01 Oct 2002

Class Notes Extra



Bill Ahlhauser
“Life is all about the possibility of doing good, whatever one's circumstance.”

Banthoon Lamsam
If his father is watching over him, he is likely to feel proud.

Susan McIntosh
“When you have been given a talent, you are obligated to use that talent to help others.”

Mark Smith
After building a home with the help of “a spreadsheet and a telephone,” he wrote a book.

Kate Steichen
“Life is like sailing–you rarely go in a straight line.”

One of the joys of reading the Bulletin's Class Notes is that you never know who you'll find. Of course, there are regular cast members, those faithful classmates who touch base at least once a year with news of the kids, a job change, or exciting vacation exploits. Their summaries enrich the continuing narrative of the Class Notes — Harvard Business School's own version of an epic tale — from issue to issue, year to year.

But as with many long-running stories, it is often the episodes that take place off the beaten track that most capture the imagination. Some classmates may check in only once or twice in their careers, while other reports might appear only because a class secretary made a chance, late-night phone call to an almost forgotten sectionmate. Following are brief updates on some of the more far-flung members of the Class of 1977. Whether their life journeys have led them to distant parts of the globe, down untraditional career paths, or on quests for inner knowledge, their stories are worthy of note.


Humanity and Harmony
Growing up in late-1960s Milwaukee, Bill Ahlhauser was a self-described “young radical,” a teenager who took part in civil rights marches and who dropped out of his Catholic private school in order to start up an independent high school. So how did he find his way to HBS? “I thought it would be the best place to learn how to organize and think clearly, and thus be able to generate change,” he explains.

After graduating, Ahlhauser worked in finance, auditing, and consulting roles for several national firms before hanging out his shingle on Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee, a state to which he had moved for an earlier job. As a financial consultant, he assisted start-ups and performers such as Seals & Crofts, ZZ Top, and Larry Gatlin. In 1991, he and a partner founded a market research firm — the business is now called Research.Net, Inc. — focused on using cutting-edge software for interviewing and tracking subscribers and customers on behalf of clients in publishing and other industries. He lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with his wife and three children.

Since his college days at the University of Massachusetts, Ahlhauser has been a follower of the Baha'i faith, whose central belief is that humanity is meant to live in unity and harmony. As a leader of his local Spiritual Assembly, he conducts interfaith and intercultural (especially with Chinese) discussion groups and has continued to promote social justice and to work against racism. Says Ahlhauser, “Life is all about the possibility of doing good, whatever one's circumstance.”


East Meets West
Despite his distance from HBS, Banthoon Lamsam has issued fairly regular reports on his many activities and challenges as president of the Thai Farmers Bank, where he has brought myriad Western management techniques to the bank his grandfather founded. In the process, he has gained international attention and praise.

Cultural differences between U.S. and Thai organizations, Banthoon explains, run deep. In Thailand, he says, “it is unacceptable to come down hard on performance management or to openly discuss and critique a peer's actions.” In working to “close the gap” between East and West, Banthoon appointed two Americans to top-level positions — EVP of HR and EVP of retail business. The idea, admits Banthoon, whom Business Week describes as “iconoclastic,” was an “unprecedented phenomenon for Thai banks,” but the response has been overwhelmingly favorable.

While Banthoon's first desire was to study medicine, his father sent him to Exeter, Princeton, and HBS; he returned the favor by joining the family business after two years in the military and “a three-month stint as a Buddhist monk.” Thai Farmers Bank has changed since his father passed away a decade ago, with most of the bank now held by the public at large and institutional investors. “My father never saw the Asian financial crisis and the struggle and changes the bank has gone through,” notes Banthoon, who is working hard to keep the bank competitive. Himself a father of three (whom he insists will not enter the family business), Banthoon imagines that if his father is watching over him, he is likely to feel proud.


One Heart at a Time
Susan McIntosh believes, “When you have been given a talent, you are obligated to use that talent to help others.” During a hiatus from full-time employment to raise three children, she has utilized her talents to help save the lives of enough Russian children to fill four elementary schools.

In 1996, at a friend's invitation, McIntosh traveled to St. Petersburg with Heart to Heart, a group of California doctors who volunteer their time to perform heart surgery on Russian infants and children. “When they began their work in 1991,” she reports, “the situation was so dire that there were hundreds of people in line outside the hospital with desperately ill babies. There was almost a riot.” After observing her first successful open-heart surgery and the emotional post-operative meeting between the doctor and the baby's grateful parents, McIntosh, who speaks Russian and has a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins, was stirred to action.

She now travels to Russia three times a year in conjunction with her work for the Russian Medical Fund (www.russmed.com), a nonprofit foundation she launched to finance the purchase of medical equipment and supplies for the hospital in St. Petersburg as well as training for Russian heart surgeons. With the enthusiastic support of her husband and HBS classmate, Michael D'Amato, she runs the fund from her home to keep expenses low. (“I'm Scottish, after all,” she quips.) Her organization has raised over $2 million to date — enough to provide a new heart-lung machine, build a seven-bed cardiac ICU, and restore a five-room operating suite, considerable feats given the complexities of business and finance in post–Soviet Russia. She is now looking to expand the group's fundraising reach and hopes “someday to help with other medical problems in the former Soviet Union.”


Owner, Builder, Farmer
The Bulletin hadn't heard from Mark Smith for several years, but when his section secretary finally tracked him down, the news was all good. Those who know the New Jersey native may remember he joined IBM in Denver after graduation and eventually was recruited by CompuServe in Columbus, Ohio. After a divorce and relocation to Provo, Utah, he met and married a fellow BYU graduate, Elaine, and launched his own high-tech marketing consulting firm. Business, however, was slow, so in 1996 Smith decided the best financial move he could make was to build a home. Using “a spreadsheet and a telephone,” the Smiths managed to construct a modest home and saved about $140,000 by overseeing the project themselves. Halfway through the process, he reports, “I realized, ŒI've got to write this down.' ” The results were The Owner-Builder Book: How You Can Save More than $100,000 in the Construction of Your Custom Home and a Web site (www.ownerbuilderbook.com) for owner-builders. After losing money for four years and just breaking even in the fifth, Smith jokes that this year, “there may not be a way to avoid it — we might just turn a profit.” But building isn't Smith's only interest: On October 1, he and Elaine will head to the West Indies on a two-year mission with the Mormon Church, leaving their business in the hands of a partner and their 3,000-square-foot organic garden (with its “baseball bat–sized zucchini”) to lie fallow until they return.


Following the Wind
Kate Steichen admits she hasn't been a regular contributor to Class Notes, but the Crestone, Colorado, resident is more than willing to catch up over the phone. She speaks candidly about acting as her ailing mother's primary-care manager and the path from Parker Brothers marketing executive to self-employed life coach and corporate mediator. “Life is like sailing,” Steichen laughs. “You rarely go in a straight line — you respond to the wind, tacking back and forth.”

Business school, for example, was not the most likely destination for a painter and printmaker, but when Steichen became director of the DeCordova Museum School in Lincoln, Massachusetts, she found herself the manager of sixty faculty and staff. “Suddenly, I was creating with people, rather than with paints and pencils. I wanted to learn more about that process,” she says.

“HBS taught me to see through massive amounts of information to get to a position of clarity,” notes Steichen, who has also devoted much of the past twenty years to weaving together what she has learned from various spiritual and psychological disciplines. “The equivalent in inner work is to arrive at a state prior to the mind, to be at the source.”

That skill is essential to her work as an “intuitive facilitator” for individuals and corporations. It also played a significant role in negotiations when the Colorado Air National Guard moved to expand its military training in the skies over Crestone in 1991. For Steichen, who founded the Open Space Alliance with a group of concerned citizens who objected to the noise associated with increased air traffic, the situation was less about confrontation than education. “The director of environmental PR at the Pentagon and his wife came out on a vacation and camped on my land,” says Steichen. “They considered me a friend, even though I was very clear about my purpose — and in the end, the Guard dropped its proposal!”


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