Alumni in the News
Cofounded in 2007 by Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (MBA ’04), formerly of Louis Vuitton and Bulgari, and ex-eBayer Alexis Maybank (MBA ’04), Gilt Groupe is an online, members-only, luxury retailer that features “flash” sales (lasting only a day or two) of a single designer’s clothing line or a small group of brands, all at discounts of up to 70 percent.
Having “revolutionized the fashion world” (Forbes.com, June 15, 2010), the company is expecting revenues of $400 to $500 million this year, up from $170 million in 2009. Gilt Groupe, now with a division for men’s clothing and entering travel markets as well, has grown from 5 employees to more than 400. Membership is by invitation by other members or by registering at the site (www.gilt.com); that exclusivity is a selling point for both consumers and designers. Said Wilson, “A lot of the brands love the fact that our Web site is private…like a very contained platform in which we could sell their goods. It was actually very easy once we got the system up and running to get amazing designers, not only women’s ready-to-wear but for other categories like jewelry, shoes, handbags, etc.”
It was in grade school that Jim Gibbons (MBA ’94) began to lose his sight due to macular degeneration, a retinal condition; by his junior year at Purdue, his vision loss was complete. Today, Gibbons is president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, a network of independent, community-based organizations in more than a dozen countries. At a Washington, D.C., gala in June, he was one of fifteen recipients of the 2010 Jefferson Award, sometimes called the “Nobel Prize for public service.” Established in 1973, the awards are presented annually to individuals and organizations whose lives, careers, and volunteer activities embody the finest examples of public service and the Jeffersonian ideal of citizen involvement. Among this year’s other recipients was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (MBA ’66).
Before assuming the top spot at Goodwill in 2008, Gibbons served as president and CEO for ten years at National Industries for the Blind, a venerable nonprofit that he turned into a results-oriented, 21st-century enterprise that enhances economic opportunities and professional development for people who are blind. In an April 2001 Bulletin profile, Gibbons concluded the article with a tip to his fellow HBS alumni: “Don’t underestimate the blind. Expect results. You’ll get them.”
A self-described “distressed-real-estate guy,” Barry Sternlicht (MBA ’86) has some vacant condos to move, and that’s a problem he’s glad to have. Consider the unfinished and unoccupied 47-story Paramount Bay tower that overlooks Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Someday, Sternlicht believes, wealthy buyers will want to live there; right now, he concedes, “this looks like an abandoned property. We have to make it look like it’s alive” (New York Times, May 30, 2010).
Sternlicht became a big player in real estate when he created Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, in part by building on his acquisition of the Sheraton and Westin chains. He left Starwood in 2005; when the real-estate bubble burst, he saw new opportunities. Now, all across overbuilt America, “we are going to be like the Saudis in all these markets,” Sternlicht said. “In three years, when all the debris, all the clutter is done, we’ll be the guys.”
Now Starring: Single Dad
John Wand (MBA ’81) was about to enroll in Harvard College when his high-school sweetheart in Boise, Idaho, told him she was pregnant. The couple married and moved to Cambridge, but after a couple of years, Wand’s wife left him and their two-year-old son, Robby. Wand’s experience as a student and single dad was the subject of a made-for-TV movie, “Freshman Father,” that aired on the Hallmark Channel in June.
“If you think about coming from Idaho, the social stigma around a teenage pregnancy was greater back then,” Wand told the Boston Herald (June 5, 2010). It was also a time when the concept of “single dad” was largely unfamiliar to many Americans. After graduating from Harvard College, Wand and Robby lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, while Wand was a student at HBS. Despite the movie’s Hollywood touches and departures from actual events, Wand said he hoped it would show people in similar situations that there can be happy endings. “I’ve had a pretty wonderful life,” said Wand, who in 1983 married classmate Beverly Patton (MBA ’81) and today is an adjunct finance professor at Seton Hall University.
A Day’s Pay
Before term limits force him out of office, California State Senate majority leader Dean Florez (MBA ’93) has one final bill he wants to get through the legislature: extending overtime benefits to hundreds of thousands of California farmworkers. As a teenager in California’s Kern County, Florez hauled irrigation pipe around rose and vegetable fields for up to twelve hours a day in triple-digit heat, a job for which he received no overtime pay. “Before I leave I want to attempt to have an argument about farmworkers and what they are paid,” Florez told the Los Angeles Times (June 3, 2010). “It’s kind of hard to take the farmworker out of the kid and the legislator when you come from farmworker stock and you see what your parents and grandparents have gone through.” As for the future, Florez said public service and a future elective office are among many possible options open to him.
The Natural World
Two years ago, Mark Tercek (MBA ’84) left his job at Goldman Sachs to become head of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the habitat-preserving organization that has some 3,700 employees worldwide (as well as 1,500 volunteer U.S. trustees) and net assets of $4.6 billion, with over 119 million protected acres in thirty countries, WSJ.com reported (June 10, 2010). Two months after Tercek assumed his post, the recession hit, delivering a powerful blow to the funding that organizations like the Conservancy rely on. “I woke up in the middle of the night wondering how I was going to get my job done,” recalled Tercek. “That never happened to me at Goldman Sachs.”
Tercek has found that “a mission-driven nonprofit is harder to manage than you think,” in part because of its greater need for consensus. A TNC colleague noted that Tercek has adhered to a tight strategic focus to keep the orga-nization from overextending itself in the face of so many deserving projects.