28 May 2019

Alumni Achievement Awards 2019

This year’s recipients of the School’s highest honor reflect on the passions, insights, and chance encounters that have shaped their personal and professional lives.


Photographed by Susan Young; edited by Julia Hanna
See full profiles and more photographs here.

Marla Beck (MBA/MPA 1998)

CEO and Cofounder, Bluemercury Inc.

First job: Accounting work in her dad’s real estate office. “I had a 10-key and a ledger with carbon copy paper. That exposed me to the financial guts of the business world when I was a teenager.”

Big fail: Missing the cut for the high school volleyball team. “I asked the coach what I needed to do to make the team the next year. She told me, and I ended up being captain my senior year. That taught me when someone says no, it’s not really no.”

Fast money: “My husband, Barry, and I raised a million dollars in two weeks to start Bluemercury in 1999. The initial idea was to build an e-commerce company, but then we changed course and focused on freestanding beauty stores where you could get expert advice from staff and actually touch and feel the products.”

Acquire an advocate: “When Leonard Lauder walked into our first store I pitched him hard. He said no for a year or two, but since then he’s been our champion. So find a champion. Mentors give you great advice, but champions give you great opportunities.”

Not just numbers: “Big data tells you one thing, but it’s talking to people and being out in the world that really give you the creative power to see what’s next.”

Joint venture: “We built Bluemercury while we were building our family and associate each one of our three kids with different store openings. Having our children be part of the journey has been so meaningful.”

Michael R. Bloomberg (MBA 1966)

Founder, Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies; Mayor, New York City, 2002–2013

Honesty and ethics: “When my family sat down for dinner, my father would pick one of us to talk about our day, and everyone would ask questions—then we’d go around the table to the next person. It taught us that if you can’t look your family in the eye and tell them what you did, you shouldn’t have done it.”

Course correction: “I don’t read the instructions before I try to put something together—so of course I hadn’t read the Hopkins course catalog. I didn’t realize there was a German requirement to study physics, which had all been done in Germany before the war. After three days of German, I switched to engineering.”

Unceremonious end: “I loved Salomon Brothers right up until the day I got fired—and even that didn’t upset me.”

Machine dream: “There were companies that displayed different rates and prices. But none of them ever considered why people would want all that information on one screen, with it placed in charts and graphs that allowed users to do analysis. I said, ‘Well, let’s do the next step.’ For three or four years, we had the luxury of first-mover advantage.”  

Mr. Mayor: “In New York City we have people from everywhere around the world, every kind of problem, and every chance of a solution. I couldn’t have asked for a bigger or better challenge.”

Giving back: “We have a saying at Bloomberg Philanthropies: ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ I think you need to have a vision of how you can make a real difference, and have confidence that it’s going to work. And if it’s not working, be willing to adjust it, change it, do something else.”

Michael G. Mullen (AMP 109, 1991)

Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

Rough start: “I remember coming home from the Naval Academy for Christmas leave as a freshman, and my GPA going into finals was a 0.91. But I loved the challenge, and I adapted.”

Ahoy there: “My first command was a World War II gasoline tanker, the USS Noxubee, and the first time I got it under way I was out for a week. Coming back, I crashed it into a buoy. It took me about 11 years to recover from that, professionally.”

Moving up: “If after 21 years the Navy had said to me, ‘You’ve commanded three ships, and you’re not going to be promoted anymore,’ I would have said, ‘Thank you very much.’ But the Navy didn’t say that. So you bust into the other side of the hourglass, and the world grows.”

Take stock, take responsibility: “When people ask me about leadership, more than anything else I think about accountability. We live in a world where it is so easy to blame someone else.”

On “Don’t ask, don’t tell”: “It struck me that I’m leading an institution whose main value is integrity—yet I’m asking men and women who are willing to die for their country to lie about who they are every single day.”   

In service: “The military is smaller than it’s ever been—half of 1 percent of the US population. Fewer and fewer American citizens have any connection to the armed forces. A decade later, that’s still a huge concern for me.”

Tracy P. Palandjian (MBA 1997)

CEO and Cofounder, Social Finance

Two worlds: “I’ve always lived with the tension between the two worlds I inhabit: The Chinese values of filial piety, family, and community I grew up with and the sense of individualism, achievement, and self-reliance that I have learned to embrace in America.”

Culture shock: “I showed up at Milton Academy in a proper white blouse, pleated skirt, and flats. Then I walked into a dorm full of girls shooting down the banisters in bare feet and ripped jeans.”

Just do it: “I’ve found that there’s never a perfect path to achieving our vision. We’re always torn between planning and doing. It’s in starting, failing, and trying again that we figure it out.”

Elevator pitch: “Our mission at Social Finance is to mobilize capital to drive social progress. We are pioneering new impact investing approaches, like the Social Impact Bond, to unite uncommon partners around common goals.”

Step change: “In eight years, we have helped build a movement, with over 130 Social Impact Bonds across 27 countries, mobilizing half a billion dollars to tackle our biggest social challenges.”

Purpose-driven: “I love this work because it has the potential to transform the way we finance social change. We’re forging a new mindset that says, if you’re good at what you do, whether it is running a homeless shelter or providing job training, you can access the capital markets to help many more people.”

Álvaro Rodríguez Arregui (MBA 1995)

Cofounder and Managing Partner, IGNIA

Waterwise: “From the first day I rowed, I felt in my element. It taught me so many lessons, including this: The fastest crew is the most efficient at moving through the water—but not necessarily the strongest.”

Dream denied: “Due to a mixture of bad luck and politics, our crew didn’t get to go to the Olympics. That was a very tough moment. What I’ve tried to carry forward from that experience is that while I can’t be 100 percent in control of my destiny, I want to be as much in control as possible.”

Kismet: “At HBS, when I was organizing the Latin America conference, I was told to invite this guy who was CEO of the nonprofit Accion International. He turned out to be Michael Chu (MBA 1976). At the time I had no idea what microfinance was.”

Firestarter: “The Mexico of tomorrow will be built by the entrepreneurs of today. That’s why Michael and I started IGNIA. Today we’re the largest venture capital firm in Mexico, focused on investing in businesses that serve the country’s emerging middle class.”

Small loans, big impact: “I’ve seen firsthand the impact that a $50 loan can have on a mother in Ecuador. It helps provide the circumstances for these women to become the backbone of society.”

Aha moment: “I left my last corporate job when I was 39, and it just came to me: Why should I wait until retirement to follow my passion? This concept of going through purgatory to eventually reach heaven is kind of crazy.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1998, Section A
follow @BeautyCEO
Class of MBA 1966, Section F
follow @MikeBloomberg
Class of AMP 109
Class of MBA 1997, Section D
follow @TracyPalandjian
Class of MBA 1995, Section I
follow @alvarodrigueza

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