Lessons learned in Wharton go to Washington

Penn alum, Michael Parrish, says he's running for Congress

· January 26, 2014, 3:11 pm   ·  Updated January 26, 2014, 9:57 pm

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Chris Stelmarski | DP

2002 Wharton graduate, Michael Parrish, poses here.


A Wharton graduate and Operation Desert Storm veteran says he’s running for Congress in Pennsylvania to hold Washington accountable.

Michael Parrish, a graduate of Wharton’s Executive MBA program and former U.S. Army attack helicopter pilot, is seeking the Democratic Party nomination to fill retiring representative Jim Gerlach’s seat in Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district.

“My father always taught us to put up or shut up,” Parrish said. “You don’t just complain about something, you come up with a solution. That’s what I’m going for; hopefully I can help effect change down [in Washington].”

In a campaign video released early this month, he cites the fact that several service members’ families were denied death benefits as one of the final straws that made him decide to run for office.

Related: Veterans find a home on Penn’s Campus

Parrish is a 1985 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served 14 years of active duty in the U.S. Army before earning a master’s degree in astronautical engineering from Stanford University and going to work for General Electric.

In 2002, Parrish earned his MBA from Wharton and went on to found Equisol LLC, one of the fastest-growing environmental service companies in the country. He believes that Wharton gave him the confidence he needed to go out and think entrepreneurially and to succeed in business.

Raymond Sobieski, who was in Parrish’s MBA class at Wharton, recalls that even then he was intelligent, outgoing and a natural leader.

As part of the Executive MBA program, each class took part in a one-week-long international seminar. By sheer happenstance, Parrish and Sobieski found themselves and their classmates in Tokyo during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I remember spending time with Mike during that period,” Sobieski said. “He was one of the people who exhibited some leadership in that situation, telling people ‘we’ll get through this.’”

Sobieski added that Parrish “gave encouragement to the other people in the class,” and that “it was comforting for a lot of people to have Mike there; he stepped up and was a rock for us, if you will.”

Parrish believes that his leadership abilities and a wide range of experiences garnered from a lifetime spent working in the military, business and nonprofit worlds will help him in Congress. He hopes he will be able to look at problems from many different angles and address them in the most effective manner possible, rather than by following the same old partisan thinking.

Since the announcement of his candidacy, some have criticized Parrish, a life-long Republican, for running as a Democrat. He officially switched his party affiliation late last year prior to announcing his intent to run for Congress, a move that some Democrats in the 6th district feel makes him an impostor, looking to win their support in the election only to side with the Republicans as soon as he reaches Washington.

Related: Penn profs running for Congress

In response, Parrish described himself as a “centrist-moderate”—fiscally conservative, but a big believer in progressive social causes, especially environmental and women’s issues.

“The Republican Party is going farther to the right and it no longer reflects my values,” Parrish explained. He went on to criticize what he termed a “non-performance-oriented culture” in Congress that was more focused on party politics and making a point than getting results for constituents. He tied these problems to the prevalence of career politicians interested in retaining their seats rather than getting things done.

“Career politicians aren’t good for the nation,” Parrish said. “I am not a career politician. I’m not doing this for any future gain, I’m doing this because it seems like the right thing to do.”

Parrish referred to his past when speaking about his future hopes for Congress.

Related: For Penn student, military service is a rite of passage.

“The thing they teach us [at West Point] is a lifetime of selfless service to our country,” he said. “That’s in everything we do, not just as a military officer, which I did, but also as a businessman or member of Congress.”

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