Alumni Spotlight: Ralph Roberts
June 4, 2011
While many have used a Wharton education as a springboard for future success, few can claim the many varied accomplishments achieved by Ralph Roberts, W’41, HON’05
. From founding Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, to making possible the Roberts Center for Proton Therapy
, to the many awards garnered for work promoting philanthropy and diversity, Roberts has made an impact that extends far beyond his Philadelphia home. This year,wearing his signature bowtie, Roberts did Penn the honor of serving as Parade Marshall for Alumni Weekend
. We caught up with him later learn more about his fondness for Penn and how the University impacted his life.
Why did you choose to attend the University of Pennsylvania?
When I was looking at universities, I knew two things---I was interested in business and I wanted the best education possible. Wharton was, and remains today, a top drawer business school, so, when I was accepted,I gladly took the chance to attend. I also knew that Penn would not only provide me access to excellent professors, but some of the best liberal arts scholars as well. This allowed me to round out my education with courses in literature and Shakespeare, something I enjoyed very much.
How did your Penn education prepare you for life in the working world?
I had sensational professors who had the ability to combine traditional classroom teaching with real world experience. One of my marketing professors, Herbert William Hess, recognized that successful businessmen required hands-on experience to thrive. To that end, he arranged for me and several of my classmates to sell homogenized milk (which was a relatively new product at the time) to prospective buyers. It cost a bit more than the raw milk traditionally purchased then , so it was a good lesson in salesmanship; a lesson that I have carried with me to this day.
Besides your business involvements, what were some of the extracurricular activities you participated in as a student?
I wrote for a literary magazine called The Critic
and had several associates at the Daily Pennsylvanian
. As for sports, I was involved in both the cricket team and the fencing team. The fencing instructor was from Europe and supposedly came to the United States to teach after killing a man in a duel; at least, that is what he told us to keep us on our toes. Most importantly, I made a lot of great friends at Penn, many of whom I stay in touch with even now.
You were recently parade marshal at Alumni Weekend in May. How has the landscape of Penn changed since you graduated in 1941?
Most striking to me is how much larger the University of Pennsylvania is physically than it was 70 years ago. When I went to Penn, it was more of a commuter school. It is much more architecturally strong than it was in my day. Locust Walk is still lovely, and I enjoyed strolling down past all the buildings during Alumni Weekend.
You are not only a Penn alumnus, but a Penn parent as well. Did you encourage your children to pursue their education here at Penn?
When it came time for my children to choose where they wanted to go to school, I did encourage them to come to Penn, and three out off our of them did so. You could say that we are very much a proud Penn family.
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