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Wharton Puts Spotlight on Retail

Jay H. Baker developed a passion for retailing while working in his parents' store in Flushing, N.Y. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school in 1956, he rose through the ranks of the retail industry to become president of Kohl's Corp. He retired in 1999, having turned the Milwaukee company into a $3.8 billion, 300-store corporation.

Along with his wife Patty, Baker wants to transmit his passion for retailing to students at his alma mater. In 2002, Baker granted the Wharton School $10 million to establish the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center, and recently contributed an additional $15 million to permanently endow the center. It should attract students looking into MBA programs that provide retail education.

"The Baker Center offers an increasingly important and popular career choice for both our MBAs and undergraduates," says Wharton Dean Thomas S. Robertson. "Our goal is to have an impact on the welfare of retail nationally and globally."

Including more than 1.6 million American companies and employing nearly 25 million workers, the U.S. retail industry generated 2009 sales of $2.3 trillion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), representing retailers in the United States and more than 45 countries. The industry is emerging from a slow period as customers return to brick-and-mortar and online stores, searching for discounts, selection, and value, according to the NRF.

Wharton Business School's retail center

The Jay H. Baker Retailing Center brings together industry leaders, academics and students to further retail education and practice globally. The idea is to produce pertinent research and highly trained retail entrepreneurs and executives to grow an industry impacted by a tight economy and a transition to online shopping.

Its key attributes:

  • An interdisciplinary retail curriculum
  • An on-campus speaker series
  • A focus on market-driven research
  • Recruiting for top retail positions

The retail center is led by a board with industry expertise including Chairman Baker, who has also worked at British American Tobacco of the U.S., Saks Fifth Avenue, Famous-Barr and Macy's; Faculty Director Stephen Hoch, a Northwestern Ph.D. with marketing experience at companies including Walt Disney; and Managing Director Erin Armendinger, a former Tiffany and Co. executive.

Wharton Business School's retail MBA program

Wharton's retail MBA courses include Retailing and Retail Supply Chain Management.

The Retailing course provides an overview of the industry and focuses on activities during which retailers interact with customers, including assortment planning, private-label development, and store management operations. Other topics addressed in the Retailing class are customer relationship management (CRM), industry consolidation, and supplier relations. The course takes an interdisciplinary approach by discussing other business disciplines retail executives should master, such as finance, operations, information technology, and real estate.

During Retail Supply Chain Management, Wharton MBA students learn how retailers understand customer preferences and respond with appropriate products through effective supply chain management. The class description highlights companies such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot for successful supply chain management, while noting that e-tailers have experienced challenges in this area.

Both retail classes include lectures and discussions, case analyses, guest speakers and assignments. Depending on the class, MBAs may also have to complete an exam or a final project.

Besides these courses, Wharton business school provides MBAs interested in retail the opportunity to belong to the Fashion & Luxury Industries Club and to listen to top executives in the retail industry as part of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative Speaker Series. Among those who have provided insights on retail careers have been:

  • Domenico DeSole, chairman, Tom Ford International fashion company
  • Terry Lundgren, president and CEO, Macy's department stores
  • Roger Farah, president and COO, Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation
  • Howard Schultz, chairman and chief global strategist, Starbucks Coffee
  • Sharen Jester-Turney, president and CEO, Victoria's Secret lingerie group
  • Stuart Weitzman, president and founder, Stuart Weitzman luxury shoe company

Wharton Business School graduate Stacy Sweet explains why she chose the Philadelphia school over other MBA programs: "Wharton's commitment to retail is unparalleled. This was a big reason why I came to Wharton, and the Baker Retailing Initiative was the highlight of my Wharton experience. It was one of those rare opportunities that I could not have had anywhere else."