Nick Kim has had quite the journey to Wharton, where he currently is a first-year MBA student. It began with the LA Clippers and ended at Warby Parker with stops at HSBC and a startup in between. Along the way, Nick has learned to make the most of his experiences. He took time to share with us how his experience at Wharton has been so far and what he’s expecting out of the journey ahead.
Nick: I couldn’t have known until after, but my winding path from the LA Clippers to HSBC to a mobile marketing startup to Warby Parker prepared me for my role as general manager of the company’s Home Try-On program. I managed the operating model, something I could not have done without training in finance. Similarly, developing product at Thinaire prepared me to work alongside Warby Parker’s product and brand management teams to design amazing customer experiences. I served as a hub that connected teams and ideas across the company, and it was the diversity of my experience that prepared me for that role.
Nick: Working with the talented people at Warby Parker was a career trifecta. First, my role amplified my strengths while providing opportunities in my growth areas. Second, the company’s strong core values aligned with my own. Finally, and most importantly, the team was inspiring, effective, and outrageously fun to work with. This made it hard to leave, but I made the right choice to attend Wharton.
MBASchooled:What led you to apply to business school, and why did you choose Wharton?
Nick: Outside of the typical reasons, seeing the relationship between Wharton and Warby Parker helped me decide to apply. Dave and Neil are quick to acknowledge how the school supported their startup, but I’m also inspired by how they give back to the Wharton community. Lifelong membership in a supportive community was something I desired deeply.
Choosing Wharton was easy. I talked to Neil and Dave about their experiences and it became clear that Wharton had the academic rigor, entrepreneurial resources, and culture that fit with my personality and career goals. I don’t think anyone close to me is surprised that I’ve joined the Welcome Committee to help usher in the next group of admits.
MBASchooled: How has your time at Wharton been so far? What’s the most surprising aspect of business school?
Nick: Wharton has exceeded my expectations. I’m taking advantage of countless resources for entrepreneurs, but staying focused is a challenge. There are so many ways Wharton helps you earn the job of your dreams, and there’s a serious sense of FOMO for those who aren’t recruiting. I’m also taking classes with Jonah Berger and David Bell, who are thought leaders in digital marketing and e-commerce. Despite these resources and opportunities, the people at Wharton are what make it truly special. I’m thrilled to have met so many interesting, thoughtful, and multi-faceted people in my first three months, and I look forward to building stronger relationships with them throughout the next two years.
MBASchooled: Your partner also started the Wharton MBA program this fall. How has your experience been so far in managing two very important commitments?
Nick: My partner Emily and I are so thankful that we get to enjoy this experience together. We each value our independence and have experience managing busy schedules in New York City, so when we decided to attend Wharton together, it was easy to get on the same page about giving each other room to grow, even if it meant seeing less of each other. That’s why we asked to be in different clusters, joined different affinity groups, and made separate friends. We did a temperature check on a date recently and realized we were both feeling over-indexed toward individualism, so we’re starting to make more time for each other and merge our social lives together. More than anything, I think successfully navigating the MBA experience with a partner is about being aligned, and we’ve accomplished that by communicating openly about how we’re doing.
MBASchooled: It sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and designing great experiences. Knowing that, how do you hope to design a great MBA experience for yourself while at Wharton?
Nick: With so many ways to spend your time at Wharton, it can be easy to lose yourself and follow the crowd, or do what you think you’re supposed to do. I am a “yes person” who can find reasons to get involved with anything, so I intentionally spent a lot of time in Preterm asking my Student Life Fellow, advisors, and Wharton graduates about all the things. I made a list of career, academic, leadership, social, and health/wellness things I wanted to do before the tidal wave of opportunities were announced, and that helped me stay focused. Now, whether I’m consulting local small businesses before class with the Wharton Small Business Development Center, or playing hockey on the Wharton travel team at midnight, I know that a thoughtful version of myself decided these were the right things. By collecting feedback early, I designed some impulsivity out of my decision-making, especially for large commitments.
MBASchooled: On that notion of experiences, are there particular companies or businesses that you admire or respect?
Nick: I’ve been inspired by two books this year that help shape how I think about business. Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table illuminates the importance of hospitality in customer relationships, and I admire his advice to treat all stakeholders with respect and dignity. Zeynep Ton’s The Good Jobs Strategy illustrates the benefits of leading with similar principles in the employer-employee relationship, describing how the best retailers offer good jobs that lower costs and produce higher profits. Commitment to customer experience became part of my philosophy as I worked alongside the innovative leaders at Warby Parker, but these books helped me crystallize the ideas. I have a new appreciation for companies like Union Square Hospitality Group, In-N-Out Burger, and Trader Joe’s, who win in extremely competitive markets by investing in people and focusing relentlessly on their customers.
MBASchooled: When you graduate in two years, what’s something you hope to have accomplished?
Nick: I made the decision to leave Warby Parker because I wanted to shake things up and start an entrepreneurial venture. I had been kicking around startup ideas since graduating from college, but I always found reasons to drag my feet. I’m excited about the opportunity to create, and uprooting my life helped me start. I have new appreciation for being a free agent and working on my personal passions, so I hope that by graduation I’ll have at least started to figure out what that means for me long term.