“A common misconception is that veterans don’t want to talk about their service; but the truth is, most actually love to talk about their experiences in the military. This Veterans Day, I encourage you to ask a veteran to tell you their story. What you’ll learn might just surprise you.” – Captain Ben Crovella

When Wharton Stories caught up with Ben Crovella, WG’15, he was found in his office at the corporate headquarters of CVS, where he serves as the Executive Director for Category Strategy and Assortment Analytics. Ben double-majored in Strategic Management and Operations at Wharton, and earned his MBA with honors in 2015. He accomplished a great deal during his two years on the School’s Philadelphia campus; like TAing in an upper-level Management course, making the Dean’s List, and his status as both a Student Life and Career Fellow. But Ben’s impressive resume spans backward, when he began his career in Marine Corps in 2007. As an active member of Wharton’s Veteran’s Club, Ben wrote an article on his experience as a veteran in 2015, published on Wharton Stories here. In November 2022, Ben revisited his former piece and reflected upon his engagement with Wharton’s robust veteran community.

Captain Ben Crovella, pictured in his dress blues in 2015, the same year he graduated with his MBA from Wharton

Although Ben’s two grandfathers served in World War II, as Ben puts it, he “wasn’t a kid who grew up wanting to join the military.” He’s from just outside of Boston, a small town that doesn’t have a huge military presence, and neither of his parents enlisted in the service. Still, looking for ways to fund his undergraduate Cornell education, he joined ROTC where he arrived at the Navy and realized he thrived. He explored different areas of the Navy, from ships to submarines; but after all of those experiences, Marine Week impressed him the most. Because of Cornell’s focus on submariners and engineering, traditionally Navy trades, Ben says Cornell considered Marines as “fish out of water.” As the only Marine in his graduating class, Ben finished Magna Cum Laude in 2007.

Ben went on to experience four years of active-duty and a year-long tour in Iraq, from 2007 to 2011. First trained in aeronautical supply-chain management, Ben later transitioned to a pure logistician role, where he advised and worked closely with the Iraqi Army on the ground. Ben managed an outpost at his American base supporting a dozen Marines. During his embedment with the Iraqis, Ben helped their units with everything from munitions to helping keep their soldiers clothed.

Ben stands with an Iraqi soldier on one of his tours before Wharton

Ben transitioned out of active-duty and moved to New York City, where he became a trader for Citigroup and stayed plugged into the veteran community during his transition into the Marine Corps Reserves. When he arrived at Wharton for his MBA in 2013, Ben remained in the Reserves and feels that “Wharton did an excellent job supporting my military obligations while I earned my MBA.” After Wharton, Ben went to Deloitte and then onto CVS where he is now, still working hard to connect veterans with one another, plugging them into the greater professional veterans’ network that exists across the United States.

When Ben reflects on his time at Wharton, he acknowledges that he was a busy man. But he managed to find community with Veteran’s Club, which he describes as a “super down-to-Earth, welcoming space with high levels of camaraderie. We were very diverse, from the services we came from; the experiences we had, to what we wanted to do after business school…we would get together at Baby Blues BBQ in University City every Wednesday, which became our landing pad for the group once a week. We’d sit, decompress, and talk about whatever: war stories from the military to our war stories from the class room, and surviving vigorous Wharton’s curriculum. And when I think about my experience at Wharton, those are the days I remember and smile about the most.”

Ben rowing on the Schuylkill River with other Veterans’ Club members in Philadelphia, where Penn rows out of the University Barge Club’s historic boathouse

When asked about what the veteran perspective brings to Wharton and business schools in general, Ben says, “It’s leadership, but I want to qualify that. When I was an MBA student, I wouldn’t have said that with conviction. But now, as a CVS executive, with forty people under me, I see most professionals my age just getting to that point of upper or middle management. The military and Wharton taught me how to think about a team’s culture, the team’s well-being; I learned all of that firsthand, and am really seeing it come to life now, seven years after my Wharton experience.”

People want to hear about veterans’ experiences, and this is something I don’t think a lot of veterans realize. Most veterans are very humble, and most feel an exceptional level of imposter syndrome when they step foot on campus. It’s like ‘oh my goodness, I haven’t done anything academic in years and years.’ But I think every veteran walks out of Wharton saying ‘wait – I did it. I deserved to be here. And, in fact, I might be one of the most successful people here.’”

Ben remains an active veteran in his professional life, including organizing Veterans’ Fireside Chats at CVS, and participating in the MBA Veterans Career Conference, where he once represented Deloitte; now, he tables for CVS, shaking the hands of MBA students and graduates with military experience and helping them get excited about their future careers.

Ben, now a CVS executive, tabling at the 2022 MBA Veterans Conference in Atlanta, GA

Ben’s advice for anyone curious about a veterans’ experience is: “Don’t be shy. A common misconception is that veterans don’t want to talk about their service; but the truth is, most actually love to talk about their experiences in the military. It’s not only energizing but can also be mentally therapeutic. This Veterans Day, I encourage you to ask a veteran to tell you their story. What you’ll learn might just surprise you.”

– Grace Meredith

Posted: November 8, 2022

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