01 Sep 2013

Who Are We?

Who are the HBS alumni? Here are a few of the stories behind the stats.
by Garry Emmons; Julia Hanna; Dan Morrell


The Bulletin staff set out to answer a question they hear all the time: Who ARE the HBS alumni? Digging into the alumni database,* they found a network that ranged from farmers to financiers, and just about everything in between. Here, a few of the stories behind the stats.

*Numbers seem off? Update your info and help us get a better picture of HBS alumni.


James Kondo

Managing Director, East Asia, Twitter

"The simplicity of our look and interface, and our haiku-like 140-character limit, resonate with the Japanese," says M. James Kondo (MBA 1997), Twitter's managing director, East Asia, explaining the social-media company's popularity in Japan. "Japanese was the first non-English language that Twitter supported—we now support over 30 languages—and Tokyo was Twitter's first international office." Further evidence of Twitter mania in Japan: The country holds the world record for tweets per second—33,388—recorded on New Year's Day 2013. But it's not just Japan at the cutting edge: As the world shifts from PC to mobile, Asia is driving smartphone innovation, Kondo observes.

It wasn't events in Asia but in the Middle East that really got Kondo excited about social media. After a stint as a World Fellow at Yale (where he developed Table for Two, a nonprofit he cofounded to fight both hunger and obesity internationally), he became a special adviser at the Japanese prime minister's office. From that vantage point, he observed social media's key role in the Arab Spring and was so impressed that he joined Twitter as an adviser. When the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, Kondo saw how Twitter enabled the country's institutions and agencies to share critical information in real time, even as other communications were disrupted. Just as important, Twitter became an invaluable tool for people to check on loved ones and seek evacuation and medical assistance. "That was the moment I decided to work at Twitter full-time," recalls Kondo, who became the company's first international general manager.

"After the earthquake, I was asked to serve on the government commission charged with improving Japan's IT and telecom emergency preparedness and responsiveness," he says. "Over 500 central and local government agencies have created Twitter accounts for disaster-related information. We owe it to those who passed away in the disaster to upgrade our systems to help save lives in any future calamity." —GE


John Whiteside

Grass Farmer, Wolf Creek Farm

For years, the résumé of John Whiteside (MBA 1983) was classic HBS: He worked at Bain, ran M&A and strategy at MCI, and circled the globe as a senior executive for IBM before launching a tech start-up, sold in October 2007.

Along the way, he discovered a love for horses and foxhunting, although he didn't love how horses beat up the grass and soil at his Virginia farm. Cattle were much better lawn mowers, with the added benefit that they could be eaten at the end of the season, so in 1986 Whiteside began farming on the side, expanding his herd to about 50 animals in 2000. Whiteside supplemented their diet with grain, then tried soybeans and cottonseed, but didn't like how the beef tasted. He read books and articles, went to seminars on the weekend, and learned everything he could about being a grass farmer. Grass—and grass alone—was the key, he learned, to producing beef that is delicious, environmentally sustainable, and healthy. (Grass-fed beef is packed with omega-3s, fat-soluble vitamins and complex amino acids.)

As it happens, growing good grass and raising cattle on it is a challenge fit for an MBA—one that Whiteside decided to pursue full-time after finding a new tract of land and selling his company just a few months before the 2008 economic crisis. "If you apply fertilizer, you kill the microbes and just get a lot of growth," Whiteside says of conventional farming. Instead, he rebalances the soil's content naturally, adding crushed rock that includes calcium, magnesium, and other essential minerals while letting cow manure, and Mother Nature, do the rest.

"When people ask me how many employees work on the farm, I say, one hired guy, one idiot—that's me—and millions of earthworms," he explains.

Romantic notions of the simple life disappear during a visit to Wolf Creek Farm, which encompasses 1,600 acres of land and over 600 head of cattle at the edge of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. "This is by far the most complex business I've ever operated," says Whiteside, surveying a herd of Aberdeen Angus and Red Devon cattle from the cab of a 1992 Ford pickup with an odometer topping 143,000 miles. "For one thing, it involves nature, which you can't control. It's all pattern recognition and chaos theory."

Whiteside takes a high-tech approach to managing information on the soil composition of pastures and the quality and yield of beef from various genetic combinations. Each calf is tagged at birth and tracked through its life cycle. After it's been humanely slaughtered and processed at a local abattoir, Whiteside assesses the yield and quality of various cuts of beef to determine if he wants to repeat prior cow-bull pairings or emphasize particular traits or grazing conditions.

The physical demands of farming are on par with an endurance athlete's training regimen. "Part of why I'm doing this now is that I've always wanted to be outdoors," he says. A typical day on the farm runs 12 hours minimum, often stretching around the clock during calving season. "Twenty heifers may start giving birth in the middle of a snowstorm," says Whiteside. "Once I was up assisting heifers and pulling calves all night long for three days straight, but it was the best three days of my life—much better than flying to Europe and dealing with labor unions in France."

Wolf Creek Farm produces 30 tons of beef a year for the local market, selling directly to consumers as well as various wholesalers, restaurants, caterers, and specialty grocers. The farm also has a booth at the weekly farmer's market in Charlottesville. "This obviously differs a great deal from my tech career," Whiteside says. "Technology pursues an ever-larger and more integrated global market. Our grass-fed, natural beef is produced and consumed in a vertically integrated, local market. In technology, capital flows to the location where products can be produced most quickly and cheaply for the moment; our model focuses on the long-term sustainability that comes from the health of the soil itself.

"I can make this work financially, so it's not a hobby," he continues. "But I'll never make equity doing this. That's not the purpose. The purpose is to prove it's possible to create an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable operation. I truly believe the best way to make a big difference is on a small scale, locally." —JH


Brad VanAuken

Founder and President, BrandForward

Borrowing the late HBS professor Ted Levitt's deceptively probing question, the Bulletin recently cold called Brad VanAuken (MBA 1984): "What business are you in?"

A brand management and marketing executive turned independent consultant, VanAuken paused, then replied, "I'm in the business of providing advice, insight, and perspective, and facilitating a new understanding of things."

That definition neatly sums up a profession that's been shaped and populated by HBS alumni since the emerging notion of strategy in the 1960s sparked the rise of management consulting. Today, consulting is perennially the second most popular employment option, after financial services, for newly minted HBS alumni. It's also what many older alumni from a variety of fields eventually turn to, applying their hard-won expertise to create a "next career" after their principal one. Thus, as an industry, consulting is now as broad in scope as the backgrounds of its practitioners.

VanAuken is a case in point: He's the president of BrandForward, a consulting shop he founded in 1999 in upstate Honeoye Falls, New York, after years in the corporate world, including at Hallmark. Compared with managing businesses or business functions, VanAuken finds that "consulting offers the greatest amount of variety and intellectual stimulation for people like me who get bored easily. It provides maximum independence, flexibility, and freedom in one's personal life. And it has taken me all over the world."

VanAuken's clients range from Fortune 100 and start-up companies to not-for-profits and municipalities. He has helped position Bangkok, Thailand, as a global fashion capital and FootJoy as the number one shoe and glove brand in golf. With FootJoy, he notes, "We moved beyond the product's important but uninspiring functional benefits—keeping your feet dry in wet conditions—to a more aspirational brand position: 'The Mark of a Player.'"

"I always try to teach my clients how to fish, rather than fish for them," he explains. That, and urging clients to make their brand more aspirational—"to stretch and not just rest on their laurels"—are messages he has offered as the author of two books on brand management, an expert commentator in television and print media, and a speaker at major conferences and events.

"Consulting companies need to establish a brand as much as any other kind of organization," VanAuken concludes. His own brand? "Friendly, approachable, world-class branding expert, without the ego, who delivers clarity and confidence to clients." —GE


Daniel Birnbaum


Gerard Meyer

President, SodaStream USA

In January 2007, Daniel Birnbaum (MBA 1992) was running Nike's operations in Israel when he got a call from his friend and fellow HBS alum Yuval Cohen (MBA 1991). "Dani, I need your help," Cohen said. His private equity firm was considering buying a company, and he wanted Birnbaum to help him run some due diligence. Cohen was evasive about the company's name, but Birnbaum persisted. "OK, OK. It's Soda-Club," Cohen said. "I almost fell off my chair," says Birnbaum, who remembered SodaStream, the company's countertop soda-making appliance, from his childhood in Israel. "I said, 'Is that still around?'"

The next day, Birnbaum joined Cohen for a look under the hood. It wasn't pretty: There was no distribution strategy, no real consumer approach, and no optimism among the staff. Born in London in 1903, the company—now based in Israel—has had a long history in the European market, gaining iconic status in England in the 1970s and '80s. But now, on the verge of bankruptcy, the company was having a hard time making payroll. Seeing an opportunity, Cohen's firm bought it and convinced Birnbaum to take it over.

Six years later, SodaStream's annual sales total $436 million—a number Birnbaum projects will climb to $1 billion by 2016. So how did the company get its fizz back?

First, Birnbaum invested in product innovation, something the previous ownership hadn't touched in a decade; upgrades to both the design and the flavors were ordered. The company also made a big push into the retail market, making sure it got shelf space in its bid to gain mass appeal. President Gerard Meyer (MBA 1988) sums up the pitch to major retailers: Here's your chance to get a piece of a $260 billion pie. "Bed Bath & Beyond weren't selling soda. Neither was Kohl's nor Macy's," says Meyer. "But now they could tap into this huge market."

One of the biggest challenges SodaStream faced was creating a consumer need—homemade soda—where none existed before. "We were really launching a new product category," Meyer notes—something akin to the cellphone or the personal computer. "I mean, how many new categories do you see out there?"

For SodaStream, it meant a lot of consumer education. Its most prominent effort came from a TV ad that never aired—a 2013 Super Bowl spot featuring two Pepsi and Coke deliverymen racing to the front door of a store, only to have their stacks of bottles burst as a SodaStream user hits the machines' carbonation button. The message: making your own soda saves the world from the scourge of plastic bottles. The ad was rejected by CBS but went viral, ultimately pushing the message of SodaStream as an ecofriendly alternative to millions. "Global recycling rates are only around 30 percent," says Birnbaum, meaning that 70 percent of bottles and cans end up at the dump. "It's criminal."

Birnbaum revels in challenging Big Soda. He likes that his product demystifies soda, allowing any consumer to take simple tap water, inject carbonation, and add syrup to create something major brands would prefer the public see as a divine creation. And he offers a prediction: In five years, consumers will be able to make all of their favorite brands in the comfort of their homes. "We are the way of the future." He's sure that Coke and Pepsi aren't comfortable with this. "But if they have any brains, they're going to get into this for real," Birnbaum says. "Because it is happening." —DM


Matthew Moore and Jessica Le Roy Moore

Union Pacific Railroad

Omaha might seem an odd destination for a couple of young MBAs. But fate works in funny ways. For one, it brought Matthew Moore and Jessica Le Roy Moore (both MBA 2007) together in Section I. The two became friends and started dating near the end of their first year at HBS, but weren't quite ready to co-locate their job search by the time recruiting "hell week" rolled around in November. After graduation, she went to The Parthenon Group in Boston, and he joined McKinsey in Houston. As consultants, they traveled constantly, so maintaining a long-distance relationship would have been part of the bargain anyway.

Once they were married in 2008, however, the couple began to look for a place to live together and raise a family. At McKinsey, Moore was working on a project for Union Pacific (UP), headquartered in Omaha, a company of more than 46,000 employees signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. "I really clicked with the railroad culture and the people. It was similar to the Navy, where I spent 10 years working with the Seabees before coming to HBS. I made an overture to join them and was welcomed in, but I still had to sell Jess on Omaha."

That took a little doing, since Le Roy Moore, originally from Oregon, wasn't familiar with the Midwest. But a weekend trip highlighted the city's charms: the zoo and art museum; beautiful, tree-lined neighborhoods; and a slower pace of life. In 2010 they moved into a 1919 brick Colonial, and Le Roy Moore gave birth to their first child; five months later, she began working for the international division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a job that took her everywhere from Dublin and Bangkok to Shanghai. When a position opened at UP in early 2011, she welcomed the opportunity to work closer to home.

"This is a pretty traditional career for Omaha, but from an HBS perspective, it's definitely outside the box of where I thought I would end up," says Le Roy Moore, who recently moved from operations to a marketing role that involves coordinating strategic initiatives across UP's business groups, including agricultural products, automotive, chemicals, coal, and industrial products.

In the world of railroads, business is open to competition from other railroads, trucking companies, and barges. "There can be a significant strategic component, where we try to understand the inputs of a customer's business and capture more of the value stream by bringing those inputs on to rail," Le Roy Moore observes. "I often think about Professor Bharat Anand's strategy course. He was always talking about how competitive advantage is at the crux of a company's strategy but only works if the entire organization is aligned around it. UP is differentiated by a high level of service that involves much more than getting goods from point A to point B. We all work to support that model from the operating department to marketing and sales to finance."

"There's a zealotry in railroad employees that is unique," comments Moore, who is completing a stint as manager of track projects, overseeing the safety and efficiency of UP's track structure in some of the 23 states where the railroad hauls freight. "And it has a physical aspect that I like. We do real, rigorous work. If a train derails, we'll work 24 hours a day until it's repaired. That commitment to results is pretty inspiring.

"Our big opportunity lies in operating efficiency—with billions of dollars invested in locomotives and maintenance, there are hundreds of millions of dollars available for the bottom line if we can innovate in those areas," Moore continues. "The challenge is that our decisions now could have consequences over the next 10 or 20 years. We keep that long-term impact in mind as we explore new technology investments for our network."

They both note a shift taking place as more nontraditional hires, like themselves, replace retiring baby boomers who have spent their entire careers at UP. "We have some very innovative leaders who are emerging into our senior executive ranks," says Moore, "so it's a welcoming place for new ideas." All of which makes dual careers working on the railroad, and living in Omaha, seem unsurprising—even fated. —JH


Marie Konstance

Business Manager, Trade Execution and
Quantitative Trading Analytics, Bloomberg

Tracing the career of Marie Konstance (MBA 1982) offers a clear view of how much Wall Street has changed over the past 30 years. "Trading used to be very clubby," says the native New Yorker and parent of two with HBS classmate Nicolas Bornozis. "Between changes in regulation and changes in technology, it's been completely revolutionized since I left HBS." Now at Bloomberg, Konstance's title captures the essence of that shift: business manager, trade execution and quantitative trading analytics.

"I was always attracted to the culture of Wall Street, but I didn't know how I'd fit in," she continues. "I wasn't a typical trader. I wasn't an investment banker. And I didn't want to research companies." But not long after leaving HBS, Konstance was recruited by Morgan Stanley, where she built and marketed systems to evaluate options strategies, risk models, and stock valuation models, and then to Paine Webber, where in the early 1990s she helped build one of the first electronic trading systems.

"My career has taken different tacks, but a common theme has been bridging the gap between the quantitative folks who create new products and the trading community, because each side speaks its own language," she says. "I joke that I'm not a quant, but I play one on TV. I also like variety—anything that is new and different."

That combination has brought Konstance to the leading edge of often controversial innovations in finance. From Paine Webber, in 1995 she moved to ITG, which had a strong focus on electronic trading and its "dark pool" where anonymous trades are made outside the public eye, a fact that continues to draw increasing scrutiny from regulators and the media.

"Dark pools are necessary, because the structure of the public exchanges doesn't allow for large, institutional trades to adequately protect their orders when they display large size on the book," explains Konstance. She says that because most of the general public's investments are managed by large institutions, dark pools provide a way to protect those investments by preventing other traders from jumping out ahead of a trade by a penny to get a better price. Konstance does agree that a shift in regulation is needed. "Right now, everything that is traded in the dark goes into one big bucket, but it contains a lot of different categories," she says. "It would be good if the different buckets could be reported, with a little bit of lag time."

"I love the environment at Bloomberg because there is a tremendous pressure to avoid complacency and to get ahead of the market," remarks
Konstance. "A good head trader is always looking for the next new thing, but nothing is a slam dunk. Every new product has to pull its own weight." —JH


Nvalaye Kourouma

CEO, Afric Xpress, 14 Wall St., NYC, NY

Nvalaye Kourouma (MBA 2005) is technically a Wall Street moneyman, but he's not interested in the bulls and bears. Instead, his focus is on helping people in emerging markets pay their bills—which can often require hailing a taxi, heading out to a payment point, standing in line, and using cash to settle up. "There is a lot of time and cost required to do that," remarks Kourouma, a native of Ivory Coast.

Inspired to solve this problem, in 2007 he launched Afric Xpress, whose mobile platform allows cellphone users—a population that the World Bank recently estimated as totaling 650 million and growing in Africa—to buy prepaid airtime, transfer money, and, of course, pay bills. Kourouma also notes that eliminating cash removes the security issues that go with it, especially for families overseas trying to send money back home—an increasingly large part of his company's business. "Now you can control the use of the money," he says. "You can pay their bill or send them more prepaid airtime directly."

With 100,000 unique users in the Ghanaian market, Kourouma hopes to expand soon, eyeing Nigeria as the next potential destination. But ultimately his goal extends beyond the bottom line: "My conviction is that the more business we have on the continent, the more impact we will be able to have on its development." —DM

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1997, Section A
follow @jameskondo
Class of MBA 1983, Section G
Class of MBA 1984, Section C
follow @BradVanAuken
Class of MBA 1992, Section B
Class of MBA 1988, Section A
Class of MBA 2007, Section I
Class of MBA 2007, Section I
Class of MBA 2005, Section J
follow @Nvalaye

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