01 Dec 2015

Leading Boston and Beyond

How HBS Leadership Fellows have reinvented how we think about governance
Re: Dan Koh (MBA 2011); Chris Osgood (MBA 2006); Lauren Lockwood (MBA 2014); Austin Blackmon (MBA 2013); Meredith Weenick (MBA 2002); Mitch Weiss (MBA 2004); Stephen Chan (MBA 2008); Matt Segneri (MBA 2010); Mike Bloomberg (MBA 1966); Sarah Leary (MBA 1998)
by Jen Myers


From left: Chris Osgood, Dan Koh, Lauren Lockwood

It is 2:30 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, and the halls of Boston City Hall are eerily quiet. Dan Koh (MBA 2011), Chris Osgood (MBA 2006), Lauren Lockwood (MBA 2014), and Austin Blackmon (MBA 2013) are huddled around a conference table in Koh’s fifth floor office, cooking up a communications strategy ahead of the looming Boston winter.

“We want to avoid what happened last year,” warns Koh, Chief of Staff to Mayor Marty Walsh. Last winter, the Hub’s snowiest on record, left many residents frustrated their snow removal requests submitted via the city’s Citizens Connect app were “closed” without a resolution.

It is a balancing act between making residents feel their concerns are heard and helping them understand the process the city uses to prioritize snow removal given budgetary and staff limitations. Lockwood, the city’s Chief Digital Officer, says the first step is to craft language for request responses that makes residents feel valued, but does not provide false hope their particular request will be accommodated. “We appreciate their (residents’) role; they are our eyes and ears and we want and need them to continue to report things,” she says.

Snow removal, potholes, trash pick-up, and graffiti removal; it doesn’t bring the hipster-cred of a high-tech start-up or the glamour of a swanky Wall Street address, but a core group of Harvard Business School graduates have found their passion in municipal government.

“You’d be hard pressed to find any position where you are a senior manager of a $3 billion organization that impacts people so directly,” says Koh. “There is no greater meaning in life than to use the education opportunities you have to make a difference in people’s lives and doing that for a city is so tangible.”

Koh and Osgood both found their way to the Mayor’s office through the HBS Leadership Fellows program. Open to all graduating second-year MBA students, the program provides up to 20 fellows a year the opportunity to work in nonprofit or public sector positions, giving those organizations the opportunity to use the managerial and analytical skills of a MBA to build capacity.

Since the program’s launch in 2002, the City of Boston Mayor’s Office has hosted 13 fellows. The first fellow to make her way to City Hall, Meredith Weenick (MBA 2002), served as the city’s CFO from 2010 to 2014 after working as an advisor to the mayor and serving in the department of administration and finance. Mitch Weiss (MBA 2004)—now Senior Lecturer in the Entrepreneurial Management unit at HBS—became Mayor Tom Menino’s last Chief of Staff and gave the eulogy at his funeral.

The fellowship program is what drew Osgood to HBS. “I knew what I wanted to do,” says Osgood, who had previously worked as the Chief of Staff/Senior Advisor in New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Osgood spent his fellowship year creating performance management tools for the city. He stayed on as an advisor to Menino, rebuilding the city’s 24-hour hotline and exploring how mobile apps could be utilized to make reporting issues more convenient for residents. In 2010, Osgood and Nigel Jacob co-founded the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, an innovative IT department focused on using technology to increase citizen engagement and the efficiency of city services.

Their flagship project, the Citizens Connect app (recently rebranded as BOS:311), sends residents’ issues into the city’s work order management system and then on to the person best equipped to solve the problem. It has spurred “Commonwealth Connect,” utilized in more than 40 communities statewide and has become a model for citizen engagement around the world. “The innovation Chris has injected into City Hall in his career has been incalculable,” says Koh, explaining why Osgood was the obvious choice to be appointed to the Cabinet-level position of Chief of the Streets by Walsh this past summer.

Dan Koh

During Koh’s fellowship year, he worked to reinvigorate the Mayor’s Summer Jobs program, providing summer jobs to 10,000 Boston teens annually. He launched a website and marketing initiative for the program, as well as working on broadening the Mayor’s overall social media strategy. Following his fellowship, Koh went to work at the Huffington Post, but his heart remained in Boston City Hall. “This building just stays with you,” he says. “The ability to touch people and make a difference—I really, really missed that.” Koh had kept in touch with Mitch Weiss, who recommended him to Walsh following his November 2013 election. By January, Koh was back in the Mayor’s office, this time as Chief of Staff.

“There is really a growing cohort of Mayor’s office fellows who have stayed in Boston–in government and private institutions—who still keep our relationship to the City government and public agendas in some way,” says Stephen Chan (MBA 2009), Chief of Staff for the Boston Foundation, a major philanthropic organization that often partners with the city.

As a fellow, Chan was at first taken aback by the amount of influence and responsibility he was granted from the start. “One day, the Mayor walked by my cube and said ‘I think we should do something on food,’” says Chan. “With that one-line mandate and no details, I had the opportunity to design, raise money for, staff, and launch the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives.”

The office is a hub for the work that happens across city agencies and private partners related to farmers markets, healthy school food, local sourcing, food trucks, and urban agriculture. “It is hard to imagine how gratifying it is to know that your work benefits hundreds and thousands of people, especially those who are most underrepresented,” he says.

Matt Segneri (MBA 2010) had the opportunity as a fellow to work in all areas of city government from civic engagement and budgeting to education and economic development, but there is one initiative that has stuck with him.

In September 2010, 58-year-old Domino’s Pizza deliveryman Richel Nova was lured to a vacant home and stabbed to death. His money, car and the pizza he was called to deliver were stolen. The crime occurred not far from Mayor Menino’s Hyde Park home; as it happened, Nova’s twin daughters had interned in the Mayor’s office. Segneri worked with then-Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis to launch Operation Safe Delivery, a comprehensive safety plan for local restaurants and delivery drivers.

“It was the kind of gritty work that didn’t garner headlines but genuinely made the city better and safer,” says Segneri. “In cities, everything feels more tangible, more personal. And, when tragedy strikes, it hits very close to home.”

Following his fellowship, Segneri stayed on for a second year as a senior advisor before heading to work for Bloomberg Philanthropies, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s (MBA 1966) charitable foundation. At Bloomberg, he co-led and expanded the Mayors Challenge, a $9 million prize competition to inspire American cities to develop bold solutions to common challenges.

Today, Segneri is the Director of the Social Enterprise Initiative at HBS and oversees the Leadership Fellows Program. “I’m thrilled to help the next generation of leaders across the public, private, and non-profit sectors think deeply about how they can make a difference in the world,” says Segneri. “And I find a special joy in working with former colleagues to help them find the next great HBS Leadership Fellow to join the Mayor’s Office.”

Back on the fifth floor of Boston City Hall, the brainstorming continues. Koh turns the discussion to the use of social media. They need to find a way to tap into Reddit, he says. The virtual bulletin board boasts 60,000 subscribers in Boston, 10 percent of the city’s population. Or maybe they can reach more constituents through Facebook groups like the 3000-member strong East Boston Open Discussion Group. Lockwood says the city is building a partnership with the popular traffic app Waze to spread the word about things like street closures.

Blackmon, the city’s Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space, says his office had been using Facebook and Twitter to push out available LED light bulbs and water-saving equipment to residents, until an intern suggested trying NextDoor, a hyper-local social networking site [cofounded by Sarah Leary (MBA 1998)] focused on building relationships between neighbors. Their numbers immediately skyrocketed.

Lockwood’s eyes light up. “Wow, that is really helpful,” she says.

It’s the kind of thing she’s constantly looking for: new ways to reach people who are not already engaged with the city.

“In city government, unlike state or federal government, you can reach people directly, not just through agencies,” she says. “You are reminded how much your work directly impacts their lives every day. We have the ability to change how cynical people are about government; I have that hope.”


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