As I write this letter, it’s just over one year since my appointment as dean was announced. It was fortuitous timing, and it remains an absolute privilege to have joined Wharton during the final year of the More Than Ever campaign. By all measurements, the campaign has exceeded expectations in participation and fundraising, culminating in its conclusion on June 30, 2021.
Wharton community members have enabled the School to incubate ideas to transform business, power insights to reinvent decision-making, and create leaders who change the world. Their investments are shaping the Wharton experience today and will continue to do so for years to come. I see it in the promise of students, the ingenuity of faculty, and the magnanimity of donors.
The final weeks of the campaign invite a reflection on the initial More Than Ever goals as I compose a comprehensive vision for the School. The past year has been both a unique and a universal experience; each of us has a distinct story connected to the shared narrative of the global pandemic. For Wharton, this campaign has created a foundation for seizing the opportunity that this moment presents to lead positive change.
As one example, last fall, a prominent leader in Philadelphia sent me an email message saying, “Erika, have you tried Ben’s pizza?” My initial thought was that this was a restaurant suggestion. I was delighted to learn instead that Ben Berman WG21 is a current Wharton student aiding people in Philadelphia who are struggling with food insecurity during the pandemic. Ben launched Good Pizza, single-handedly baking pizzas in his Center City apartment and delivering them, in a socially distanced way, by lowering them down to patrons from his window. All proceeds go to Philadelphia charities that feed those in need. Ben’s efforts have raised more than $30,000 for these organizations. Like many others, I have stood in line outside Ben’s window waiting for my pizza delivery. As the name implies, it is Good Pizza.
I have been inspired by those who have come together in supporting, creating, and participating in programs that comprise a signature Wharton experience — from “Beyond Business” discussions with industry leaders about racial equality to Wharton Alumni Welcome, a program that virtually connects MBA students to alumni in their cities across the world. The embodiment of Wharton strong — the inventiveness, resilience, and determination displayed by our community — demonstrates the leadership needed to face a world changed by the cumulative effect of recent months. This campaign’s success is due to the many who have been working since its launch to turn ideas into actions. There is much to look forward to. Entrepreneurial students will use tools and digital resources to experiment with startup concepts in Tangen Hall. Those with a penchant for analytics will find a home in the Academic Research Building, which will provide beautiful spaces in which students can study and convene. Undergraduate students will find expanded pathways to a Wharton education thanks to scholarships, and MBA candidates will make the choice to attend Wharton supported by fellowships. Faculty will realize expanded resources for teaching and scholarship, benefiting students in their courses and the global academic community. We will continue to celebrate diversity and nurture equity and inclusion within Wharton and in the world around us.
Conjuring these images of new opportunities, fresh connections, and a thoughtful evolution of the School brings hope for an ever brighter future for Wharton. Thank you for your part in making it shine.
Erika H. James is dean, Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise, and professor of management at the Wharton School.
Published as “A Time for Reflection and Looking Forward” in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Wharton Magazine.