Alexey Komissarouk | The Lords of Wallnut Street


33rd Street | Almost two-thirds of Wharton goes into finance, typecasting the school




One of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes comes from the ’80s. Jobs was trying to recruit Wharton graduate and then-Pepsi executive John Sculley to join him as the CEO of Apple.

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life,” said Jobs, “or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

I want to change the world. I think a lot of us do. It’s one of the reasons we’re here at Penn.

And it’s not like the world doesn’t need changing. I stopped by Occupy Philly this weekend and spent some time chatting with the organizers. Say what you will about the movement — we’ve spent a fair amount of bits and ink in this newspaper already — but clearly they’ve struck a nerve. More than 1,500 offshoots of the Occupy movement have sprung up around the world over the past month, from Amsterdam to Tokyo to Los Angeles.

I didn’t get a cohesive message from the organizers, but the thing that has been resonating strongest in the media has been the 99 percent-1 percent divide. It’s easy to reject the argument as populist class warfare — and certainly, for some organizers, it is.

But part of it is real. When protesters marched against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s speech last week, a common theme was marching against the future Lords of Wall Street.

At Wharton (and Penn, to a degree), going into the financial industry after graduation has become a default choice. According to Career Services, over 60 percent of Whartonites and more than a third of students overall from the Class of 2010 ended up working in the financial industry immediately after graduation.

“After I figured out what I wanted to do, I noticed that whenever I would explain what I was studying, I would have to preface it with ‘I’m not doing finance, because…’” Wharton junior Shiv Kapoor said. “I felt a lot better once I stopped doing that.”

It’s not unreasonable for readers to suppose that this column now devolves into a polemic against the evil financial industry, fat cat bankers and government bailouts.

This isn’t that column.

The financial industry provides businesses and individuals with loans that enable the economy to grow. It enables individuals to save for retirement and puts their money to work.

The argument isn’t that nobody should be going into finance. It’s that more than 60 percent of the brightest business minds is a lot. Certainly, some came here aiming to go into the financial industry from day one. But how many incoming freshmen, unsure about what to do with their careers end up looking around and seeing their upperclassmen friends and role models taking jobs in the industry?

Nick Shah, a 2005 Wharton graduate, went into finance after graduation as well. Shah worked in investment banking for several years before making the leap to entrepreneurship. “During my time working in Asian emerging markets, I felt inspired by young, ambitious entrepreneurs who were fearlessly trying to change the world,” Shah wrote in an email. “I was tired of financing ideas. I wanted to execute on my own ideas.”

Today, Shah is one of the founders of Ampush Media, a San Francisco startup that helps connect higher-education centers to potential students. “There is a misperception among prospective entrepreneurs that you need a great idea before you can start a business,” Shah advised. “You’ll never find the great idea UNTIL you start the business. Once committed to an industry, smart people can learn very quickly.”

There’s a plethora of alternate career paths available to students with the initiative and desire to explore beyond what is immediately available. I just so happen to be an unabashed cheerleader for startups and entrepreneurship, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t explore going into government or education or health care — or finance, if the industry makes sense for you. The only wrong choice is the lazy one.

Do you really want to spend your twenties selling sugar water derivatives? Or do you want to change the world?

Alexey Komissarouk is an Engineering senior from Kfar Shmaryahu, Israel. His email address is alexeym@seas.upenn.edu. 33rd Street appears every other Thursday.

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