01 Dec 2010

This Is What I Do

The roles are different, the passion is the same. Meet three HBS alumni who are upending traditional ways of doing things, improving people’s lives, and setting new standards in their fields.
Re: Brad Margus (MBA 1986); Kathy Giusti (MBA 1985); John Crowley (MBA 1997)
by Garry Emmons


Katie Hood: Fast Forward

In the hit movie Back to the Future, actor Michael J. Fox plays Marty McFly, a teenager in a hurry. Accidentally sent backward through time, Marty encounters a slew of nasty complications. (One of his main concerns is eluding the pretty and amorous Lorraine, the smitten high schooler who wants to be his girlfriend, even though history requires that she become his mother.) Ultimately Marty’s most urgent race is against time: He must get to the town square before the village clock strikes 10:04 or else he will be stuck forever in 1955. Everything depends on a scientific breakthrough: a time machine. It’s his only hope to regain the full life intended for him.

When the film was made, Fox was a boyish 24-year-old, vigorous, athletic, and graceful. Six years later, in 1991, he learned he had Parkinson’s disease, a diagnosis he did not announce until 1998 when its symptoms of shaking and uncontrolled movement became visibly apparent. As depicted through Marty McFly, Fox’s desperate desire to get back to normal life seemed to take on new and poignant meaning.

A fan of Fox while growing up in Delaware, Katie Hood (MBA ’01) remembers thinking “he was probably a pretty likable guy and much like his characters — funny, tenacious, and creative. And that’s the way he really is.” Hood is now completing her third year as CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the nonprofit established by the actor in 2000 (Hood joined in 2002) to research and fight Parkinson’s, which afflicts some 5 million people worldwide, including 1 million Americans.

Not only is the MJFF acknowledged to be the driving force behind Parkinson’s-related R&D, it is a benchmark organization in the growing movement of disease-focused foundations that are notably aggressive in their pursuit of research, therapies, and cures. These organizations apply results-oriented business approaches to medical and academic research that in the past would typically move at a stately pace. (Brad Margus MBA ’86, with his A-T Children’s Project in 1993, was an early pioneer of this proactive approach, also undertaken by Kathy Giusti’s MBA ’85 Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and John Crowley’s MBA ’97 Amicus Therapeutics.) The MJFF demands accountability and results, brings together academics and pharma/biotech companies, organizes conferences, funds clinical trials, and unabashedly forces cooperation, collaboration, and openness in and among fields that are sometimes traditionally slow to do that.

“We work to see the big picture and then invest our capital in ways that will best speed scientific solutions and have the greatest impact,” says Hood. “Our staff features not only business-trained project managers but also an unusually young group of scientific Ph.D.s whom we value as a new kind of expert. They bring their own innovative ideas about what directions and projects could have the greatest impact in accelerating new therapies and thus deserve our support.”

The MJFF raises about $50 million a year. There are prominent backers, such as Google’s Sergey Brin and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, but nearly 55,000 other people made contributions last year. To date the MJFF has supported about ninety biotech and pharmaceutical companies. “With the MJFF sharing some of the initial risk in funding projects,” Hood explains, “the hope was that if positive outcomes emerged, industry would get involved where it might not have before and would take it the rest of the way. So far, we’re seeing strong evidence that this is the case, and we’ve made great progress in catalyzing industry interest in PD. I’m proud that the MJFF is helping reshape the way medical research gets done and is considered a model for other disease-fighting organizations.”

The single largest funder of PD research in the world after the U.S. government, the MJFF has encouraged and supported a number of important breakthrough studies and treatments. But Hood won’t be satisfied until “the day we find a cure and close our doors forever.” Ironically, she worries that successes along the way could dull the MJFF’s entrepreneurial drive and lead to an overly cautious approach. Explains Hood, “Science is hard, and we will have failures; we must accept that we at the leading edge won’t always be successful. But if we start worrying about investing only in grants that have a high degree of success, then we’re no different than anybody else working in the same space. We have to figure out the places that are critical to progress where people aren’t working. That’s where we will have the most impact.”

Gayle Lemmon: Life Stories

“These girls are money,” says the director of a shelter in Kabul, Afghanistan, as she tells a visitor about one of her charges, an 11-year-old girl named Obaida, sold by her father into marriage to support his drug habit. Obaida’s story is not unusual in Afghanistan, where half of all girls are married off before the legal age of 16. In this impoverished country, it is said that a man with daughters is rich.

The visitor to the shelter that day last August was Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (MBA ’06), a former ABC News producer who has also written from Afghanistan for the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Daily Beast, and CNN.com, among others. Through experiences like this in Afghanistan, as well as in Rwanda and Bosnia, Lemmon has become a forceful advocate for the economic and human rights of girls and women, especially in conflict-affected areas. After four years with the investment-management firm PIMCO, Lemmon is now the deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, the influential, nonpartisan think tank headquartered in New York. She has recently completed a book, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, due out in March, about a Kabul student whose business created jobs and hope for women in her neighborhood during the Taliban years.

Growing up in Maryland, Lemmon was exposed to news and politics by her mother, who was active in local politics. “When I was 14, I watched a Nightline episode and decided I wanted to be a journalist,” she recalls. Later, at ABC News, Lemmon twice pursued fellowships in Europe. With each exposure to life overseas, she became more interested in development issues. “People need jobs to create stronger families, and jobs cannot be created without business,” Lemmon says. “Economic development became my passion. I never really imagined going to business school — I visited HBS almost on a lark. But after walking around the campus and talking to students who were interested in development issues and in business as a path to making a contribution, I was hooked.” Â

After HBS, where she received the Dean’s Award for her reporting on women entrepreneurs, Lemmon took a job at PIMCO, working in the firm’s executive office and emerging-markets group. PIMCO gave her leaves of absence that enabled her to report and write her book. “I always felt very privileged to work at PIMCO,” Lemmon says. “CEO Mohamed El-Erian has been a remarkable mentor and role model, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from Bill Thompson MBA ’70 before his retirement. I also had a great boss in COO Doug Hodge MBA ’84. PIMCO supported the book project as reinforcing the firm’s mission in terms of thought leadership, albeit from a different angle of the global economy.”

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, which grew out of reporting that Lemmon began between her first and second years at HBS, is the true story of Kamila, a courageous young woman whose business helped her family survive under the Taliban. Only a teenager herself, Kamila is left in charge of her younger sisters and brother when her father and older brother are forced to leave the city for their own safety after Kabul falls to the Taliban. Suddenly confined to their homes by the new regime’s harsh decrees and physical intimidation, girls who were previously aspiring teachers or doctors become home-based entrepreneurs out of necessity. Kamila’s strength, persistence, and sense of duty to her family are heroically evident as she learns to sew in order to earn money from dressmaking. Eventually her business becomes so successful that it provides jobs and desperately needed income to hundreds of women and families in her community.

Inspired by Kamila and women like her, Lemmon wants to change the way the world views them. Her book is part of that effort. While no one would deny that a child like Obaida is a victim, Lemmon argues that too often we are comfortable with a narrative that sees women as objects of pity. “Women have been pulling families through dark periods in even the most difficult countries without any acknowledgment,” Lemmon says. “Emerging strong and unbowed from conflict and adversity, they deserve respect as survivors. But in reality they are more than survivors: They have shown the courage, competence, and determination to be change makers. Our attitudes toward them should recognize that.”

Changing attitudes begins with storytelling, Lemmon believes, and that is a big part of what motivated her to write The Dressmaker of Khair Khana. “I think stories are the best way to reach people you otherwise couldn’t,” she says. “But storytelling is just a start; you then have to mobilize people and support the push for change through policy.”

Hence Lemmon’s new post at the Council on Foreign Relations (she began in July), which relates to her second, even bigger goal: “I want to raze and help reshape the development model. Everyone in the trenches of development knows that the current model is broken. Mission and geographic overlap, poor coordination and follow-up, and a lack of market linkages are only a few of the problems. The story of women is an economic story. Investing in women creates a safer, prosperous, and more stable world, which is in everyone’s best interest.” Notes Lemmon, who has cowritten an HBS case on Afghanistan: “HBS is uniquely positioned to exert leadership on this issue.”

As for the current situation in Afghanistan, Lemmon believes women must be truly represented in any power-sharing arrangement under consideration. “A true peace cannot be achieved,” she says, “if it is brokered on the backs of women and at the cost of the gains women have made.”

Richard Bailey: Paradise Saved

On the phone was The Godfather, calling to ask a favor, and Richard Bailey (MBA ’81) just couldn’t refuse. It was ten years ago, in Tahiti, and Marlon Brando wanted to know if Bailey, who managed several Tahitian resorts, would be kind enough to give him some advice. On the nearby island of Tetiaroa, which the actor owned, Brando had a modest inn and wanted to know how to run it better. Decades earlier, Brando had come to French Polynesia to star in Mutiny on the Bounty. While there, he fell in love with his Tahitian costar and with Tetiaroa, a 1,500-acre atoll near where the movie was filmed. After the movie’s wrap, there came an ending that one-upped Hollywood: Brando got the girl and the island and settled down in paradise.

Eventually, Bailey and Brando, who died in 2004, had many discussions about the actor’s dreams for Tetiaroa. “He had a lot of quirky ideas, but he was curious and even erudite on many topics,” recalls Bailey. Brando also had a strong environmental ethic, great respect for the Polynesian culture, and many contacts across the scientific community. Together, the two men developed remarkable plans for Tetiaroa that Bailey, on behalf of the Brando estate, is now implementing.

The Louisiana-born Bailey is the managing director of Pacific Beachcomber SC, which owns six hotels and resorts managed by the InterContinental Hotels Group and Maitai hotels. Set among pristine waters and beaches, backed by stunning volcanic mountain islands, the resorts boast romantic over-the-water bungalows, luxurious amenities, and the highest ratings from guests and travel industry experts. Bailey’s company also operates the Paul Gauguin, a 332-passenger luxury cruise ship designed especially for the South Pacific. Bailey, whose wife, Mireille, is Polynesian, has lived in Tahiti since 1985.

“The breathtaking natural beauty of these islands and the astonishing authenticity of the local culture are the most valued treasures of our tourism destination,” says Bailey. “If we lose these, we have nothing.” Accordingly, green technology and sustainability are not just nice add-ons but business imperatives. Yet traditional bottom-line considerations pertain as well: “As is typical in remote, insular economies, we have a very high cost of electricity,” Bailey notes. “New energy technologies will always penetrate the private sector at the point of greatest weakness: where energy is most expensive.” Â

Bailey’s green centerpiece to date is the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, site of the only installation in the world for a deep seawater air-conditioning (SWAC) system, an idea that Brando proposed to Bailey. The system, whose deep-sea pipe descends to 930 meters, functions perpetually with virtually no maintenance. Explains Bailey, “In the same way that water will rise inside a straw placed in a glass of water, no energy is required to bring the deep ocean water up to the surface. The cold seawater passes through a titanium heat exchanger and cools a secondary freshwater system that feeds cold water to all air conditioners. Then the seawater is sent back to the ocean. The only energy needed is what’s necessary to move the fluid along the surface at our site, which requires just a relatively small primary pump. SWAC is our only source of cooling — we have no conventional backup.”

The SWAC system cost about $8 million, compared with a more conventional system’s $1.5 million price tag, and included about $2.8 million in French government subsidies. Since 90 percent of a conventional resort’s electricity bill would go to air conditioning, Bailey calculates the SWAC system saves about $500,000 per year; thus his investment will be returned in about 7.4 years. SWAC also saves about 700,000 gallons of oil a year and eliminates the need for noisy generators or air-conditioning systems.

“We are just applying sound business principles in relation to the fundamental success factors of our business,” says Bailey, who resists being labeled a change agent. Yet the Tetiaroa project, to be completed in 2012, will be virtually carbon neutral, thus showcasing sustainable technologies adapted for the world’s tropical zones. That could add transformative value to the tourism industry — estimated to be 10 percent of global GDP — in many areas of the world.

“On Tetiaroa, for our forty-unit resort to be known as The Brando,” says Bailey, “we will raise the bar to 100 percent renewable-energy autonomy, with SWAC, solar and wind power, and copra oil as a biofuel.” Other plans include capturing cooling and condensation from SWAC to grow crops such as strawberries and asparagus, and the creation of an environmental research station and a marine sanctuary. Â

“In remote locations, you have to think about creating a community, not just a hotel or an outpost,” Bailey observes. “Tetiaroa holds a privileged place in the hearts of Polynesians, so we must be careful.” Both the natural and the cultural environments must be preserved, Bailey believes, because it is the right thing to do. And done right, it will be transformational.

“Ultimately the tourist is the agent of change,” says Bailey. “When a tourist decides that a sustainability-enhanced experience is unique and worth the value at a reasonable price, that’s when the world will begin to change. That’s when green initiatives will find traction.”

For more information, visit www.michaeljfox.org; www.gaylelemmon.com; www.pacificbeachcomber.com. Contact Garry Emmons at gemmons@hbs.edu.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2001, Section E
follow @katiehhood
Class of MBA 2006, Section D
follow @gaylelemmon

Post a Comment