Wharton EMBA Alumna Talks about Lasting Lessons from First Day of School

After working as a pediatric surgical nurse and then at a small medical company, Shelley Boyce wanted to formalize her business education in Wharton’s EMBA Program. However, going back to school after working “in the trenches” for 10 years was a bit daunting.

During the weeklong orientation known as “boot camp”, a professor announced that if the students could survive his microeconomics class for the next six weeks then they would be fine. As challenging as that sounded at the time, she quickly realized that she would indeed be fine. “Wharton does a great job at selecting students who will succeed and giving them the skills they need to be successful – of course that doesn’t make it any easier that first week,” laughs Boyce.

That same week, another professor made an equally impactful announcement. She recalls, “He stood in front of our class and said, ‘There are three types of people: bean counters, gear heads, and poets. Figure out who you are and connect yourself to each of the other two groups and that will help you be successful.’”

Not only did that advice prove useful at Wharton, but it also rang true as she launched her start-up, MedRisk, the following year with fellow Wharton Executive MBA student Jerry Poole. The two, she explains, were very different. “Jerry is very bright, detailed, and structured and really knows how to build and sustain a well oiled operating machine where I am much more loose and creative. I work with a crayon and he works with a mechanical pencil,” says Boyce.

While working with others with diverse management styles can be challenging, Boyce maintains that it also is critical. “You need the thinking of people unlike yourself to make the business grow,” she says. “When hiring, we look for skills and talent, but also that type of diversity. When our professor said there are three types of people and each has his or her own skill set and contributions to make, that applies in business as well.”

During her second year at Wharton, Boyce says she was more relaxed and confident as she found her groove. However, that calm didn’t last long because not only did she deliver her first child that year, but she also started MedRisk. She credits the support from her classmates with helping her stay in the program despite the many demands on her time. “Wharton was where I needed to be. If I had taken a leave of absence, I would have lost out on a lot of opportunities and learnings that helped me in real time as I launched the business,” she says.

“I’d be sitting in accounting class learning about financial statements and then go home and build a P&L for the new business. I’d sit in negotiations class learning how to buy a car and then go home and figure out how to negotiate getting money from an investor. Or in an operations class, I’d read these great case studies about the successes and failures of companies. And I still have Prof. Richard Shell’s book about entrepreneurship which sits on my shelf and still gets pulled down twice a year – and this is 15 years later!”

Today, the company that she launched in 1994 with just six employees and a bank loan has grown national in scope, employing over 250 people and generating $120 million in sales. In addition to running her business, she and her husband, Dan, are busy raising their three daughters.  Boyce also spends time mentoring young entrepreneurs. “I feel extremely passionate about entrepreneurship. It’s one thing to start your own company and live through the successes of that, but equally rewarding is to pass it on and share some of that wisdom with others,” she says.

Boyce credits Wharton with many of those successes. “I didn’t have plans to become an entrepreneur when I undertook my Wharton MBA, but while here I gained the skill set, toolkit, and confidence to become an entrepreneur so when the opportunity came, I felt well prepared to take a risk.”

Read more about Shelley Boyce.