Wharton Stories

How This Penn Alum Is Revitalizing Education and Healthcare Through Cocoa Farms in Ghana

“What we were finding was that we were onto something big and something different, something that wasn’t just confined to my community, Tarkwa Breman, alone.”

When Shadrack Frimpong, C’15, returned to his native Ghana after graduation to implement his President’s Engagement Prize-winning project, he had plans to return to the U.S. for medical school the following year. But his project — sustaining a girls’ school and a community health clinic through proceeds from a cocoa farm — turned out to be a revolutionary farm-for-impact model.

This year, he’s back at Penn as a Master’s student in Nonprofit Leadership. He shares how his upbringing in rural Ghana inspired him to create better educational opportunities and more equitable healthcare for Ghanaians working in the cocoa farming industry.


This episode originally aired on February 15, 2019. Please find current show schedules at Wharton Business Radio


Interview Highlights

On Injustice as a Driving Force

“People always ask me ‘how did you know you wanted to do this?’ And I always tell people it has to come from a place of pain and anger. For me, it was because, in the first decade of my life, I didn’t know what electricity or running water was, growing up in the village. My parents were cocoa farmers. And then, coming to Penn, taking classes, I remember Biology 101 with Prof. Scott Poethig, he talked about how Ghana is a world’s second-leading exporter of cocoa [and] rakes in about 2 billion dollars in export every year. I saw that and said: ‘So why’s my family so poor?’ That kind of anger really always stayed with me, and it turned out I wasn’t the only person feeling that anger. These Ghanaian friends of mine also felt the same issue. Even though we came from different economic backgrounds […] that injustice pushed us.” — Shadrack Frimpong

On a Game-Changing Model

“When we started, for me the goal was to go spend one year in Ghana and come back to the U.S. and go to medical school. When we applied for the President’s Engagement Prize, it was to build a tuition-free girls school and a community clinic that would be supported — keyword being supported — with proceeds from the community farm. And it was just in one community. […] Then, over the years, we’ve kept doing this, and after a year I [get] an email the Clinton Foundation. Chelsea Clinton says that I would love for you to come to the office in New York. We meet, I talk about the model, she looks at me and she’s like: ‘Listen, I’ve been working with this foundation for a while. This idea is game-changing.’ […] What we were finding was that we were onto something big and something different, something that wasn’t just confined to my community, Tarkwa Breman, alone.”

On Keeping Students in School

“What we noticed in Ghana is that the Ghanaian educational system provides tuition-free education in the sense that they pay teachers’ salaries. But then there were other factors like books, uniforms, transportation, all these things were not being taken care of. You had a rural attendance of most schools being around 60%. […] That’s where what we call the ‘farm-for-impact’ model [came in]. […] When we did that, parental engagement improved, student attendance improved. Compared to the national rural attendance rate of 60%, at our girls school the attendance rate is as high as 98%.”

Posted: August 27, 2019

Wharton Stories

Welcome Back to Campus: 7 Social Impact Programs for Student Changemakers

Learn about Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s student programs, with opportunities in impact investing, consulting, social entrepreneurship, research, community building, and more.

What impact will you make this year?

As a Penn or Wharton undergraduate, graduate, or Ph.D. student, you have access to transformational social impact and business programming with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. Discover our programs for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Not sure where to start? We’ll help you find the social impact program for you.

1. Real-world experience: You’re an undergraduate, graduate, or Ph.D. student seeking real-world consulting or research experience.

Apply for the WISE Fellowship. With a small team of Penn and Wharton students, you’ll help your client (a leading impact investor, local organization, start-up entrepreneur, or cutting-edge researcher) scale their impact.

2. Social impact commitment: You’re an undergraduate student who is passionate about social impact, and you’re ready to engage with a diverse community who is, too.

Learn about the Turner Social Impact Society. Members build a strong community through monthly events, receive coaching, and are eligible to earn funding for social impact related internships, conferences, and more.

3. Venture capital deals: You’re an undergraduate, graduate, or Ph.D. student who wants to work on real impact venture capital deals.

Apply to Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA). You’ll get hands-on training in sourcing social impact companies and conducting rigorous due diligence as you link entrepreneurs with potential investors.

 4. Entrepreneurial support: You’re a first-year Wharton MBA student with ambitious plans to launch or expand your social enterprise.

Apply for the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize. You’ll have the opportunity to win up to $50,000 for your social venture and join a global network of fellows.

5. Portfolio skills: You’re a Wharton MBA student aspiring to be a wealth or investment advisor, and want to put your skills to the test to meet your client’s impact and financial goals.

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge is an annual competition where you’ll gain the knowledge, skills, and experience to design and execute investment portfolios that maximize impact across asset classes.

6. Impact investing competition: You’re a Wharton MBA student seeking to learn more about impact investing alongside peers all over the world.

MIINT is a global impact investing training program with 30+ business schools that culminates with a final pitch competition. Joining MIINT@Wharton will provide you with supplementary training and networking opportunities.

7. Inclusive growth: You’re a Wharton MBA student who is passionate about social and economic growth in Africa.

Check out Wharton Africa Growth Partners. You’ll join a select group of students working with impact investors who channel capital to African SMEs.

IF YOU WANT TO USE YOUR TALENTS TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE, WE’LL SUPPORT YOU AND HELP YOU SUCCEED. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHARTON SOCIAL IMPACT PROGRAMS — ALL APPLICATIONS OPEN ON AUGUST 27, 2019.

— Nisa Nejadi

Posted: August 21, 2019

Wharton Stories

How an Award-Winning Marketing Firm Fosters Work/Life Balance

“I used to not believe in core values — until we picked ones we believed in and operationalized them. They work if they’re real.”

Workplace culture has become a growing priority as more and more employees look to balance their personal and professional lives. Global performance marketing firm Acceleration Partners has been a leader on this front, having been ranked by Glassdoor and Ad Age as one of America’s best companies to work for. Wharton Prof. Stew Friedman sat down with the firm’s founder, Robert Glazer, C’98, to find out how he’s crafted an environment that values employee satisfaction.



Interview Highlights

On Core Values

“You have to have real values. I used to not believe in core values because I saw them everywhere, I’d go to these companies and no-one behaved that way and I was really cynical about them — until we picked ones we believed in and operationalized them. They work if they’re real. I’d say they are not really 90% of the time. The less companies talk about them or put them on the wall to the outside world, the more real they are. I see them as an internal thing; the DNA of your people, not a marketing slogan.” — Robert Glazer

On Measuring Success

“We have two core metrics. We measure employee satisfaction, we measure client satisfaction, and then we have the empirical performance of the program. So if someone happens to keep all their clients happy, hit the growth targets for the program, and somehow they’re working an hour a day, God bless them, it’s the right hour. If you incentivize time, you get time, you don’t necessarily get good outputs. One of our operating principles is actually that we don’t reward working hard, we reward working smart.” — Glazer

On Investing in Relationships

“We want people to invest in relationships. One of the rules we have is that when you get on the phone with a client, you don’t jump into business. You ask him how the weekend was, how things are going. You can learn a lot from that. Maybe something terrible happened over the weekend. Now you know why they are in a really bad mood for the call. So we want people to have strong relationships. There is a lot of data and science around it. People are healthier and they live longer.We think that’s an important part of your health and your spiritual health to not be transactional with everyone you’re working with.” — Glazer

On New-Generation Leadership

“Command-and-control leadership, I think, is dead. I don’t think a lot of leaders realize it’s dead, but the military is not even using it anymore. There are still people who really believe that that is the way to lead. And I think what they are missing is some of that clarity [in core values] I talked about before. They don’t know how to hold people accountable because they are not clear about what they want or where the company is going, so they get frustrated, and then they exert authority. We have a software that actually tracks [goals]. You can go in and see my four objectives for the quarter. It’s very rare that we even have to hold someone accountable because it’s all out there, it’s all public.” — Glazer

Posted: July 30, 2019

Wharton Stories

Why This Computer Engineer is Working Towards His Best Self at Wharton

Image: During MBA Welcome Weekend this February, Ben spoke to the Cluster 2 homeroom about first-year leadership.
Between inspiring young students to study STEM and interning at Procter & Gamble, Ben Onukwube, WG’20, is doing his best to help others be theirs.

Ben Onukwube, WG’20, describes himself as an engineer who really likes people.

“The running stereotypes are that engineers are super introverted and oddly quirky, but I like to defy those odds a little bit,” he said. “I’m always thinking about my work in terms of how it impacts people and how it’s thoughtful in regards to the human experience.”

It was that desire to better connect with people that pushed him to leave an IT position in Oklahoma and move to Philadelphia to pursue a Wharton MBA.

“I was in a great role at ConocoPhillips where I was leading diversity and inclusion initiatives, strategizing around how we recruit on campuses and who we bring in for technology positions. When oil and gas went through a slump, we took a downturn. I found myself in a position where I needed to make the case for continued investment in the areas that were important — our programming on campus, our partnerships with universities, our corporate contributions to schools. I realized that I didn’t have the vernacular to really make a data-driven case that would speak to the decision-makers.”

Overcoming Differences

Raised in the South by Nigerian parents, Ben has had to learn how to navigate unfamiliar spaces for most of his life. “It’s given me empathy,” he said. “It’s also given me patience in giving other people grace when they’re ignorant of a certain subject, people, culture, or whatever it may be.”

As a Student Life Fellow, newly-elected Executive Vice President of Student Leadership and Engagement for the Wharton Graduate Association (WGA), and proud president of his Cluster 2 classmates, Ben is becoming a better leader by bringing people together.

Ben with his fellow MBA Cluster presidents.

“There are all these different things that diverge us — but what converges us is that we are all students and we all have lives.”

Meanwhile, his wife Mirelle is fostering community and culture as co-president of the Wharton Partners Club, a highly active and tight-knit support network for students’ significant others.

“I love that I’m at a school where my wife is very involved,” Ben said. “She really wants to make sure that partners feel included all the time and that their transition to Philadelphia and the Wharton school is seamless.”

Empowering the Next Generation

In 2012, Ben co-founded an education initiative with two other engineers and former colleagues called ArkaTechs to help schools build more engaging STEM curricula.

“We believe that it’s difficult to see beyond the fence that you’re behind,” he said. “We wanted young students to stand on our shoulders and see what we’ve seen by being at universities and having awesome STEM careers.”

While Ben remains passionate about STEM mentorship and youth development, he’s also excited to be at Procter & Gamble as a summer associate brand manager on Febreze. He’s there alongside two other classmates tackling analytics, strategy, and creative projects.

“P&G is an incredible training ground. I’m really hoping that I will be able to give as much as I expect to take away from the experience,” he said.

Ben welcomed the newest group of MBA admits this spring alongside Vice Dean Howie Kaufold and WGA President Shilpa Chandran, WG’20.

Being His Best Self

At Wharton, Ben is learning business fundamentals while striving to be his “best self” — and encouraging others to do the same.

“If I’m not working toward my best self, then I’m cheating the world out of something,” he said. “Who knows what I can bring, and how that can lift others to a place where they can do even more?”

A regular visitor of his student life and academic advisors, Ben believes they are an untapped resource. “They are connected to what’s happening in the school, the university, and with alumni. If you really want to figure out where your path lies in all these places, I think they have a big enough dataset that they can help you figure out why you belong here and what you can do with your time here.”

Gloria Yuen

Posted: July 1, 2019

Wharton Stories

Why This Aspiring Marketing Leader Decided to Upskill with an MBA Degree

Image: Joy with fellow Wharton MBAs at TechCrunch Disrupt, a premiere startup competition, during her time at SSF.
After working the analytical side of marketing for years, Joy Sun, WG’19, saw the value in building out her broader marketing skills through a Wharton MBA.

Unlike many MBA students looking to pivot their careers, Joy Sun, WG’19, came to Wharton to upskill in her current field. “Marketing is a rare function where you can be super analytical or super creative,” she said. “Because I was coming from the analytical side, I wanted more experience in the creative side as well.”

From managing a $3.5M advertising budget to driving customer acquisition, her work at Wayfair had been mostly ROI-driven with an analytical focus. Over time, her projects started running into a separate division that focused more on the creative, storytelling side — brand marketing.

Because marketing is a broad function, a leadership position requires both general manager and technical skills. For example, marketing leaders at Wayfair manage everything from data science teams to TV advertising.

Joy decided to pursue an MBA to learn more about brand marketing and supplement her analytical experience. “I eventually want to be a well-rounded marketing leader, so I need to understand the storytelling side and how it works with the data side, and how they can be combined together.”

Practical Focus and Applicable Class Concepts

“I chose Wharton because of how robust I thought the marketing curriculum was,” she said.

“Our professors are really in touch with real-world questions, which is why I feel like they’re very valuable,” she said. In many classes, professors bring industry professionals to talk about their experiences, provide insight into marketing trends, and participate in class discussions. Joy continues to audit one of her favorite classes, Strategic Brand Management with Prof. Patti Williams, because of guest speakers such as the co-founders of Allbirds, the CMO of Taco Bell, and the marketing leadership behind IBM Watson.

Semester in San Francisco

Joy enrolled in Semester in San Francisco (SSF), an immersive learning experience for MBA students visiting Wharton’s San Francisco campus. She feels the program is a great opportunity to get a sense of the Bay Area’s vibrant economic activity.

The semester acted as her springboard into the startup space. She attended TechCrunch Disrupt where an interesting pitch from Forethought caught her attention. She introduced herself and they contacted her shortly after they won the competition. A month later, she ended up consulting for them.

Balancing Part-Time Work and School

The opportunity cost of missing two years of valuable work experience prevents some students from pursuing an MBA. Joy managed to work part-time at various startups throughout her MBA career.

“Because I’ve been working and getting exposure to a lot of different companies, I have probably seen more of how different companies are scaling than most people have. I am a full-time MBA, part-time worker. SSF makes that super easy because there are so many opportunities there,” Joy said. In total, she has worked for four startups during her MBA, from Series A to Series C, not counting her summer internship as a Product Marketing Manager at LinkedIn.

For Series A startup, Forethought, Joy has led everything marketing related — from launching a website to directing PR efforts and content marketing to co-marketing partnerships. In contrast to her work at Wayfair, she was able to work on a range of projects and leverage classroom learnings.

“Having classes in all of these varied functions actually made me a lot better at working in the startup field,” she said. “It’s a lot broader as a scope and classes that I took at Wharton, such as Partnerships, Brand Marketing, and Digital Marketing were directly applicable to startup marketing strategy and execution.”

Erin Lomboy, W’21

Posted: June 12, 2019

Wharton Stories

Lessons This Healthcare Management Student Took Away from a Trip to Ethiopia

Misha Nasrollahzadeh, WG’20, recalls how a Global Modular Course in Ethiopia with her healthcare management class helped broaden her perspective on healthcare and innovation.

Over spring break, a group of Wharton undergrads, MBAs, and Executive MBA students spent five days learning about Ethiopian culture, healthcare, and entrepreneurship as part of a Global Modular Course led by Prof. Ezekiel Emanuel and Prof. Heather Schofield.

Global Modular Courses (GMC) offer students hands-on experience in another country.

“Students are able to see many of the issues that we discuss in the classroom before the trip, in action while in Ethiopia. For example, driving for hours on bumpy dirt roads to reach rural health clinics helped bring the discussions around the importance of infrastructure to life in a way that can be hard to do in a traditional classroom,” explained Prof. Schofield.

Ethiopia was chosen as a destination this year because of its unique history and some of the challenges that it shares with other developing countries.

“The country has a rich history, a large and rapidly growing population, and low but improving literacy and health,” said Schofield. The government is evolving quickly and working aggressively to improve the lives of its citizens but faces challenging geopolitical circumstances. In short, a GMC in Ethiopia offers students the chance to see a very dynamic country at an interesting time in its growth trajectory.

(Left to right) Sophia Yang (W’20), John Wong (WG’20, EMBA), Jessica Loeb (WG’20), Roberra Aklilu (WG’20), and Misha Nasrollahzadeh (WG’20) with students from a local Ethiopian school.

Healthcare Management major Misha Nasrollahzadeh, WG’20, went to Ethiopia with prior experience working in healthcare technology in Silicon Valley. She shared some of the insights she gained from the trip and how the experience has given her a broader perspective on American healthcare.

Lessons From Another Healthcare System

In Silicon Valley, Misha worked on Castlight Health, an app designed to help users navigate their healthcare benefits in the U.S.

“We were building a product that we were hoping that people around the country would use, no matter what. We weren’t really in touch with the various types of people that might be using our app,” said Misha.

“What I saw as the biggest eye-opener is that [Ethipoia] is one of the countries at the forefront of a new model called ‘community health workers.’ They essentially take leaders from each community or village and they become the person that serves the entire community’s healthcare needs. How great would it be if you could disseminate a product, a service, whatever it might be, with someone from that community, and actually educate people, call on them, and figure out their specific needs?”

The trip was also humbling. “We’re in the middle of a narrative in the U.S. of the rising cost of healthcare, and how the sick are becoming sicker.” After visiting Ethiopia, her perspective shifted. “You realize what access to modern technology, medication, sanitation, public health-related things that we have that has really put a lot of things that developing countries are facing.

An Immersive Experience

Students had the opportunity to explore the Ethiopian culture and business environment beyond healthcare.

“We visited a community health clinic and did a walking tour to the homes of two individuals that lived in the village. That was the highlight of my whole trip — being welcomed into somebody’s home and seeing how they lived. They had a makeshift kitchen that was made out of just mud and sand that they were using to make their traditional bread, and they were really proud of what they had built.”

Another memorable stop was at the largest rose farm in Africa, which operates its own hospital and one of the top schools in the country.

“It was really cool because it was a whole community built around it,” Misha said. “We saw the floral farm and we walked over to the school, and it was just a sea of thousands of kids running up to us, screaming and trying to say hi, practicing their English, singing songs for us. We just really fell in love with the energy of these kids, being able to have fun with them a little bit, and see the school.”

Misha could see how concepts from some of her Wharton classes were being put into practice.

“I’m in MGMT 611, which is about managing established enterprises, and one of the modules of that course is talking about global strategy. One of the big discussions on the trip was around Ethiopia’s partnerships outside the country, so China and the investments that China has made in Ethiopia in infrastructure and development were a big theme in our discussions. It was interesting to see how China took one approach in the sense that they are trying to adapt to the Ethiopian culture, and how Mandarin has become something that the Ethiopian youth are learning to speak.”

The students on the trip visited shoe and garment factories to learn about Ethiopia’s manufacturing industry.

Witnessing a Transformation

This year, MBA students experienced a transformed Ethiopia under its new prime minister and when politics at large have been shifting towards more progressive ideas.

“Once we got there, we realized that healthcare was just one part of the big story of the transformation that’s going on with Ethiopia right now. I was surprised to learn about the political shift that had taken place over the last ten months that has opened up so much opportunity for economic growth and global partnerships. And then, of course, what that means for the healthcare industry there,” Misha said.

Still, while the country is experiencing profound change, Ethiopia’s pride in its long history remains.

“It was my impression walking away at the end of the trip that Ethiopia was this country with a very proud, rich heritage — the start of civilization was there and that’s still something they are very proud to talk about today. But [it’s] one that’s still in the middle of writing its story, so they’re still taking advantage of some of the timing opportunities to progress the country forward and put themselves on the map.”

All photos courtesy of Roberra Aklilu, WG’20.

— Elis Pill, C’19

Posted:

Wharton Stories

A First-Year Wharton MBA Team Won ELC’s 2019 National Business Case Competition

Image: (Left to right) Team members Angie Gonzalez, Kaila Squires, Yinka Taiwo-Peters, and Mallory Smith.
The Mino Consultants relied on teamwork and Wharton resources to make a compelling case for attracting and retaining Millennial and Generation Z employees in the oil and gas industry.

On April 9, Angie Gonzalez, WG’20, Kaila Squires, WG’20, Mallory Smith, WG’20, and team captain Oluwayimika (Yinka) Taiwo-Peters, WG’20 competed in the Executive Leadership Council’s (ELC) 2019 National Business Case Competition. The team won first place, receiving a $35,000 cash award and an invitation to The Executive Leadership Council’s Annual Recognition Gala, an event that honors the support of diversity, inclusion, and achievement in business.

The annual competition, which is sponsored and hosted by Exxon Mobil, invites students from the nation’s top graduate schools to present a solution to a relevant business issue in the oil and gas industry. This year’s challenge focused on attracting and retaining millennial and Generation Z employees to the industry.

The team chose their name — Mino Consultants — for its historical significance.

“I’m very passionate about Pan-African culture in general. When I watched the movie “Black Panther,” I probably spent another seven hours trying to demystify the costumes, the names, and the characters behind the movie,” said Yinka, the team captain. During her research, Yinka discovered that the female warriors in the movie were inspired by the historical West African all-female army known as the Mino.

“If the Minos could have won battles as an all-female team, we were also well-positioned given our profiles, despite being the only all-female team in the competition,” she said.

Angie, Kaila, Mallory, and Yinka shared four valuable resources that brought them all the way to the final round:

1. Affinity-Based Programs

Although the members of Mino Consultants graduated from different colleges, they knew each other prior to Wharton through Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a pre-MBA preparatory program that helps African American, Latino, and Native American professionals make the most of their MBA experience. After arriving at Wharton, all four were selected as Toigo Fellows by the Robert Toigo Foundation, which seeks to promote and support underrepresented minorities in finance.

Yinka first heard about the ELC competition through an email from the Toigo Foundation. “I reached out to my classmates and fellow Toigo fellows, and they were very eager to come onboard. From there we went from one person being interested to a four-person team effort,” Yinka said.

2. Faculty and Classes

“We have such great faculty, but we get so busy that we don’t really leverage them. This was one of the standout opportunities when I have really leveraged a professor,” Yinka said.

The Human Capital Management module of MGMT 612 was a useful resource for the team. They communicated closely with course Prof. Peter Cappelli for insights from his research on recruiting and retention.  

“I worked on the recruiting and retention piece,” Kaila said. “Peter Cappelli has written a lot of articles and books on how to hire the right people and how to think about recruiting and retention. I quoted him in our presentation as far as the advice he gave us.”

3. Peer and Alumni Network

“We also leaned on our classmates to provide feedback,” Yinka said. During a travel trek over spring break, for example, Yinka spoke to a fellow student who had worked in the oil and gas industry outside of the U.S. That conversation added a compelling global perspective to the team’s brainstorming process.

Alumni who had competed in the ELC competition years prior and others who had done similar case competitions were also valuable resources for presentation advice. “They reviewed our content and helped us to be concise. Plus, they helped us think through ROI and different metrics,” Angie said.

4. Personal Perspective

The team’s diverse personal and career experiences helped them empathize with the competition’s target demographic.

“Both Mallory and I are part of Wharton Impact Investing Partners (WIIP), and that was an important experience for our pitch because we suggested how millennials could have an impact on their work. One of the ideas we pitched was creating a VC fund within the case’s hypothetical oil and gas company,” Angie said. “And from our experience — Mallory is on the energy team and I’m on the environmental team — we presented a real company [as a potential investment] that’s Houston-based and doing something impactful within oil and gas.”

“Despite us not having worked in oil and gas, we were able to reflect on our experiences in the workplace as millennials from different industries like tech and financial services, and really highlight the things that we thought helped us while we were there and things that didn’t,” Yinka said.

Looking Forward

In addition to taking home the first-place prize, the competition opened up more doors for the team. 

“Part of the case was enlightening for us because now we can speak better about what the industry is and does, and demystify it for other people,” Angie said.

“It was enlightening to really think about the implications of the industry in other functions outside of core energy production,” Yinka said. “I’m leading the new venture competition for the Wharton African Business Forum, the largest student-led conference at Wharton, and we have a new venture competition with over 100 startups. I’m taking lessons from this experience to help curate and plan that.”

“I’m so glad that we said yes to the opportunity and stuck with it. We were able to lean on each other and encourage each other along the way to finish it out. At the end of it we all thought that it was worth the work,” Kaila said. “So say yes to opportunities! A lot of people don’t sit to consider competitions like these and the benefits of this extra work.”

Mallory wants upcoming first-year MBA students to know the competition exists. “I think that it’s a great opportunity for the AAMBAA (Wharton African American MBA Association) community and other communities at Wharton to participate in so we can have representation year after year.”

— Erin Lomboy, W’21

Posted: May 28, 2019

Wharton Stories

Why This Former Elementary School Teacher is Now Pursuing a Career in Talent Strategy

Natalia Villarman, WG’20, discusses her transition from working as an elementary school teacher to a career in talent strategy.

Natalia Villarman, WG’20, followed a unique path to Wharton’s MBA program. After college, she became an elementary school teacher, then transitioned to a recruitment role with Teach for America, and later pursued talent acquisition and strategy in the tech industry.

That interest led her to join Facebook as a Diversity Initiatives University Recruiter. In that role, Natalia decided to broaden her expertise beyond recruitment to talent strategy.

“I was in the recruiting space, thinking about what it looks like to be strategic about hiring underrepresented talent, but hiring is just a very small part of that whole equation. It’s also making sure that people feel like they can contribute fully when they’re in your workplace, making sure we are retaining talent, and developing people. There’s so much about helping people fully contribute to their workplaces and making sure they feel like they belong there, so I wanted to get an MBA to broaden that — to get beyond recruitment and think more about talent,” she said.

From Education To Tech

As a second-grade teacher working for Teach for America in Brooklyn, Natalia witnessed the lack of diversity first-hand. When a role on Teach For America’s recruitment staff opened up, she jumped at the chance to join.

“I learned that they were interested in increasing diversity within their Teach for America corps. I was one hundred percent interested in making sure that more students were able to have that kind of representation,” she said.

Eventually, she left the nonprofit sector to take on similar challenges in the technology space.

“I started volunteering with a couple of different nonprofits and helping them with their strategies around hiring and decided it would be really cool to see what that’s like within the realm of tech, which is a space that has been historically struggling with diversity and inclusion,” she said.

“I recognized that some of the broader interests I had in seeing a more diverse teacher workforce actually came from recognizing how talent strategy is an important part of any organization — not just thinking about hiring, but also thinking about how diversity and inclusion play a role in retention or the way people are able to be productive contributors to their experiences in their companies.”

Applying Teaching Skills in Business School

Natalia’s experience in front of the classroom gives her a few advantages in business school.

“There are certain skills that I can bring to a team or classroom situation, that maybe I wouldn’t have if I weren’t a teacher beforehand. For example, I had to memorize a lot of lesson plans as a teacher, so I feel very relaxed when giving a speech in front of a group as opposed to some of my peers, who maybe have never done that before. Now, I’m just refining that even more and learning how to respond better to hard questions.”

Teaching second-graders also trained her to handle group dynamics at the MBA level.

“Facilitating conversations with teams [and] facilitating learning experiences [is what] I think is a lot of what you do as an MBA student. You’re not just project managing through a lot of the projects you get but you’re also spending a lot of time thinking through team dynamics. That’s also what you do all the time when you’re working with students. Even though I was working with second graders, a lot of those skills are [the same].

Elis Pill, C’19

Posted: May 14, 2019

Wharton Stories

Why The Co-Founder of SoulCycle Restarted with a New Fitness Venture

“I really wanted people to find this safe place, this safe workout, because it’s low-impact. People can come and take a class if they’re 17 years old or if they’re 82 years old.”

Ruth Zukerman’s path to entrepreneurship was nothing if not unconventional. After studying dance in college and teaching fitness classes in New York City, she ended up co-founding two indoor cycling studios, SoulCycle and Flywheel. Now, as Creative Director at Flywheel, she teaches sold out weekly cycling classes. She shares takeaways from her career and walking away from a successful company to start a new venture.



Interview Highlights

On Lessons From Dance

“I think that all of our experiences as we grow up all play an important part in how we end up. When I think back now, taking dance classes from age eight through 22 taught me the importance of discipline and the art form of dance — you never quite succeed in that you can always improve upon yourself. That was a real learning lesson for me too, that we have to keep working on it. If we fail, if something trips us up, we keep going.” — Ruth Zukerman

On Designing an Inclusive Exercise Environment

“I really wanted people to find this safe place, this safe workout, because it’s low-impact. People can come and take a class if they’re 17 years old or if they’re 82 years old — and I have people in my class in their 80s. I also placed a lot of importance on customer service and making sure there were people in there ready for you when you came to your bike so they could set you up properly and set your expectations, and let you know which part of the class is going to feel challenging and which part [you] could really slack off on. So, making the most important thing the comfort of the person coming in.”

On Going in the Opposite Direction

“The cultures at SoulCycle and Flywheel were completely different. At SoulCycle, we very quickly became the club you can’t get into, and that has a lot of appeal to a lot of people. When they’re in and they’re doing it, they feel really great. That was a huge part of the success of SoulCycle. When we started Flywheel, I wanted to go in the complete opposite direction, purely because it was more of who I am and I wanted those other people to have a shot at it. So we tried to make it as open and welcoming to everybody as possible. And for Flywheel, my partner Jay and I, we were both very nice and kind people. I do believe in business there is a certain importance to the trickle-down theory and I feel that we were both people who needed to please others. If that’s your MO, you’re going to cultivate a group of people that are also really nice and want to please and be liked, and that’s really what happened.”

On Managing Partnerships

“There needs to be a certain respect among the partners, and more specifically, a respect for what each partner is bringing to the business. There has to be a discussion around how are the partners going to handle disagreements and different points of view on things. At Flywheel, [we] had two partners, we each had our own area of expertise, and we each stayed in our own lanes until we wanted to contribute to a situation that wasn’t in [our] lane. But we made sure that the other partner was okay with it. Once we had that comfort level, we could collaborate and we could suggest things and be okay if the other partner said: ‘That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.’”

On Trusting Your Gut

“I think for the most part, your gut will start the ball rolling because it kind of tells you where this is probably going to end up. But then I do think it’s important to go through the ritual of figuring out if this is the right decision, going right back to that old-fashioned technique of sitting down with a pen and paper and writing down the positives and negatives — it always works.”

Posted: May 7, 2019

Wharton Stories

How a Wharton Class Inspired This ER Doctor to Equip Physicians with Leadership Skills

Greg Wallingford, WG’19, was practicing emergency medicine while studying full-time at Wharton, when MGMT 610 inspired him to create a leadership curriculum for physicians.

Greg Wallingford, WG’19, was an emergency medicine resident at Stanford when patient volumes surged.

“The hospital and emergency department were so overcrowded that we started treating patients in the waiting room, then in the hallways, and eventually we were forced to treat patients in a tent,” he said. “That experience opened my eyes to the opportunity to help patients on a broader scale by tackling systems-level challenges, and sparked my interest in business school.”

Last summer, Greg took his clinical and business insights to address healthcare system needs at an internship with McKinsey & Company. When he returned to campus for the second year of his MBA, he served as a William P. Lauder Leadership Fellow and supported Psychology and Management Prof. Adam Grant in facilitating MGMT 610 — a course that builds leadership and teamwork skills through classroom application.

Greg’s leadership skills grew in that role and he began to see the value that deep peer-to-peer communication could add to a hospital environment. That fall, he mentored Jennifer Morganroth, WG’20, an MD/MBA candidate also studying Health Care Management (HCM).

“She came up to me and said she wished a lot of this content were in the medical school curriculum,” Greg said. “That was a lightbulb moment for me.”

Greg lectures Penn Medicine clerkship students at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).

Now Greg and Jennifer are working on a leadership and personal development curriculum to help physicians provide better care for their patients and themselves.

“My friends, my wife, myself, the medical students and residents that I teach — most of them are doctors. I want to make sure that they have the means to develop themselves like I did in business school because I’ve realized that the traits that make you a great leader also make you a happier person. If I boil down my mission statement, it’s to leverage leadership and teamwork principles to make medicine a happier place.”

Transplanting Wharton Lessons

While the ER keeps Greg motivated and on the pulse of what’s happening in the hospital, Wharton’s unique HCM program gives him the chance to explore business resources and form connections with industry peers.

“Since I enrolled in HCM, I’ve talked to practicing physicians about the benefits of a full-time versus executive MBA probably once every other week,” Greg said. It might seem unthinkable to pursue a full-time MBA and practice medicine simultaneously, but Greg says the support he’s received from Penn and Wharton makes it one of the best decisions he’s ever made. “Classroom learning is so much more powerful when you have ongoing, challenging experiences to apply it to.”

With one foot in both worlds, Greg adapts business strategies for working physicians.

“The skill sets have a lot of overlap, but the context is different,” he explained. “In business, a difficult conversation may revolve around firing someone, but in medicine, it might revolve around death.” Teamwork in the hospital, too, is more about short-term bonding with a variety of medical teams, and often under high stakes and pressure.

Greg believes small group engagement like P3: Purpose, Passion and Principles, which he facilitated this year, could also be adapted into timely discussions for residents. As a group,  they can digest challenging work experiences while exploring their definitions of success, happiness, and fulfillment.

The Bottom Line

Greg and Jennifer are encouraging open dialogue within the medical community with their personal and professional stories, inside and outside of Penn. After presenting to 400 medical students and faculty at the 2019 Gold Humanism Honor Society Conference, Greg was invited to speak at Cooper University, Drexel University, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

After graduation in May 2019, he will head to McKinsey to learn more about health system operations and identify leadership and personal development gaps. Three months per year he plans to step out of the Dallas office and return to Penn to teach and practice emergency medicine.

Eventually, he’d like to integrate Wharton-inspired lectures into the mandatory medical school curriculum.

“As an MBA student, I know that one of the biggest motivators of change is the bottom line,” he said. “If an opportunity makes sense from an investment point of view, you enable hospitals to support mission-based projects. Through leadership development, physicians will be empowered to foster a stronger, more collaborative culture, which will result in more efficient hospitals. That’s the long-term return on investment for the program that I envision.”

Gloria Yuen

Posted: April 29, 2019

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