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.
DENIS: You 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.
DENIS: Can 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!