2019 Best EMBAs: Denise Carter, The Wharton School

Denise Carter          

University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School

Age: 50

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Family Members: I’m Single. I have two sisters and five niece

Fun fact about yourself:  Growing up, my family owned an Italian restaurant. I can make a killer lasagna.

Undergraduate School and Degree: B.S Chemistry, College of William and Mary

Where are you currently working? I am the Co-founder and COO of Quoin Pharmaceuticals

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I volunteer with the Vetri Foundation teaching kids to cook and I am an avid crossfit athlete.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? To date, the professional achievement for which I am most proud is taking Innocoll public in 2014. After 13 years building the business, it was exciting to transition the organization to a publicly-traded company on NASDAQ. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and commitment from our entire team and it became the launch pad for starting my current company, Quoin Pharmaceuticals.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?  My favorite class was Innovation in Israel, As a new entrepreneur, it becomes evident quickly that nothing goes according to plan, everything costs more money and requires more time than you anticipated.  A recurring theme from the class was to trust yourself and what you are capable of achieving. It was particularly refreshing to hear from others who have already stepped off the ledge and plunged into entrepreneurial ventures. The biggest insight I gained was that every venture will run into challenges at some point. To be successful, you need to be prepared to pivot.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I originally considered Wharton because the program consistently ranks very high and because of its reputation as a strong finance program. I ultimately chose the program after visiting the school and speaking with the students. The class was extremely diverse and filled with accomplished experts from various fields. I noticed very quickly a high degree of respect, support, and admiration among the Wharton classmates.  Clearly, their relationships were solidly rooted and it was evident the group would continue to be a source of support for one another, both personally and professionally, well into the future.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? This has been an incredible experience in so many ways, but I think what I enjoyed most was being surrounded by people who pushed me to think about things differently. It forced me out of the comfort zone of my own company, my own industry, and even my own country. It encouraged me to consider alternative options. It taught me to actively listen. It reminded me to be curious. It made me more thoughtful.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Make sure you surround yourself with strong people that are well aligned with your vision.  I consider myself very lucky to be doing this program as I am building my own business. I realize that I am surrounded by very accomplished people. I’ve been able to tap the Wharton network of alums for advice, professors for insights and my classmates for practical details where they have enormous experience and where I needed help.  It’s been remarkable the insights and connections this network has provided and how it has changed the trajectory of my company’s growth.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? My mom got very ill during my first term and was in-and-out of the hospital for much of my first year. While, I have two other sisters, I live the closest to my mom and much of the responsibility of her care fell to me. The evening hours after work that I had allocated to spend at the library, now had to be spent at the hospital. So, that’s where I studied: in my mom’s hospital room. I read cases and wrote leadership and strategy papers. I took over her tray table and tried to do accounting and microeconomics problem sets. My poor mom listened to me practice speeches over-and-over. While it was a scary time and was both physically and mentally exhausting for both of us. I’m grateful for the time I got to spend with her. Had she not gotten ill, I’m certain that I would have let the demands of work and school completely monopolize my life for the past two years.  She helped me to remember to keep ALL of my priorities in focus.  My mom is an impressive woman.  She is self-made, independent, and driven. She too is an entrepreneur and has set up four successful businesses over her career. She is a solid role model and has been my biggest cheerleader through this entire EMBA program. Of all the people that I could have stand beside me at graduation, I am most proud to have her with me and I am so grateful that she will be healthy enough to be there.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?

  1. Don’t hesitate. It will be one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences of your life.
  2. If you do get accepted, turn off your TV for two years. You are going to need every available minute for school, work, and family. You can binge watch when the program is over.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I thought I might be too old for the program and the ROI at this point in my career wouldn’t be worth it.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This was the perfect time for me to complete this program. Personally, I was finally ready to make it a priority. Professionally, the program would have been impossible at an earlier stage. My previous employers would not have supported me taking the time every other weekend to be on campus or allocating time during the week to complete required coursework. Plus, this was the perfect time to be in the program, as I just started my own company. It was ideal to be in an environment that stress tested all the decisions we were making the early stages of the company and as we are going through our first funding round.

Even though I am one of the oldest people in the class, I was able to learn so much from my fellow classmates.  They truly are a remarkable group of people; smart, ambitious and well accomplished.

What was your biggest regret in business school? In some ways, I still regret not doing the program sooner.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? That is such an impossible question. I’m surrounded by heroes. 9% of my class is either active duty or retired military and their sacrifice and stories of heroism are hard for me to comprehend. We have trauma, brain, transplant and neonatal surgeons who spend their lives saving others.  25% of the women in my class are entrepreneurs and knocking it out of the park every day. So many of my classmates either got married, had children, moved jobs or had some major life change during this program and they all did it with such grace, never missing a beat.  I’m really lucky to have been included in this group of people.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I was sitting in a conference room in New York with 30 other people from our IPO team including our investment bankers from Piper Jaffray, Stifel, and JMP, our lawyers, their lawyers, and our auditors.  We were drafting our F1 (We were an Irish company) when I realized I was one of the three women in the room and I was the only person present without an advanced degree. I always toyed with the idea of business school, but that day I made myself a promise to make it happen.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I came into Wharton to prepare myself to become CEO of a specialty pharmaceutical company. That is still a challenge that I’d like to undertake. However, I now realize, I really like to build businesses, and I hope to do that over and over in as many ventures as possible, and I want to help others who are interested in becoming an entrepreneur.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? She always reminded me to never underestimate my human capital.



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