01 Jun 1998
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John (“Bo”) Kemp

Ideas in Action
by Nancy O. Perry; photograph by Webb Chappell

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For someone who considers himself an "idea guy," Bo Kemp distinguished himself as a man of action at HBS. Friendly, outgoing, and at ease with fellow students, faculty, and administrators alike, Kemp demonstrated a remarkable ability to get things done.

As a section representative, for example, Kemp took a leadership role in helping to communicate the needs and concerns of international students to the HBS community, make the student elections process more efficient, and increase the availability of on-campus housing for entering MBAs. His efforts also included helping revise academic policies concerning take-home exams, feedback from faculty on student grades, and the disclosure of grades to prospective employers. In addition, he chaired the committee organizing Class Day, a pre-Commencement celebration at HBS for students, families, and friends.

How did Kemp juggle all this and prepare for classes as well? "It was pretty tough," he admits with a smile. "But I thrived on working with people from different sectors of the HBS community on a variety of issues."

Getting along with people and taking initiative have always been Kemp's trademarks. Since the age of nine, he has had some sort of business going - vending sandwiches and popcorn on street corners in Detroit, running a swimming-pool cleaning operation, selling Christmas ornaments, and eventually building and selling dollhouse miniatures in high school. "As a kid, I felt empowered having my own spending money," he says. "That grew into a desire to save, invest, and make more" - a predilection that eventually led to an interest in private-equity investing.

Kemp attended Yale, where he continued his entrepreneurial efforts by creating The Greek Shop, a custom apparel company that, after three years, failed. Kemp says the experience helped him "develop the ability to learn from mistakes, heal a bruised ego, and willingly accept responsibility."

After graduating from college with a degree in economics, Kemp canceled his plans to travel the world when Morgan Stanley invited him to join its analyst training program in New York. There, frustrated by the difficulty of learning financial procedures such as how to structure a merger or an LBO, he decided to write a 300-page manual explaining such complex processes. His how-to book proved so useful that later, at HBS, Kemp found himself frequently lending it to classmates. That spawned yet another business idea: through coursework with HBS faculty members Marco Iansiti, Gerald Zaltman, Myra Hart, and Jeffrey Rayport, Kemp developed a Web-based tool (and a second book) for teaching finance to students and professionals. He wrote the content for the site, prepared a business plan, conducted a usability analysis, and tested the product with thirty HBS students. Currently, he is patenting the methodology.

With a post-HBS job at the private equity investment firm TSG Capital Group already lined up, Kemp rounds out an otherwise jam-packed schedule with intramural basketball and poker sessions with classmates - where, incidentally, the unstoppable entrepreneur is promoting another venture: selling cigars. For Bo Kemp, the business ideas just keep coming.

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