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Real Humans of MBA Admissions: Blair Mannix of the Wharton School

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Blair Mannix, Director of Admissions, The Wharton School

Just a few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of getting to know Blair Mannix, the Director of Admissions at the Wharton School.  Working in admissions for 13 years and counting, Mannix took on the mantle of Director of Admissions in the fall of 2018.  In our Admissions Q&A, she walked us through life in the admissions office, what happens with your written applications and during the Team-based Discussions and more.   She also took the time to address some fun Real Humans questions, and we hope that in reading her responses, you get to feel as much like you know her as we did in speaking with her.

Read on to learn a bit about Mannix’s personal side and don’t forget to catch up on the podcast if you want to hear more about admissions at the Wharton School.

Coffee or Tea?
Coffee. I am a coffee fiend. I probably have 4 cups a day, even through the afternoon.

Beach or Mountains?
I was lucky enough to grow up in the beaches of South Carolina. And one of the other virtues of Philadelphia is that we’re very close to the Jersey Shore, so my husband and I pop down to the Jersey Shore every summer. So I would say beach.  But I burn—I’m Irish in nature, so I turn very red and I burn often. So, beach, but only for a couple of hours a day.

Morning person or night owl?
I’m an absolute morning person. My brain shuts off and stops working around 4:30 p.m. One of my favorite things about this, I wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning, I’m up normally either working out or I have a five month old daughter now so she and I are hanging out in the morning. One of my favorite people to work with is our full-time data scientist, we basically share an office and she is a night owl. I wake up at 6 and she works til two, so we always joke that we get about 18 to 20 hours of work done in the day between the two of us because she’s a night owl and I’m a morning person and it’s beautiful! ‘’

Pet peeve?
I didn’t even have to think about this one twice—my biggest pet peeve is bad parallel parkers. I live in the city, I am the greatest parallel parker that ever graced the city of Philadelphia and it really bothers me when people don’t know how to parallel park.

Guilty pleasure?
My husband and I kind of watch nothing but HBO documentaries, Netflix documentaries, documentaries on the 2008 financial crisis—that’s like 90% of what we watch. And then sometimes, he’ll come home and I’ll be watching bad TLC shows. So I would say it’s an 80/20, but I would say bad TLC reality shows are my guilty pleasure, especially when I was on maternity leave recently.

Favorite virtue in others?
I love hanging out with good conversationalists. I find that being a good conversationalist is not a trait that everybody has.  Benjamin Franklin has this great quote about succeeding in conversations that I think about often.  I really like working with people and hanging out with people that can hold a good conversation.

Worst habit?
My worst habit…going back to parallel parking, if you are not getting into the spot quick enough, I will sit in my car behind you and kind of intimidate you to either park faster or move, so I can get my large car into your spot. And I think that’s a really bad quality in myself, but I thought I would just be open and talk about it.

Happy place?
I would say this [Penn’s] campus. I know that sounds so cheesy, but it’s so true. Not even just Wharton, but the University as a whole has a very distinct energy. And I would say kind of walking down the center of campus, Locust Walk—and this is not an ad for the university in any way, that’s just generally where I feel the best, I feel super fortunate to be part of this community.  You walk through the center of campus, down this distinct path called Locust Walk, and I know every day I’ll see somebody I know every day and that just is heart filling.

Comfort food?
I don’t want to throw my family under the bus, but we did not eat a lot of comfort food growing up. I come from a proud tradition of my grandmother, my mother, and myself that we do not cook, we are not good at cooking and I take pride in that. Having the third generation of non-cooks in our kitchen, and so… a good turkey sandwich is my answer.

Go-to cocktail?
White wine, Sauvignon Blanc.

Proudest moment?
I think I would’ve had a different answer 6 months ago, but I just had a baby. She’s only five-and-a-half months old, so I would say Halloween of 2018, noon when she was born.

October 2018 will probably go down as one of the best months of my life, both career and personally [since that’s also when I was made Director of Admissions at Wharton].

Biggest regret? (And one thing you would change about how you were raised?)
My answer ties into the next question a little bit. I’m the oldest of 4 children, my parents are the absolute, most wonderful people on the planet. They are cool people, too.  My mom was an actress, my dad was a professional hockey player. They’re just very cool people. But I’m the oldest of 4 and I’m significantly older than the other 3 in my family, so it’s a regret and also something I would change. I moved to Philadelphia when my siblings were very young. I have massive memories of my youngest sister moving me into college, and she was still in young elementary school.  I feel like I kind of grew up in a lot of ways in a different city, not close to my family. And Philly and D.C. are only two hours apart, but you get kind of wrapped up in your own life—for me it was college and grad school and Philadelphia.  I just wish that I had spent more time with my siblings as they were growing up.  I left very early and I feel like I missed huge chunks of their middle school and high school life, and then we all went to college and moved across the world. I had a sister that moved to Denver and she was there for two years. Luckily, she’s back on the East Coast now. So I would change spending more time with my siblings because we all have the same personality and so our holidays are a little aggressive.  We have a good time, and I wish we had more of that good time.

Superpower you wish you had?
I know people normally say “I wish I could fly” or “read minds,” but I’m going to go with a version of flying. I’m not a great flyer. My husband makes fun of me consistently—I fly all the time for this role. I’m in Asia a couple times a year, huge, long flights, and I don’t mind flying—I just get bored and anxious on the airplane and can’t sleep, so it’s kind of a variation of that. I just wish I would be a better and more chill flyer.  That would be a super power for my role right now.

Did any schools, when you applied to college and grad school, reject you?

Has that had any impact on how you interact with those you have to say “no” to?
I transferred schools as an undergraduate twice, which is very unusual. There’s a couple reasons I did it, that I won’t go into now.  I ended up at the same school I started at. My first transfer was away, my second transfer was back. It doesn’t really speak to who rejected me, but there’s a direct line to me transferring schools and getting into this business.  The women that helped me in those admissions offices—they taught me what classes to take that would transfer, what classes wouldn’t transfer, how to get scholarships back, how to regain spots in the cohorts and the curriculum. Those women, to this day I say it many times, those women saved my life.  So when I was looking at my career, I said “I think I’d like to do that. I think I’d like to save somebody else’s life. These women really helped me.” And that’s why, directly direct line I do what I do now. And I’ve been very fortunate to go through kind of those tough times and come out in this career. And so I think that informs everything that I do and that informs me taking this chair and wanting to open up the Wharton MBA admissions office to be more open, honest, communicative and transparent—because that’s my experience.

Which part of the Wharton admissions process would you most like to skip if you were applying today?
Probably the extracurricular section of the application. I think so many students really stress out about this extracurricular section of the application, but what I would like to get out there, fundamentally, is that: they are working professionals, working many more than 40 hours a week; we don’t expect at scale our applicants and students that are successful at Wharton and in gaining admission to have robust extracurricular profiles. Students are admitted here all the time with no extracurricular activities and I think that’s wonderful because you’re focusing on different things.  A third of our applicants and then matriculants have families, and so your extracurricular activity is raising your kids. I think that’s great. I’d like to take that out. It’s a different degree and ecosystem than undergraduate. It’s not going to be the defining factor of your application.

What’s the best thing you read/watched/listened to recently?
I’m an avid reader. “In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India” has been the one that I’m working through now. I just finished a great book on the history of India called “Monsoon,” which I loved.  I love historical nonfiction; there’s a book called the “Citizens of London” that I finished a couple months ago that I loved.  I do a little bit of reading on evaluating for talent and selection in Major League Baseball and so there’s a great book called “Astroball” by Ben Reiter that I loved and devoured. I can highly recommend that. And all of that’s on top of the other books sitting in my office right now, which are Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” and “The Wisdom of Crowds” and kind of all the stuff I feel strongly about in the decision realm.

Our Major League Baseball Team the Phillies or National Football Team the Eagles?
Board of Tourism of Philadelphia, I’m going to have to go with the Eagles just because I find football a little bit more interesting. Although intellectually, I like the study of talent selection in baseball.  I like watching Eagles football because I like a good hoppy beer on a Sunday.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.