What I Learned at…Wharton, Part 1

In our “What I Learned at…” series, MBAs discuss the tools and skills their business schools provided as they launched their careers.

Moran Amir, commonly referred to as “Mo” by her peers, is a second year at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-founder of ADORNIA Fine Jewelry, the online destination to learn about and shop for fine jewelry. By applying innovative editorial content and fashion merchandising to the fine jewelry segment, ADORNIA reintroduces the art and tradition of jewelry to a modern generation of women. In Part 1 of this series, Mo tells mbaMission the reasons she chose to leave the fashion industry and attend Wharton.

Moran Amir, Adornia Fine JewelryMy path to business school and founding my company, ADORNIA Fine Jewelry, was not a linear or obvious one. My high school graduating class had awarded me two senior superlatives: most likely to succeed and best style of her own. Both smart and chic, I didn’t see a career future, however, that married these two attributes comfortably. For my family, the road to success was unambiguous, requiring picking a side on the traditional Jewish binary—doctor or lawyer—careers that conferred monetary security and social status. My parents were small business owners who never attended college and wanted me to choose a safe, traditional career.

After I graduated from New York University, jewelry was certainly not on my radar. I heeded my family’s wishes and started exploring the legal field, working as a paralegal at a white shoe law firm in the city. Only three months in, I had quickly established myself with the attorneys as the go-to girl for real estate financings and development deal work. Yet the longer I stayed at the firm, the more I questioned the long-term fit of a legal career for me. More interested in the transactions than the legal language, I wanted to be the client—the investment fund, the real estate developer, the institutional lender—and not the lawyer. I craved a more creative, entrepreneurial and hands-on environment.

Finding the solution to my dilemma didn’t require scratching too deep. There is not a simpler way to phrase it: my real passion is fashion and style. My subway reading on the way to work was Women’s Wear Daily, and my shoes won me almost as many compliments from the female associates as my organizational skills. Seemingly farfetched at first, my high school superlatives had had it right all along. My breakthrough opportunity came at Catherine Malandrino. This new line of work was not about playing dress-up—this was serious business. I learned to do everything from negotiating cost and labor with the factories to merchandising a contemporary collection for the Japanese market. I was certainly never this excited about lease agreements or torts.

I built my skill set in operations, buying and production at Catherine and later at Diesel, but I decided to pursue an MBA degree to layer formal business acumen over my industry experience. After I spent a couple of years working on Seventh Avenue, the realization set in: growing my fashion empire required not just great design and slick marketing, but also a mastery of business fundamentals. I saw firsthand how many fashion companies were built on instinct and trial-and-error methodology. Passion in business is undoubtedly critical, but the outcomes could be vastly improved by applying both a rigorous analytical framework and lessons learned from studying the extensive business case log. From managing inventory to luring investors, from the runway to a strong retail operation—success demanded sound business models just as much as leggy fashion models. If I desired a business school that combined case study knowledge with a mathematical approach, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania was my place. My first year at Wharton imbued me with significant breadth and depth of business knowledge that coalesced with my industry background. I knew that by merging theory with practice, I could effectively apply the lessons I learned to innovate jewelry retailing with ADORNIA, and at Wharton, I could begin taking things to that next level.

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