01 Dec 2003
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Roger Ullman: Going Green with E2

Another in a series of occasional articles on HBS graduates who have embarked on second careers.
by Julia Hanna

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Can white-collar corporate America do business with “green” environmentalists? Roger Ullman (MBA ’89) thinks so. Ullman, who worked in the mergers and acquisitions division of Merrill Lynch for twelve years, retired from his post as a managing director last year to head the New York chapter of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a nonprofit group of businesspeople who believe that sound environmental policy and economic progress are not mutually exclusive. With about four hundred members nationwide, E2 works directly with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) — a leading environmental action organization — to shape public policy on issues ranging from overfishing to suburban sprawl.

Ullman did extensive research on environmental nonprofits before settling on E2, launched in Silicon Valley in June 2000 by Bob Epstein, cofounder of the database company Sybase, and Nicole Lederer, a research scientist. The pair realized they knew many busy, successful businesspeople who cared about the environment — the challenge was to create an organization that leveraged their skills and enthusiasm in a time-effective manner. “That was the business opportunity that E2 was crafted to address. We will make you an effective environmental advocate in ten minutes a month or less,” says Ullman. He explains that participation can be as simple as clicking “yes” in response to an e-mail requesting use of the member’s name in support of proposed legislation. “If you want to do more, we’ll put you in front of policymakers in Washington. We will scale the level of activity to your needs.”

E2 is somewhat unusual; it’s a virtual organization with no paid employees that has partnered with another nonprofit, NRDC. Members are required to make a minimum annual donation of $1,000 to NRDC and enjoy networking and educational opportunities offered by “eco-salons,” where they might meet speakers such as Carol Browner, former head of the EPA, or Doug Foy, chief of Commonwealth Development for the state of Massachusetts. Many, but not all, members of E2 are entrepreneurs. “We come from technology, manufacturing, media, finance, consulting, you name it,” says Ullman, adding that those members who have started businesses have financed, created, or worked in the early development of some eight hundred companies responsible for over four hundred thousand jobs.

Ullman, whose duties for E2 include organizing events, prospecting for new members, and traveling to Albany and Washington to meet with lawmakers, also volunteers his time and expertise to the Rainforest Alliance — an international conser-vation organization — while pursuing a variety of private investment activities. An avid outdoorsman, he grew up in San Francisco and spent his childhood hiking and fishing with his family in the Pacific Northwest. The scenery in Manhattan is a bit different, he admits. “We have a different kind of canyon here,” he laughs. “I’d still like my daughter to grow up with an appreciation for the outdoors. I want to leave a world in which she can breathe the air, drink the water, and visit places that are still wild.”

Ullman is proud to note that E2 was essential to the passage of a California law in July 2002 that limits carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks. Members wrote newspaper editorials and letters in support of the bill and were frequent visitors to the statehouse, where they met repeatedly with undecided assembly members. The support of so many prominent businesspeople gave wary politicians a very public defense against the charge that they were antibusiness, Ullman explains. Now E2 is working to pass similar legislation in New York State.

“It’s so unusual from the perspective of politicians to have businesspeople take time from their busy lives to advocate for something that does not affect their companies,” remarks Ullman. Acting as a purely nonpartisan organization also makes a deep, positive impression on lawmakers: “We are not for a particular political party; we are for the environment.

“I’m very happy with my new career,” adds Ullman, who has a few words of advice for other alumni interested in working with nonprofits. “Look for organizations that know how to make use of your expertise and leadership positions while respecting your time constraints. Although some nonprofits view businesspeople merely as a source of donations, the best ones will recognize the value of engaging you, and know how to do it efficiently. That makes it a win-win for everybody.”

Julia Hanna

For more information on Environmental Entrepreneurs, visit www.E2.org.

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Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1989, Section G

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