When, in 2013, Wharton began the More Than Ever campaign, there was no predicting exactly what the next eight years would hold, no crystal ball that foretold the global shifts and challenges that would unfold. There was simply the long-held belief that part of what makes Wharton great is its ability to constantly evolve, to respond to challenges, and to help shape the world through innovation, ideas, and action.
That belief was enough.
Today, Wharton is celebrating the end of a remarkable campaign that’s spanned many classes, three deans, and a global pandemic; connected record-breaking numbers of Wharton alumni and friends (more than 26,000 donors); and raised more than one billion dollars — a milestone only one other business school in the country has ever seen.
Of course, impressive as that is, the campaign wasn’t about setting records. It was about teeing up an even brighter future at a moment when business is deeply intertwined with science, education, government, and technology, says Marc Rowan W84 WG85, who co-chaired the campaign alongside Jamie Dinan W81: “It was about embracing the change that’s happening and being a leader in that change.”
In fact, the evolution that the campaign aimed to empower has already begun. New professorships, new teaching initiatives, and new research mean Wharton can continue to attract top worldwide talent. New facilities like the Academic Research Building and Tangen Hall are fresh hubs for creation and collaboration on campus, while academics are expanding in new directions, from sports analytics to quantitative finance to fintech.
Naturally, there have been some significant challenges on the journey, says Sam Lundquist, Wharton’s chief advancement officer and head of External Affairs — most notably, the havoc that COVID wreaked around the globe. The pandemic’s impact was felt from Philadelphia to San Francisco and far beyond, as campuses closed, international events were canceled, in-person Reunions were postponed, and alumni-club gatherings moved online.
In the end? The response to the campaign actually increased during the pandemic, with a 27 percent boost in the average number of Wharton events attended per alumnus/alumna in fiscal year 2021 and an 18 percent jump in unique donors in that same period. And over the course of the campaign, Wharton saw unprecedented levels of participation, including vital levels of giving to the Wharton Fund — a fund fueled by unrestricted financial gifts supporting the School’s most essential functions, from research to infrastructure to IT. It was this giving that allowed for the flexibility and agility Wharton needed to respond to the crisis, all while still moving forward.
Another striking aspect of the campaign, Lundquist says, was how often he heard directly from alumni happy to support the School, particularly during the pandemic. In a time of isolation and uncertainty, he says, the uptick in notes from alumni “signaled to me a real desire for a connection to the institutions that really matter to people.” Says Dinan, “That connection — the powerful link between the School and its alumni, between the campus and the world — is what fueled the campaign.” It’s also helping to pave the path ahead.
“At this moment, we’re poised for a future with more opportunities than ever,” says Dean Erika James, who joined Wharton in July 2020. “More connection and more global reach, more access and support for our students, more research, more growth, more innovation, more impact.”
Incubating Ideas That Will Shape the Future
Curious about how much business school has changed in recent years? Just look at the students, says Diana Robertson, vice dean and director of the Wharton Undergraduate Division and the Samuel A. Blank Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics. For one thing: “They’re all digital natives,” she says. “They’re also very interested in social impact and in the environment and sustainability.” (Read more about efforts to do well by doing good in “The Social Impact Imperative“.) And then there are the newly popular disciplines: analytics and data science, entrepreneurship, fintech and blockchain, hedge funds, private equity.
While some 50 percent of graduates continue to go into financial services after graduation, “What you also see is that the new generation of students is aligned with the way business itself is changing,” Robertson says. “And Wharton evolves with both the business world and with the students.”
Finance is one area where seismic shifts have shaken everything up, says Joao Gomes, Howard Butcher III Professor of Finance, chair of the department, and senior vice dean of research, centers, and academic initiatives. The breakneck pace of new technology (paired with new resources from the MTE campaign) has remade what innovation and education at “the Finance School” look like in 2021. As Gomes points out, “Wharton alumni are the financial entrepreneurs who lead change in the sector.”
“There’s a mandate to apply research from academia to the working world,” Gomes says, “and allow students to participate in the intersection between finance and tech.” That’s playing out in more than just new fintech classes, he says; it’s also about putting resources toward research in, say, cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding. And it demands consistently reconsidering and recalibrating academics around the changing world, Gomes notes. One major step forward in that realm: The Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance, which debuted in 2019, allows faculty and students to work alongside the companies that are transforming business models in real-time.
Meanwhile, Wharton has also been able to lean hard into the exploding world of alternative investments, in large part thanks to alumni who are leaders in the space. The new Harris Family Alternative Investments Program is focused on private equity, infrastructure investing, hedge funds, and shareholder activism — all areas, Gomes notes, where about a third of students are taking classes today. Between that growing demand and the staggering array of new opportunities in the industry, Gomes sees Wharton continuing to capitalize on its appeal to faculty, bringing in the talent who will foster the growth, creativity, and sense of adventure that are inherent to being at the leading edge of the future of finance.
Of course, as always, “the Finance School” is focused on more than finance. Over the past couple of decades, Wharton has blossomed into an entrepreneurial powerhouse, and the MTE campaign only helped speed the momentum. The School is building out a competitive, innovative program rich in courses (there are 50-plus right now), experiences, and resources at both Penn and Wharton San Francisco for the skyrocketing number of students who want to launch a business right out of — or during — school. Consider: Twenty-eight percent of the 2021 MBA class majored in Entrepreneurial Management — the same number of students who concentrated in Finance.
Today, thanks to the resources corralled by MTE, entrepreneurship at Wharton — newly rebranded as Venture Lab, a collaboration between Wharton, Penn Engineering, and the Stuart Weitzman School of Design — will be more accessible than ever, teaching students from Wharton and across Penn not just how to start and fund a business, but how to grow it, run it, scale it. The fall 2021 debut of Tangen Hall (a 68,000-square-foot beauty) is a major milestone for both Venture Lab and Wharton, a new state-of-the-art launching pad for visionaries, startups, and CEOs — and “one of the most exciting places on campus today,” says Dean James.
Reinventing and Reinvigorating Decision-Making
Fifteen years ago — long before the era of big data had taken hold — Wharton launched its Customer Analytics program. “We were fortunate,” says Eric Bradlow, who is now the K.P. Chao Professor of Marketing, chair of the department, and vice dean of analytics. “We got into data science and analytics before they were buzzwords out there and were able to build a curriculum — courses, data applications, workshops, and infrastructure.”
The timing — building the academic discipline right up alongside the data revolution — was prescient. Then, in 2019, an anonymous $15 million gift launched Analytics at Wharton to new heights. Today, Wharton is the academic leader in business analytics, powering insights across industries with access to information people only dreamed about a decade ago.
From a Wharton perspective, Bradlow says, if you imagine the School as Mount Rushmore, analytics is now one of its iconic heads, thanks in part to a permanent home in the brand-new Academic Research Building, the result of a gift from the same anonymous donor. Analytics at Wharton now boasts some 60 analytics courses, seven separate centers (ranging from Customer Analytics to People Analytics to Sports Analytics to the Penn Wharton Budget Model), and its regular “datathons” for students, with real numbers and problems supplied by companies around the globe. The new Analytics major, which was established in 2016, is currently the second most popular undergraduate major, after Finance.
Also putting analytics on the map is the multidisciplinary research from Penn Integrates Knowledge faculty members Duncan Watts and Wharton Neuroscience Initiative director Michael Platt. That scope of study is exactly the point of Wharton Analytics. Teaching the latest in data science, as Michael Moh W92 says, only helps “future-proof students by allowing them to analyze and dissect the situation at hand from multiple vantage points.”
Moh is a longtime Wharton supporter and Executive Board for Asia member who, along with his wife, Peggy, was behind the 2019 creation of the Moh Foundation Applied Insights Lab. The lab has become an integral part of Wharton People Analytics, which uses data science as a tool for understanding human beings and their organizations.
As business owners, the Mohs are fascinated by the idea that evaluating human behavior scientifically rather than intuitively allows leaders to make better decisions: “NGOs can attract the right talent and, in turn, better serve their beneficiaries,” Michael Moh says. The power of People Analytics drew the Mohs toward the idea of the lab. Michael’s support builds upon the legacy of his late father, Laurence Moh WG53. More broadly, he says, “It’s an expression of my gratitude and my belief in the importance of the work at Wharton.”
Based in China, the Mohs were among a growing cohort of international donors during the MTE campaign, which speaks to how many alumni around the world share this view. “Wharton has been — and still is — a leading business school of choice for motivated young people all over the world,” Michael Moh says. “We are proud and happy to be connected back, be it at conferences, board meetings, sporting events, or, better yet, graduations of our own children, regardless of where we might be based now.”
Creating the Leaders Who Will Change the World
Major Jennifer Million WG21 was an Army force manager with a master’s degree in petroleum engineering when she came to Wharton for her MBA. She hoped to drill down into the academics (from quant analysis to real estate) that would help in both her military management role and her post-military entrepreneurship dreams.
At Wharton, “I felt like a kid in a candy store,” Million says. “I’d been with the same organization for 12 years. Suddenly, I had exposure to all of these different people, different industries: real estate, finance, entrepreneurship.” And while much of her time at Wharton (including her Venture Fellowship as one of a small group of MBAs selected to lead other students in a “group venture” experience) was impacted by COVID, it was still worthwhile, she says: “What I learned challenged me. It got me out of my comfort zones. The exposure was very meaningful.”
The value of that exposure to the wide world of business is something you often hear Wharton grads talk about. Sandeep Naik WG04 was planning a lifelong career in medical technology when he first got to Wharton. He’d already had an extraordinary journey up to that point, having grown up in Mumbai in a family with immense respect for education, if few resources to fund it. With his family’s support, he’d scraped together a series of scholarships that allowed him to go to Virginia Commonwealth University for his master’s in biomedical engineering. From there, he landed at a major med tech firm. He came to Wharton with every intention of going back to that firm after he earned his MBA. But then? “I saw a new world of opportunities that Wharton opened up,” he says, and within the first month, his whole life changed.
Today, Naik is the managing director and head of General Atlantic’s India and Asia Pacific office, where he invests in companies around the world. He’s also a member of Wharton’s Executive Board for Asia and the donor of a gift establishing the Achyut Madhu Naik Endowed Scholarship Fund — named after his father — with first preference for students from India.
“There was so much providence in my story,” Naik says, “but everything started because someone said, ‘I’m happy to give you a little money for a scholarship.’” Wharton, in his view, is “a great equalizer of opportunity,” a place where people of all backgrounds can access the best education. It was important to him and his wife, Bhakti Prabhu Naik, to help extend that opportunity to students like himself, “because the best talent can be found everywhere,” he says, “not just among the people who have the most money.”
This was one of the priorities of the campaign: extending support to more Wharton students. Establishing new scholarships and fellowships attracted many campaign donors who are helping to expand access to the School while supporting diversity of all kinds. For instance? The African American MBA Student Support Fund, which officially launched just over a year ago, has already raised $2.5 million of its $3 million goal and helped boost both the number of African American students graduating from Wharton and the number of top African American students who enroll upon acceptance.
Launching the fund, 80 percent of which is devoted to fellowships and 20 percent to experiential learning opportunities, was a necessity for a business school that wants to maintain its position as the best in the world, says Suzanne Shank WG87, a Graduate Executive Board member and fund contributor: “Many African American students would not be able to attend Wharton without fellowship support, and Wharton would not be able to attract the best talent without fellowship support.”
This isn’t just a campaign goal, but a continued goal for Wharton, as Dean James has said more than once — a goal for “a student cohort made up of increasingly promising and diverse future leaders.” It’s something you hear Anne McNulty WG79 talk about, too: Her gift in 2016 honoring her late husband catapulted the Anne and John McNulty Leadership Program at Wharton to a new level, expanding its offerings to undergrads and Executive MBAs and debuting fresh partnerships like the Penn Athletics Wharton Leadership Academy.
“We like to think of leaders as a unit of change,” McNulty says. It’s a particular point of pride for her that the program she supports is so focused on inclusive leadership — “especially in women’s leadership and building gender equity,” she says. Take, for instance, the 52/48 female-male 2023 MBA class, which is quite the change from the 25 percent female ratio she recalls from her Wharton days. Leadership-building also means encouraging students to forge their own unique paths, like those who defer MBA enrollment to gain work experience and can now benefit from the Ken Moelis W80 WG81 and Julie Taffet Moelis W81 Advance Access Program.
Ensuring that Wharton remains a global leader in education and research has been a driving force and raison d’être behind the eight-year fundraising effort, says campaign co-chair Jamie Dinan. “This campaign — its goals, its ambition, its challenges, and the amazing participation and support we saw — is unlike anything Wharton has ever done,” he says. “And it was a success by all possible measures. ‘More Than Ever’ wasn’t just a slogan. It’s a statement about Wharton’s place in the world.”
Christine Speer Lejeune is a freelance writer and editor based in Philadelphia.
Published as “A Campaign Like No Other” in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Wharton Magazine.