Leonard Lodish of Wharton: "Have a simple idea that's hard to implement" - Technical.ly Philly

Dec. 21, 2010 11:00 am

Leonard Lodish of Wharton: “Have a simple idea that’s hard to implement”

Lodish, a Cleveland native, was part of establishing Wharton West, a satellite campus in San Francisco of which he was vice dean from its 2001 founding until 2009.

 

You might spot Leonard Lodish riding his bicycle to his Wharton office.

The 67-year-old vice dean commutes the six miles from his home in Wynnewood by bike ‘everyday’ that he’s at the University of Pennsylvania, he says, which might keep him active enough to spot the next startup exit.

Earlier this month, the second of two companies that Lodish invested early on exited for a combined total of $575 million: Diapers.com and Milo.com, both of which have Wharton ties.

Like many of the other splashiest Wharton startups in recent years, both Diapers and Milo aren’t Philadelphia companies. The powerful westward pull brought Milo founder Jack Abraham to Palo Alto, Calif., part of the Bay Area that Lodish long recognized as a place that Wharton needed to have a presence in, if it was to remain one of the top flight (and oldest) business schools in the world.

Lodish, a Cleveland native, was part of establishing Wharton West, a satellite campus in San Francisco of which he was vice dean from its 2001 founding until 2009.

Below, we speak to Lodish about the necessity of Wharton West, what he looks for in entrepreneurs, why Milo founder Jack Abraham left Philly and more.

Edited, as always, for length and clarity.

What was your first investment?

I started a company in graduate school with my thesis adviser at MIT. [In 1967], we started with I think… $4,000 in equity capital — there was no venture investment back then. Half of it was from Bar Mitzvah money that I had invested.

We started a company doing decision support systems [for marketing strategies], starting with marketing managers. We never got any equity capital but merged the company and basically sold it [around 1985], and it became a part of Information Resources, now one of the largest companies… in that industry for the equiviliant of $60 million.

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I ended up with only a small fraction of that total [because there were many equity stakeholders], but those were the good old days when you could really bootstrap something.

How does that compare with these two recent exits and entrepreneurship today generally?

The internet and everything associated with that, of course, have made it really easy and really cost effective to start a company today.

You can start an internet company and prove that it works for under $100,000, and that is really amazing.

That ease and attraction, though, has caused people to not think about other kinds of businesses that could be more profitable, ones that are offline like services that go beyond an internet-first strategy.

Where does Philly stand in the startup conversation nationally?

I don’t know enough about the macro-level to offer a really nuanced perspective, but I will tell you that with Milo.com, [founder Jack Abraham] wanted to keep the company in Philadelphia, or at least the East Coast, but he really couldn’t find the technical talent that he needed.

That’s something I’ve heard before.

You were part of the founding and growth of Wharton West. Why is that so important for a business school at the level of Wharton?

Wharton is a global business school, and in 2000 or 2001, when we were deciding what to do and where to go [in a quickly changing environment], we wanted Wharton to have its faculty and therefore students exposed to how business is done in the major markets around the world.

INSEAD, Europe’s best business school has 60 faculty in Singapore… and I’ve taught at their Singapore campus, where I get exposed to different ideas and can offer more value to our students when I return.

And if you think about business from the East Coast to the West Coast, it’s like a different country. We had faculty who were spending time studying that difference, and we thought it was time to have a presence on there.

That was the long term strategy, to be able to offer all of our students in any of our program a better versed faculty with experience in all of the biggest markets in the world.

The short term reason was that there was no business school of our stature in the Bay Area. We started offering an eMBA program that has all the academic rigor of all our courses and have had a real impact.

Why is Wharton such a giant of entrepreneurship, but Philadelphia isn’t?

…What I will say is that Wharton is trying to work hard to grow the entrepreneurship in Philadelphia.

Can Philly grow its retention of startups?

You’ve got First Round [Capital], MentorTech [Ventures] and Ben Franklin [Technology] Partners. There’s money around. There are angel investors around too.

I think, there’s a lot of, by the way, it’s important to say, there are a lot of medical device companies in the region. That’s a strength because of the pharmaceutical companies and other health-related initiatives, and that’s something that is less natural out west.

But, boy, with the tech stuff, it’s getting the talent to start stay here.

So how do we do that?

I don’t think I’m going to be able to give you the wonder trick.

Through Wharton, you do find a lot of great talent, some of whom you’ve invested in. When you first meet students and they seem serious enough to be potential partners, what do you first notice about their personalities?

I  try to judge their passion and integrity and reasonableness. Do they look at the world as how it is and how they want it to be — because it has to be both.

Mostly though, I gravitate to people who can explain their ideas quickly, ones who have a simple idea that is hard to implement.

That’s when you find success most often.

Below, watch Lodish, and other Wharton deans, discuss growing the business school.

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Every Friday, Technically Philly brings you an interview with a leader or innovator in Philadelphia s technology community. See others here.

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