“By providing students transformative opportunities to learn and develop, we can shape more of Wharton’s most creative and entrepreneurial students into future leaders of the industry.” — Josh Harris, W’86

Elizabeth Qian, W’12, WG’19, came to Wharton ready to make an important choice. After spending three years in banking and two years in private equity, she was unsure about her career path: banking or private equity?

Then a lightbulb went off during MGMT 610 — the first course MBA students take after they arrive on campus.

During the course, students were divided into teams and each student on a team was assigned a leadership role at a fictitious electric car company. As the course leaders revealed new information and challenges about the pretend company, the team had to respond and make real-time decisions. As the designated leader for sales and marketing, Elizabeth found herself asking questions better suited to a CEO. That’s when she began to realize she was eager to return to the world of private equity.

“In private equity, I had the opportunity to work collaboratively with CEOs and CFOs to help accelerate growth,” Elizabeth said. “In private equity, we were making long-term plans to scale businesses in a healthy and sustainable way. That’s really exciting,”

Luckily for Elizabeth, for more than 15 years Wharton has been strongly committed to preparing students to excel in careers in private equity and other alternative investment fields. Through a rich and complementary array of classes, internships, alumni contacts, student clubs, and other co-curricular learning opportunities, Wharton builds students’ expertise.

Take the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club, for example. The club fosters learning, supports career development, and creates meaningful connections for students. “One of the best parts about Wharton is the student community that openly shares best practices and experiences,” Elizabeth said.

Now, a $10-million gift announced this week from alternative investments trailblazer Josh Harris, W’86, and his wife Marjorie will establish the Joshua J. Harris Alternative Investments Program, which will expand co-curricular learning opportunities for Wharton students to pursue interests in the field and bring together alumni and industry experts. The gift advances the “Future of Finance” focus of the school-wide More Than Ever campaign, which is part of university-wide Power of Penn campaign.

“Our goal is to provide meaningful resources for Wharton to expand its alternative investment curriculum, create world-class co-curricular activities, and connect students with the many alumni in the field,” said Josh Harris. “By providing students transformative opportunities to learn and develop, we can shape more of Wharton’s most creative and entrepreneurial students into future leaders of the industry.”

The Harris Program will build on the foundation of the existing Alternative Investments Initiative to develop an innovative curriculum, international and domestic conferences, staff resources, alumni engagement, and student programming. Prof. Bilge Yilmaz will helm the new Harris Program.

“We want to prepare our students for jobs in the industry so they can hit the ground running, heads and shoulders above the competition,” said Prof. Yilmaz. “We want to further develop practical but still rigorous courses.”

To make that a reality, Yilmaz draws on the Wharton alumni network in the industry to provide his classes with real-world case studies and data.

“Professor Yilmaz has found alumni who are willing and happy to give back to the school and that has made the experience here more valuable for the students,” Elizabeth said.

Not only does interaction with alternative investment industry leaders offer an invaluable learning opportunity for students, it helps contribute to an uptick in career placements for Wharton grads, according to Todd Carson, senior associate director for Wharton MBA Career Management. Todd advises students pursuing careers in private equity and venture capital.

“For the MBA Class of 2018, we saw an increase of 39 percent in private equity placement in full-time jobs year over year,” Todd said. “This represents the largest increase by far in the number of students landing in private equity over the last five years.”

— Mike Kaiser

Posted: February 21, 2019

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