01 Dec 2016
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Alumni Leading Change

Re: Margie Yang (MBA 1976); Sal Khan (MBA 2003)

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Setting the Standard for Commercial Success

As chairman of Esquel Group, Marjorie Yang (MBA 1976) oversees one of the world’s largest manufacturers of high-end cotton shirts. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in Hong Kong, Esquel employs 57,000 people at 35 plants and offices worldwide. The company earned approximately $1.5 billion in revenue in 2015 from serving top brands, including Hugo Boss, Nautica, and Ralph Lauren.

Yang is a catalyst for change in a traditional industry. As wages rise in China, many textile companies are leaving for less expensive labor markets. In contrast, Esquel is doubling down in China, where over half of its workers are based. Yang aspires to introduce new competitive strategies to the entire textile and apparel industry, and to be a leader in positive economic development in China.

Esquel is fully vertically integrated — from cotton growing, spinning, and weaving to dyeing, sewing, and retailing. By leveraging vertical integration, best practices, and technology such as automation and robotics, the company is constantly improving productivity and raising product quality.

At the same time, the company strives to reduce its carbon footprint, reduce waste, and conserve natural resources. From 2005 to 2015, for instance, the company’s water and energy consumption per garment dropped by 60 percent and 40 percent respectively. Esquel also works to enhance the well-being of its employees. “Their health and safety, job satisfaction, and work-life balance are our priorities,” says Yang.

Pro-worker and pro-environment policies aren’t just a social good at Esquel. “They save money and strengthen our competitive advantage,” notes Yang. For example, polluted water impedes the production of cotton, and poor air quality affects the health and performance of workers.

To promote change across the manufacturing sector, Esquel sponsors an annual forum, the Integral Conversation, which brings together industry and government stakeholders to inspire alternative thinking. “It’s a platform for like-minded people to explore new ways of pursuing economic growth and sustainable development while respecting people, communities, and the planet,” says Yang.

She is especially proud of an eco-industrial complex that Esquel is building in Guilin, China. The green complex will preserve the natural environment, leverage natural resources for light and ventilation, employ water recycling, and produce minimal waste.

 
“Our aim is to model ‘the factory of the future’ and demonstrate how a traditional industry can transform, be sustainable, and remain profitable.”
Marjorie Yang (MBA 1976), Chairman, Esquel Group (photo courtesy of Esquel group)

“Our aim is to model ‘the factory of the future’ and demonstrate how a traditional industry can transform, be sustainable, and remain profitable.”
Marjorie Yang (MBA 1976), Chairman, Esquel Group
(photo courtesy of Esquel group)

To read more stories about alumni making a difference, visit alumni.hbs.edu/makingadifference.

Helping to Fill the Global Education Gap

Before he came to HBS, Salman Khan (MBA 2003) didn’t think he had the stomach for entrepreneurship. Fast-forward 15 years, and Khan is founder and CEO of Khan Academy, a not-for-profit that provides free world-class education online to anyone anywhere. A little serendipity, a passion for making a difference, and degrees in computer science, math, and engineering (plus his MBA) brought him to this point.

After HBS, Khan was working as a hedge fund analyst in Boston when a young cousin living in New Orleans asked him to help her with her math homework via phone. Before long, Khan was tutoring 10 or 15 cousins after work. He started writing simple software to give them practice problems and making how-to videos so he could reach more kids efficiently. In 2009, he quit his job to see if he could turn this work into a real organization, and in 2011 Khan Academy launched.

Today, Khan Academy has 130 employees who create instructional videos and practice exercises in math, science, computer programming, history, economics, and more. Its work has captured the support of thousands of volunteers and donors, including the Gates Foundation, Google, and venture capitalists Ann and John (MBA 1976) Doerr.

Technology and a powerful mission ensure that Khan Academy’s impact far exceeds its small size. More than 10 million students a month access the site, content is offered in 36 languages, and the site is used by teachers in 300,000 classrooms. “Our annual budget is equivalent to the budget of a medium-sized high school, and we’re reaching 10 million students a month,” says Khan.

Khan Academy also partners with organizations like the Brookings Institution, the Museum of Modern Art, NASA, and, most notably, the College Board to create specialized content. “The College Board recognizes that there has been inequity in students’ access to college preparation,” says Khan. “By making world-class college prep available free online, we have a real shot at leveling the playing field a little bit.”

Despite the organization’s success, Khan believes there is much more to do. “We still live in a world that isn’t a meritocracy, and many people don’t have access to education,” he says. Among his goals, he envisions developing credentials that enable students who have self-educated themselves on Khan Academy to prove what they know to employers and colleges.

Khan is honored to be doing this work at this stage of his career. “I always did have this dream of being a Dumbledore figure who starts a school,” he says.

 
“We still live in a world that isn’t a meritocracy, and many people don’t have access to education.”
Salman Khan (MBA 2003), Founder and CEO, Khan Academy
(photo by Gary Laufman)

“We still live in a world that isn’t a meritocracy, and many people don’t have access to education.”
Salman Khan (MBA 2003), Founder and CEO, Khan Academy
(photo by Gary Laufman)

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