When Mandy Puri, WG’86, arrived at Wharton, she wasn’t the only student from her home country. “But I was the only Indian woman in my class,” she said. The classes ahead of and below her each had only one Indian woman. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. India has hundreds of smart women. Why do we always have this one token woman?’”
Today, Puri is retired from her Wall Street career, which propelled her to the highest levels at Merrill Lynch and BlackRock. Now she invests time and resources supporting young women from India who are walking the same path she blazed 35 years ago. That’s how she and Gundeep Kaur, WG’15, came to build a lifelong friendship based on mutual support and personal growth.
“Mandy has been there for me through thick and thin,” Kaur said. “She’s been part of all career decisions in my life after Wharton. Over the years I have known her, she exemplifies unconditional love and care towards her family, Wharton, and people like me.”
Kaur is one of a dozen female MBA students from India who Puri has supported through an MBA fellowship she established in 2006. “When I started talking to Wharton about philanthropy and giving back — given what Wharton had done for me, it was a very easy decision to focus on helping women from India get the same opportunity that I had,” Puri said.
Both Puri and Kaur came from humble beginnings, and both women entered their chosen fields during a period of rapid innovation — Puri in finance in the 1980s and 90s, and Kaur now at leading data and analytics firm Tableau Software, acquired by Salesforce. As international students, they went beyond their comfort zones to make the most of their Wharton experience.
“I’d never been to the U.S.,” Puri said. “When I think of what made it work, it was getting involved, taking advantage, and learning from a pool of talent from such diverse backgrounds.”
For Kaur, stepping out of her comfort zone literally meant working together with her peers in stressful environments — trekking through Antarctica and doing a military simulation in Quantico, Virginia, on two separate Wharton Leadership Ventures, designed to reveal insights about how students solve problems and confront challenges.
These kinds of leadership experiences make the MBA experience today much different from Puri’s, as does Wharton’s increased focus on entrepreneurship and analytics. “When I talk to incoming students, half of them want to start their own business or work in a startup,” Puri said. “So that tells me where the demand is and it is gratifying to see that Wharton is responding to that.”
As a member of the Graduate Executive Board at Wharton, Puri plans to stay close to Wharton for the long term and continue to uplift more women like Kaur and set an example for the next generation.
“My hope is to follow Mandy’s path of selfless service and compassion and to create opportunities to empower women,” Kaur said. “Leading by example, Mandy has helped me foster giving behavior at work, in my personal life, and in society at large.”
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