01 Aug 1998
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Spring Reunions: Milestones and Memories

by Eileen K. McCluskey

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Whether matching analytical wits once again with professors and classmates in Aldrich, lunching under the yellow-and-white tents behind Kresge, or savoring chance meetings with long-lost friends, the graduates and guests who returned to HBS for spring reunions invigorated the campus with their enthusiasm, high spirits, and intellectual energy.

Traveling to Soldiers Field from all over the world, alumni from the Classes of 1928, 1933, 1938, 1943, 1948, 1978, 1983, 1988, and 1993, along with graduates of the DBA and Executive Education Programs, came to campus with fascinating tales to tell of their experiences since leaving HBS. The Bulletin caught up with five of these graduates long enough to sketch brief profiles; candid snapshots of other reunion moments complete our portrait of a memorable weekend.

 

Ernesto Bertarelli (MBA '93)

Described in a recent Wall Street Journal Europe article as the "crown prince of a Swiss industrial dynasty," Ernesto Bertarelli took over as CEO of his father's company, the Ares-Serono Group, right after graduating from HBS. It was a natural progression: his father, Fabio Bertarelli, had groomed his son from an early age to head the Geneva-based firm, which develops and markets pharmaceutical products.

Starting at age 10, Bertarelli accompanied his father on business trips. By 17, he was helping to craft the company's annual budgets. He was 29 when he became CEO, just when Fabio Bertarelli had been diagnosed with cancer. "I am extremely proud of the heritage my father left us," says Bertarelli, who has led the Ares-Serono Group, already strong, to even greater heights. During the last five years he has formed a management executive committee and reorganized the firm "to prepare the group for the 21st century."

A self-proclaimed "workaholic," Bertarelli is determined to stay on top of new management trends. His company was the subject of a 1995 HBS case study, and one of the reasons Bertarelli took time out of his hectic schedule to attend his reunion was to sample the latest HBS management ideas. "The other reason I came back," he adds, "was to catch up with my classmates and share once again the spirit of our Section C."

 

William G. Messenger (MBA '88)

Drawn to a religious life as an Episcopal minister after launching a successful career in the high-tech industry, William Messenger walks an uncommon path for an MBA. "My deepest interest lies in the boundaries between religion and the wider world," says the newly ordained Messenger. "To my mind, finding meaning in everyday activities is what religion is all about."

Messenger says he often felt out of place during the years he worked at McKinsey & Company in Boston, where he focused on sales and marketing in high-tech organizations. "Church felt incomplete because of my business interests, and work felt incomplete because of my faith interests," he explains. "I wanted to find a way to help business and religion enrich each other."

In 1993, Messenger enrolled in Boston University's School of Theology. He earned his M.Div. degree last year and this month begins a new career as assistant rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Belmont, Massachusetts. Messenger plans to design a multifaith corporate chaplaincy program that will integrate spiritual life and pastoral care within the professional environment. "Not that I don't like to see business professionals in church," he says, "but I also want to see religious professionals in offices, factories, and stores, where businesspeople spend a major portion of their lives."

Messenger says he came to his HBS reunion this year because "faith and meaning are about connections. And the connections I made with my B-School classmates are just about the most real I've ever made."

 

Jeremy E. Verba (MBA '93)

Jeremy Verba is working at the intersection of the two industries to which he feels most drawn - information technology and entertainment. Since graduation, his career path has wound its way through pay-per-view television programming and new media business development to his current job as

president of E! Online.

Based on his experience writing the business plan for another Internet startup, Verba was hired by CNET (The Computer Network) in 1996 to start E! Online. Six months later, he was chosen to head the venture, now 100 percent owned by E!

"E! Online is a fascinating space to work in," he relates. "It's the convergence of the Internet and an existing brand name from an established medium. The challenges of this experience have been beyond anything I could have imagined."

Just as his work straddles two industries, Verba's lifestyle spans two cities. "I live in San Francisco," he notes, "but I spend half my week in Los Angeles. The company is split between the worlds of Silicon Valley and Hollywood."

Verba says he came to his reunion "to see the people with whom I both worked and played hard for two great years at HBS. I wanted to catch up with the professors and point out where they were right and where things have changed."

 

Jeanne L. Hilsinger (MBA '88)

She works outside Prague, in a spartan, vinyl-floored office in a former communist-run railroad repair yard, and Jeanne Hilsinger insists that is precisely where she wants to be.

Now CFO of Mavel a.s., a Czech manufacturer of turbines and turnkey hydroelectric power plants, Hilsinger was involved in commercial real-estate development in the United States following her graduation from HBS. She fell in love with what was then Czechoslovakia during a visit to Central Europe and moved to Prague in 1991.

"I worked in economic development and venture capital here for three years before cofounding Accel Group, a financial services firm," Hilsinger relates. Last year an energy fund managed by Accel Group decided to invest in Mavel, and as part of Mavel's management team, Hilsinger is watching over that investment.

"The Czech Republic was a new world to me, but I am very happy living here, especially with my recent move to manufacturing," Hilsinger notes. "I am at the point where I can even tell the difference between a lathe and a milling machine," she says with a laugh.

"Working in Central Europe has been a continuous challenge - everything is always changing," she observes. "You can't stand still for long. You must be able to adapt quickly while constantly moving forward." Living abroad also makes it harder to stay in touch with HBS friends, she notes. "Reunions are an opportunity to catch up on everyone's adventures and accomplishments."

 

Jeff Baron (MBA '78)

Jeff Baron made a professional move that few dare risk: following his heart, he left a lucrative corporate career to pursue a long-standing dream. In Baron's case, the pull was toward writing, and the risk so far has paid off.

After achieving success in marketing and general management with Coca-Cola and a division of American Express, followed by a stint running his own consulting firm, Baron left the business world. He wrote and sold four screenplays (as yet unproduced) and numerous television episodes before turning his talents to writing for the theater.

Baron's hit play Visiting Mr. Green opened in New York last November at the Union Square Theatre, first starring Eli Wallach and now Hal Linden. After successful runs this year in Johannesburg and Stuttgart, the play will open within a year in eight other cities around the globe.

The play draws on Baron's real-life experiences as a gay man in corporate America. "Most people have a stereotypical view of what it is to be gay; one of the reasons I wrote the play was to push audiences beyond that stereotype," he comments. This belief in openness as a prelude to understanding also informs Baron's involvement with the HBS Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association. "I'm involved in the group to help make these graduates more visible, with the hope that once our classmates in high places realize they have gay and lesbian peers and friends, they'll be more inclined to support the diversity of their own employees," Baron explains.

Baron was busy at this year's reunion. He addressed the Class of 1978 about his journey "From B-School to Broadway," frankly discussing the bumps along the way. He also addressed a well-attended reception for gay and lesbian alumni, an official reunion event that he worked with HBS to organize.

 
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