At this year’s convocation, Eric Bradlow—Vice Dean of Doctoral Programs and co-director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative—started a movement called #WhartonProud. In this conversation, we explore what it means to be a Wharton student, how we compare with other MBA programs, and the controversy over the lack of female speaker representation at the WCAI conference last year.
RONALD ANGSIY: Is a hot dog a sandwich or not and why?
ERIC BRADLOW: It is. It’s something with bread on the outside and an edible thing on the inside, so yes. And as people may not know, I’m a massive fan of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. It’s a superbowl in the Bradlow household.
RA: In your speech to the first years, you talked about starting a movement. I was wondering what the inspiration was behind #WhartonProud?
EB: A couple of years ago I started to think about how fortunate we are being at Wharton. My view is, I want people who are proud to be associated with Wharton. When I started putting stuff out on Twitter/FB, whenever I was doing something related to Wharton, I would put #WhartonProud. I was letting people know I was proud to be here as a faculty member.
When I had an opportunity to speak at convocation, first of all, I needed to make it humorous, but also make it something people will remember. #WhartonProud is memorable. It’s great to have smart people here, but let’s get people that want to be here, faculty/students/staff.
RA: When you started thinking about this awhile back, was it due to the curriculum restructuring or a specific catalyst?
EB: Five to six years ago every business school was struggling with a lull in student engagement all over the world. My view is, our curriculum changed a lot of that. We revamped courses. All my cases in class use current examples. The impetus for me was partially the curriculum reform, part of it was “everyone here is incredibly talented and smart. What’s the differentiator between students not just succeeding but also adding to culture?” And the answer was pride.
If just Wharton could develop this massive brand ambassadorial army, with our most important brand, our students. Even as a research scholar, at the end of the day, the Wharton brand is carried by our students. Let’s get our most important asset sincerely speaking proud. Not because we tell you to do it, but because you want to do it.
RA: Brand ambassador army, I like that.
EB: That was the goal. You are our best ambassadors, moving globally with our imprint around the world. I can’t travel around the world every day, but our thousands of students can.
RA: What was the cause for the lack of pride, was it the financial crisis or something else? Since most of us have only been here for two years max, what historical perspective do you have?
EB: You bring up an excellent point. It’d be silly to say that the external economic factors didn’t play a role. During that time, even for our students, it was harder to get a job. There’s a nervousness and a job focus, you lose perspective on “why are you here?” Yes getting a great job is important, but so is learning, clubs, the social aspect, and when the economic factors weighed heavy…things got strained. The Wharton administration did a lot to bring teamwork between faculty and students. Much more collaborative design of courses, faculty student engagement. In 20 years, the connection between faculty and students has never been better.
RA: When you look at pride, there have been examples where it might have gone too far. There’s a recent Poets and Quants article on Stanford GSB that touched on student “overconfidence and hubris.” How do you think Wharton students should balance that?
EB: That’s a really good question. I have a two part answer. 1) Being proud of Wharton doesn’t mean not being proud of other institutions. It’s not #WhartonProud #YouStink. I will never speak negatively about my peer schools. What I think #WhartonProud stands for is being proud of what’s distinct about us.
2) My own belief. I think…there is a responsibility and modesty that comes with being at a top business school. When people ask me what I do I say “I’m a professor.” If they don’t ask me subsequent questions, it’s not my responsibility to tell them. Modesty plays a significant role. We should be proud, but being humble has its benefits. As you pointed out, there’s a fine line.
RA: This is a Facebook audience question. In the Customer Analytics conference last year, there were no female speakers. What are some things we can do to bring in more diversity of speakers?
EB: I’m glad you brought that up. Let me address this. We should be embarrassed and we were. When looking back at the portfolio of speakers we weren’t as sensitive as we should have been. We didn’t look at the totality of speakers until after the fact at the conference and then realized we did a tremendously poor job in caring about diversity.
First, we should be reaching out to excellent people in analytics of all races/genders/sexual orientations. This was a wake-up call. Let’s not wait; let’s reach out to them.
Second of all, we did an inventory. What grade do we get for diversity for this conference? A pretty bad one. But in terms of who works at our center, our last two executive directors have been females. When you look at diversity in our lecture speakers, and who meets with students, we get a much better grade. But I took that criticism as appropriate and I do have a sense of embarrassment. It’s a mistake and it won’t happen again.
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