Wonderful Piece of Advice to Entrepreneurs by Prominent Lauderpreneur

I need to share this hands-on and insightful blog post by Davis Smith, the founder of www.baby.com.br

This post echoes Paul Hynek’s view (see previous post) that entrepreneurs with the Wharton MBA are much better positioned to succeed:

http://thewalnutstreetjournal.blogspot.com/2011/10/value-of-mba-for-entrepreneurs.html

 

Paul Hynek: Think of the two years on campus as orientation for the life-long program.

Paul Hynek, who is the current President of the Lauder Institute Alumni Association, has kindly found time to talk with the me about his experience at the Wharton/Lauder program.  One of the recurring themes that is not difficult to identify in conversations about the Wharton/Lauder program with the alumni is that it invariably has a profound positive influence on both professional and personal development.  Paul’s career success and contributions to communities everywhere he goes speak for themselves.

What’s the magic recipe behind the positive force of the program?  How does one harness the great potential and take advantage of the many opportunities that come with it?  Here’s what Paul thinks about it:

DENIS: Paul, you graduated from Wharton/Lauder a while ago, and back then it was a different program in many ways. Did the program meet your expectations? Did it enable you to achieve all the goals that you had set when you were applying?

PAUL: I have always been a huge fan of the Wharton/Lauder program.

DENISYou mentioned in the speech you gave during the [Lauder] graduation ceremony in 2010 that you saw yourself as a Penn student more than anything…

PAUL:   Yes, that’s right. Benjamin Franklin has always been my hero and Penn has such a variety of outstanding schools:  Business, Engineering, Law, Medical, Dental, etc. It is a fascinating place!

DENIS: What was the particular appeal of the Lauder Institute and why did it shape your choice of a graduate school?

PAUL: I had been a French major in college, and my view of the world changed radically when I left my comfortable suburban Chicago and went off to live in France for a year.  It really taught me to think much more from a global point of view, and I loved learning the language, I loved being in a different culture, being challenged.  And I wanted more of that, I thought it would just be a tremendous way to enhance what I would learn in a more traditional MBA program.

DENIS: In retrospect, what aspect of that education has proved to be most useful and valuable?

PAUL: The combination of what I got from both Wharton and Lauder. Wharton taught me to arbitrage basically anything I come across:  how to find opportunities for financial [gain], information, product or service delivery, how to recognize opportunities to do something more efficiently or provide something in a better way—it’s just to sort of have my antennae out all the time to spot opportunities that may not be obvious had I not gone to Wharton.

And from Lauder:   it did fulfill the promise to give me a much more global point of view of the world and the ability to not just see data points behinds the events going on around the world, but because I have some of the underlying cultural context, I could see the trends that are driving them.  And that could be more important—it is one thing to know where something is, but to have an idea of where it might be going is much more valuable.

DENIS: When you were going through the program, do you remember what were your favorite subjects at Lauder?

PAUL: My favorite subjects? I ate it all up!  I actually saw myself as more of a Lauder student than Wharton.  I really prioritized [Lauder] and I was a very diligent student in all my Lauder classes, I did not skip out of them for interviews and things like that…

DENIS: What was the influence of the Wharton MBA experience on your professional life?

PAUL: I can speak to the extent of that influence:  it is complete and fundamental in terms of how it transformed my career, every single thing I have done since graduation. Most of the things I have been involved with are directly because of Wharton or Lauder, and the ones that aren’t have all been significantly enhanced because of it:  either a better position, a higher salary, and always just better and more fulfilling responsibility.

DENISCan you give an example?

PAUL: Sure, I really see myself as a high-tech software type guy, and I got into that because I was Vice President of the Princeton Review of Japan living in Tokyo, and a very good friend of mine, Richard Sprague, Lauder ’91, was working for Apple Japan, and he introduced to this whole new world of software technology.

DENIS: I know you eventually became a tech entrepreneur. Was your MBA degree of any value there? Was it at all applicable?

PAUL: I’ve had people ask me: “Well, why would you go to business school if you are just going to be an entrepreneur?” And I see it exactly the opposite way—especially for me, I really would not want to be an entrepreneur without the benefit of having gone to Wharton/Lauder.   Apart from the classes specifically devoted to entrepreneurship, which are great, virtually every single class, every person I met, and every event I went to is helpful to me.

DENIS: In what way?

PAUL: Learning some new technique, or another pattern that somebody’s gone through that I can apply in my entrepreneurial career.  Then there are just the basic things; but the most important thing I got out of the program in relation to entrepreneurship is confidence.   I think we are all a pretty confident lot who get into Wharton/Lauder, and you can’t help but leave with a whole lot more confidence.  Next to passion, I think confidence is the most important thing you can have in entrepreneurship. So any program that jacks up your confidence is worth far more than you pay both in terms of the tuition and the opportunity cost for the time that you spend there. Another one is the ability to break down highly complex dynamic situations where you have incomplete information that tend to stall a lot of people into kind of a paralysis.  The program gives you the ability to prioritize and coordinate, to break down these situations into bite-sized actions that you can work on immediately regardless on how the other parts may not lend themselves to action right away, and so that you can keep moving towards your goals.  It is a really nice skill to be able to break these things down into things that you can work on right now.

And then another thing that I got out of it is the rich vein of patterns that you can learn in class, from your classmates and case studies. You can map that knowledge back to your specific problem.  For example, I was getting some funny business from my first Chinese factory.  The problem I had that they sent me $80,000 worth of electronic items that did not work.  Since it was my first factory, I had no experience, and had no experience to draw on, and it was such a foreign situation to me:  the culture, or the subculture of Chinese factory owners that I have not learned yet about. So I have loosened up the definition in my mind of Chinese factory owners screwing me over, and redefined it as overdependence on a single supplier, which is classical MBA speak. By looking at it that way, at that higher abstract layer, I was able to pattern match it to examples that I had heard on campus. Then I shipped it back down to my specific level, and mapped some of these best practices and tips to my particular situation, and I was able to resolve the matter.  First, I fixed the faulty product myself by gearing up an ad-hoc production line in my fulfillment center in the States.  I negotiated a better deal with the factory owner, and lined up a backup factory as well.

It did not hurt that because of Lauder I was completely prepared, and I had my ticket to go to China and tell him that he’d have to tell me in my face that he was not going to make good, and so he knew that, and he did not want me to come there.  As a footnote, he has since become a trusted friend of mine. The first time I went to visit him, I learned a bit of Mandarin, but not only did he not understand my Mandarin, he did not even realize I was trying to speak the language. But being the good Lauder boy that I am, undaunted I went back on my own, and the next time I went back, I was able to make out a conversation in their Ningbo dialect what prices another factory owner was giving my factory rep, and from that I was able to determine what commission percentage my factory rep was charging me.  Because of Lauder I was able to understand the factory owner, and befriend him, and then learn without committing them myself probably the top 100 mistakes that people make in dealing with Chinese factory owners.

DENIS: You are now actively involved with the Lauder Institute Alumni Association. Can you tell us a little about the goals of your involvement?

PAUL: I am the President of the LIAA.  It serves to keep bringing ongoing benefits and enable communication between alums.

We were building on the great foundation that was made before our time (hats off to Norm Savoie and company) and we have just recently started a monthly newsletter, called “The Lauder Times,” and there is a section that is called Lauder Love, where we want to spread discounts on products, job postings, all the kind of things like that. As the first one I offered my software for free, and about fifty people downloaded it so far.

Our goal is to have a whole lot of events; so we are going to have our Global Forum in 2013 and other events… but the challenge with our alumni is because they are spread all around the world, a lot of them just cannot go to various events. We want to come up with things that will be of benefit to people that cannot attend something; and we have several other initiatives we are working on that will be coming up in the subsequent editions of the newsletter.

I am also an admissions interviewer for Lauder, and I enjoy that very much.  It is fun! Wharton interviews shifted to the more behavioral style, whereas Lauder is more classical, and I like it:  I like meeting people.  I go to lots of admissions events as well—for both Wharton and Lauder—and I will be the sort of a Lauder guy at the Wharton admission events, and I’d tell people about why I chose Wharton and Lauder.  I enjoy that quite a lot.

Basically, not a day goes by where I don’t have some form of interaction from somebody from Lauder.

DENIS: What advice would you give the new graduates from the program?

PAUL: The main thing I would say is:  stay involved. It is not a two-year program.  Think of the two years on campus as orientation for the life-long program; I encourage people to adopt that point of reference.

A friend of mine—and I agree with him—said that in the years right after graduation he saw the benefits that he got out of the program split roughly equally between these three things:   one third for classroom learning, one third for Wharton and Lauder relationships that he made at school, and then one third for Wharton and Lauder relationships he made after school.  As time goes by the importance shifts from classroom learning to emphasize more the relationships you made at school and then in particular—the relationships you made after school.  It’s really not enough to just keep in touch with the buddies you have from school, but you have to keep growing your circle and staying active, and meeting more people.   That’s exactly what we want to help people do at LIAA.

DENIS: What would be your advice to those who have just started the program and joined our large family?  What should they be concentrating on and what would help them have a better experience at school?

PAUL: There are two lessons I learned when I got there that nobody had told me about before, and I wish I had know going in:

One was that it is a game, and you have to realize that you will be given more work than you can possibly do.  And if you are a type-A person, an overachiever, it is a difficult realization to understand that you cannot do all the work, and that you have to develop strategies to maximize your coverage.

Do they still have study groups or is there a different term for that?

DENIS: They call them “learning teams” these days.

PAUL: So you need to have a good learning team, efficient time management and the ability to get the tells (you know that poker term: the tells) from the professors to know what’s really going to be on the tests. But that’s just part of the game.

Two: you also have to let the unimportant stuff go, and eventually if you understand that it is a game, that they are giving you too much stuff, and that you have to prioritize, you’ll get on top of it. You will see that you will have time to prepare and be able to do well on the tests, but also to learn things that aren’t test-related just because they interest you.

You are in an Ivy League school, and there a lot of things that you can get involved with.  Perhaps, in a class you take a tangent from a chapter to something else just because it is interesting to you, but you have to get to the point where you feel comfortable playing the game of having what you have to get done—done, and not worrying about the stuff that you can’t get done.  The benefit of this, the nice thing that I learned is that because of the nature of business school, and Wharton/Lauder in particular, you may well find that blowing off reading a chapter from a class that you have to read by the next day to go have a beer with a classmate could actually be more beneficial to you in the long term than reading that chapter.

Striking up that relationship with somebody you do not know that well could pay off much better than just reading some chapter that you’re going to forget in a year.

You know, I was eating breakfast and dinner in the Law School cafeteria, and I met tons of law students: compared to us, they were a somewhat miserable bunch.  You could tell that we were happy about our situation, and one time they asked us what kind of social things we had coming up, and we listed about ten of them. They said, “No, no. Not for the rest of the semester, just this weekend.” And we said, “No, that’s just tonight!”   We had so many things going on that they weren’t used to!  When I got to the point where I could manage my time effectively, and understood the importance of those events, I was a very happy guy indeed!

DENIS: Thank you, Paul!

Lauder Culture Quest 2011 A Success

Miriam Grobman, WG’11, was one of the lucky Wharton MBA’s to dash through Central America with Lauder Culture Quest this year. She wrote this blog post especially for the Wharton/Lauder blog:

Lauder Culture Quest took place on May 19- 31 and took us, 50+ adventurous Lauderites from the classes of 2011 and 2012 across 7 different countries in Central America. Most of us first met in Belize City Airport and took a bus across the border to Tikal in Guatemala.

We faced our first team challenge at the other side of the border, trying to collect all the group members without losing anyone after the crossing process that took around 3 hours. We also ran into a circus that was also crossing the border and one of us (whose name will not be told) had a random encounter with a lion suffering from a weak-bladder.

After many hours, we finally made it to Tikal, Guatemala but not before stopping to see the magnificent sunset over the Laguna Yaxja.

In Tikal, we were greeted by our heroic Kim Norton (Program Manager for Research Projects & External Affairs) who did so much of the planning and organization to make it happen and Professor Mauro Guillen, the man thanks to whom this adventure has come to life. The student organizers, Greg, Davis, Amaya, Amy, Dan, Devon, Johnathan, Joon and Porter, took us through the details of the trip and some important safety precautions and communication requirements and finished by handing out something we will learn to really appreciate in the next several days – bug repellant.

The following day we had a tour around the historical relics of the ancient Tikal city. The place was beautiful and some of the braver among us climbed the pyramids in the scorching heat. I only made it to Tower IV, where we could get phone reception (can someone say Crackberry?).

After the Tikal, it was time to split into our trip groups and venture into the unknown. Most of us headed first to Antigua, Guatemala, a beautiful colonial city, surrounded by active volcanoes. Many more adventures followed across the landscapes of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. These included climbing and sand boarding down volcanoes, riding chicken buses and staying in shady motels in remote towns, visiting local schools, eating local street food, getting in trouble with immigration police, visiting museums, navigating in the middle of the night in unknown surroundings, sailing the waters, interviewing local entrepreneurs about their supply chain and inventory management practices, meeting famous Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran and much more. You can read about all of these in the individual blogs that each team wrote.


Overall, the Culture Quest has been an incredible experience for all of us. We learned a great deal about the cultural, economic and political differences in this fascinating region of the world. We improved our leadership and teamwork skills, having to pass through 7 countries in only 10 days. Some of us got to perfect our Spanish skills, while others had to learn basic communication skills in a new language. We also got to appreciate the wealth and luxury we are accustomed to in our part of the world, while others have only access to basic education and have to rebuild their houses and communities every time a natural disaster hits. It is one thing to read about a place on Wikipedia, but it’s a whole different thing to immerse oneself in the country’s culture through conversation with locals, visiting institutions, eating according to the local diet and listening to local music. Let’s hope we can continue this tradition in Lauder and explore other regions of the world together while applying the cross-cultural skills we already have and the ones the Lauder Institute teaches us every day.

Update from Director of Lauder Institute: Innovations Abound

Disclaimer: I have been waiting to release this post for a few months now, thinking that it would be most useful for those aspiring business school applicants from all over the world who are now defining the schools they want to target. Wharton/Lauder MBA/MA program strives to attract the best applicants, and I think providing this information now will give my beloved school an edge in this process.

My goal in interviewing Prof. Mauro Guillen, Director of the Lauder Institute, was to get an update on how the program was changing, and how some of the earlier initiatives had been developing. It is amazing that Prof. Mauro Guillen was able to find time in his busy schedule on April 12, 2011 to talk with me on the phone and explain in detail what was new at the Lauder Institute. Thank you, Mauro!

Interview:

Me: Mauro, there has been quite a bit of change in the Wharton approach to its curriculum, and I wonder how Lauder has been involved?

Prof. Mauro Guillen: Lauder is embracing change and constantly evolving into a more flexible, stronger, up-to-date program. We have recently published a 3-year report on our website, where I summarized some of the progress that has been made between 2007 and 2010 (The report is available in English, and Spanish.)

We are expanding our academic program. This year, we added the Hindi track, and admitted 5 students. There was a lot of interest in the new program so I am very optimistic about its prospects.

Next, we are thinking about an Africa track. Right now, the discussions we have had leads to a new type of a program as this might be not a traditional language-focused track. That would make us the first top business school in the world to focus on Africa.

Lauder is adding more cross-cultural stuff on a selection basis. For example, the Culture Quest. We plan on doing this once or twice a year in different parts of the world. The idea is to have a race across a multicultural region — and this year it will be in Latin America. The goal is for the Cuture Quest to be an educational activity: there is a plan to throw in a mix of lectures on campus, all sorts of visits on the ground, and ultimately getting from point A to point B that way. I see this as a very important step: in a sense, we are taking a step away from country focuses, and helping participants dissect a whole region getting a condensed view of the communities, and problems they are facing.

We are organizing big conferences with academics. One was just last week: big open event for all Wharton in Huntsman Hall. It was funded by the Institute, and these events are not a small thing. The budget was $180K – expensive, but we think it is important to lead the academic activities this way, and it is a beginning of a series of key academic events. We will take the conference to other cities, i.e. Dubai, Shanghai, etc. For example, we want to get more involved in policy making debate, and it is important to make it an international discussion.

All of these will take Lauder to the next level.

Me: Language instruction has always been in the center of the Institute’s attention. What is the school doing in that domain?

Prof. Mauro Guillen: We continue to strengthen our language programs as our core focus on international communication has not changed. We are hiring new people for some tracks; all of them are OPI certified. We have introduced a more seamless curriculum.
We have changed the benchmark away from strictly OPI-based graduation

Over the last three years, student language performance has improved dramatically, and a substantially higher proportion of students achieve 3 and above on OPI on exit. At the same time, we are more flexible with the students who have made the progress, but have not quite reached the level of 3 on OPI. I want to say that we are not changing the graduation requirements when it comes to language standards, but at the same time we are more flexible and look at such students on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, our language program is constantly evolving.

Me: My year (2010) was the pioneer of the Global Knowledge Lab. What has the feedback been so far?

Prof. Mauro Guillen: Two years now have done the GKL. We kept the model of the Lab, and expanded the number of projects. At the same time, we increased support of the projects. The results have been mostly positive. Students have done an outstanding work so far: some of the student research will be published… there soon will be a book with some of our students’ work.

Me: Lauder Summer Immersion is when the excitement really starts. Any developments there?

Prof. Mauro Guillen:This year, there are few changes. Because of the earthquake and the tsunami, Japan track is getting moved to the Honshu area. Spanish track is going to Colombia this year. Indian track is new, and they are doing everything for the first time. Chinese track’s schedule is not drastically different from last year.

Me: during the crisis summer of 2009, the Lauder Institute went out of its way to help students with summer internship placements, and as far as I know, the Institute continues to focus on helping students find jobs that suit their career goals. What progress has been done in this area?

Prof. Mauro Guillen: We continue to focus on career development. This year we have made a lot of progress with internships, so this remains unchanged. However, we are now going to offer career coaching to our students. One senior fellow with help students with advice on their careers; he is someone who has a lot of experience in Private Equity, Venture Captial and Investment Banking. He lives in DC, teaches a class at Stanford. We are very excited to have the ability to offer this assistance to our students. The project became possible through a donation by a Lauder alum, who is a business associate of the career coach we are so fortunate to have.

Me: Thank you, Mauro! All this activity proves that our school remains very much alive and vibrant as ever. Good luck with all these wonderful initiatives you are working on!

“Lauder Spotlight” shines onto Paul Bergman and The Freshary

Paul Bergman is a Wharton/Lauder alumnus who has founded China’s first and only organic ice cream and baked goods producer and retailer–The Freshary.  He is among the pioneers of China’s green retail; it is exciting that he has also made history by establishing the only LEED Gold Certified food production and retail facility in China! Please, check out  the Freshary’s wonderful bi-lingual website, and be sure to stop by the store when you are in Shanghai.

Here is a first-hand video report from inside the flagship store:

Interview

Paul, please introduce yourself:

Grew up in suburbs of New York, went to Penn (College of Arts and Sciences and Wharton) undergrad, where my studies revolved around the modern history and political economy of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Why did you choose Wharton/Lauder?

After studying and spending time living, working and doing research in Spanish-speaking Latin America during my undergraduate studies, I realized that there was no way to fully understand Latin America without understanding Brazil. So Lauder was an opportunity to gain a more holistic understanding of Brazil before fully embarking on my professional journey, while at the same time completing my MBA.

Did the program meet your expectations?

Hands down. Lauder was one of the most important experiences of my life, and the summer immersion was the cornerstone of the Lauder experience. During our summer immersion, our group gained an amazing understanding of Brazil, and, more importantly, developed a unique bond that would probably not be possible under any other set of circumstances. Our entire group had a very similar goal, which was to gain a better understanding of the cultural, business and sociopolitical environment of Brazil to better aid us in pursuing our professional dreams. The places we visited, the people we met, and the projects we worked on together were once in a lifetime experiences.

How did your experience at Wharton/Lauder shape your career and personal life?

Lauder totally shaped my career and personal life. After Lauder, because of my newly gained Portuguese language ability, and through a Lauder introduction, I was able to find a job opportunity with Bunge (a global agribusiness company with Latin American roots), working first in Brazil, then Argentina, followed by China. If it were not for Lauder, I would not have started my career in Brazil, and probably would not have had such a rich multicultural professional experience to date.

How would you describe the concept of your new business venture in China?

The Freshary is China’s first and only certified organic ice cream and baked goods producer and retailer.

Our goal is to create yummy, wholesome treats that taste great and that people would choose to eat even if our products were not healthy.

Our vegan ice cream and vegan baked goods use the highest quality organic ingredients, crafted through a production process that is best defined as “truly fresh”. At our store, our culinary specialists mill our unique blend of organic grains and seeds from scratch every day, creating the freshest, most nutritious, whole grain flours and dairy-free milks for our ice cream and baked goods.

Ultimately, our vision is to build a holistically socially conscious business in China, from organic food ingredients, to “truly fresh” production, eco-friendly packaging, green store design and construction.

In that respect, The Freshary also marked a major achievement by becoming the first and only Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Green Building certified Gold retail and food production space in China. This means we are constantly striving to limit excessive water usage, conserve energy, and use the most eco-friendly building materials through our commitment to green design and construction.

Do you find that the knowledge, skills and network that you acquired at Wharton gives you a competitive advantage?

Yes, for sure. The Wharton network is always available to call on when looking for ideas or support.

The business leaders and companies we met while at Wharton and Lauder also provided enormous exposure to the endless possibilities that exist if one dreams big and works hard.

More importantly, my fellow classmates are all doing amazing things around the world, and we are able to share ideas and update each other on our career progress, which provides a great deal of collective motivation and encouragement in our respective career endeavors.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who aspire to start a business?

It is largely about the 3Ps: patience, persistence and passion. Don’t think any entrepreneur can succeed without all of these, especially persistence!

Also, as my Wharton professor and late mentor Dr. Edward B. Shils always emphasized, any business leader, and particularly an entrepreneur, must have “tolerance for ambiguity”. We all have our goals, but the road towards our goals is never a straight line, and we must be ready to face and accept the many many changes and obstacles that come our way.

What advice would you give to business school applicants?

Do as much as possible while at business school, meet as many people as possible, participate in as many projects as possible, visit as many countries, cities and companies as possible, try to meet as many business leaders as possible… exposure, exposure, exposure.

Take advantage of this once in a lifetime platform to meet people and visit places by leveraging your business school’s name, as this type of exposure may only be possible again in the distant future after reaching a senior position within a very reputable organization.

Thanks!