01 Oct 2002
Class Notes Extra
Life is all about the possibility of doing good, whatever one's circumstance.
If his father is watching over him, he is likely to feel proud.
When you have been given a talent, you are obligated to use that talent to help
After building a home with the help of a spreadsheet and a telephone, he wrote a
Life is like sailingyou 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
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
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 postSoviet 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 batsized
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,
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