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 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:


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.


“Lauder Spotlight” featuring Matt Axelrod

Posted by Wes Whitaker (Russian Track, Class of 2012) with Porter Leslie (Portuguese Track, Class of 2012)

Porter and I decided that we should seize the opportunity to run a Lauder Spotlight interview featuring a graduating second-year student before they all slip back into the real world.  Given recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, our choice was pretty simple.  So, as promised, we recently sat down with Matt Axelrod (Arabic Track, Class of 2011).  Matt was the Director for Egypt and North Africa at the Pentagon, worked in the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, and spent two years as a Presidential Management Fellow and eighteen months as a Fulbright Fellow studying US-Egypt relations.  Not only does he have a very interesting pre-Lauder background, but he has been contacted by several well-known media organizations for articles and interviews while a student at Lauder (see links below).

Click here for a recent interview with the BBC.

Click here for a recent interview with PBS.

Click here for an article he wrote for Foreign Policy magazine.

We caught up with Matt at the hip Elixr café right off of Rittenhouse square to get his latest thoughts on current events as well as to look back at his time in the Lauder program.

Quick Facts about Matt:

Hometown: Short Hills, NJ

Undergraduate Institution & Major: Georgetown University – BA in Foreign Service, MA in Arab Studies

Hobbies: Planning Cohort I social events, going to dinner with friends, reading

Favorite Lauder Class to Date: Independent Study about Economic Constructions with Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde – Notable works studied include John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice, and Raghuram Rajan’s Fault Lines

Favorite Wharton Class to Date: Either Stuart Diamond’s Negotiations or Nikolaj Siggelkow’s Competitive Strategy  [Note: Wharton students bid on electives in an online auction system and usually don’t have enough points to take both of these extremely popular courses.  Matt won Siggelkow’s class in a fluke round when it sold for only 100 points as opposed to its usual price of 5,000 points or more, so he was lucky enough to take both!]

Favorite Penn Class to Date: Kenwyn Smith’s Group Dynamics & Organizational Politics (i.e. The “Power Labs” Course) – this highly unconventional course is offered by invitation only to students who are able to pass a few mental “readiness” hurdles.  The chosen students spend entire weekends doing experiential group psychology experiments similar to, although not quite as extreme as, the now infamous Stanford Prison experiment of 1971.  Matt says the course changed his outlook on life!

Wharton Major: Business Development (interdisciplinary major created by Matt along with Department Chairs)

Leadership Positions at Wharton: Chair of the General Management Conference, Social Chair for Cohort I, Non-Profit Board Leadership Fellow

Favorite Movies: The Godfather; Stardust Memories

Favorite Books: Game of Nations by Miles Copeland; Chrome Yellow by Aldous Huxley

Favorite Food: Cheeseburger from Jose Pistola’s

Favorite Middle Eastern Food: Tarb – essentially it is ground meat wrapped in thick lamb fat (yum!)

Favorite Middle Eastern Beverage: Raki – a liquor similar to Ouzo or Sambuca

Primary News Source: Probably Twitter feeds of The Arabist, Michael Walid Hanna, Stephen Cook, and Mark Lynch.  Other sources include NYTimes, Washington Post, Academic Journals.

Post-Graduation Full-time Career Plans: Management Consulting for McKinsey in Washington, D.C.  First job in the private sector!

GKL Topic: Middle East customer segmentation, brand consolidation, and pricing strategies for a large multinational company

In His Own Words:

How did you first become interested in government work and the public sector?

I remember while in high school reading about President Bill Clinton in the New York Times and learning that he had graduated from the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown in 1968, which kick-started his career in politics, even giving him the opportunity to intern for Senator William Fulbright.  I applied to the program, because it ranks the best program for government and international affairs.  At that time, I knew I wanted to work in international affairs and be involved in U.S. policy-making.  It is funny to think now that I actually used a typewriter to write my college essays and physically mailed them to Georgetown.

At Georgetown you earned a Masters in Arab Studies.  What initially drew you to studying the Middle East and Arabic?

Well, choosing a region of study was a pretty easy decision for me.  I come from a Jewish family, and my grandfather is an Israeli Zionist.  I even had the opportunity to participate in the Birthright Israel Program.  As a result, whenever there is news relating to the Arab world, it is always of particular interest to me. The Arab Studies program at Georgetown complicated and enhanced my understanding of the region.

Speaking of the Arab world, what are your thoughts on the Arab uprisings of recent months?

What has happened in Egypt is absolutely incredible.  The fact that until recently Egyptians have been labeled as apathetic about politics has been shown to be patently untrue.   The truth is that they were being realistic and weary of physical repression. What they have achieved has been empowering and what is most interesting to me, and in direct contrast with Iraq, is the fact that, in Egypt, the revolution sprung directly from the people and was not instigated by external Western powers.  It seems to me that imposing democracy upon Middle Eastern nations does nothing but to emasculate them.  The Egyptian model is a far better example of the people empowering themselves.

What would you say to the fear that the next regime might be worse than Mubarak?

I think it is misplaced and inaccurate.  Even if Mubarak happened to be sympathetic to Western ideals and peaceful toward Israel, isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to have a leader who is the voice of the Egyptian people?  It is my personal belief that every country should have a leader who commands the respect and trust of its own people first.  Then, we can go around worrying about strategic alliances.

What about Libya?

To be honest, I’m actually conflicted on the state of affairs in Libya.  Of course I believe that humanitarianism is a good thing, but at the same time, I also fear that NATO is getting a little too mixed up in places it doesn’t belong.  I’ve been to Libya and I can say without a doubt that they don’t want outside powers there.  Not to mention, the West is currently entangled in plenty of other wars and crises.  I’m afraid we might be stretching ourselves too thin.

What is your reaction to the news about Osama Bin Laden?

I think the end of Bin Laden is a victory for the United States, and further validates the painstaking intelligence work that it takes to counter extremist groups, as opposed to large-scale military action.

Changing gears, if you could re-live your Lauder experience, would you do anything differently?

Not too much.  One thing that really helped me was to ask for advice.  So, I would tell incoming or current students that before you do anything ask advice from as many people as possible.  Also, don’t over-commit to too many things and really choose carefully what you want to do and how you want to spend your time.  That way you don’t miss out on anything.  Another piece of advice I would give for those seeking careers in consulting: prepare, prepare, and prepare some more for the case interviews!  I received quite a few rejections throughout the process. I learned that practicing is crucial to building up confidence and having that experience is vital to doing well in the interview process.

Where do you think we might we find you in 10 years?

I might very well be back in government in D.C.

To cap off our interview we tried to stump Matt with some ancient Egyptian history.  We showed him the following two images and asked him to name that pharaoh.  Despite the centuries of wear and tear, he had no trouble.  Take your best shot for next time!

And of course, the trivia responses to Erica’s quandary: Hawaiian roll (left), Philadelphia roll (right).

“Lauder Spotlight” featuring Erica Sugai

Posted by Porter Leslie (Portuguese Track, Class of 2012) with Wes Whitaker (Russian Track, Class of 2012)

This past Friday, Wes and I battled some spring showers to meet with the lovely Erica Sugai (Japanese track, Class of 2012) at the chic café La Colombe just off of Rittenhouse Square.  Erica is a dual Japanese/American citizen who grew up in Germany and has family in Hawaii.  Prior to Wharton, Erica worked in the fields of risk consulting, finance, and law. Erica’s background makes her a bit of a professional chameleon, which means she fits right in at Lauder.  Also, her bright smile and warm sense of humor have made her a celebrity in the Lauder and Wharton social communities.  We were reminded of this several times during our interview when we were interrupted by friends of Erica stopping by our table to say hello.

Erica recently helped lead the Wharton Japan Trek (see pic below), the largest student-led trek at school, consisting of 11 organizers and 150 Wharton students and partners.  This year, the trek just so happened to coincide with the 9.1 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunamis that shook Japan!  Luckily none of our students were hurt, but nonetheless, we caught up with Erica to learn more about the Japan Trek adventure and also to hear about her Wharton/Lauder journey thus far.

Quick Facts about Erica:

Hometown: Heidelberg, Germany

Hobbies: Travel, boxing, tennis, running

Favorite Lauder Class to Date: Mauro Guillen’s International Political Economy

Favorite Wharton Class to Date: Mary O’Sullivan’s Competitive Strategy

Leadership at Wharton: Wharton Welcome Committee, VP of Student Relations for the Japan Trek, Member of Rendezvous, Consulting and General Management Clubs

Favorite Movies: The Sound of Music, Top Gun, Pretty Woman

Favorite Food: Tonkotsu-ramen (noodles!)

Favorite Beverage: Bubble tea

Primary News Source: Financial Times, given out freely to all Wharton students on campus (also ranks Wharton #1 MBA in the world!)

Summer Plans: Participating in the first annual Lauder Culture Quest in Central America and then a Sales & Trading internship in Tokyo

GKL Topic: Luxury Health and Wellness, comparing the business models of  hot springs resorts in Japan, eco resorts in Brazil and beach resorts in the Dominican Republic (not bad!)

In Her Own Words:

How did you get involved in the Japan Trek?

I had heard about the legendary spring break Japan Trek even before I came to Wharton/Lauder. I decided to join the Japan Trek organizing committee because I wanted to show my fellow classmates a good time in Japan. Especially after having spent a year studying abroad in Kyoto years earlier and after spending 8 weeks in Japan during the Lauder summer immersion, I had a good sense of destinations which I thought would appeal to students interested in getting a great introduction to Japan – history, nightlife, culture and all!  As you can imagine, the logistics are pretty complicated (moving 150 MBA students from city to city is no easy feat!), and it was a lot of planning, but well worth it.

What other Lauder students were on the trek?

Let’s see…Christián Retamoza (Class of 2012 French track), Andrew DeBerry (Class of 2012 Arabic track), Jaime Vidal (Class of 2011 French track), Gemma Acton (Class of 2011 French track), Leonardo Navarro (Class of 2011 Chinese track), Matt Axelrod (Class of 2011 Arabic track), Alex Valls (Class of 2011 Portuguese track)

There were a few others from Lauder who wanted to join the trek as well, but unfortunately, we had100+ people on the waitlist.

What were the activities organized for the trek?

We began in Kyoto and then went to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Memorial and nearby Miyajima.  From there, we traveled to Nagoya where we visited a Toyota production plant and then Hakone to relax at a hot springs resort. Our journey finally ended in Tokyo. In total, we visited five cities in seven days.  In each location, students were provided with several optional tours and activities that allowed smaller groups to explore on their own.

What was the highlight of the trip for you?

We had a great time in Hakone at the hot springs resort.  We relaxed in the warm natural springs, got dressed up in yukata (as shown in the pic), had a traditional Japanese feast, and then capped off the night with several hours of karaoke!

Where were you when the earthquake struck?

I was by myself in a subway train between stations.  I had meant to go with a group of students to Shinjuku but had just missed the train by seconds (lesson learned!), so I was alone on the next train.  The earthquake was strong and caused our train to stop immediately, but most of the people on the train stayed calm.

Where was the rest of the group?

The rest of the trek was scattered around Tokyo.  Many had stayed up all night or awoken very early to see the Tsukiji Fish Market at 5:30am that day, so when the quake struck at 2-3pm, a lot of people were catching up on rest in the hotel or walking around town.  After the earthquake, we all had to make our way on foot back to the hotel since all subway lines were down and taxis were impossible to come by.  Some people had to walk for five or six hours to get back!  In the end, thankfully, no one in our group was injured.

How can people help the rescue and reconstruction efforts in Japan?

The Japanese community at Penn has already raised upwards of $60,000 for the Japan relief efforts.  In addition, the trek organizers were pleasantly surprised and touched that trek participants bonded together and raised over $1,000 dollars on their own.  That just goes to show the giving spirit here at Wharton!  For those hoping to donate to the relief efforts, I recommend:

Changing gears, can you tell us a little about the upcoming Welcome Weekend you’ve been working on?

Oh, it’s going to be amazing!  The Welcome Committee, and Kembrel especially, has put a lot of effort into planning a great weekend.  We expect 500-600 admitted students and 100 partners. Highlights of the weekend will include academic, leadership, and student life panels, a showing of Follies, the famous Lauder Around the World Party, and the Soiree at the Hyatt.  We’re all really excited for it!

What has been your favorite Lauder moment thus far?

I have to say it was during pre-term in August.  We had a reception for all the first-year students and for a lot of the Wharton students, it was one of the first chances to meet and greet new classmates.  For us Lauder students, we were all excited to catch up with one another after our summer immersions.  Toward the end of the ceremony, a Lady Gaga song came on and all the Lauder students came together to dance in the middle of the reception.  The rest of the Wharton students were really confused, wondering “how do they know each other?”

What advice would you give yourself before you started the Lauder program?

Enjoy your last few months of freedom!  I wish I had taken a bit more time off to relax and travel.  As it is, I took off two months and went to Canada, Costa Rica, and Hawaii, but I could still have gone for more!

Where might we find you in ten years?

Somewhere in Asia on a beach under the sun and enjoying a piña colada.  Or perhaps I will be back at Wharton enjoying one of the “lifetime learning” classes they now offer for alumni!

For our final question, we decided to test Erica’s Japanese/American culinary skills.  We asked her to play “Name That Roll” with the following pics of sushi rolls.  She had no trouble whatsoever providing us with the English and Japanese names!  Take your best shot at naming the rolls (hint, the names have to do with Erica’s geographic heritage).

And, so as not to hold you in suspense any longer: the answer to Dom’s trivia challenge was: Wallaby (left), Grey Kangaroo (right).  Next time we look forward to catching up with Matt Axelrod (Arabic Track, Class of 2011) regarding the continuing conflicts in the Middle East.  Matt recently spoke his opinions on both BBC and PBS regarding the state of affairs.  We’ll be getting his latest thoughts and also his views on his time here at Lauder as he approaches graduation in May.


“Lauder Spotlight” featuring Dominic Skerritt

Posted by Wes Whitaker (Russian Track, Class of 2012) with Porter Leslie (Portuguese Track, Class of 2012)

Three weeks later and I am finally able to catch a moment to sit down and type up our first ever “Lauder Spotlight” interview with Dominic Skerritt (Chinese Track, Class of 2012).  Dominic recently made headlines for knocking out his opponent in record time (1 minute and 10 seconds!) at the seventh annual charity boxing tournament between all graduate divisions of the University of Pennsylvania, dubbed “Philly Fight Night.”  (See picture below.  Yes, that’s Dom on the left!  Also, if you’d like to see a videoclip of the event, check it out here:

Dominic is a former Australian Army officer, completed a tour in Afghanistan, and speaks fluent Indonesian as well as Mandarin and some English to boot!  He already holds a Master’s in International Law, has commanded teams of up to 100 paratroopers and has worked as a liaison between the Australlian and Chinese armed forces.  Some might call Dom a badass; we call him a Lauderite.  Porter and I sat down with Dom, a.k.a. “The Boxing Kangaroo,” at Monk’s in downtown Philly to ask him about his experiences with Fight Night.  Please check out highlights from the interview below, and remember to imagine a very strong Australian accent…

Quick Facts about Dominic:

Hometown (This is often a very difficult question for Lauderites): Born in London, England, but holds three passports (UK, Ireland, and Australia); grew up in Sydney, Australia

Previous Job Prior to Wharton/Lauder: Intelligence Officer in the Australian Army

Career Plans Immediately after Wharton/Lauder: Management consulting with a top consulting firm

Hobbies: Diving, sailing, climbing and rugby. As a kid and in college he was a keen rower, a sport which he says provides an “absolute guarantee of pain”

Favorite Lauder Class to Date: Global Economic History with Professor Jesus Villaverde-Fernandez

Favorite Wharton Class to Date: Corporate Finance with Professor Howard Kaufold

Leadership at Wharton: President of the Wharton Rugby Club; Co-President along with fellow Australian and Lauderite, Fay Bou (Chinese Track, Class of 2012) of the Australia-New Zealand Club; Executive Director of Leadership for the Wharton Graduate Association; Social Chair of the Veterans’ Club

Favorite Book: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and/or The Stranger by Albert Camus (He couldn’t choose between the two, and Porter and I weren’t about to fight him on it!)

Favorite Movie: Meet Joe Black

Favorite Food from Region of Study (China): Practically anything from the Xinjiang province of North-Western China

Favorite Beverage: Not Foster’s (Because, as we were told, it is NOT actually Australian for beer and most Australians don’t even drink it!); probably a single malt whiskey

Primary Source of News: Facebook (Although half kidding, he told us he actually did learn of Hosni Mubarak stepping down through facebook!)

Spring Break Plans: Climbing Cotopaxi in Ecuador with a group of Wharton students

Global Knowledge Lab (GKL) Research Topic: Role of Chinese Firms in Mozambique

In His Own Words:

How did you get involved with Philly Fight Night?

Fight Night is such a great a event: it raised $70 000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia, it is a highlight of the Wharton calendar, and it provides a great development opportunity for all the fighters. I initially joined the Wharton Boxing Club to stay fit. I enjoyed the training very much and the fight was a great goal to focus my training on. I saw the Fight as a great opportunity to test myself. I enjoy being put through crucibles and standing alone in the ring, in front of thousands of people, facing a guy who wants to knock you out is a great test of character.

Also for the record, I am a huge fan of the Rocky movies  One of the first things I did after moving to Philly was run up the famous Rocky steps at the Museum of Art. The idea of fighting at the same venue as Rocky holds a lot of appeal

Had you ever boxed before?

Officially, no.  In the Australian Army, I had some hand-to-hand combat training, but the rules were very different.  You are taught to do whatever is necessary to disable your enemy.  In boxing, there is no grappling or kneeing.  It proved to be quite difficult for me to unlearn some of my old habits.

How hard did you train for Fight Night?

It was very tough to find time to train given our  busy Wharton and Lauder schedule, but somehow I managed 2-3 hours of training most days. These workouts were usually pretty tough.  The Wharton Boxing Club’s head trainer, Cliff would yell at us to hit the bags with “Speed, Speed, Demon Speed.”  Someone should really make a documentary or reality show of the Wharton Boxing Club training for fight night; it is an intense journey with some great characters.  I sparred with the other guys in the Boxing Club until my opponent was named and it turned out he was a fellow Wharton student.  Then I left the group to train on my own and with a few close friends who were also fighting. I didn’t want to keep sparring with my opponent.  I know how important endurance is in the ring, so I thoroughly over prepared. I trained hard for an eight round fight with three-minute rounds, but it turned out my fight was less than one round!

Will you fight again next year?

I didn’t think I would want to, but I just might.  I feel like I wasn’t fully put to the test this year.  I think the referee ended our fight too early. He was very cautious in avoiding injury to the fighters because there were some serious injuries last year.  Hopefully, my endurance will be tested next year. Also, it was quite an adrenaline rush to be up in the ring and hear all of my fellow Lauderites cheering me on.

What has been your favorite Lauder moment so far?

As you know, every year in February, Wharton students go on a huge ski trip to Park City, Utah.  I will never forget cooking and eating dinner with a large group of Lauder students and then singing along with Jordi Suarez (Portuguese Track, Class of 2012) playing “With or Without You” by U2 on the acoustic guitar.  It was a very moving moment; it drove home how close Lauder students can be.  It truly feels like family.

What advice would you give to yourself before starting the Lauder program?

Take an accounting course!

Where might we find you in ten years?

Wow, I’ll be 41 years old (I’m beginning to feel old), hopefully married with kids, living back in Sydney, and sailing every weekend.

For Dom’s last question, we decided to put his Aussie roots to the ultimate test.  We showed him black and white copies of the following photos and asked him to tell us which was a kangaroo and which was a wallaby.  He nailed it without hesitation!  He even specified the breed of the roo!  Can you tell?

That’s all for now; be on the lookout for the next edition of Lauder Spotlight featuring Erica Sugai (Japanese Track, Class of 2012).  She was in Tokyo leading Wharton’s massive annual Japan Trek when the infamous Earthquake and Tsunamis struck.