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Wharton MBA Quits Bain For Noodle Shop

After graduating from Wharton, Yuichiro Okutsu decided not to return to Bain but do a startup. That meant he had to pay back his employer for his MBA education

After graduating from Wharton, Yuichiro Okutsu decided not to return to Bain but do a startup. That meant he had to pay back his employer for his MBA education

No one leaves Bain & Co. to open a mom-and-pop noodle shop. Sometimes, though, they leave to get an MBA and then decide to build a noodle restaurant empire.

For seven years, Yuichiro Okutsu, 32, worked in Bain’s Tokyo, Shanghai, and Singapore offices. After such a long tenure, he didn’t really need to get an MBA, he says. But he did want the opportunity to think about what he wanted to do with his life.

Okutsu had already caught the startup bug, so he wanted to go to an entrepreneurial area. If he got into Wharton, he told himself, he would do the Wharton Semester in San Francisco, a program the school offers to a select group of students in the fall semester of their second year. Around 70 are accepted each year to take entrepreneurship- and tech-themed classes at the school’s West Coast campus next to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

“Silicon Valley is a very unique place in the U.S., where there’s a very high concentration of startups. I just wanted to get there, and feel what it’s going to be like in that kind of environment,” Okutsu says. “It was really about my personal exposure.”

LEARNING FROM SAN FRANCISCO STARTUP CULTURE

Okutsu was accepted into the Wharton Class of 2016, and after his first year he was accepted into the Semester in San Francisco. Compared to his classmates in the Bay Area, he says he wasn’t as interested in building his own app or anything like that. But being in San Francisco was beneficial in a lot of other ways. He learned that even though there are tons of startups, there are few truly unique ideas — and he realized how hard it is to come up with something really good. He was exposed to many different kinds of startups, too.

Many of them, he felt, could only survive in San Francisco, where they they can do all kinds of things using venture capital money.

“You only see these services in SF — different kinds of food delivery services, all kinds of services. It’s interesting to live there,” Okutsu says, “because those companies can lose money and still be fine because they have venture backing. It’s kind of like living in the future.”

PERKS OF THE PROGRAM

There is another perk to being in Wharton in San Francisco, Okutsu says. In Philadelphia, students choose classes with a bidding system. They have a certain number of tokens, and they allocate their tokens based on how much they want to take certain classes. Some classes are so popular it takes a lot of tokens to get in, making it nearly impossible to take them all at once.

That’s not how it’s done out west.

“In San Francisco we don’t have to do any bidding, and these highly rated professors are flown in to teach their classes,” Okutsu says. “If you tried to take the same classes from these professors in Philadelphia, there would have been no way.”

All the classes were geared toward startups, he says. One that really stood out to him was taught by David Bell, a marketing professor, who also is an adviser for eyeglass maker Warby Parker, founded by Wharton MBA grads. “He was able to use real examples when he was teaching, so the classes were very good,” Okutsu says.

There was also a class that brought in local entrepreneurs to speak to the students about their lives. Okutsu says they had a lecture by an entrepreneur at least once per day, and sometimes as many as three per day.