Wharton EMBA Prof. Steve Sammut Helps Launch Health Care MBA in Kenya


Approaching his 20-year anniversary teaching at Wharton, EMBA alumnus Steve Sammut, WG’84, is well known for his expertise on entrepreneurship. A venture partner at Burrill & Company, he’s also taught classes at Wharton ranging from intellectual property to venture capital to private equity. However, another area he focuses on is health care, particularly in emerging markets. In between classes at Wharton and work at his firm, Steve has spent much of the past two years on the ground in Nairobi, Kenya where he helped launch the first health care MBA program on the African continent at Strathmore University Business School.

Q. How did you become involved in founding the health care MBA program in Kenya?

A. Last year, Wharton helped develop a major for MBAs in health care at the Indian School of Business. In the process of helping to coordinate that program with Wharton Prof. Lawton (Robert) Burns and ISB, I learned quite a bit about how to structure a health care MBA program, especially within an emerging market. During that time, I also had occasion to be in Nairobi where I discussed this project with the dean of Strathmore University Business School. He asked if I would help them set up a health care management program, which was an exciting proposition and one I was happy to undertake.

Q. What has your role been in developing this program? Is it an EMBA format?

A. Since we started this project, I’ve been to Nairobi at least 10 times. I did the needs analysis and research required to create the curriculum. After developing the curriculum, I prepared it for submission to Kenya’s government for accreditation, which it has since received. Now, my role is to help recruit international faculty as well as teach two courses throughout this year. In addition to myself, we have a few other Wharton faculty lined up to teach, including Prof. Mark Pauly, who is one of the preeminent health economists in the world, Prof. Jonathan Kolstad, and Dr. Christopher Forrest, who also is a professor at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.

As for the format, it’s an EMBA program. Students attend classes for two full weeks at a time before having six weeks or two months off. Over two years, they will spend 12 two-week modules on campus.

Q. How satisfying was it to formally launch the health care MBA program in Nairobi this summer?

A. The first class we admitted has 21 students, and more than half are physicians who manage hospitals so are already very engaged in the materials and classes. You can just feel how important and urgent this field of study is to them and that is very satisfying. I knew this program would have a profound impact on health care in Africa and it’s wonderful to see the program come to fruition.

Q. While you are still active in the private sector, you also have had a long teaching career at Wharton. How did that begin?

A. It goes back to 1992 when I was the intellectual property officer at Penn and ran the Center for Technology Transfer. One day I got a call from the director of Wharton’s EMBA program – Prof. Arnold “Skip” Rosoff at the time – who wanted to know if I would create and teach a course on intellectual property strategy, as a number of students had expressed an interest in that topic. I agreed and began teaching that course in 1993.

In 1997, I was asked by Prof. Ian MacMillan about creating and teaching a course on venture capital. That ended up being offered to both MBA and law students. I’ve pretty much taught a venture capital course at Wharton every year since then. Now, I teach both full-time MBA and EMBA students and have taught both in Philadelphia and San Francisco as well as occasionally the law, engineering and medical schools. This spring will be the first time I’ve taught a health care course in Wharton’s EMBA program and I am eagerly anticipating that.

Q. What do you like about teaching EMBA students?

A. Executive MBA students bring a very high level of experience to the class discussion and approach the materials with a great sense of urgency. They are looking for ways to apply that material to their work and, in some instances, are making a career change and attach themselves to the material in pretty powerful ways. It’s a great dynamic. The other unique aspect of teaching EMBA students is that when projects are assigned, they select topics that are very real world, oftentimes related to situations they are dealing with professionally. That makes the time investment that much more valuable for them and the projects very interesting to me.

Q. As an alumnus, what kind of impact has your Wharton EMBA degree made on your career?

A. It’s been immeasurable not just with career opportunities, but also in opening up a whole new intellectual framework for defining and analyzing problems and experimenting to find solutions. It’s allowed me to apply a variety of skills in an interdisciplinary way. And it’s opened up more avenues than I could ever have anticipated.

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