Wharton piles on the work“It’s a disaster!”
The first-year students at The Wharton School of business never stop saying this.
Several of the students who attend Wharton, at the University of Pennsylvania, already are working for multinational corporations and have strong resumes. Yet, the master of business administration program is still a tough nut to crack.
Many executives apply to Wharton with the intention of stepping back from their front-line jobs and relaxing for a couple years. They expect to get some theoretical training and a chance to read. But once the classes begin on Wharton’s Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, campus, their dreams deflate due to the tough curriculum.
“The microeconomics exam you’re going to take next week will likely give you an a shock that you haven’t experienced before,” a professor typically warns students at orientation. “But don’t be discouraged. If the results are disappointing, the school provides the best support for its students.”
Kim Dong-ju, an assistant manager at Citibank’s Seoul office, who graduated from Wharton last year, said the school’s personal touch makes the educational experience memorable.
For example, Mr. Kim vividly remembers the “kind” e-mail he received from Jane Anjani, the vice-dean of the department.
He earned a high grade point average through his intensive studies, Mr. Kim said, but the stress from the course work was worse than what he had experienced in Korea when he studied for the university entrance exam.
Students at Wharton are graded on a relative basis. If a student belongs to the bottom 10 percent, he receives a “Quality Control” warning requiring academic improvement.
Even though many Wharton students excelled in their studies at other colleges, those who fail to push harder could easily receive a QC notice, according many Korean alumni. This is one of the reasons why Wharton’s classes are always filled and absences are rare.
Wharton’s curriculum is often tougher and more densely packed than other MBA programs. Each semester, which lasts for seven weeks, has two exams and daily assignments.
A notable aspect of the Wharton program is its introduction of an auction for class registration. Each student receives an equal amount of virtual points at the beginning of each semester, and each student is encouraged to use those points to “buy” the classes that he would like to attend.
The students then bargain for the price of the course at an auction. The price of a few popular courses is so high that students can’t afford them with the points they’ve been given at the beginning of the semester.
To register for these classes, students must accumulate credits by participating in on-line lectures held throughout the year that distribute additional points to its participants.
Marketing, finance and accounting are the three areas where Wharton is strongest. But most of Wharton’s business programs are in the top five of international rankings of MBA programs.
The Financial Times of London has chosen Wharton as the world’s best business school for three years in a row.
One of the reasons the school’s reputation is so good is it produces students with strong business skills who can be thrown into the job force as soon as they graduate.
Students at the Harvard Business School often joke, with a bit of cynicism, that “Wharton produces good employees, but Harvard develops strong managers.”
Wharton’s student body is literally “a global village.” Foreign students account for about 40 percent of Wharton’s admissions each year, a relatively high number compared with other North American schools.
Wharton’s students work with talented people from all over the world and learn how to compete on a global level, said Seo Gyeong-guk, a 1997 graduate, who now works for UBS Warburg Securities.
Global competition is taught through group studies. For each course, the school puts together teams of people with different race, sex and ethnic backgrounds. Each team needs to complete a project assigned to them within a year.
Whether students like it or not, the team must work together throughout the year; there is no swapping team members.
The school’s teaching philosophy is based on real situations since employees can’t choose whom to work with.
“Students get to learn through this forced environment that an individual alone can’t lead an organization, no matter how talented he is,” said Yang Ji-eul a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, who graduated from Wharton in 2001.
“You get to learn strong leadership through the process of group studies,” Mr. Yang said.
Wharton has 330 Korean alumni, many working in consulting, finance, government, education and accounting.
The Korean branch of the “Wharton Boy’s Club” includes Gang Chan-su, the president of the Seoul Securities, who was appointed president at the recommendation of George Soros, the American financier who holds a majority stake in the company. Other members are Hong Seok-ju, the president of Chohung Bank, and Yu Si-wang, the economic advisor of Samsung Securities.
Wharton’s alumni association (www.whartonkorea.com) is the strongest and most active organization when compared with other business schools’ alumni groups in Korea.
The club was founded in 1993 by some of the school’s earlier graduates. Members have been meeting since 1993, when Lee Sae-hun, the CEO of HanGlas, was appointed the group’s president. Choi Jwa-jin, the CEO of Suttong Corp., a battery manufacturer, recently took over the position.
Wharton’s Korean graduates joke that the heyday of the alumni association was triggered by the Asian economic crisis when Korean graduates, who were working as executives at Hong Kong investment banks, were laid off and came home looking for jobs.
There were about 100 people when the alumni group first was first formed. Back then, the membership included graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate programs. In 10 years, the membership has tripled.
The alumni hold an annual meeting. But members also meet in smaller groups throughout the year.
Every first Saturday of the month, about four teams, each consisting of four people ranging from a recent graduates to older ones, meet for a golf tournament.
Regulars include Park Geun, a former ambassador of the United Nations, Seowoo Seok-ho, an economic professor at Hongik University, Ahn Yong-chan, the president of Aekyung Corporation, and Bae Gil-hun, the president of Korean Delphi Developer’s Group.
“Wharton 80” a subgroup within the alumni consists of Koreans who graduated from the college during the 1980s.
Another group, which graduated in 1994, has also formed a “Wharton Forum,” a group of 14 people who discuss various economic issues. The group last year translated the book “Built to Last ― Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.”
The Wharton alumni also manage networks for its graduates and applicants to the business school.
The alumni get together every year to provide information about the school and prepare applicants for interviews, which are held in December, February and March.
Between April and May, as students receive letters of acceptance, the alumni arrange meetings for new students.
During the fall, the alumni hold a seminar for students who are interested in applying for the following year.
MBA alum charts his course
Hong Seok-ju, a president of Chohung Bank, is an alumnus of The Wharton School. He completed the MBA program in 1985. At 50 years of age, he’s in the unusual position of being one of the youngest presidents the bank has ever had. In a conservative industry that tends to hire older employees as its directors, Mr. Hong’s position is even more unusual.
Mr. Hong studied at Wharton with the company’s financial support after being voted an outstanding employee.
“Since joining the company in 1976, I hadn’t had the time to think through problems I was facing at work,” Mr. Hong said. “Wharton gave me that time, which turned out to be extremely beneficial.”
While at Wharton, Mr. Hong said he came to understand the attitude of a responsible manager.
Mr. Hong recalled a time when Akio Morita, the founder of Sony, visited the school.
“In the middle of explaining to students his economic philosophy, he pulled out a new model of a Sony CD player and started promoting the product to the class.”
It came as a complete culture shock to Mr. Hong that a man of Mr. Morita's position, who is more likely to sit in his plush chair and order his employees around, would actually give a sales pitch.
Mr. Hong said he learned that a company can only become a global leader when the people in top management participate in the field.
Now is the time for Mr. Hong to try out this theory for himself.
Mr. Hong is going wavering whether or not to sell Chohung Bank. He doesn’t want to leave the company’s fate in the hands of others, and thinks the best alternative for now is to increase the value of the company as much as possible until a final decision is made.
From Feb. 1 through the end of March, Mr. Hong held a “new start campaign.” The aim was to increase the value of Chohung Bank’s assets and to raise the bank’s market share.
Mr. Hong said he treated the process as an opportunity for the company to survive and stand on its own.
With the influence of Sony’s deceased founder still evident in Mr. Hong’s management style, he recently gave awards to some of his employees in an attempt to encourage them at a time when the company’s future seems so uncertain.
Korean alumni of Wharton
Lee Bong-seo, chairman of Danam Communications
Kim Ju-jin, chairman of Amkor Technology
Choi Jwa-jin, president of Suttong Corp.
Lee Sae-hun, chairman of Hanglas Group
Ahn Yong-chan, president of Aekyung Corp.
Lee Myung-woo, president of Sony Korea
Lee Sang-woong, president of Global Enterprises Ltd.
Gu Bon-geol, vice-president of LG Restructuring
Kim Sin-bae, managing director of SK Telecom
Lee Joon-ha, executive director of Hyundai Development Co.
Nam Chung-sik, president of Aveda Korea
Lee Woong-il, chairman of Hana-Allianz Investment Trust Management
Kim Gi-beom, president of Korean French Banking Corp.
Lee Choong-wan, vice-president of Woori Credit Card Co.
Yu Si-wang, senior advisor at Samsung Securities
Lee Sang-hyun, chairman of Marsh Korea
Gang Chan-su, chairman of Seoul Securities
Hong Seok-ju, president of Chohung Bank
Song Gyeong-seop, managing director of ING Baring Securities
Jeong Yu-sin, department manager of Daewoo Securities
Yun Seok-cheol, economics professor at Seoul University
Jang Ha-seong, economics professor at Korea University
Yeon Gang-heum, economics professor at Yonsei University
Kim Dae-shik, economics professor at Hanyang University
Kim Gyu-bok, president of Korea Financial Intelligence Unit
Shin Dong-woo, managing director of the Seoul Metropolitan Government's Office of Waterworks
Oh Gap-su, vice-president of Financial Supervisory Service
Seo Sam-young, president of National Computerization Agency
Jang Jong-hyun, president of Booz Allen Hamilton Korea
Chae Su-il, president of Boston Consulting Group Korea
Chae Myeong-sik, director of Accenture Korea
Park Tae-hyeong, president of Infobank
Paik Man-gi, patent attorney at Kim & Chang
by Lee Jung-ae