01 Jun 1996

Class Acts

Six MBA 1996 Standouts


Leadership, intellect, entrepreneurial savvy, interest in community service, good old-fashioned school spirit - these are some of the defining characteristics of the MBA Class of 1996. And while it's impossible to show the depth and breadth of a class in just a few short profiles, in the pages that follow we present 6 of the 788 students who personify the remarkable qualities and achievements typical of the class as a whole.

Al Dobron, Raj Kapoor, J.B. Lyon, Melissa Ma, Emma Minto, and Tarrus Richardson are talented individuals who gracefully juggled the rigorous demands of the HBS classroom with extracurricular activities ranging from student government, to volunteer work with local schoolchildren, to rock music. On the occasion of the 1996 HBS Commencement, we salute these students and their stellar classmates as they begin a new chapter in their already eventful lives.

Marathon Man — Albert J. Dobron, Jr.

by Marguerite Rigoglioso

"Been there; done that." That's what first came to Al Dobron's mind when he thought about getting involved in student government at HBS. But by his second semester, the former student leader from the University of New Hampshire was elected president of the Student Association (SA) and began one of the most active tenures of any SA president in recent memory.

"I was motivated by the people at HBS and wanted to make a positive impact on the community," explains the friendly and outgoing Dobron. "I had some thoughts about how HBS could further enhance the value of the MBA Program by creating a true partnership among faculty, students, and administrators. The Student Association seemed a good vehicle for implementing those ideas; in tandem with the School's MBA: Leadership & Learning multiyear review of the MBA Program, the timing was right."

As a part of his campaign strategy for the Student Association presidency, Dobron took the unusual step of creating a team of four sectionmates to help him develop a platform based on issues of importance to the student body. Once elected, he retained the team as a "cabinet" that continued to identify and develop solutions to student concerns.

One result of Dobron's team-oriented approach was the creation of the first student-led case, "HBS Student Association 1995-1996 (A): The Soul of an Old Machine." Conceived and written by Dobron and classmates J.B. Lyon and Laurie Gould, the case was presented in mid-May 1995 to 650 students and some 70 faculty members and administrators by students coached in case-method teaching. "Using the tools we've learned at HBS, it served as a catalyst for the SA to solicit direction, ideas, and involvement from the entire HBS community," says Dobron.

Based on the enormous success of the event, last summer the Dean's Office invited Dobron to work full-time to refine and implement suggestions for improving campus life that were generated during the case discussions. "Our efforts were mainly focused on coordinating communication among faculty, administrators, and students," he notes. Toward that end, Dobron and SA Technology Committee chair Judy Stahl (MBA '96) helped put into place the School's new information technology platform, which included establishing a site on the World Wide Web and creating an online calendar of all HBS activities. His efforts also led to the creation of an office that offers students information and support services. He has also been active in the restructuring of campus concessions to better capture and allocate value throughout the student community.

Putting ideas into action has long been Dobron's trademark, both inside and outside the School. For the past four years, he has managed his family's $1.4 million real-estate and service business, successfully turning the company around by restructuring debt, stabilizing the firm's tenant base, and opening a new business. Prior to HBS, Dobron worked for the Burlington, Massachusetts-based, Rochester Shoe Tree Company, the country's leading manufacturer of private-label shoe care products, where he directed all new business ventures and substantially increased the firm's base business.

Last spring, while spending forty-hour weeks on SA business alone, the tireless student president also trained for and completed the Boston Marathon (a feat he repeated in this year's centennial anniversary of the race). How did he accomplish it all? "I got about three hours of sleep a night," smiles Dobron, who plans to become involved in private equity after graduation. Bill Clinton, move over.

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Rockin' Round the Clock — Rajil Kapoor

by James E. Aisner

In a popular Boston nightspot, more than a thousand people (including a large contingent of HBS students) are moving to the thumping beat of a five-man rock 'n' roll band named Indian Elvis. The lead singer, dressed in a white, sequined jump suit with flaring bell-bottoms, leaps about the stage one moment and hurls himself onto the outstretched arms of the frenetic crowd the next as he belts out song after song during a three-hour gig.

Who are these guys? Aspiring musicians looking for their first recording contract? Guess again. They're all members of the HBS Class of 1996.

Before joining Indian Elvis, however, the only experience lead singer Raj Kapoor had in the music business was as a DJ while a student at Carnegie Mellon University and as a manager at Bell Atlantic Corporation, where he was involved in product planning for their Music Video on Demand software. So how did an aspiring entrepreneur with an engineering degree become a rock star at Harvard Business School? Easy. He just asked.

"At the beginning of the second term last year," Kapoor explains with a tranquility belying his stage presence, "four of my sectionmates decided they wanted to form a band - lead guitarist Bryan Kennedy, rhythm guitarist Steve Bozek, bass guitarist Scott Meyer, and drummer Tommy Moreno. Since I had always wanted to sing, I managed to convince them to give me a chance. They knew I had plenty of energy, and I was eager to learn whatever they could teach me about singing. So we began practicing together, and before long we started to jell. They came up with the name for the group, and Indian Elvis was born."

The first "concert" took place a few months later at a section party in Meyer's apartment. The initial repertoire included just 10 songs - the words to which Kapoor clutched in his hands, just to be on the safe side. Since then, he and his bandmates have mastered 33 songs, and they appear about once a month in local clubs. The group's name notwithstanding, they do only two Elvis Presley tunes. The rest are mainly their versions of songs made famous by well-known bands like the Ramones, the Black Crowes, and the Spin Doctors. "The key to the success of our concerts," says Kapoor, "is that we do songs our audiences remember having fun with while they were in college."

Kapoor puts his time-management skills to the test by playing a leadership role in a host of other HBS activities as well. Interested in the convergence of the various media, in 1995 he spearheaded the formation of an organization known as New Media Ventures that enabled HBS students to talk to their peers about recent developments in this burgeoning industry. As copresident of this year's Communications, Media, & Computing Ventures Club, he helped stage Cyberposium '96, a gathering of high-tech gurus and corporate leaders at the Business School in February that provided some 450 participants with a glimpse into the future of cyberspace.

Next year, Kapoor may find himself an invited guest at that event, since he'll be working on content development at the @Home Network, a high-profile Silicon Valley startup providing high-speed Internet services over TV cable lines. When that happens, future HBS partygoers will have to content themselves with the occasional Elvis sighting on campus - Indian Elvis, that is.

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Cooking Up a Storm — J.B. Lyon

by Marguerite Rigoglioso

One day in late 1988, having just completed his service as assistant press secretary for the Dukakis presidential campaign, J.B. Lyon sat in a Vermont inn pondering his future over a cheeseburger. Suddenly, he found himself wondering with disgust why the ketchup on his fries "tasted like candy." Over the next few months, he began a quest to find a more savory product, only to discover that there was not a single brand of "gourmet" ketchup on the market.

If J.B. Lyon had known about J.M. Smucker, he may have simply shrugged his shoulders and walked away. But the enterprising 26-year-old knew nothing of the jam and jelly tycoon's unsuccessful foray into tomatoey waters thirty years earlier - a story in product failure immortalized in an HBS case that impressed this maxim upon legions of Harvard MBAs: ketchup that must be spooned out of a jar, instead of banged out of a tall, skinny bottle, just won't sell.

So Lyon decided to become a businessman. Enlisting his stepmother's homespun culinary skills, he created "Uncle Dave's Vermont-Made Old-Fashioned Ketchup," an all-natural, spoonable condiment in a jar whose time had apparently come; after just two weeks of sales the tasty sauce brought in $6,000. Within six months, Lyon moved the operation from the family kitchen to a larger production facility in Vermont. Over the next few years, he and his family orchestrated the creation of an entire line of nationally distributed condiments and pasta sauces. In 1995, his natural foods company, Uncle Dave's Kitchen, reached nearly $2 million in sales.

The effervescent Lyon attributes his entrepreneurial tendencies to his father, the "Dave" of Uncle Dave's. "He has always created new ventures - everything from selling real estate to being the first licensee to sell Pac Man T-shirts," Lyon explains with affection. "I knew that in some way I would follow in his footsteps."

After five years of managing Uncle Dave's, Lyon left its day-to-day operations in the hands of his father and stepmother and entered HBS at the age of thirty. "I felt I had hit the top of the learning curve and was ready for a new challenge," he explains.

Lyon has embraced his time at HBS with characteristic vigor. During his first year, he wrote for (and was eventually elected to the board of) the Harbus News and helped run classmate Al Dobron's campaign for president of the Student Association. "This time my candidate won," he laughs.

As a member of Dobron's four-member "cabinet," Lyon played a key role in articulating and brainstorming solutions to student concerns and helped conceive and write the "HBS Student Association 1995-1996" case study (see Dobron profile). His experience as publisher of the Class of 1997 Prospectus (the student "facebook") also prompted him to serve on a team that consolidated and restructured student-run concessions.

After graduation, Lyon intends to keep a hand in Uncle Dave's Kitchen as a member of the company's board while remaining in the Boston area as a strategic planner for Staples. He acknowledges that he leaves the School a changed man. "As part of the 1 percent of HBS students who are Democrats," Lyon quips, "I used to read only the New York Times. Now I read the Wall Street Journal, too."

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A Woman's Place — Melissa J. Ma

by Elaine Gottlieb

When Melissa Ma bounds into the Au Bon Pain in Shad Hall on a quiet Friday afternoon, the atmosphere immediately becomes more lively. Heading for a table filled with friends, she is quickly engaged in animated conversation. It is this energy and good cheer that have helped make Ma an effective leader of the HBS Women's Student Association (WSA) for the past year.

Becoming copresident (with classmate Sophie Bromberg) of the WSA is one of many surprising turns Ma's life has taken since she came to Harvard as an undergraduate eight years ago. She expected to follow in the footsteps of her Chinese parents, both of whom are scientists, but instead chose to pursue economics and East Asian studies, which was, she says, "a natural combination considering my background and Asia's burgeoning economic growth."

Contemplating a career in law, Ma decided to first gain some professional experience as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs. The confident Harvard grad was surprised to discover, however, how difficult things can be for women in the workplace. "For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider," she says. "On Wall Street there are few women, and they don't often stay very long. It's a male-dominated environment, and it's still quite difficult for women to fit in. The experience made me realize how important it is for women to form networks."

So when Ma attended the WSA Women's Admit Day - a one-day introduction to life at HBS - and met other professional women who shared her feelings, she knew that she had found an organization where she belonged. "The women I met were bright, interesting, and totally honest about their experiences. The event was so well-organized and empowering that I decided to devote my free energy to the WSA after entering the MBA Program," Ma says.

WSA's goal is to help women succeed both at HBS and in their careers. The organization offers academic support, mentoring, and opportunities for networking. As part of the networking process, Ma met Bromberg, a fellow volunteer who shared her enthusiasm for the WSA. "I had never planned to run for president, but Sophie and I had strong feelings about the importance of the organization and had a similar vision for it," Ma says. "There's no way I could have done this job - or survived it - without her. I've never valued a partnership so much."

Working together, the leaders helped spearhead many activities, including a recent conference featuring a keynote address by Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. For Ma, it was an invaluable learning experience. "I have worked with men and women in all areas of the University," she says. "Through the WSA I've developed communication and management skills that could not be taught in the classroom."

But what Ma did learn in the classroom about leadership has also made her optimistic about women's future in the business world. "Business is moving toward a more consensual, teamwork orientation," she observes. "For most women, this approach is innate."

Ma intends to maintain a strong connection with her WSA network as she faces her next great challenge: a new job as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. in Hong Kong, where she interned last summer. "When I started college, I'd never even heard of McKinsey," she laughs. "It didn't occur to me in my wildest dreams that I'd be where I am today!"

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Seeking Out the New — Emma Minto

by Garry Emmons

The daughter of an executive with a peripatetic lifestyle, Emma Minto has known from early on how to hit the ground running. Her father's frequent postings abroad meant that several times during Minto's childhood, she and her family had to relocate from their native Canada for extensive sojourns in Africa and Europe. As a result, she soon discovered how to adapt quickly to new surroundings.

"At a new school, I would get involved right away in all sorts of activities, in order to make friends and settle in smoothly," explains Minto, cochair (with classmate Henrik Bodenstab) of the Student Clubs and Careers (SCC) Committee at HBS. Her old habits helped prompt her initial contact with the SCC, where for the past year she has devoted approximately five to ten hours a week helping to monitor and oversee the 52 student clubs at HBS.

Explains Minto, "One initially becomes involved with the SCC as a section representative; I saw being a rep as an opportunity to get to know and do something for my sectionmates while also becoming familiar with the various clubs. Through the SCC's liaison role with the Office of Career Development, I could also learn more about post-HBS career possibilities."

One challenge this year for the SCC has been how best to integrate the new January cohort into the club structure. To this end, Minto helped draft a set of recommendations to ensure equal opportunity, awareness, and exposure for January students who want to run for club positions. Another highlight this year has been approving and welcoming three new clubs into the HBS fold - the Middle East Club, the Young Republicans, and the Outdoors Club.

One issue of particular personal interest that Minto is researching is the matter of club financing. Clubs currently rely mainly on members' dues and fundraising events to pay for their operations. "The career, social, and recreational services, information, and activities the clubs offer are indispensable to the HBS experience," Minto asserts. "Because of this, an HBS student, on average, belongs to four clubs. We want to be sure that the clubs can continue to offer their members the best service possible."

Minto's penchant for getting involved dates back to her undergraduate days at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. A vice president of the school's 1,200-member marketing club, she also served as its director of special projects in charge of six committees. At the same time, she and another student partner operated a campus specialty-apparel business, increasing its sales and profits by 70 percent over the previous year.

After graduating from Queen's, Minto took a job at Colgate-Palmolive Canada. She soon became known for her flair - presenting products to the company's sales force while zooming about in hockey gear and roller blades amid ersatz explosions and clouds of dry ice - but even more so for her success in managing new product launches. A particular highlight was overseeing the rollout of Colgate Total toothpaste, whose launch was the biggest for the company in thirty years.

After graduation, Minto will remain in Boston as a consultant at Corporate Decisions, Inc. "I'm looking forward to working at CDI," she says, "because of its focus on growth-related projects and the exposure I'll have to many industries. I'm especially interested in multimedia and entertainment - it's a whole new world out there." For Minto, who has always loved to explore new worlds, the job should be a perfect fit.

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The Midas Touch — Tarrus L. Richardson

by Betsy McNair

In 1993, at the age of 23, Tarrus Richardson left Salomon Brothers' financial analyst program (where he worked in the firm's Mergers and Acquisitions Group) to pursue an opportunity to start an investment banking firm in Ghana, West Africa. An accounting major, student body president, and regional president of his fraternity at Purdue University, Richardson and his partner, Kodwo Mills (also MBA '96), worked under the managing partner of Deloitte & Touche Consulting in Ghana to launch Gold Coast Securities, Ltd. (GCS).

"There is no way I could have guessed what Kodwo and I would accomplish," says the soft-spoken Richardson, who, along with Mills, became a licensed broker within two months of arriving in Ghana, ultimately trading 20 percent of the total value of shares on the Ghana Stock Exchange. After one year, GCS had produced a 35 percent return on capital invested and hired twelve employees. Today, the company continues to be one of the largest investment banking firms in Ghana.

Richardson, however, wasn't content to rest on his laurels. "We had reached the goals we set out to accomplish in Ghana, but I knew that to move forward in my career, I needed to go back to school to acquire more skills." Richardson and Mills both enrolled in HBS in the fall of 1994.

The two friends continued their successful entrepreneurial collaboration at HBS, winning the HBS Cleaners concession on the basis of their reliability, previous business experience, and bid amount. The duo then went about improving the business, which had three on-campus stores that offered laundry, dry cleaning, and alterations to the HBS community, ultimately reducing employee turnover, improving the quality of service, and increasing the overall profitability of the concession. "I like to fix things," Richardson reflects. "I'm attracted to unstructured environments where I can solve problems and create systems that help businesses operate more efficiently." The cleaners, which served about 600 customers, generated roughly $160,000 in revenues.

In addition to running HBS Cleaners, Richardson was also an active player on both the School's rugby team and Section I's "Dream Team," 1995 champions of the Intramural Basketball "A" League. While Richardson says he enjoys the thrill of entrepreneurial endeavors and sports competition, he also holds an abiding belief in the importance of helping others. "When you put people first and treat them right, everything else follows," he notes. In particular, he is committed to working with young people. While at Salomon Brothers, Richardson ran a teen sports program for the Police Athletic League in New York. And, over the past two years, he has served as a codirector of the HBS Partnership Sports Program with the nearby Taft Middle School. In this role, he devoted Saturdays to organizing activities, such as basketball and museum visits, for sixth- through eighth-grade students. "Growing up, I benefited greatly from my involvement with the Boys & Girls Clubs in Chicago," Richardson explains. "Volunteering is a way of giving back to the many people who have helped me along the way."

Richardson expresses great appreciation for his experience at HBS. "My classes, professors, and classmates have been outstanding. "I'm eager to begin my professional life, but I will truly miss HBS," he says. "It's been a fantastic experience."

After graduation, Richardson will be taking Level I of the Chartered Financial Analyst Examination and traveling to East and Southern Africa for two months. In the fall, he will join Joseph, Littlejohn & Levy, a merchant banking firm in New York that specializes in corporate divestitures, restructurings, and industry consolidations.

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