) be pieced together from bottom-up in a similar manner.

As an entrepreneur, do you bring in your own experience to class?

I’ve launched two startups, and it’s wonderful to talk to EMBA students about them. The first was called Zodiac, which I co-founded with several Wharton alumni to commercialize some of the predictive models from my class. We built an SaaS platform and worked with companies in all types of industries like retail, pharmaceuticals, gaming, and travel services. Our clients gave us transactional log data, and we calculated the lifetime value of each of their customers (and gave advice about how to best leverage it). It was a great validation of my models, and I learned a lot about how to implement them in practice. We sold Zodiac to Nike in 2018.

After that sale, I turned right around and took one of the more interesting customer lifetime value (CLV) cases and launched Theta Equity Partners. We help private equity firms conduct due diligence using the idea of customer-based corporate valuation.

You’ve written two books on customer centricity and created a simulation. What is the simulation about?

There are many simulations where students try to sell as much stuff as possible. This simulation is different because it is a customer centricity simulation. The goal is to grow as profitable a customer base as possible. Students look at what kinds of customers they want to acquire, how much to spend on them, and all of the tradeoffs that customer-centric enterprises face.

How did the Global Business Week in Finland and Sweden come about?

Many firms in the Nordic countries are doing some very interesting things with customer centricity and analytics. I have great admiration for firms like Spotify, H&M, Supercell, and others. I raised the idea of a Global Business Week in this part of the world and was delighted to see such an enthusiastic response from the EMBA students.

Last year, we spent a week in Finland and Sweden talking to companies that are building themselves around their different kinds of customers and using deep behavioral insights to drive the development of new products and services. This is quite different from relying on an R&D department to figure out what to sell, as most U.S. companies operate.

I really enjoyed watching the East and West Coast students learn together and engage with the speakers. They have so much to talk about, and it’s wonderful to see them connect with the companies as well as each other. I’m looking forward to leading the trip again this year.

Read more stories about Global Business Week.

Posted: June 18, 2019

Wharton Stories

Why This Aspiring Marketing Leader Decided to Upskill with an MBA Degree

Image: Joy with fellow Wharton MBAs at TechCrunch Disrupt, a premiere startup competition, during her time at SSF.
After working the analytical side of marketing for years, Joy Sun, WG’19, saw the value in building out her broader marketing skills through a Wharton MBA.

Unlike many MBA students looking to pivot their careers, Joy Sun, WG’19, came to Wharton to upskill in her current field. “Marketing is a rare function where you can be super analytical or super creative,” she said. “Because I was coming from the analytical side, I wanted more experience in the creative side as well.”

From managing a $3.5M advertising budget to driving customer acquisition, her work at Wayfair had been mostly ROI-driven with an analytical focus. Over time, her projects started running into a separate division that focused more on the creative, storytelling side — brand marketing.

Because marketing is a broad function, a leadership position requires both general manager and technical skills. For example, marketing leaders at Wayfair manage everything from data science teams to TV advertising.

Joy decided to pursue an MBA to learn more about brand marketing and supplement her analytical experience. “I eventually want to be a well-rounded marketing leader, so I need to understand the storytelling side and how it works with the data side, and how they can be combined together.”

Practical Focus and Applicable Class Concepts

“I chose Wharton because of how robust I thought the marketing curriculum was,” she said.

“Our professors are really in touch with real-world questions, which is why I feel like they’re very valuable,” she said. In many classes, professors bring industry professionals to talk about their experiences, provide insight into marketing trends, and participate in class discussions. Joy continues to audit one of her favorite classes, Strategic Brand Management with Prof. Patti Williams, because of guest speakers such as the co-founders of Allbirds, the CMO of Taco Bell, and the marketing leadership behind IBM Watson.

Semester in San Francisco

Joy enrolled in Semester in San Francisco (SSF), an immersive learning experience for MBA students visiting Wharton’s San Francisco campus. She feels the program is a great opportunity to get a sense of the Bay Area’s vibrant economic activity.

The semester acted as her springboard into the startup space. She attended TechCrunch Disrupt where an interesting pitch from Forethought caught her attention. She introduced herself and they contacted her shortly after they won the competition. A month later, she ended up consulting for them.

Balancing Part-Time Work and School

The opportunity cost of missing two years of valuable work experience prevents some students from pursuing an MBA. Joy managed to work part-time at various startups throughout her MBA career.

“Because I’ve been working and getting exposure to a lot of different companies, I have probably seen more of how different companies are scaling than most people have. I am a full-time MBA, part-time worker. SSF makes that super easy because there are so many opportunities there,” Joy said. In total, she has worked for four startups during her MBA, from Series A to Series C, not counting her summer internship as a Product Marketing Manager at LinkedIn.

For Series A startup, Forethought, Joy has led everything marketing related — from launching a website to directing PR efforts and content marketing to co-marketing partnerships. In contrast to her work at Wayfair, she was able to work on a range of projects and leverage classroom learnings.

“Having classes in all of these varied functions actually made me a lot better at working in the startup field,” she said. “It’s a lot broader as a scope and classes that I took at Wharton, such as Partnerships, Brand Marketing, and Digital Marketing were directly applicable to startup marketing strategy and execution.”

Erin Lomboy, W’21

Posted: June 12, 2019

Wharton Stories

Lessons This Healthcare Management Student Took Away from a Trip to Ethiopia

Misha Nasrollahzadeh, WG’20, recalls how a Global Modular Course in Ethiopia with her healthcare management class helped broaden her perspective on healthcare and innovation.

Over spring break, a group of Wharton undergrads, MBAs, and Executive MBA students spent five days learning about Ethiopian culture, healthcare, and entrepreneurship as part of a Global Modular Course led by Prof. Ezekiel Emanuel and Prof. Heather Schofield.

Global Modular Courses (GMC) offer students hands-on experience in another country.

“Students are able to see many of the issues that we discuss in the classroom before the trip, in action while in Ethiopia. For example, driving for hours on bumpy dirt roads to reach rural health clinics helped bring the discussions around the importance of infrastructure to life in a way that can be hard to do in a traditional classroom,” explained Prof. Schofield.

Ethiopia was chosen as a destination this year because of its unique history and some of the challenges that it shares with other developing countries.

“The country has a rich history, a large and rapidly growing population, and low but improving literacy and health,” said Schofield. The government is evolving quickly and working aggressively to improve the lives of its citizens but faces challenging geopolitical circumstances. In short, a GMC in Ethiopia offers students the chance to see a very dynamic country at an interesting time in its growth trajectory.

(Left to right) Sophia Yang (W’20), John Wong (WG’20, EMBA), Jessica Loeb (WG’20), Roberra Aklilu (WG’20), and Misha Nasrollahzadeh (WG’20) with students from a local Ethiopian school.

Healthcare Management major Misha Nasrollahzadeh, WG’20, went to Ethiopia with prior experience working in healthcare technology in Silicon Valley. She shared some of the insights she gained from the trip and how the experience has given her a broader perspective on American healthcare.

Lessons From Another Healthcare System

In Silicon Valley, Misha worked on Castlight Health, an app designed to help users navigate their healthcare benefits in the U.S.

“We were building a product that we were hoping that people around the country would use, no matter what. We weren’t really in touch with the various types of people that might be using our app,” said Misha.

“What I saw as the biggest eye-opener is that [Ethipoia] is one of the countries at the forefront of a new model called ‘community health workers.’ They essentially take leaders from each community or village and they become the person that serves the entire community’s healthcare needs. How great would it be if you could disseminate a product, a service, whatever it might be, with someone from that community, and actually educate people, call on them, and figure out their specific needs?”

The trip was also humbling. “We’re in the middle of a narrative in the U.S. of the rising cost of healthcare, and how the sick are becoming sicker.” After visiting Ethiopia, her perspective shifted. “You realize what access to modern technology, medication, sanitation, public health-related things that we have that has really put a lot of things that developing countries are facing.

An Immersive Experience

Students had the opportunity to explore the Ethiopian culture and business environment beyond healthcare.

“We visited a community health clinic and did a walking tour to the homes of two individuals that lived in the village. That was the highlight of my whole trip — being welcomed into somebody’s home and seeing how they lived. They had a makeshift kitchen that was made out of just mud and sand that they were using to make their traditional bread, and they were really proud of what they had built.”

Another memorable stop was at the largest rose farm in Africa, which operates its own hospital and one of the top schools in the country.

“It was really cool because it was a whole community built around it,” Misha said. “We saw the floral farm and we walked over to the school, and it was just a sea of thousands of kids running up to us, screaming and trying to say hi, practicing their English, singing songs for us. We just really fell in love with the energy of these kids, being able to have fun with them a little bit, and see the school.”

Misha could see how concepts from some of her Wharton classes were being put into practice.

“I’m in MGMT 611, which is about managing established enterprises, and one of the modules of that course is talking about global strategy. One of the big discussions on the trip was around Ethiopia’s partnerships outside the country, so China and the investments that China has made in Ethiopia in infrastructure and development were a big theme in our discussions. It was interesting to see how China took one approach in the sense that they are trying to adapt to the Ethiopian culture, and how Mandarin has become something that the Ethiopian youth are learning to speak.”

The students on the trip visited shoe and garment factories to learn about Ethiopia’s manufacturing industry.

Witnessing a Transformation

This year, MBA students experienced a transformed Ethiopia under its new prime minister and when politics at large have been shifting towards more progressive ideas.

“Once we got there, we realized that healthcare was just one part of the big story of the transformation that’s going on with Ethiopia right now. I was surprised to learn about the political shift that had taken place over the last ten months that has opened up so much opportunity for economic growth and global partnerships. And then, of course, what that means for the healthcare industry there,” Misha said.

Still, while the country is experiencing profound change, Ethiopia’s pride in its long history remains.

“It was my impression walking away at the end of the trip that Ethiopia was this country with a very proud, rich heritage — the start of civilization was there and that’s still something they are very proud to talk about today. But [it’s] one that’s still in the middle of writing its story, so they’re still taking advantage of some of the timing opportunities to progress the country forward and put themselves on the map.”

All photos courtesy of Roberra Aklilu, WG’20.

— Elis Pill, C’19


Wharton Stories

How This Penn Alum Is Revitalizing Education and Healthcare Through Cocoa Farms in Ghana

“What we were finding was that we were onto something big and something different, something that wasn’t just confined to my community, Tarkwa Breman, alone.”

When Shadrack Frimpong, C’15, returned to his native Ghana after graduation to implement his President’s Engagement Prize-winning project, he had plans to return to the U.S. for medical school the following year. But his project — sustaining a girls’ school and a community health clinic through proceeds from a cocoa farm — turned out to be a revolutionary farm-for-impact model.

This year, he’s back at Penn as a Master’s student in Nonprofit Leadership. He shares how his upbringing in rural Ghana inspired him to create better educational opportunities and more equitable healthcare for Ghanaians working in the cocoa farming industry.

Interview Highlights

On Injustice as a Driving Force
“People always ask me ‘how did you know you wanted to do this?’ And I always tell people it has to come from a place of pain and anger. For me, it was because, in the first decade of my life, I didn’t know what electricity or running water was, growing up in the village. My parents were cocoa farmers. And then, coming to Penn, taking classes, I remember Biology 101 with Prof. Scott Poethig, he talked about how Ghana is a world’s second-leading exporter of cocoa [and] rakes in about 2 billion dollars in export every year. I saw that and said: ‘So why’s my family so poor?’ That kind of anger really always stayed with me, and it turned out I wasn’t the only person feeling that anger. These Ghanaian friends of mine also felt the same issue. Even though we came from different economic backgrounds […], that injustice pushed us.” — Shadrack Frimpong

On a Game-Changing Model
When we started, for me the goal was to go spend one year in Ghana and come back to the US and go to medical school. When we applied for the President’s Engagement Prize, it was to build a tuition-free girls school and a community clinic that would be supported — keyword being supported — with proceeds from the community farm. And it was just in one community. […] Then, over the years, we’ve kept doing this, and after a year I got an email the Clinton Foundation. Chelsea Clinton says that I would love for you to come to the office in New York. We meet, I talk about the model, she looks at me and she’s like: ‘Listen, I’ve been working with this foundation for a while. This idea is game-changing.’ […] What we were finding was that we were onto something big and something different, something that wasn’t just confined to my community, Tarkwa Breman, alone.” — Shadrack Frimpong

On Keeping Students in School
“What we noticed in Ghana is that the Ghanaian educational system provides tuition-free education in the sense that they pay teachers’ salaries. But then there were other factors like books, uniforms, transportation, all these things were not being taken care of. You had a rural attendance of most schools being around 60%. […] That’s where what we call the ‘farm-for-impact’ model [came in]. […] When we did that, parental engagement improved, student attendance improved. Compared to the national rural attendance rate of 60%, at our girls school the attendance rate is as high as 98%.” — Shadrack Frimpong




Wharton Stories

The Benjamin Franklin Society Issues a $1M Challenge to Celebrate Wharton’s Founding

The Wharton Fund has to reach 1881 donors by June 30 in order to unlock another $1 million in funds benefiting the School.

The Benjamin Franklin Society (BFS) has been the University of Pennsylvania’s leadership annual giving circle for over 60 years. Every year, members of the Society gift upwards of $2,500 to The Wharton Fund — an unrestricted fund that allows donations to go directly where Wharton needs them most.

To commemorate the founding of Wharton in 1881, an exciting challenge has been issued to the Wharton community by a select group of leadership donors. The goal: gain 1,881 members of the Benjamin Franklin Society in the 2019 fiscal year, which will unlock an additional $1 million in funds benefiting the School. (Why such a specific number? 1881 is the year Wharton was founded as the first collegiate business school.)

From reducing tuition costs to enriching academics, research, and partnerships, here are a few ways those funds continue to support vital Wharton resources.

5 Resources Supported by The Wharton Fund:

Wharton San Francisco

18 years in SF
1,100+ degrees awarded

Strategically placed in the middle of tech giants and start-ups, the San Francisco campus is a platform for student, alumni, and University partners to engage on the West Coast. It’s home to the West Coast cohort of the MBA Program for Executives (EMBA), the Semester in San Francisco cohort of the full-time MBA program, and the Open Space Pilot program that provides free co-working space for Penn alumni.

MBA Career Management

3,700+ appointments booked
1,200 students advised per year

With hundreds of employers offering jobs to Wharton students every year, MBA Career Management is essential in providing career support for students and alumni on both Coasts as well as building strong relationships with employers like Salesforce, Lyft, Airbnb, Estée Lauder, and BlackRock. There were over 1,000 career coaching sessions given in the 2018-19 academic year, including on-site advising programs during Reunion Weekend and Wharton Global Forums.

2401 Walnut

500 students every weekday
200+ special events hosted in a year
9,000+ event attendees

The 2401 Walnut facility is located close to Center City where most Wharton MBA students reside and exists for the primary purpose of enhancing MBA student life. Serving as a hub away from campus, the space is used for individual or group study, meetings, small gatherings, special events, club activities, and more.

Wharton Graduate Association (WGA)

WGA team members. Photo courtesy of WGA.

100+ events organized in a year

WGA is an independent, student-run, non-profit organization that manages MBA student activities and initiatives and strives to build an inclusive community. WGA leaders communicate directly with Wharton’s administration to help provide monetary and logistical resources to over 150 student-run clubs and events, from conferences to scavenger hunts.

Global Modular Courses (GMC)

Healthcare GMC to Ethiopia during spring break 2019. Photo courtesy of Roberra Aklilu, WG’20.

3-7 days in another region of the world
400+ participants per year

The first Global Modular Course launched in 2009 with a focus on healthcare in India. Following its success, Wharton Global Initiatives worked with Wharton faculty to build out courses at 12 destinations across the globe, partnering with local institutions like Tel Aviv University, Guanghua University, and Singapore Management University. Regularly in high-demand, GMCs are the only Wharton courses that bring EMBA, MBA, and undergraduate students together to meet speakers, visit companies, and explore relevant business topics on location.

Become a BFS member and help Wharton unlock $1 Million.

— Gloria Yuen


Wharton Stories

How Wharton’s EMBA Program Helped this Alum Transition from Software Entrepreneur to Chief Strategy Officer

Raj Ratnakar, WG’05, comes to campus several times a year to mentor current students and talk to prospective applicants about how Wharton impacted his career.

When Raj Ratnakar, WG’05, began Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives, he was an entrepreneur running a successful software business in Kansas City. His primary goal coming to Wharton was to learn about best business practices and gain skills that he could use to grow his company.

He chose Wharton for its reputation and rigorous curriculum. “I’ve known about Wharton as a top business school since I was a child in India. While I did look at other EMBA programs, they just did not compare. Wharton is the only EMBA program that offers the same MBA curriculum and breadth of learning options as the full-time program,” he said.

Since graduation, Raj’s career has accelerated in a new direction. He explained: “I wanted to apply the strategic and analytic tools I gained at Wharton to something bigger than my business. So, I sold my company and joined McKinsey’s telecom and tech practice, where I helped global corporations with problems in strategy, marketing and sales, M&A, and private equity.”

Four years later, he became head of strategy at Tyco Electronics and later joined Danaher (a $20B revenue conglomerate), as vice president of strategy and M&A. At Danaher, he was responsible for driving portfolio transformation. He led the effort to spin-off the industrial portions of Danaher into a separate NYSE-listed company called Fortive. He shaped the strategy for the newly created spin-off and led portfolio moves into faster growing markets in Industrial Software and Medical Technologies, delivering best-in-class stock market performance.

Raj at NYSE with his colleagues the day they listed Fortive.

He recently took on his current role of chief strategy officer for DuPont, just as the company is getting ready to spin-off as a new entity. He will be responsible for driving organic growth, portfolio evolution, and best-in-class operating system for the company.

“Wharton made all the difference in my career,” Raj said. “Without Wharton’s EMBA program, I wouldn’t be in this position. My Wharton MBA gave me a solid business foundation and opened doors to new opportunities.”

Since graduation, Raj has been returning to campus several times a year to mentor current EMBA students and engage with the School. “When I was a student, I was not clear on career possibilities for the long run and how an MBA program would help. I didn’t have a lot of family with successful careers in the U.S. to get advice from. Wharton brought in many business leaders to speak to students throughout the program and hearing their stories was very valuable. I enjoy coming to campus and helping students by telling my story and providing coaching at career mentoring events.”

Raj at Wharton graduation with class manager Diane Harvey and classmates.

Raj also attends admissions information receptions, where he shares his experiences at Wharton with prospective applicants. The top two questions he gets at those receptions are:

How has Wharton impacted your career?

“I explain that Wharton has made a huge impact on my career from the education to the world perspectives to the networks. It was the building block for everything else that I have achieved in my career — it helped me get to where I am today.”

What is the return on investment (ROI)? Is Wharton worth it?

“Nothing is more valuable than education. The ROI is infinite. In addition to the credential on your resume, Wharton gives you the knowledge and tools you need to succeed. You come out significantly richer than when you entered in terms of knowledge, network, and perspectives.”

— Meghan Laska

Posted: June 11, 2019

Wharton Stories

The 3 Things That Set Wharton Apart for This EMBA Student

Ettore Comi, WG’19, explains how Wharton’s rigorous admissions requirements, residential aspect, and leadership coaching set it apart from other programs.

Working in the litigation-consulting field, Ettore Comi, WG’19, came to Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives to strengthen his knowledge in finance and accelerate the transition from case manager to expert witness. He also wanted an MBA to gain more formal training in leadership and management.

As he researched EMBA programs, Ettore discovered three “important differentiators” at Wharton.

1. The Value of the GMAT

The first was the requirement for all applicants to take the GMAT, GRE or Executive Assessment. “Some programs don’t have that requirement or give a waiver more easily, but I think it is valuable. The willingness to prepare to take a test signals your motivation and I wanted to learn with motivated classmates. It also validated that the School has the same requirements for full-time MBA students as executive MBA students,” said Ettore.

The first time he took the GMAT was a learning experience. He explained, “I saw that regardless of your background, it’s important to learn the techniques and timing of the test. So, I got test-prep books and took many practice tests. A few months later, I took the test again and my score went up significantly.”

2. The Importance of In-Person Learning and Bonding

Another differentiator he found at Wharton was the residential requirement. “That extra time with classmates to have dinner together, study, work on projects, and hang out helps build comradery that you wouldn’t get if you went home after classes. I also liked how Wharton has no online component; learning with classmates and building your network is a big benefit of this program.”

Ettore (second from right) with his Washington, D.C. study group.

3. Learning to Become a Better Manager

The third aspect that set Wharton apart for Ettore was something he learned about once he started the program: free leadership coaching through the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program (ECFP), which supports Wharton MBA students in their pursuit of deeper self-awareness and improved leadership skills.

“I did a 360-degree assessment, which I had never done before. I received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, that increased my self-awareness. Then, I met with a coach to work on areas I wanted to improve,” said Ettore.

He noted that he’s already seeing a career impact from his Wharton education and coaching. Last year, he co-authored an expert report, and he is currently testifying on a case as an expert witness.

“I’m also a better manager because I learned how to manage different types of people rather than applying the same style for everyone,” he said.

Ettore added, “I’m glad I came to this program because I’ve made great connections and am part of a powerful network. This program is helping me to achieve my goals. While it’s tough and intense, I’m going to miss coming to school every other Friday when I graduate.”

Read about how a technologist used the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program to become a corporate strategy leader.

Posted: June 4, 2019

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