28 Mar 2019

California Alumni Explore Role of Capitalism in Addressing Climate Change

Clubs News: European club leaders gather in London; German alumni consider 'The World of 2030'
by Margie Kelley

Clubs News

Clubs News

If capitalism is to blame for climate change, can it also be the best hope to stop it?

That’s the paradox that HBS alumni in Southern California confronted in a sold-out, faculty-led roundtable discussion on business and climate change held in Los Angeles on March 7.

Organized by the HBS Business & Environment Initiative (BEI) , in partnership with the HBS Association of Southern California (HBSASC), the HBS Association of Orange County (HBSAOC), and the HBS Club of San Diego (HBSCSD), the event was the sixth in a series of regional alumni discussions organized in the past year by BEI to explore the role of business leaders in the age of climate change.

The event featured a keynote address by Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, titled “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” in which she presented a roadmap for how business can help “turn our world around.” The talk was based on her popular MBA course, Reimagining Capitalism: Business and the Big Problems.

From left: Alexa McCulloch (MBA 1999), president, HBSASC; Jennifer Nash, director, HBS Business and Environment Initiative; Professor Rebecca Henderson; Alan Horn (MBA 1971), chair, Walt Disney Studios; Roland Hwang, managing director, Climate and Clean Energy Program, NRDC.

Alan Horn (MBA 1971), Chairman of Walt Disney Studios and Chair of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Board of Trustees, gave opening remarks on the imperative to take action on climate now, while Roland Hwang, Managing Director, Climate and Clean Energy Program, NRDC, closed with a talk on reimagining the role of government and opportunities to create virtuous cycles with business leaders.

“It was amazing,” said Alexa McCulloch (MBA 1999), President of the HBS Association of Southern California (HBSASC), who facilitated the roundtable discussion with the 80 alumni attendees following the speakers. “Professor Hall, Alan Horn, and Roland Huang were amazing speakers and the alumni engaged in really active discussions [at] each table.”

According to Allison Webster, Alumni Engagement Manager at BEI, the major takeaways from the event emphasized both the opportunity and the urgency that the business community faces in confronting climate change.

“There is an opportunity, if not a requirement, for the business community to step up where the political community has failed,” she said. “If we want to solve climate change, we can. It's completely plausible to change. We have the technology to fix this problem. Electric and autonomous vehicles and ride sharing are coming fast. Agriculture is changing.”

Perhaps more to the point, Webster said the discussion concluded that making money couldn’t be the only reason for business to tackle the problem

“To say we should stop climate change because we can make money misses an important part of the answer,” she said. “Without purpose, even if you have a business case you won’t necessarily act on it. The conviction that taking action is essential to who we are and for the future of our children is what will make change happen.”

She added that the “window for action is short, just two years,” according to speakers.

“I think everyone now understands the sense of urgency,” added McCulloch. “As Alan Horn said in his speech, if we leave for a 9am meeting at 8:30am, and we know it will take us an hour to get there, we don’t think of ourselves as late until the clock hits 9am. This is how it is with climate change. We are already late, even though it’s 8:30am, and we need to adjust our thinking about the urgency.”

Webster said the BEI’s Climate Change series for alumni launched with a roundtable discussion in San Francisco last year, followed by events in Miami, Washington DC, New York, and Boston. Future events are planned for Chicago in May and for Houston and London next fall.

“Our goals with this series are to build a network of alumni interested in engaging with this issue, to share perspectives on the role of business in confronting climate change, and to show our students, alumni, and the world that HBS understands that climate change requires the attention of all of us.”

Connections and Celebrations in London

European Club Leadership Meeting

HBS alumni club presidents and officers recently gathered in London for the biennial European Club Leadership Meeting (ECLM) hosted by HBS Alumni Clubs and Associations. The conference, attended by representatives from 12 European-based alumni clubs, provides club leaders the opportunity to share experiences, gain new perspectives, and learn about successful club activities and programs. This year’s conference focused on best practices for volunteer management and alumni engagement.

Attendees were also able to connect to the School with updates from HBS Alumni Clubs and Associations and a presentation from Vincent Dessain, Executive Director, Europe Research Center (ERC). Located in Paris, the ERC was opened to help HBS develop and strengthen relationships with European business and academic leaders. The ECLM was followed by the School’s Campaign Celebration, where attendees joined Dean Nohria and more than 250 alumni and guests at the Natural History Museum in London to celebrate the conclusion of a successful campaign.

HBSA of Germany Explores 'The World of 2030' at Winter Retreat

HBS Association of Germany Winter Retreat

More than 50 alumni and guests from the HBS Association of Germany (HBSAG) attended the club’s Winter Retreat on a weekend in February at the McKinsey Alpine University Kitzbühel, enjoying dinner, networking, skiing, and peering into the future with top innovators and entrepreneurs.

Following the retreat’s theme, “The World of 2030,” alumni heard three perspectives on what the future holds for business. Entrepreneur Alexander Zosel, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Advisor at Volocopter, which builds electric multirotor helicopters for use as air taxis, opened the retreat with his vision of “A World Without Roads.”

Then branding expert and author of The Kim Kardashian Principle, Jeetendr Sehdev (MBA 2001) talked about “Reaching Generation Alpha” with his “six steps to make your ideas outperform in the 21st century.”

IBM Chief Information Officer Fletcher Previn gave his vision of the future workplace that will rely on the agility of technology.

The weekend wrapped up with a networking reception and ample time to ski.


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