Wharton Doubles Down On The Bay Area

Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will be doubling the number of full-time MBA students and undergrads it annually sends to its San Francisco campus this year. In an interview with Poets&Quants, Dean Geoffrey Garrett says that Wharton will now have a second semester for MBA candidates in San Francisco, upping the number of students who can go there to 140 from 70 each year.

“That’s a very positive development for us because San Francisco is now the second largest job destination for our MBAs,” Garrett told Poets&Quants. “The fact that we can do this on both coasts is very important (see video below on Wharton’s Semester In San Francisco). We are also thinking of theming the semesters in San Francisco, with one semester on entrepreneurship and the other semester on analytics because the Bay Area is at least as much about analytics as it is about entrepreneurship.”

The increased use of Wharton’s San Francisco campus will also impact its undergraduate students. Undergraduate Dean “Lori Rosenkopf has a spectacularly successful undergraduate week in San Francisco in early January,” says Garrett. “Its been doing 40 students and she will double that to 80 students this year.” In addition, undergraduates in Wharton’s dual degree M&T  program in management and engineering between Wharton and Penn’s engineering school also will now come to the Bay Area for a capstone experience.


Wharton’s decision to double down on its investment in the Bay Area is both a function of student demand and Garrett’s decision to more fully integrate the school’s West Coast locale with its Philadelphia home. “It was obviously a big investment for Wharton to have a beautiful facility in San Francisco,” he notes. “We are now trying to leverage that big time. Three years ago, I put Karl Ulrich in charge of both Wharton entrepreneurship and Wharton San Francisco. What I’ve asked Karl to do in San Francisco is integration. He is a very high talent guy and that has worked spectacularly well for us.

“I asked him to integrate the Wharton School into the Bay Area economy where we have spectacular alums. We just wanted to have more two-way engagement with our alums in the Bay Area. And second, we wanted to integrate San Francisco into the core operations of the school in Philadelphia. We used to have San Francisco in essence as an Executive MBA location. It’s now got lots and lots of MBAs there, and we have co-working space for our alums who want to do startups in the facility (see Wharton’s Novel Bay Area Option For MBAs).”

Garrett, an Australian who became Wharton dean in July of 2014, made the announcements during a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants. Among other things, he spoke about what most surprised him about Wharton, why he’s betting big on experiential learning, how Wharton intends to  improve the student experience, his concern over falling applications from internationals, why Wharton will never have an online degree, his thoughts on Wharton’s most famous alum, Donald Trump, and how global he believes his school really is. He also is insistent that a Wharton MBA today is more valuable than ever, despite a decline in the immediate return-on-investment for the MBA degree.


Nearly four years into a seven-year term as dean, Garrett purposely shies aways from ticking off any accomplishments. “I’m an Australian so I can’t talk about achievements,” he quips. “It’s not in my DNA. What I say is that when I came into the job, I wanted to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself or the institution, and I hope that’s the case. I didn’t fall flat on my face. I love my job. I love what we are doing. I believe that all the things we are trying to do at the school are directionally correct. How much credit do I deserve for them? Not very much, but I am very happy to be part of the process. If you are going to make a difference in one of these jobs, it takes a long time to do it and probably a longer time to see the impact.”

One thing that didn’t take all that long? Moving Wharton up in the rankings. Last year, for the first time, Wharton even jumped ahead of Harvard Business School in Poets&Quants’ composite ranking of the best full-time MBA programs (see Wharton Dislodges Harvard To Top 2017 P&Q Ranking).

Though an Australian by birth, Garrett was no stranger to the U.S. He completed his master’s and doctoral degrees in political science at Duke University. For two years, from 1995 to 1997, the political economist was an associate professor at Wharton who taught multinational management before moving on to Yale University as a professor of political science. He also has taught at the University of Southern California and Stanford. When recruited to Wharton, Garrett was dean of the University of New South Wales’ Australian School of Business.

Garrett says he has had three priorities in two core areas: The school’s intellectual capital and the student experience. On the intellectual front, he is focused on finance, the long-time strength of the school, analytics, and innovation and entrepreneurship. “It’s great that Wharton is the finance school, but Wharton is so much more,” he says. “How we deliver on that and what we focus on is important. First, with finance, we want to make it forward-looking, not back-looking, so we want to lead not only in private equity and hedge funds but also in fintech, cryptocurrency, and Blockchain. It’s great that we have the history and the heritage in finance, but we need to leverage that to be forward-looking.

“Second, what’s distinctive about Wharton is that it is a pretty technical and anlytical place so Wharton should be known as the analytics school, too. We are not only analytical in finance, we are analytical throughout. We’ve got the university’s statistics department here. In a big data era, that is an incredible asset for us.


“And the third one is innovation and entrepreneurship. We know that Wharton graduates have become entrepreneurs, but not often in fields that people think about in entrepreneurship. If you think about the growth of private equity or hedge funds, very often those industries were created by Wharton people who used to work in big banks and then struck out on their own to create their own firms. I call that entrepreneurship. We tend to think that financial entrepreneurship is some kind of oxymoron but it isn’t. And then if you look in Silicon Valley, there are a lot of Wharton people there. The CEOs of Google, LinkedIn, Oracle are all Wharton alums. Business schools are places where you need to turn ideas into outcomes, and you need a lot of skills to turn the best ideas into really good outcomes. Wharton is a good place to do that. It means that the joiners, not the founder but the next five or fifty employees are absolutely catalytic for the firm. Well, Wharton is really good at that, too. So we play around with the notion that Wharton is a scale school, that Wharton is a place that teaches people how to scale a business. I think that is profoundly important.”

No less crucial, however, is the student experience. “Financial aid is an incredibly important priority for us all at all levels,” says Garrett. “But I want to think about the student experience beyond the financials. So it means going into more interactive classrooms, and using faculty  more as facilitators and less as lecturers, and allowing students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom in the real world. A lot of that will happen outside the class. That costs money. It’s a big financial commitment to do that kind of thing and we are in a position to do that.”

Garrett is betting especially big on experiential learning. “I think we are at the beginning stages of a process where there will be more learning by doing than learning by studying,” he maintains. “All of the stuff that used to be non-core is becoming more core. I think it’s what our students want. They want to learn some core skills, but they absolutely want to apply them. The two most obvious places we do experiential learning is in leadership and entrepreneurship. Eric Bradlow (faculty director and co-founder of Wharton’s Customer Analytics Initiative) wants to do learning by doing analytics for hundreds of our students (see Wharton’s Big Bet On Analytics). We can do that. If we can have our students working on real projects with real companies using real data that is better education, in my estimation. It is not reducing in absolute terms the in-class learning. It’s that we are adding more and more outside.”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.