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June 15, 1999
Pandya's Vision Bears Fruit At Wharton
1989: Within weeks of arriving in the US, an Indian journalist is assigned by a New Jersey business paper to cover a story about the state's largest savings and loan, which teeters on the brink of bankruptcy because of the crisis that has engulfed the thrift industry.
Knowing little about the crisis despite his 10 years in business journalism in India, he strikes it lucky when a Rutgers professor walks him through the background of the crisis, which not only helps him write the story but also brings a job offer from Business News New Jersey.
1999: The same reporter is editor of Knowledge@Wharton, a web site just launched by the University of Pennsylvania's prestigious business school.
Mukul Pandya has come a long way in ten years, as has his brainchild, Knowledge@Wharton, in a little more than three weeks. The interactive web site -- http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu -- generated 26,000 hits within the first 24 hours of its debut on May 26, and had more than 1,000 registered users from 33 countries within the first 48 hours. Now, three weeks later, the web site has more than 3,500 registered users in 88 countries.
Overwhelmed by the response, Pandya says, "I always knew the web is a global medium, but unless you see something like this happen before your eyes, it's hard to believe."
Designed -- among other things -- to present the Wharton faculty's research on issues ranging from finance to entrepreneurship, the site will include analyses of business trends, interviews with industry leaders, book reviews, conference reports, and hyperlinks to related web sites.
"It will give business executives, academics, students, and the general public a credible source of business information on the Web," Pandya says.
Since academics tend to generate knowledge in a form that is often too abstract for non-academicians, Knowledge@Wharton will translate the insights of the school's outstanding faculty into jargon-free, easily accessible language. Tailored to readers' varying degrees of interest, the site organizes all the information at three levels, from brief summaries to short articles to full-blown academic papers.
Pandya, 41, who has a master's degree in economics from Bombay University, came to America in the fall of 1989. He started working as a staff writer for Business News New Jersey -- -then called Business for Central New Jersey -- in 1990, later becoming its deputy editor and managing editor.
In 1991, Pandya took a short course for business journalists at Wharton where, he says, he was "bowled over by the caliber of the faculty. It was one of the most stimulating educational experiences of my life." Four years later, he wrote an article about Wharton's newly restructured curriculum for The New York Times. His articles have been also been published in Time and The Economist magazines.
Last February, when Wharton's management needed a vehicle to present the faculty's research to business executives in a reader-friendly format, they sought help from Pandya, who was then managing editor of Business News.
"Mukul Pandya brings an ideal combination of skills and perspectives to this newly-created position," says Christopher J Hardwick, director of communications & public affairs. "These include: solid experience in business journalism, understanding of and interest in web technology, a passion for excellence, and knowledge and appreciation of the Wharton school and its faculty.
"In addition, Mukul brings a strong international point of view, which is essential to Wharton -- a leading global business school with 70,000 alumni in 120 countries around the world," Hardwick adds. "What truly distinguishes Mukul is his ability to formulate a vision and look beyond the immediate task."
After extensive consultations with faculty and executives, Pandya decided to forego the route of Wharton's past newsletters, Wharton Impact and Executive Issues or journals such as the Harvard Business Review. Instead, he says, he decided to "leapfrog over print. I knew that one way to set Wharton apart would be to make the Web our primary publishing medium."
The challenge of getting the prototype ready by December, and then launching Knowledge@Wharton by May, he says, was "a long, long slog, but well worth it." He adds the experience of guiding the web site from concept to reality showed him that Wharton "not only teaches entrepreneurship, but also values it in real terms."
Pandya credits the site's success to the time -- more than a year -- he was given by the school to work on the project, and to the team of advisors, editors, writers, art director and webmaster that help put it together.
"Knowledge@Wharton is a coalescence of several teams working together in harmony," he says. "In some ways, I just initiated it."
One of his greatest satisfactions, Pandya says, is witnessing how the web site has made it possible for Wharton to do things it had long considered good ideas, but had no compelling reason to implement. As an example, he cites Knowledge@Wharton's collaboration with Wharton's Lippincott Library to digitize the library's archive of over 1,000 working papers.
Robert Mittelstaedt, Wharton's vice dean of executive education, told BusinessWeek that Knowledge@Wharton's development bill amounts to "the typical cost to put something like this into play," or about $ 1 million. Funded completely by the university so far, the site plans to finance its growth through corporate sponsorships, many of which are already established.
Pandya and his wife Hema Nair are poetry and fiction enthusiasts, and helped start the yearly journal,Princeton Art Review. They live in Ewing, New Jersey, with their 19-month-old daughter, Tara, who is called Ammu, after Hema's grandmother.
How has his lifestyle changed since Ammu's arrival?
"Ammu has dramatically changed my work schedule -- for the better, I believe," Pandya says. "In the past, I constantly worked on deadline -- weekends were no exceptions -- and family life sometimes suffered as a result. The arrival of a baby, who respects no deadline, has helped me balance work and family life better.
"Fortunately, the move from a weekly newspaper to an academic publication has helped in this transition. My deadlines have become considerably more flexible. As a result, as far as possible I try to finish my writing and editing during office hours, and spend most of my time at home with my wife and daughter.
"As regards my reading schedule, in the past I had little time to read. I usually read early in the morning -- at 5 am or so -- when I could, before leaving for work. That has now changed radically. While I still cannot read much at home, for the past year I have chosen to commute to work by train rather than drive, as I had done for several years. This gives me two hours a day of uninterrupted reading time on my way to work and on the return trip. It's delightful. I read more books in 1998 than I have in years."
What are some of the books that have inspired Pandya?
"As I have grown older, the books that have touched and inspired me have changed. They are an eclectic bunch. Let's start with the non-fiction. Most recently, I found Pete Hamill's News is a Verb quite inspiring. Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie is also a fascinating book that I just read," he says.
"Other books that have helped shape me over the years include Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, the Bible and Das Kapital, among others. Fiction writers who have inspired me most include Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Prem Chand. I also love poetry, especially that of Shelley, Byron and Keats. My favorite contemporary poets include Mark Strand and Philip Levine."
What would he tell young, budding journalists?
"Not having studied at a journalism school, I'm afraid I can't offer much advice on how aspiring journalists should use them," Pandya says. "But over the years, I have often worked with interns and young journalists who were just starting out in the profession.
"My advice to them, as a rule, is to read as widely as possible. Books like News is a Verb would be a good place to start. George Orwell's essay on politics and the English language is another timeless classic.
"Find writers who move you and thoroughly study them, because their craft can be learned. If you don't understand something, first clarify your ideas before you try to write. Clarity of writing follows clarity of thought; if your thinking is muddled, your writing will be too.
"Above all, remember that you are writing neither for the editor who assigns your stories nor for the sources who supply them. Your goal is to write for your reader. The reader, and the reader alone, deserves your primary loyalty."
Aparna Narayanan is a graduate student at New York University. Arthur J Pais contributed to the story.
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