One lives in a Manhattan studio five blocks from Wall Street, the other on the second floor of a triple-decker in Jamaica Plain, a culturally diverse neighborhood in Boston. Both are graduatesof the MBA Class of 2002 in their first job after HBS. While the world of work is nothing new to either of these young alumni, they each acknowledge the significance of this initial year in their post-HBS careers.

Although they came to Soldiers Field with different backgrounds, goals, and expectations, both left with a new set of skills that they hoped to leverage in a less-than-encouraging job market. Both are also well aware of their good fortune to have found specialized positions that fit their backgrounds yet offer great potential for personal and professional growth at a time when some classmates are still seeking full-time employment.

How applicable are skills learned at HBS for recent graduates facing real-world challenges? What are the differences and similarities for alumni who work in the private and nonprofit sectors, in large corporations vs. smaller organizations? The Bulletin tracks two freshly minted Class of 2002 MBAs through a day on the job to find out: Mardie Oakes, an HBS Service Leadership Fellow at Boston Community Capital, a community development financial institution, and Paul Sternhell, an entry-level manager at Samsung Electronics.

Cookies for Breakfast

Boston Community Capital’s (BCC) offices are located on the third floor of Palladio Hall, a handsomely renovated Renaissance-style building located in the inner-city neighborhood of Roxbury. Mardie Oakes sits in a cubicle near high windows that let in the noise of sirens and city buses along with the morning sunlight. Despite the commotion below — BCC is located in Dudley Square, Roxbury’s commercial hub and the intersection of several major streets — there’s a quiet hum of activity in the open, airy room where twelve BCC staffers are beginning their day. Since its founding in 1985, BCC has invested more than $90 million in low-income communities throughout Massachusetts, creating some 4,200 affordable homes and more than 1,100 jobs. Colorful masks made by a community cultural center decorate the office walls, and there’s good news for a Monday morning: a coworker has brought in homemade chocolate-chip cookies.

“I wasn’t sure that the ‘desk’ part of this position would suit me,” says Oakes, an Austin, Texas, native who worked for the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation in Houston before enrolling at HBS. “In my last job, I was always out in the field, on construction sites, but I can happily sit and work here because the people are so fun and engaging.”

Oakes, who studied architecture as an undergraduate at Rice University, says she’s always been interested in the link between a project’s design and its social impact. Her decision to attend HBS resulted in part from the realization that influencing a project’s direction in the early planning stages required a fuller understanding of its financing. “I also wanted to bring better management skills to the nonprofit sector,” she adds. “I thought business school was going to be like taking medicine but I ended up absolutely loving it.” As an HBS Service Leadership Fellow, Oakes and nine other alumni from the Class of 2002 receive a one-year subsidy from the School to supplement the lower salaries typically paid at nonprofit and government organizations. All fellows are placed with the top executives of their host organizations, allowing them to achieve real results in a short period of time.

One of the biggest surprises at HBS, Oakes remarks, was learning about the creative aspects of financing — an important tool in her current role at BCC. “Part of our focus is on crafting innovative financial products to meet the needs of low-income communities,” she says. “It’s all about brainstorming how you can leverage resources and market forces to spin off quality outcomes like affordable housing, new job opportunities, and goods and services that may be missing in a community.”

At BCC’s weekly loan department meeting, Oakes and her colleagues run down a list of every loan in the works, discussing risk factors, the market, and local politics. “That’s always an interesting meeting for me, since I used to be on the borrower’s side at my job in Houston.” Oakes says that before she heard about the Service Leadership Fellows Program and BCC, she hadn’t planned to stay in Boston after graduation; part of her learning curve has been getting up to speed on the ins and outs of state and local government, as well as zoning regulations and other hurdles to development that were nearly nonexistent in Houston. “Boston is a small world, so I’m constantly trying to understand past histories, who is involved in what, and how that affects current and future deals,” she observes.

The meeting breaks up and it’s off to Somerville for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for 42 units of affordable rental housing. Here, Oakes witnesses what can result when everyone — politicians, residents, financial institutions, and community organizations — works together. Despite the frigid weather, dozens of people have turned out to inspect the new units and listen to a parade of representatives from various city, neighborhood, and financial organizations. DeWitt Jones, BCC’s COO and Loan Fund president, says a few words as well. Jones highlights BCC’s role as an intermediary lender between Citizens Bank and the Somerville Community Corporation and mentions another BCC project in the works: a day-care center just around the corner that will break ground this summer.

“There’s a lot of relationship-building behind a development like this,” Oakes says of the housing project. “I’ve always wanted to be the bridge between ‘hard’ business skills and nonprofits — and since I didn’t always speak the language of finance, I think I’m able to communicate with others who don’t have a business background.”

How to Measure Social Good

Back at the office, Oakes reheats some leftovers for lunch before meeting with Investor Relations Manager Jessica Brooks and Junior Loan Officer Peter Graham. The three discuss the content and design for a report that will inform current BCC investors of the organization’s goals and results and attract potential investors with straightforward reports and graphics.

“It isn’t as easy to evaluate the output of our loans as it is for commercial banks,” Oakes explains later, citing the difficulty of calculating ROI when social good is a variable in the equation.

“More methodological measurements are coming into use, but the nonprofit sector is still at the front end of understanding how to quantify its results.”

After the meeting, Oakes takes a quick drive to nearby Paige Academy, an independent day-care center and school for children between 6 weeks and 12 years of age, whose philosophy is based on the African-American principles of Kwanzaa. BCC served as the lead construction lender on a recently completed renovation and expansion at the school that has significantly increased its enrollment capacity. “They’re at a typical point for a small organization that is growing quickly and needs new systems and management tools,” says Oakes. “And it’s important that whatever changes are made don’t take away from the kids’ experience — hat’s the primary driver.”

A tour of the sprawling Victorian led by Andrea Rosario shows off gleaming hardwood floors, carefully preserved architectural detail, and sunny, open spaces for student performances. In one area, toddlers crawl, play, or nap in tiny bunks. In another, students sit at tables and study quietly with their teacher. “I try to get out and see as many projects as I can,” Oakes says with a smile. “This is different from interacting with spreadsheets at the office.”


Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2002, Section H
Class of MBA 2002, Section K
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