In 1972, our alma mater to-be made big moves and shortened its name from “The Wharton School of Finance and Commerce” to just “The Wharton School.” But we’ve carried the reputation for being a quant-heavy, finance school through the present, even without Donald Trump’s help.
Recently though, Wharton has been trying to pivot from its legacy in finance to a future in data analytics. A recent Wall Street Journal article on Wharton highlighted our school’s attempt to rebrand itself as the data analytics school, declaring “Wharton M.B.A.s Get More Training in Data and Decision-Making.”
This is a mistake.
To flatten Wharton to the latest form of number crunching misses the richness of Wharton’s history, and ignores the energy of its current students. Data analytics at its heart—well, actually it has none—at its core, is passionless. It hardly inspires the imagination. It’s a means to an end. But to what end?
Missing the Forest for the Tree
For a school that prides itself on achieving a lot of firsts—the first business school at a university, the first center for entrepreneurship, the first joint degree for management and technology, the first health care management MBA program, the list goes on—Wharton sure trails behind when it comes to carving out its own identity.
The school is near the top, but not quite The Top. Its endowment is large, but not quite Large Enough. It’s finance-y but doesn’t want to be seen as too much so. Wharton tends to define itself by what it is not, which is hardly anything at all. For me, the analogy that I think is most apt for how Wharton positions itself is: Stanford is to Wharton, as Apple is to Microsoft. (No offense, Microsoft.)
To gain some insight as to how Wharton can boldly stake a claim, it helps to look at our competitive set. While Harvard technically focuses on general management, it’s more known for churning out future CEOs. In the same way, Stanford is the “tech school,” but we know it more for producing touchy-feely, emotionally attuned leaders. But Wharton, by anchoring itself to just data analytics, seems only to aspire to developing skills, not people.
Yet, the Wharton that I’ve experienced—#mywharton, if you will—has been shaped entirely by the people. We’re a group of people who work hard and play harder. A passionate bunch that kicks ass and takes names, in every pursuit. When you want something done, and done well, call up a Wharton student.
We boast the largest alumni base (94,000 and counting). We have one of the biggest classes. We have tons of electives and the best school spirit. No one parties harder than a Wharton student. There’s a little of something for everyone. Why then does Wharton cast itself as so small when in reality we’re so big?
The Power of Purpose
To really carve out the future of Wharton’s brand, we need to broaden our thinking. Instead of just providing an answer to “what is the value of a Wharton degree?” we need to define “what is the purpose of a Wharton degree?” For me, the answer to the former is quite simple: the value of getting an MBA from a top tier programs lays in opening doors, expanding your network, and boosting your salary. On the other hand, the purpose of an MBA is different, grander. Business school should impart its graduates with a vision for and the skills to lead real companies in the real world—a holistic education that raises leaders who care about creating the most value for their employees, customers, shareholders, and selves.
By reframing the discussion from value to purpose, I think that Wharton will better find its identity, one that is more enduring than following whatever the current flavor of the day is. In the end, evidence-based management and data analytics are today’s tools, and can be understood as part of a larger philosophical question: What makes a great leader?
For me, the Wharton ethos is that of a practical pioneer, a tactical trailblazer. We marry smart thinking with actual doing. We have the skills to make good decisions and the wisdom to know when to use them.
With this grander vision in mind, we can appropriately showcase Wharton in its entirety. Give data analytics and evidence-based decision making its due respect. But we can also revel in being a finance powerhouse. And lest we forget, let’s celebrate how much the school instills those softer skills, too. We’re lining up for Diamond and Massey, have waitlists for Power Lab and P3, and have a Leadership Office that’s second to none.
Not everyone went into finance, just like not everyone is going into analytics. But all of us want to be the best businessmen and businesswomen we can be. We don’t need to make Wharton great again—it already is. Now just embrace it.