Born to Run: The Wharton Club of New Jersey

Although the Wharton Club of New Jersey is the most recent addition to the alumni club network in the United States, the club is not letting its “new kid on the block” status stand in the way of achievement. The men and women who manage the chapter have put together some of the most ambitious programming among the 82 clubs around the world. For instance, consider a club program held this past February in Florham Park, NJ. There were more than 100 alumni from throughout the state in attendance. The elegant room was abuzz during the cocktail hour: alumni gathered to catch up with old friends, business cards were exchanged among new acquaintances, and more than one job lead was overheard being shared among grads. So already, it was a successful Wharton club event by anyone’s estimation.

Now, add to the mix the fact that the meeting featured a speaker of the stature of Christie Todd Whitman, director of the Environmental Protection Agency and the former governor of New Jersey. Whitman opened her remarks with a nod to Penn’s founder, Benjamin Franklin, and then she addressed the group on a range of topical issues including environmentally friendly modes of transportation, President Bush’s tax plan, and business conditions in the Garden State. Club members were able to take advantage of this unique access to the former governor throughout a spirited Q & A session which followed her talk. The next day, coverage of the event made the front page of the local newspaper. It was the most public and potent example yet of why the Wharton Club of New Jersey means good business for its members.

No one understands that relationship between the alumni and business communities in New Jersey better than its volunteer leadership. The club is under the direction of a seven-member executive committee and an eleven-member board of directors, which represents the diversity of the Wharton alumni community in the Garden State. Members of these groups reflect a breadth of professional affiliations and a diversity of age ranges from the classes of the 1960s through a young alumnus from the class of 2001. In just a short time, the group has put together programs ranging from a talk by real estate magnate Ara K. Hovnanian, W’79, WG’79, CEO and President of Hovnanian Enterprises; the kickoff of two series, one on wealth management and the other on entrepreneurship; and a New Jersey Nets game featuring a reception with basketball legend Willis Reed. They have pursued sponsorship of their events by local corporations, and there is extensive publicity in the local and business press both before and after programs. The club also has a website, replete with information about club events, career opportunities, membership benefits, and ways for alumni to get involved.

These achievements are all the more impressive when you take into account that this club was an idea waiting to be born less than two years ago. The club was founded by Jonathan Perelman, W’76, and a partner at Ehrenkrantz, Sterling & Co. LLC, CPA firm in Livingston, in a story that is emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit inherent in Wharton alumni. While Perelman is a member of a multigenerational Penn family, he was admittedly not an active alumnus of the School: “I was a late bloomer,” he says. A merger of his accounting firm with another firm a few years ago heightened his awareness of strengthening connections with other Wharton alumni in northern New Jersey, so he sought out a Wharton Club to help him meet other grads. Finding none, he became actively involved with the Wharton Club of New York, which ultimately became an important resource when the need for a stand-alone New Jersey club became apparent.

Perelman worked with New York club leaders and sought out other alumni in New Jersey who were committed to his vision of an organization that would connect Wharton alumni with one another and to the School. Adhering to his belief that “the best ideas are right in front of you,” he worked with members of the Alumni Affairs Office staff to send out a mailing to alumni, apprising them of the creation of a new Wharton Club of New Jersey and inviting them to come to an organizational meeting. The results exceeded Perelman’s expectations: 30 people came out to offer their help at that first meeting, forming the core of leadership that is sustaining the club today, and more than 180 alumni are now paid members.

What’s on the horizon for the Wharton Club of New Jersey? The club is already planning more events in the next few months and are developing more career-focused services to meet member needs. Ultimately, says Perelman, determining the future of the club is a function of the members it serves: “I keep telling people it’s ‘your club,’ it’s ‘everybody’s club,’ and that my role as President is to be a facilitator and to keep the momentum going.” With a dedicated corps of volunteer leaders, programs like the event with Governor Whitman, and a mandate to better the professional lives of the members it serves, the Wharton Club of New Jersey is poised for continuing the fast pace they have maintained since their quick start just over a year ago. To quote the Garden State’s favorite son, Bruce Springsteen, the Wharton Club of New Jersey was “born to run.”

Remember to check out if you live in, work in, or are planning to visit New Jersey.