Wharton Opens West Coast Campus in Search of Startup Appeal

Wharton Opens New West Coast Campus
Students eat lunch in the dining area at the new University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in San Francisco. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, the 131-year-old business school in Philadelphia, is counting on a new West Coast campus to raise its high-tech profile.

For a decade, the school operated a little-known San Francisco outpost in the former headquarters of Folgers Coffee. The new site, a block from the Bay Bridge, is 37,000 square feet (3,440 square meters) and more closely resembles the area’s Internet startups, with high ceilings, exposed brick and the latest videoconferencing equipment.

The campus, which opened last month, is part of Wharton’s effort to attract aspiring technology entrepreneurs to its master’s in business administration program for executives. Most students in the program, ranked first in 2011 by U.S. News & World Report, are in Wharton’s hometown of Philadelphia. The new location can accommodate 150 students, a 50 percent increase from the old building.

“This is a much more entrepreneurial and innovation-driven area,” said Bernadette Birt, chief operating officer of the program. The new campus also fosters a spirit of teamwork, she said. “They hang out together. They relax here as well and get all their work done together.”

Silicon Valley

East Coast business schools are increasingly looking to shore up their West Coast ties, either through satellite campuses or partnerships with other institutions. In addition to letting them draw local students, the programs provide easier access to the world’s biggest technology companies, including Apple Inc., Google Inc., Facebook Inc., Oracle Corp. and Intel Corp. New York’s Columbia University offers an executive MBA program with the University of California, Berkeley.

The new Wharton West is located on the sixth floor of the Hills Plaza building on the Embarcadero, the street that borders San Francisco’s eastern waterfront. The school signed a 10-year lease in June and spent the next six months on renovations. The changes included the removal of four columns to create enough classroom space, and the installation of a plumbing and electricity system designed to achieve a gold rating by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.

“The aesthetics of the space is this blend of trying to bring a traditional approach from Wharton at Penn and blending it with a more open-ceiling, entrepreneurial garage space,” said Douglas Zucker, principal at Gensler, the architecture firm that designed the campus. People are “coming here because they want to start a company.”

Cross-Country Professors

Like a full-time MBA program, Wharton’s executive MBA degree takes two years to complete. Students from across the country come together every other weekend for classes that typically start on Friday morning and end Saturday evening, allowing them to keep their full-time jobs.

The program isn’t cheap. Annual tuition runs students $48,550, which is in line with the other top executive MBA programs in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report. Adding in hotel expenses, books and meals, the San Francisco program costs a total of $173,940, or $86,970 a year.

The school has more than a dozen professors that fly in from Philadelphia as part of their total course load. John Percival has been making the cross-country commute since the San Francisco school first opened 10 years ago to teach an introductory course in corporate finance.

‘Better Mood’

“The high ceilings, open air and looking out the windows just puts everybody in a better mood, including the faculty,” Percival, 65, said in an interview from the dining room overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

Part of the San Francisco allure is the proximity to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Since the new campus opened, guest speakers have included Duncan Logan, chief executive officer of technology incubator RocketSpace Inc., and Jay Jamison, a partner at BlueRun Ventures.

Muckai Girish, a Wharton student who works as a vice president at chipmaker Entropic Communications Inc., expects the new campus to put the school on Silicon Valley’s radar.

“In the old building, not too many people knew about Wharton here because it was hidden away,” Girish said. “This gives us an identity.”

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