Bullish Behavior
Are Wharton cutthroats the exception or the rule?

By Lisa Levenson | In the summer of 1992, I was one of 64 Pennsylvania high-school students who converged on University City for the Governor’s School for Business. This five-week enrichment program included modules in accounting, marketing, and finance; a stock-market simulation; and visits to local businesses. A year later, nearly 40 percent of us returned to Penn as members of the Class of 1997, the majority enrolling at Wharton. I chose to study in the College, believing there would be plenty of time to focus on statistics and strategy later in my career, and indeed, this past August, started my M.B.A. at Columbia Business School.

THE RUNNING OF THE BULLS: Inside the Cutthroat Race from Wharton to Wall Street
By Nicole Ridgway.
Gotham Books, 2005. $25.

Such is not the case for the seven driven members of Wharton’s undergraduate Class of 2004 who are profiled in Nicole Ridgway’s The Running of the Bulls: Inside the Cutthroat Race from Wharton to Wall Street. For these students—who eat, sleep, and breathe business, and who aim to secure their dream jobs by Commencement—the search for a job is the all-consuming focus of their senior year. On their priority lists, time spent with classmates—and even time spent in their classes—pales in comparison to the recruiting process.

The book follows Jessica, a hyper-ambitious former cheerleader from Texas, who isn’t happy unless she’s working. She joins a sorority, but leaves it off her resumé because she worries about how investment-bank recruiters may perceive her Greek affiliation. She graduates with a job at Lazard, a complete inability to relax, and a GPA of 3.9—a figure that appears to be higher than the number of close friends she’s made during her college career.

Jessica’s classmates include Shimika, the first in her family to attend college, who sees banking as merely a way to pay for law school; Regi, who re-evaluates his desire to become a banker after a health crisis lands him in the hospital; Anthony, who speaks five languages but can’t seem to conjure up a job offer as graduation looms; and Shreevar, who must balance demands that he return to India to join the family business with his own desire to gain work experience in the United States.

There’s also Grace, a California native who struggles to choose between a consulting job that would keep her close to home and a marketing position that would send her to New York, and Jon, a would-be entrepreneur whose parents are both Penn alums. Like their peers, both of these students attend plenty of corporate cocktail receptions and recruiting presentations as the fall semester wears on, but they manage to avoid the investment-banking juggernaut by focusing on the activities they enjoy and the aspects of work that matter to them.

Ridgway uses a breezy, youthful tone to match the many verbatim comments she includes from the students she followed for an academic year. Her account of Wharton’s history, and her explanation of why the school continues to attract high-achievers, won’t surprise anyone who’s spent time on Penn’s campus or any prospective student hoping to enroll. In fact, parts of the book seem like they could have been produced by Wharton’s public-relations department, even if they do present accurately the trials and tribulations of seven specific students during the 2003-04 school year.

As I read The Running of the Bulls, I wondered whether the profiled students were truly typical members of the Class of 2004, or whether they were what my statistics professor would call “outliers,” the people who make good copy because their outrageous, high-stress experiences fit the Wharton stereotype, rather than representing what the “average” Wharton undergraduate goes through. After all, in her author’s note, Ridgway says she “wanted to chronicle the pinnacle of the Wharton experience: The notoriously competitive recruiting frenzy.” Hopefully, there’s more to a Wharton education than just the job hunt, but you won’t find that context in this book.

Lisa Levenson C’97 is a first-year student at Columbia Business School who previously worked as a journalist and in strategy consulting. She can be reached at LLevenson07@gsb.columbia.edu.

©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 01/05/06


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