“Lifelong entrepreneur whose favorite phrase is “Why not?”
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Fun Fact About Yourself: I started my first business in high school, Pittsburgh Watch Buyers. When I was 16, I used my life savings at the time (around $1,500) to purchase the cheapest used Rolex watch on eBay for my grandfather who had fallen sick. Not surprisingly the watch broke a day after it arrived. Out of options, I sold the watch for parts and actually made a $1000 profit! Through this, I discovered some pricing arbitrages in the used watch market and did many more deals while in high school until the opportunity closed up some years later.
Undergraduate School and Major: NYU Stern School of Business, Finance with a concentration in Real Estate
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Cooper Square Acquisitions, Founder. Cooper Square Acquisitions is a real estate development company focused on the purchase and rehabilitation of distressed properties in Camden, NJ. Our goal is to help revitalize Camden, one home at a time. I am also the co-founder of Housing 4 All Camden, a nonprofit partnership with Camden City Councilwoman Shaneka Boucher.
Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school, and why was it so important to you? I chose Wharton primarily because of its focus on entrepreneurship. The state-of-the-art Tangen Hall entrepreneurship and innovation hub is just one of many signs of the school’s commitment and focus on entrepreneurship. Additionally, the growing number of successful Wharton alumni founded startups have fostered an unbeatable startup ecosystem here in the East Coast.
What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Interesting. It seems everyone I have spoken to so far has a unique background and some sort of accomplishment, hobby, or interest that I find to be very interesting. For example, one of my new friends & classmates, Ike Okonkwo, spent the last three years throughout Latin America working a variety of roles after completing his undergraduate studies at Harvard, most recently starting a medical tourism startup called WellTrip.
What club or activity excites you most at this school?
I am excited to join clubs that are focused on industries that I have no previous experience or background in. They include clubs like the Digital Health Club, Energy Club, Future Mobility Club, and the Travel and Hospitality Club, as these will give me exposure to new people and ideas for my next company.
What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Wharton? What makes you most nervous about starting business school? Some of the professors I have classes with this semester are business leaders whom I have read books about, like Professor Richard Mack of Mack Real Estate, who is teaching Real Estate Disruptions. It is an incredible opportunity to be able to learn from your business idols.
Having a non-traditional background, I am nervous that I may take a bit longer to get up to speed with schoolwork. Additionally, I might get an internship next summer for exposure to a new industry, which will be my first ever formal job after running my own businesses for the last seven years.
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Hitting my goal of owning over 100 properties earlier this year through my company, Cooper Square Acquisitions (CSA). I started CSA with 1 single-family house in 2016 with no outside investors, just personal savings from my prior businesses and a lot of passion. At the time, the goal of reaching 100 properties seemed wildly ambitious, and frankly impossible. However, through some innovative buying techniques, a healthy dose of leverage, and a strong real estate market, we were able to exceed this goal.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After hitting my 100 property goal in early 2020, I was looking for my next challenge. After some soul searching, I determined it was starting a new company in an industry aside from real estate. I decided to pursue my MBA at Wharton to get exposure to a host of new industries and peers I can collaborate with to start a new company, while still running CSA on the side.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? I only applied to Wharton.
What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? During our Team-Based Discussions, one of the questions was who we would recommend as the keynote speaker for the unveiling of Tangen Hall. The number of very accomplished Wharton and Penn alumni made it a difficult choice.
How did you determine your fit at various schools? I only applied to Wharton as its curriculum fit best with what I was looking to do and its location in Philadelphia allowing me to run my business that is based five minutes away in Camden, NJ while attending school. I learned more about Wharton through websites like Poets & Quants as well as a campus visit in the fall.
What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? My defining moment has probably been managing my small business during the COVID 19 pandemic. It has been extremely difficult and stressful, but I am glad to say we are surviving and maintaining our commitments to all of our stakeholders.
It has prepared me for business school because I have learned how to lead under pressure and the importance of forming strong relationships.
What have you been doing since you were accepted to prepare for business school? I have been studying for the pre-term courses Wharton has put out to for us to get up to speed for the semester ahead. I have also been working on an additional managerial hire for my company, the new hire should free up some of my responsibilities so I can focus on school during the academic year.
What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them?
I am inspired by the success and dominance of the Related Companies and its founder Stephen M. Ross. Ross’ focus on empowering people within his organization to succeed and lead is very unique among the real estate industry. In real estate, most firms are tightly controlled and led from the top down. Ross was able to turn his one-man startup firm into the preeminent institution in global real estate by empowering good people and striving for excellence in each facet of his business.
DON’T MISS: MEET THE WHARTON SCHOOL’S MBA CLASS OF 2022