06 May 2019
Startup Talk in Chicago
Clubs news: Chicago entrepreneurs gain insights from Pritzker; alumni take a field trip in DallasRe: Alex Meyer (MBA 2005); Steve Wasko (MBA 1986); Phil Migicovsky (MBA 1979); Thomas Rajan (MBA 2009); Kurt Stache (MBA 1995)by Margie KelleyTopics:
“For entrepreneurs to succeed, they must stay humble.”
This was just one of the takeaways from the HBS Club of Chicago’s (HBSCC) recent conversation with Penny Pritzker, founder and chairman of investment firm PSP Partners, and former US Secretary of Commerce, who is now lending her expertise to an initiative aimed at making the city a hub of technological innovation.
From left: Alex Meyer (MBA 2005) with Penny Pritzker
Pritzker was the latest guest speaker of the HBSCC Entrepreneurship Council, which produces a Distinguished Speakers Series as part of its mission “to provide our alumni with opportunities to learn about, explore, and pursue their interests in the areas of entrepreneurship and venture capital, to bring together our entrepreneurially minded and venture investing–oriented alumni, and to provide support for our alumni entrepreneurs and the broader venture community and startup ecosystem.”
The HBSCC hosts a wide variety of business and civic leaders for the benefit of alumni, according to Club President Steve Wasko (MBA 1986).
“Penny Pritzker is at the pinnacle of both of these sectors in Chicago, so we were especially delighted that she agreed to participate in this event with our Entrepreneurship Council,” says Wasko. “What was apparent to me was Penny’s persistence and willingness to step up to challenges, which is the hallmark of the successful entrepreneur. She has had great success in business, and has taken on the challenge of heading up Chicago’s P33 initiative, which has as its goal to make Chicago a global leader in technology and entrepreneurial culture. It’s really inspiring when you see someone who has achieved so much continue to push forward and support her community.”
Alex Meyer (MBA 2005) was himself an entrepreneur looking for connections and information when he returned to Chicago after graduating from HBS. “We weren’t talking much about entrepreneurship, which was and is my passion,” says Meyer. “I wanted to create a place for alumni to talk about the different aspects of startups.”
Meyer launched the Entrepreneurship Council within the club in 2006, and has led a dedicated team of alumni in developing a robust network connecting entrepreneurs with mentors, investors, and industry leaders.
“The Distinguished Speaker Series has brought in some of the most distinguished entrepreneurial leaders in Chicago and the world for over a dozen years,” says Meyer, who wrote an HBS case with Professor Lynda Applegate on the Chicago startup ecosystem.
The Council also played a major role in the inaugural year of the alumni New Venture Competition (aNVC), with Chicago serving as one of the host cities for the first competition.
“And we’ve established an HBS Alumni Angels chapter, which is now recognized as one of Chicago's most active early-stage investors, with a commitment to supporting high-potential entrepreneurial ventures, adds Meyer.”
An entrepreneur, civic leader, and philanthropist with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries, Pritzker founded Vi Senior Living, and cofounded the Parking Spot and Artemis Real Estate Partners. She is a member of the board of Microsoft; chairman of the board of trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; a member of the Harvard Corporation, Aspen Strategy Group, and the Aspen Economic Strategy Group; and co-chair of the Cyber Readiness Institute.
She shared her perspective as both an investor and a former Commerce Secretary (under President Obama), telling attendees to stay humble, never stop listening or learning—especially from their mistakes.
The conversation yielded a few other overarching ideas, says Meyer.
“The future of any startup ecosystem depends on cultivating its talent and enabling it to succeed in the future of work,” he says. “And, for a government to be entrepreneurial, it needs to create an environment in which the best ideas are able to flourish.”
Behind the Scenes at American Airlines
Alumni and guests from the HBS Club of Dallas (HBSCD) and the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporate Learning Partners were treated to a business transformation discussion and window tour at the American Airlines Integrated Operations Center (IOC) in Fort Worth on April 25, as part of the club’s “Business of” series.
HBSCD President Phil Migicovsky (MBA 1979) described the sold-out “Business of Airlines: Transforming Culture and Driving High Performance” event as a kind of “field trip” for alumni to explore how other industries operate, meet challenges, and plan for the future.
“We had high expectations for this event, and it far exceeded them,” says Migicovsky.
American Airlines senior executives Thomas Rajan (MBA 2009), managing director of talent strategy and people development; Kurt Stache (MBA 1995), senior vice president of marketing, loyalty, and sales; and Ralph Lopez, vice president of IOC Operations, hosted the group in the airline’s massive command center and spoke about the critical importance of taking care of their employees and fostering a positive work culture as a competitive tool for the company.
The event was part of the “Business of” series developed by Migicovsky to give alumni an opportunity beyond club luncheons to connect more directly with industry leaders. Previously the club presented the “Business of Laser Surgery” and next year it is planning the “Business of Wine” and possibly a “Business of Museums.”
“It’s a way to get people out to the corporate facilities for a first-hand look at how different industries work,” he says.
The HBSCD worked with Sandy Weissinger and Erica Hebert, both relationship managers at HBSP Corporate Learning, to produce this event.
“HBSP Corporate Learning already has a partnership with American Airlines,” says Weissinger. “And we’ve already been partnering with HBS Alumni Clubs to create joint events that build our networks with local business communities. We introduced Thomas, who serves on our advisory council, to Phil and the HBS Club of Dallas, and they made it happen.”