08 Mar 2018
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HBSAAA Leads the Way in Celebrating African American Alumni Impact

Clubs News: A lively discussion Toronto; watching Super Bowl ads in Chicago
by Margie Kelley

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Clubs News

Clubs News

Harvard Business School is in the midst of a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the African American Student Union (AASU50), with a wide range of events and activities underway to commemorate and reflect upon the significant impact African Americans have had on the School, the business world, and society at large.

The HBS African-American Alumni Association (HBSAAA) has partnered with the AASU and the HBS Leadership Initiative to produce five core initiatives for AASU50: a research agenda that addresses the career pathways and perspectives of black alumni; an academic symposium in March 2018; a Baker Library exhibit focused on the history of African Americans at HBS and a permanent HBS African American archive at Baker Library; a documentary film featuring prominent students, alumni and faculty; and an alumni and student conference on black leadership in April. Dozens of related events for prospective and current students as well as alumni have also been underway nationwide since last July.

Ken Powell (MBA 1974)

In addition, the HBSAAA is spearheading an extension of its W50 Initiative, which celebrates the contributions of women at HBS, with a series of online biographies of 50 influential African American alumnae. Continuing an annual tradition, HBSAAA and AASU will recognize two distinguished alumni/ae for professional achievement and civic commitment, respectively, at the AASU50 Conference.

Behind it all, from a pool of nearly 100 alumni volunteers, many have been working tirelessly on the various programs, projects, and events, according to HBSAAA president Ken Powell (MBA 1974).

“This celebration has given us a tremendous opportunity for alumni to take the lead,” says Powell. “They’re making wonderful things happen with excellent execution. It’s been exciting to have to so many people getting involved.”

In addition to working on the primary initiatives of the AASU50, Powell says, alumni have been producing related content for global webinars, HBX, and live-streaming events; creating an AASU Past Presidents portrait project; encouraging current and potential HBS students to participate; and engaging HBS faculty members with alumni in local communities across the country.

“Alumni have been a big part of this celebration,” says Taran Swan (MBA 1991), the project director for AASU50. “We held alumni brainstorming sessions to help us envision the scope of the celebrations, and the HBSAAA has worked with clubs across the country to sponsor alumni events related to the central theme of the AASU50 and to encourage alumni to re-engage with HBS.

Swan has been working closely with Powell and faculty chairs Tony Mayo, Thomas S. Murphy Senior Lecturer of Business Administration and director of the Leadership Initiative, and Linda Hill, Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration and faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative, to coordinate the multi-faceted AASU50 agenda. To date, the AASU50 activities have already featured a series of fireside chats about black leadership, a series of case nights for current HBS students focused on the challenges and successes of African American business leaders, and regional alumni case discussions and book talks organized by the HBSAAA and hosted by alumni clubs in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, and New York.

These events are aimed at engaging the entire HBS African American community—past, present, and future—in the AASU50 celebrations and in reconnecting with each other and with the School and HBSAAA.

The varied and substantial content of this year-long celebration speaks to the dedication of the HBS alumni, students, and faculty working to bring it to fruition, says Powell.

“These will be our new leaders going forward,” he says. “The AASU50 can lead us to new sustainable initiatives for the future of the HBSAAA. This is a rallying point. We’ve got so many energized, committed alumni who care about the association, the school and the community. We see them becoming more active beyond HBS, and having a much larger impact on our community and on society at large. My hope is that alumni will carry this spirit forward for the next 50 years.”

For more information, visit the AASU50 webpage.

A Lively Discussion in Toronto

The HBS Club of Toronto partnered with the Young Presidents Organization (Maple Leaf Chapter) last month to present a dinner and case discussion event featuring HBS Baker Foundation Professor Leonard A. Schlesinger.

Approximately 115 people attended the sold-out networking night, where Schlesinger presented a case on Rent the Runway, an online designer dress rental business cofounded by HBS alumnae Jennifer Hyman (MBA 2009) and Jennifer Carter Fleiss (MBA 2009), before talking about great leadership and his new book, What Great Service Leaders Know and Do. “Both the lecture portion and the case discussion were very well-received,” says club president Joseph Lo (GMP 3, 2007) “The main debate, as directed by Len, was really about whether the founder should launch in 100 percent with their newfound investor money, or sit back and tinker and refine further. That created a lively debate, particularly between guests in the tech sector and those representing more traditional industries.”

This is the second year that the Toronto club has partnered with the YPO to run the event, where the chance to connect with HBS faculty and content has made it a sell-out each time.

Chicago Club Finds Lessons in Super Bowl Ad Review

What’s better than Monday-morning quarterbacking the Super Bowl? Reviewing the commercials, of course.

“Even if your team isn’t in the game, many people tend to watch it for the commercials,” says Steve Schaumberger (MBA 1988), president of the HBS Club of Chicago, which hosted its popular annual Super Bowl Ad Review breakfast discussion just days after the game. “It’s a lot of fun, but also educational, informative, and interactive. We look forward to the chance to talk about why some ads work or why some fail, and how powerful or funny they can be.”

More than 50 alumni and their guests attended the review, presented by Tim Calkins (MBA 1991), clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“We’ve been doing this review with the HBS Club of Chicago for over a decade,” says Calkins. “It’s such a great opportunity to get business-minded people together and talk about these ads from a business perspective.”

At $5 million per 30-second spot and reaching more than 100 million viewers, Calkins says, the Super Bowl ad game is big business, and therefore very instructive for the 70 MBA students in his marketing classes, who review and grade the ads.

“An ad need not be entertaining to be effective,” he explains, “but it does need these six things: attention, distinction, positioning, linkage, amplification, and net equity.

“Its likeability doesn’t matter if these things aren’t in place,” adds Calkins, who also serves as a co-academic director of the Kellogg on Branding Executive Education program.

Behind every Super Bowl ad is an intriguing business story, Calkins adds. “Creative vision is part of it, but at the core, these ads are a very strategic exercise. They reveal what’s happening competitively in an industry.”

So how did the ads fare, according to the Kellogg students? Of the 39 non-network advertisers reviewed, top performers were Amazon Alexa, which featured several celebrities substituting for Alexa after she lost her voice, and Tide, which offered multiple spots featuring actor David Harbour seemingly appearing in other ads, then pointing to clean clothes and calling it “a Tide ad.” PepsiCo, Wendy’s, and Avocados from Mexico also ranked at the top.

The bottom-ranked ads, says Calkins, came from Squarespace, for its lack of linkage to its product’s benefits and “general head-scratching weirdness,” and T-Mobile, for an ad featuring adorable babies with no solid linkage to its product and services.

And what were Calkins’ favorite ads?

“I liked Tide, for its ingenuity, and Avocados from Mexico, because it was classic, engaging, and got your attention.”

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Class of MBA 1974, Section C
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Class of MBA 2009, Section I
Class of GMP 3
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Class of MBA 1988, Section E
Class of MBA 1991, Section C
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