When Mercedee Renz Hutton, WG’21, came to Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives, she never imagined going to school during a pandemic, much less becoming an advocate for her class and being chosen to interview alumnus Sundar Pichai, WG’02, CEO of Google and Alphabet, at graduation.
“When classes became virtual because of the pandemic, I stepped up to work with the administration to help make the best out of the situation. I maintained a line of communication about students’ concerns and perspectives,” said Mercedee.
She also played a key role in Wharton’s virtual graduation last May. Instead of traditional keynote speeches, the School selected students from the undergraduate, full-time MBA, and EMBA programs to interview graduation speakers. Mercedee was unanimously chosen by the EMBA administration to represent the East and West coast cohorts and interview Sundar.
“I was first stunned and then excited. It had to sink in for a bit,” she recalled. “To prepare, I polled my classmates about possible questions and sought feedback about leadership questions from Prof. Stewart Friedman. It was a creative, iterative process. The day of the event, I was in the zone and ready to give back to my class with this interview.”
Mercedee started out by asking Sundar about the boundaries of technology. What cannot be solved by technology? He explained how “purpose” cannot be solved by technology. She also asked about his leadership style, and he discussed his belief in the importance of collaboration and teamwork.
Her last question was what Sundar is most concerned about for future generations. His answer: sustainability. “He discussed how he wants to put technology to work for sustainability, and that resonated with me as a social impact manager,” she said. (For the record, she also humorously confirmed from Sundar that the class of 2021 is his favorite – only if she promises not to tell the class of 2022.)
A Passion for Social Impact
Mercedee’s passion for social impact is what brought her to Wharton. She said, “I was working in a marketing function at Dell and wanted to pivot into social impact. I wanted an MBA to differentiate myself, learn how to accelerate the space, and bring financial literacy and business acumen to the table.”
She added, “I also wanted to set an example for my children. As the mother of two boys, I want to show them what a woman at the leadership table looks like and teach them to welcome all voices.”
Researching EMBA programs, she made sure to visit every school’s campus. “After sitting in on a Wharton class and meeting students, I knew this was the only school for me. Wharton has a world-renowned brand, one of the highest ratios of women among top EMBA programs, and a professional and personal touch. As you go through the admissions process, the expectations and steps are clear, and I felt like they wanted to know me as an individual. I wasn’t just another applicant.”
During the application process, Mercedee took on a new role in Dell’s ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) department. “I had to ask my new manager for the time off needed for this program and to write a letter of support. She took a chance on me and provided that support. And I’m so grateful she did.”
Her current role at Dell as a social impact senior manager involves ESG-related customer initiatives and sales enablement. She said, “There is a business imperative for social impact, and our customers want to know about Dell as a corporate citizen and the responsibility it’s taking in the environment and society as a whole. It is important to proactively share that information and find ways to collaborate and drive change together.”
How Wharton Adds Value
Starting a new role around the same time that she started Wharton’s EMBA program turned out to have a lot of positives. She explained:
“I took on more responsibility in my job during a pandemic while raising two kids and getting an MBA. I earned a lot of respect, and that has opened doors for me in all kinds of areas. There is no cap on what I can do with a Wharton MBA.”
“One reason I came to Wharton was to fill in knowledge gaps in areas like data analytics. Before Wharton, I thought of myself as a ‘poet’ and someone better at writing and communications than quantitative skills. Now, I can look at data, run analyses, and draw insights from the data. This is a big shift, and these tools are a game changer for me professionally and for the social impact sector. We need to use more analytics to fundamentally bring social impact into the core of business value.”
“I come from a self-taught marketing background and used to feel like an imposter. I struggled with speaking up at meetings. In Prof. Friedman’s course on leadership and other communications courses focused on public speaking, I worked hard and am seeing the fruits of my labor. Wharton transformed my confidence level and I now see myself as a leader. A good example is how I advocated for my classmates during the pandemic, interviewed Sundar at graduation, and helped organize an in-person, post-graduation celebration for my classmates when it was safe.”
“When I was applying, I heard that Wharton alumni ‘take the call.’ It is true! When you are part of this community, alumni will pick up the phone and take your call. Alumni are actively engaged with each other and comprise this large network of incredibly brilliant and talented people. And the people in your cohort become friends for life. I am a better person for knowing them.”
She added, “It’s common when you come to Wharton to have concerns about whether you can handle the workload or that you are too old to be a student again. But you will surprise yourself, and you won’t regret a minute of it. When the program is finished, you’ll wish it could have lasted longer.”
—By Meghan Laska
Posted: January 3, 2022