When Barack Obama gave his final speech as President earlier this year in Chicago, Nick Tabor, a current JD-MBA student, found himself seated just a few feet from the stage. It was a stroke of luck, and not the first in a career that took him from the White House to Wharton.
The son of two federal workers living outside Washington, DC, Nick was immersed in the ups and downs of the government growing up. However, he had planned to pursue a career in journalism, until a summer internship with Hardball with Chris Matthews introduced him to politics. Seeing political candidates and talking heads cycle through his office at the start of the 2008 campaign gave him a window into political work. “Writing questions for guests like Michael Moore, Al Sharpton, and Ann Coulter taught me how to assess a political position and understand why a pundit or official might adopt it,” he recalls.
After graduating from college, Nick cycled between Washington and Boston, working on a special election for Congress and taking a fellowship with a Blue-Dog Democrat in the House of Representatives. He settled into fellowship with Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession, studying law-firm mergers and getting ready to apply to doctoral programs. However, seeing the path his friends had followed pushed him back towards DC. “President Obama’s Washington was such a phenomenal place for a young person to try and affect change,” he says. “I thought that if I went to graduate school and missed that window of opportunity, I’d regret it.”
A friend told Nick about an entry-level job at Promontory Financial Group, a DC-based consulting firm that advises financial firms on risk management and regulatory compliance. The firm’s work aligned with Nick’s thesis research, and its mission was grounded in public service: to make the financial system safer and more stable for the people it served. He applied for and accepted the job, and after only a few months, Nick moved into a research position in the office of the company’s CEO. When the firm’s chief of staff left, Nick took her place.
All this was happening as Nick was hearing back from graduate schools, so tough decisions needed to be made. “My work at Promontory was an amazing education – in financial regulatory policy, but also in how to manage a growing firm,” he said. Working with the senior team at Promontory gave Nick the chance to learn from experts at the top of their fields and better understand how policy and business intersect. At 24, he decided school had to wait.
Luck would give Nick the chance to take one more detour on the way to Penn: the National Economic Council, a small group in the White House responsible for coordinating and recommending economic policy to the President. Nick’s work from a small desk in the West Wing gave him exposure to many issues, but the most important lessons he learned were from his colleagues. “The people I worked with were incredibly adept at finding expertise in the government and navigating the policy-making process,” he says. “They were tireless, inquisitive, and brilliant, but what made them effective was their humility—their willingness to ask fundamental questions and seek genuine input from as wide a group as possible… . It gave me hope for solving even the most intractable policy problems.”
Despite moving away from his previous ambitions of pursuing journalism, he credits those early experiences with laying the groundwork for his subsequent work. As he put it, journalism is all about “finding the gaps in your knowledge, asking thoughtful questions and piecing facts together from different sources, considering the biases and interests of the people around you, testing and verifying your claims – all of which are part of being a good reporter, a good consultant, a good manager, and a good policymaker.”
Now, he’s adding the JD-MBA experience to that foundation. “I chose Penn because the JD and MBA curricula really speak to each other,” he says, “from torts classes that discuss insurance incentives, to international law classes that draw on Coasean economics, to corporate governance classes that run through jurisdictional differences in securities rules.” Nick hopes his two degrees will both contribute to his work after graduation. “At the end of the day,” he says, “I want to join a team of smart people, solving hard problems that are worth solving.”