I still remember my soccer coach, during a break in our scrimmage, encouraging my team of 20 or so 10-year-olds to kick the ball at the opponent’s goal more often. In his thick British accent, Neal, with spit flying from his lips, reminded us: “If you don’t shoot the ball at their net, you won’t ever score a goal!” It was a simple lesson, but it has stuck with me throughout my adult life.
After graduating from the university, I was fortunate to work in situations with people of unique intelligence and drive, all who “shot the ball” at challenges said to be “impossible.” I worked at the White House, assisting with the negotiation of multiple international trade agreements— from Africa to South America and Australia to Europe—with the aim of increasing a mutually beneficial free flow of commerce. I was later humbled to work alongside the men and women within my country’s counterterrorism efforts, each of whom made great sacrifices. Some sacrificed everything. All unflinchingly believed in protecting the basic human rights of life and liberty. I witnessed firsthand the vision, commitment and drive of two U.S. presidential candidates who, politics aside, wanted to make their country a better place and a beacon for others around the globe. In each of these experiences, my colleagues believed they could change the world, and more importantly, they were brave enough to try. They repeatedly succeeded, benefiting millions.
I’m now surrounded by more than 1,400 intelligent and driven young leaders from around the globe. When I arrived at Wharton last summer, friends back home would ask, “How’s it going?” The two words I found myself repeating: “intimidating” and “exhilarating.” These emotions stemmed from the unbridled talents, accomplishments and pure intellect of my new classmates. As someone with a completely government-focused background and almost no business experience, it was intimidating being thrown in the deep end of a management simulation with a cohort of brilliant minds. It was simultaneously exhilarating to feel the raw “horsepower” of the team to which I was contributing.
The first semester flew by, and as I write this, all these exceptional individuals are laser-focused on finding the best internship or job they can get their hands on. I’m reminded of a legendary business anecdote from the early ’80s. Steve Jobs needed a hardened manager to help run Apple and lured John Sculley, WG’63, from PepsiCo. by challenging him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world?”
Watching my new friends at Wharton researching equities and “casing” with one another, I find myself asking the question: “Will we change the world?”
The challenges we’ll face as we leave Penn after graduation are enormous. The aftermath of a global recession is still keeping millions from finding jobs and preventing the recovery of national economies. Energy and water, both vital resources we treated as inexhaustible for decades, have become the catalyst for violent conflicts. Fanatical dictators kill their own people to stay in power. These are very real challenges that have changed, and will change, all of our lives in some way or another.
Given the trends of globalization and geopolitics, I believe that the leaders who will help mitigate and solve these issues won’t be the traditional political and military types who are memorialized in marble statues in our respective capitals. More and more, they will be business leaders and public servants armed with a business education.
It’s the responsibility of the very best of those people, people like my classmates, to face these challenges head on.
My hope, my expectation, is that my Wharton classmates will ambitiously take that shot on the impossible. I continue to ask myself the question: “Will we change the world?” Each day, I grow more confident that the answer is “yes.”
Campbell Marshall is a first-year Wharton MBA/Lauder MA candidate. He graduated from Duke University in 2002 and was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Trade Representative’s office at the White House. He later served as a Counter Terrorism Operations Officer in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. Prior to attending Wharton, he served as a policy adviser to the 2012 presidential campaign of Jon Huntsman Jr., C’87, HON’10.