This past year, I had the pleasure of traveling the globe to meet with Wharton alumni. In each city — from Dallas to Tel Aviv, Tokyo to Dubai — I found myself in a veritable sea of Wharton greatness, reinforcing for me once again the strength and vibrancy of our community. Meeting with School and University constituents vividly illuminated the broad intellectual span that can result from a wide-ranging and comprehensive education.
Thinking about the unique experiences the Wharton curriculum has to offer — where a student can learn leadership on a trek to Antarctica and then return to campus to perfect the art of financial analysis — I saw the breadth of impact a Wharton degree provides proudly on display in those I met on this Wharton Impact Tour. All those I encountered were leaders in their own domains.
In October, the Wharton Impact Tour took me to Dallas, Texas, which was a sort of homecoming for me, as I spent a portion of my childhood about an hour’s drive north, in Sherman, Texas. While there, I was honored to share the floor with Penn Carey Law alumnus and current mayor of Dallas Eric Johnson L03. We had a rich discussion of our approaches to leading during a global pandemic; Mayor Johnson began his term in 2019, and I arrived at Wharton in 2020 — a time of national reckoning of racial inequalities and other unexpected circumstances.
November’s Impact Tour stop brought me to Tokyo. I was joined by Wharton alum and event panelist Ernest Higa W74, who shared his perspectives on entrepreneurship, including his work to bring the Domino’s pizza brand to Japan. While Wharton is still in many ways a familiar place for visiting alumni from decades past, Ernie was delighted to learn that the most popular choice in Penn dining halls these days is, ironically, sushi.
The last tour stop in 2022 was in December, in Dubai, where change was the topic of conversation onstage with discussants Navin Valrani W93 GED18 GRD23 and Pam Grossman, dean of Penn’s Graduate School of Education. After completing his undergraduate degree from Wharton and master’s from GSE years ago, Navin is once again a Penn student, close to completing his doctorate at GSE while continuing to serve as an educational entrepreneur. Pam, Navin, and I discussed the distinct challenges facing education today, from kindergarten to higher education. It was illuminating to see that education leaders around the world experience common challenges, including the need to improve access and equity and the speed and profundity of change.
What continues to strike me as I visit these locales are the ties that hold the Wharton community together. These bonds reach across all of the School’s departments, through the University’s four undergraduate and 12 graduate schools, across every major business sector, in every imaginable industry, and in multitudes of modalities. I am acutely aware, too, that the roots connecting us stem from our shared affiliation with the University, both a physical and a metaphorical space that is special to anyone who has experienced it.
As 2022 drew to a close, I reflected on all the destinations I had the pleasure of visiting and the people I met. I felt a renewed sense of commitment to visiting our alumni and friends, engaging face-to-face to tackle important challenges, and reinforcing the bonds between Wharton and its unparalleled global community. There is much more ahead. With upcoming 2023 Wharton Impact Tour events in Philadelphia in May and São Paulo in June, I relish these meaningful opportunities for continued conversation and new connections.
Erika H. James is dean, Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise, and professor of management at the Wharton School.
Published as “Reflections From a Year on the Road” in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Wharton Magazine.