There is a bit of a Wharton microcosm growing in Bangkok. In many cases, we see Wharton alumni helping one another out—“taking the call,” as the saying goes. But in this case, the cluster of Wharton alumni growing in a company Agoda is “unusual and not particularly deliberate,” says Peter Allen WG00, who was eager to share the story.
Allen, who serves as vice president of people and organizational development for the online hotel booking platform, notes that the increase in Wharton alumni at the company is tied to a small growing presence of MBAs in the company—about 20 in all. Some are from INSEAD; Columbia is represented. Harvard Business School is not.
Why is Agoda hiring Wharton grads? The main reason is that the company likes to hire smart people. And besides intelligence, the company’s culture also tends to attract people who are analytical, innovative, and humble. Not surprisingly, Allen says, Wharton alumni score highly on these leadership qualities.
“These are things that we either learned or developed during our Wharton education,” he says. “It has given the company a real level of confidence to be able to hire people of this caliber.”
Agoda began in 2000 as an online travel agency founded by two Americans in Thailand. They sold it to the Priceline Group in 2007, and now the Bangkok-operated, Singapore-based company has 2,300 employees in 31 countries.
The Wharton toehold began when John W. Brown WG02 joined in 2010 as a vice president (he’s now chief operating officer). Allen came next in 2012. He serves on the executive leadership team with Brown, so they interact regularly. Plus, three other Wharton alumni work on Allen’s team—Jeff Lee G11 WG11, director of operations and compensation; Jay Suvarnasuddhi WG14; and extern Tricia Chandiramani W11.
Other Wharton alumni in Agoda include Thomas Lee WG09, country head, Korea; Taylor Valore G13 WG13, product owner; Kris Suebjaklap WG15, partner analytics; and Yanika Phuvatanaraksa WG14 (digital marketing). At parent company Priceline, there’s Glenn Fogel W83, EVP and head of worldwide strategy and planning.
Many of the Agoda alums do not have backgrounds in what they are doing now, but that’s where the broad Wharton training comes in again.
Allen included. He graduated Haverford College with degrees in English and Classics and followed them up with a Ph.D. at Chicago in Comparative Literature. His brother was a Wharton grad, so when he wanted to pivot, he knew of a good way: an MBA. “I am a humanist at the core,” Allen sums up, adding that he enjoys being able to bring his understanding of human behavior to make a difference in the business world.
In his current role, as head of HR, Allen views himself and his team as advisers for the operational leaders. Which helps explains why he in particular has brought on Wharton people and other bright individuals with broad backgrounds.
“We have to be at least as smart as the people we’re talking to or they’re not going to listen to us,” he says.
Wherever the Whartonites may be in Agoda, the hope is that the small contingent attracts more.
“Intelligence, savvy and teamwork … that really makes Wharton alumni very attractive for us to hire,” Allen says.