When Barry Self thought about applying to Executive MBA programs, he had been running his business, Southeast Dental Research, in Baton Rouge for seven years. Having successfully made the move from working for a large corporation to entrepreneur, he was committed to growing his firm, but lacked the business knowledge and contacts needed to take it to the next level.
“I knew I could learn about business anywhere, but if I wanted my MBA to work for me then I needed to go to a school like Wharton. Also, I already had a PhD in chemistry and wasn’t looking to just pick up another degree. If I was going to go back to school, I wanted to go to the best school possible and leave nothing to chance,” recalls Self. “Wharton fit all of those criteria.”
Another “perfect fit” was Wharton’s schedule. With four kids and a business, becoming a full-time student for two years wasn’t an option nor was moving away from Baton Rouge. Being able to fly to Wharton’s Philadelphia campus every other weekend worked well for his needs.
Of course, says Self, it was challenging to keep all of those balls in the air. “It took some adjusting of expectations. I thought I could graduate with honors and still do everything that I was previously doing with my family and business, but there were times when one of those areas had to come first and the others had to give a bit,” he says.
While the commute from Louisiana to Philadelphia may sound like an added challenge, Self says it actually alleviated some of the stress on his schedule. With limited flight options to Philadelphia, he flew in on Thursday evenings in order to arrive in time for Friday morning classes. “Arriving on Thursdays — in addition to the three hours spent on the plane each way –gave me time to refocus and do work,” he says. (Wharton | San Francisco has students from Western states making similar commutes.)
Self, who graduated last May, says that the Wharton EMBA was definitely worth it. “Right now, a classmate and I are working on a proposal to potentially buy a company that is up for sale. Before coming to Wharton, I wouldn’t have had a clue about how to begin a process like that, but after Wharton, I had the knowledge base as well as a list of people I could call to put a process and team in place,” he says. “Whether this deal goes through or not, when the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready to act on it.”
Despite his distance from Philadelphia, he is staying connected to Wharton. Recently, he attended the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) Conference in New Orleans as a representative of Wharton to share his experience with other prospective students.
He says that a common topic of conversation at the conference was Wharton’s admissions requirements. “A big hindrance for a lot of people who have never had any exposure to an Ivy League school is that they think there is no way they could possibly be accepted. I probably wouldn’t have applied myself had I not gone to a Wharton information session because I thought it was such a long shot. I didn’t have the greatest grades, but Wharton is looking at your potential, what you will bring to the table as well as your GMAT scores, which is a good way of giving you a second chance if you are 15 or 20 years removed from your undergraduate school. And they look for people from diverse backgrounds. If everyone in class came from the same industry with the same experiences, there wouldn’t be as much learning shared between students,” he says.
Self adds that he is already looking forward to attending next year’s conference. “I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had that will be invaluable for my future career and want to encourage others to consider Wharton as well.”