The Lauder Magic Carpet Ride

Lauder graduate Davis Smith (in baby carriage) and his business partner, Kimball Thomas

Well before he entered Wharton, Davis Smith had proved himself an entrepreneur capable of going international. In 2004, armed with a fresh international studies degree from Brigham Young University, Smith, along with his cousin, launched, a company that contracted out pool table manufacturing to China and then sold the tables in the U.S.

The business turned into the largest distributor of pool tables in the U.S., Smith says, but he longed to try a new venture, to learn another language and insert himself into some other overlooked foreign niche and make his mark. He considered a number of MBA programs, including Kellogg, Harvard, and Booth. “I got a package [of information] about Lauder and couldn’t believe what I was reading,” Smith recalls. “You get an MBA but also an MA in international studies, and you have to speak a foreign language. I discovered my goal was to get into the Lauder program.”

Indeed, in just two years, Lauder program students earn an MBA from Wharton as well as an MA in international studies from the University of Pennsylvania. While other business schools have scrambled to inject globalization into their curricula over the last decade, the Lauder program has been quietly churning out small batches of grads ready to neatly drop themselves into the thick of international business for the last 30 years.  Alumni include Rosalind Copisarow, the social entrepreneur who created the first microfinance firm in Poland (Fundusz Mikro), and Anthony Davis, founder of Anchorage Capital Group.


“The Wharton Lauder program is the gold standard for international business education,” says Tara McKernan, an executive vice president based in New York and Amsterdam at the executive recruitment firm DHR International. “When I see that on someone’s CV, I know that person understands the global economy.”

Lauder students wend their way through 24 straight months of an academic and experiential itinerary of humanities, social science, language, and business classes, lab work, and two expanses of multi-country travel.

“I was excited it was a business program that really integrated foreign languages,” says Katherine Littlefield, a University of North Carolina grad who worked in marketing at DigitalGlobe in Singapore before entering the Lauder program. The school, she notes, stresses the importance of acquiring a working knowledge of a new language, not necessarily relying on one already learned. (As part of the admissions process, applicants take an oral proficiency test in a foreign language.) In other words, if you already speak English and Hindi, get ready to dive into Arabic.

  • Fietsen

    Nigel, you’ve missed the point although I don’t think the article drove home the point quite as accurately as it could.

    1) You get a double degree with an MA – which means you study subjects like history, political economy and far more broad-based subjects than you’d get in an MBA by itself. It’s more comparable to a dual degree MBA with John Hopkins SAIS than any of the programs you mentioned – except it’s done in 2 years rather than 3

    2) there’s a language proficiency requirement so you need to be conversationally fluent at time of entry; then you must graduate with business level language capabilities

    3) while the schools you mention are fine in their own rights, they’re not Wharton.

  • globetrotter

    First of all, I agree that the international aspect is going to be secondary to the business education, after all, students are making huge financial sacrifices to get an MBA. The whole point is to get the best business education possible. I strongly disagree with your argument that Wharton/Lauder students “would surely have chosen to attend a school in the geography of their choice if they were absolutely dedicated to exploring a foreign culture.” That’s a ridiculous assumption.

    Lastly, ~40% of Wharton students are international students, so for them, a US education is no less international than going to INSEAD, LBS, etc.

  • Nigel

    Sure, for an American program it is pretty international and serves people that want to primarily obtain a US MBA very well. However, the international aspect satisfied by the Lauder program is a secondary motivation to these people as they would surely have chosen to attend a school in the geography of their choice if they were absolutely dedicated to exploring a foreign culture. Given the short duration of the program’s overseas stints and with it the limited exposure to the local culture resulting in superficial “knowledge” I cannot shake the feeling that the Lauder Program is a half-baked solution when compared to excellent international programs at INSEAD, LBS, IMD in Europe, CEIBS, INSEAD, HKUST in Asia or FMV in South America…

  • globetrotter

    I believe the author is a woman (unless Rebecca is a man). From what I read, the program seems pretty unique: 1. Students get a dual degree 2. Small cohort within the larger MBA community 3. The groups travel/live in their respective regions of the world for a few months before the traditional MBA’s begin classes 4. They do multi-continent research (paid for by the school?) 5. Fluency in language required PRIOR to starting program.

    I’m could be missing something, but this doesn’t sounds like anything I’ve researched at other schools. Love this!

  • Nigel

    The enthusiasm with which the article is written gives the impression that the author missed the last 20-30 years… What he describes has been the norm at many international business schools for years!

  • agria326

    “The Gold Stanford”???