WAAAM (Wharton Association of Asian-American MBAs) may be known on campus as a club that hosts some great banquets – but its flagship event is the annual Las Vegas Inter-MBA Mixer event, where students from top MBA programs come together for a weekend-long networking & party experience in Las Vegas. Last year’s event included visits to Encore Beach Club and XS, with Zedd and David Guetta. The event has become legendary for good reason, as the party is the highlight of the year for many – it certainly was for me. I wasn’t involved in WAAAM as a first year, but after experiencing the magic of the event firsthand, I felt compelled to join the leadership team, and was eventually appointed as Chair of the Planning Committee. The 5th Annual Las Vegas Inter-MBA Mixer event was hosted at the Venetian this past weekend, growing to over 450 attendees across 17 different business schools, making for an extraordinary experience for all that attended – and an immense but worthwhile challenge for our team.
Friday for Attendees: With the help of Twine (aka ClassmateMatch), all attendees were slotted into Pods – groups based on common interests / values prior to the event to get conversations started. But our event officially kicked off on Friday afternoon as attendees from Boston to Los Angeles descended upon Las Vegas to check in and meet their new friends. After dinner at world-class restaurants like Tao and Bouchon, the party continued in the pre-game suites, filled with glowsticks, balloons, and decorations of all kinds – so fun! As the clock struck midnight, we entered the legendary XS at the Wynn, enjoying bottle service at our exclusive tables and cabanas, dancing the night away to Alesso’s uplifting, hard-hitting beats.
My Friday: I wake up to 250 messages and 7 missed calls. Weather forecasts call for a 70% chance of precipitation and 50-degree weather – a downer to our event at XS given that we reserved outdoor tables. Jumping into a Zipcar to buy supplies for our pre-game events mere hours away, I scramble to call every other club to scrounge together a backup event hours away. LIGHT at Mandalay Bay answers my RFP with a compelling indoor bid within our budget – but it’s a DJ no one has ever heard of. The deal is on the table for three hours. Should we change it? Yes! No. Maybe? I tell my committee we should move it. They tell me I should have a drink.
More phone calls. Thanks to VPOTUS Biden making a visit, all flights into Vegas are put on hold, delaying attendees for hours. But I notice the continuous wave of Facebook posts about the event – attendees are excited with anticipation. I put on a suit and run to my dinner reservation for 8 – but there are 20 people waiting, claiming to be part of my party. I look puzzled, they look hungry, the waitstaff looks unamused. After some frantic chatter with the manager, Tao squeezes us into a group table – a miracle at 8PM on Friday. During dinner I look again at the weather map and notice a menacing green blob hover over Las Vegas, slowly moving eastward – but the chance of precipitation falls to 30%. Why not take a gamble? I’m in Vegas, after all. We turn down LIGHT – and they’re not pleased. But surrounded by my encouraging friends at the dinner table, I feel bulletproof, confident we made the right call.
I run to the pre-game suites and put on a smile to mask my worry, sparking up conversation to distract my mind and stop myself from looking out the window every 20 seconds. Eventually we arrive at XS – and somehow, the rain stops the moment we set foot outside – and the magic of the night starts. Attendees file into the tables. The cocktails are as free-flowing as the conversation, and as Alesso takes the stage, I hear dozens of glasses clink around me and notice a sea of smiles nearby. I finally have that drink.
Saturday for Attendees: After a great first night out, attendees had an early lunch before going to Marquee Day Club for an epic daytime party, featuring powerhouse DJ Dash Berlin. A little drizzle couldn’t stop our group from taking over the entire pool! After some down time, guests went to dinner before our final destination for the night – Drai’s Nightclub at the Cromwell! Hip-hop / R&B megastar Trey Songz shut down the entire venue for an incredible concert experience to close out our amazing weekend.
My Saturday: Another slew of missed calls and messages to start the morning. We scramble to clean up the mess left by 400 guests before the hotel kicks us out for check-out at 12. Rounding up 14 others joining me for a table at Marquee is a challenge – half are hung over, half are still asleep – but we eventually head over in a cab. The skies look sinister as we drive past the Bellagio fountain. Upon arrival, we find that the table line is long, as the weather has created logistical issues, as poolside tables are moved to the club indoors. My phone starts to ring non-stop. Encore Beach Club, where many others planned to go, is shut down completely, and everyone is rushing to join our party at Marquee, which leaves us to have some tough conversations turning people down. But for those of us that make it into Marquee, the party is unreal. A little rain is meaningless when you’re already in a pool, right? As Dash Berlin’s music shakes the floor, I’m beaming as I witness 100+ strangers-turned-friends eagerly splashing water at each other – the energy in the pool is electric.
As I leave Marquee I receive a call from Drai’s, as they abruptly decide to double our minimum spend 2 hours before our event, as rain has removed outdoor table supply, driving up prices for tables indoors. Citing our executed contract, we push back, and they simply refuse. After much discussion, we come to a compromise after reshuffling the format and throwing in more dollars – the event is salvaged in the eleventh hour. Soon after our guests enter, the night really begins as Trey Songz puts on an incredible performance. Some hip-hop is exactly what it takes to bring the party to the next level, as I see our group get up, and get down. “Bottoms Up” is right, Mr. Songz. I raise a glass to congratulate my team, and take in the rest of the night – we’ve successfully thrown a party that no one will ever forget.
Despite the tremendous fun that we had this past weekend, it makes me reflect upon months of preparation that our committee spent pulling it off, and seeing nearly all of it unravel at the last minute. Forming my team of 7, negotiating with every venue / luxury hotel on the Strip, coordinating with leaders from other schools, and being ambassadors on behalf of Wharton were all complex tasks that required the utmost professionalism. Thinking back, I’m amused to realize that I re-did my entire curriculum in the throes of a grand Las Vegas rager. First there was ACCT 742 – Problems in Financial Reporting (and Telling Your Treasurer You Spent $100,000 Before Selling Any Tickets). Then MKTG 754 – Developing Pricing Policy (That Will Get Girls To Come to Vegas and Guys To Subsidize Them). Some classes held exams nonstop, like LGST 806 – Negotiations (Against Drai’s When Forecasts Change to 80% Chance of Precipitation). The most important class of all was, of course, MGMT 610 – Foundations of Teamwork and Leadership (and Appearing Calm In Front of Your Committee When You Are On the Verge of a Complete Meltdown After Realizing You May Have Bankrupted The Club And Angered 450 People).
When I first arrived at Wharton, I prioritized my career at the expense of social activities. Despite my strong Korean-American identity, I even first approached WAAAM with as much skepticism as I did curiosity. But business school has a funny way of changing your life, I suppose. Engaging in extracurricular activities like this one somehow end up teaching you more about academics, professionalism, and leadership than any class or EIS could.
WAAAM could sponsor a small group dinner for 4, or a party for 400, but the objective is always the same – to foster community through imaginative social programming. Knowing that I played a part in meeting that goal gives me a rewarding sense of accomplishment no professional milestone could. But perhaps the greatest irony of experiencing an event hosted by a diversity-focused club was realizing that we’re all actually the same. Asian or not, regardless of school, creed, color, or background, all of our attendees deeply embraced the opportunity to get to know each other better, and have a great time – and that reminder is something we can all use in this day and age, time and again. So despite all of the sleepless nights, the tough conversations, and the countless obligations that come with being a leader at Wharton – it is for these reasons that leading the Vegas Committee has been the best thing I have done in business school. I’d even do it again if I could. (Unless it’s raining again next year, ugh.)