SOM prepares graduates for varied careers

The philosophy that inspired Seth Goldman SOM ’95 to co-found Honest Tea was the same one that motivated him to matriculate at the Yale School of Management more than a decade ago.

“I look to do things differently,” Goldman said. “I don’t want to be doing things the usual way, and I didn’t want to be at a business school that encouraged people to do things the usual way.”

Goldman’s decision to leave the Calvert Group — a well-established mutual fund — to found an all-natural bottled tea company with SOM professor Barry Nalebuff is anything but business as usual, but stories of creative alumni jumping across sectors are not uncommon at SOM.

“Students who come to SOM come with such a wide range of perspectives,” Goldman said. “Students at other business schools are more likely to take consulting or investment banking jobs because they tend to have a narrower lens, whereas a lot of times students come to SOM having not only an interest but prior experience in non-profits.”

Relative to its peer business schools, SOM sends a similar proportion of its graduates to work in financial and consulting services. A side-by-side comparison of employment statistics for the classes of 2005 at SOM and Harvard Business School show the proportion of students going into either finance or consulting to be 59 percent at both institutions.

Yet SOM sent 4 percent of its 2005 graduates to work in the government and 5 percent to work in the nonprofit sector, whereas only 3.4 percent of Harvard’s class went into government or nonprofit work. For the same year, only 3 percent of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business went to work in the nonprofit sector, and no graduates went into government.

SOM Dean Joel Podolny said his experience with school alumni indicates that student aspirations are not only more diverse than at other top business schools, they also tend to encompass an interest in management’s potential for positive societal impact. Tim Collins, the founder and CEO of private equity firm Ripplewood Investments, is an example of an alumnus whose business decisions — in particular, the acquisition of the failing Long Term Credit Bank of Japan during a banking crisis that followed the explosion of the country’s real estate bubble — had a positive social impact, Podolny said in an e-mail.

“He turned the bank around, and in the process provided a model for other Japanese banks that enabled the industry to emerge from the crisis,” Podolny said.

SOM also has a history of producing graduates who don’t shy away from risky career decisions and abrupt moves, Podolny said. Leslie Koch ’84 SOM ’89 currently serves as president of the Governor’s Island Preservation and Education Corporation — a government organization responsible for developing Governor’s Island off the coast of Manhattan — but she began her post-SOM career at Microsoft’s marketing department.

“I was at Microsoft at a time when it was just a software company in Seattle that most people had never heard of,” Koch said. “I enjoyed working there as a project manager, but I knew that what I really wanted ultimately was to return to New York and get into the non-profit sector.”

Koch’s decision to move away from the popular private sector in favor of public sector work led to her involvement in the New York City public school system — the largest public school system in the country — where she served as CEO of the Fund for Public Schools and worked to build support and partnerships between private corporations and the public school system.

“I always had cross-sectoral interests,” Koch said. “I had worked in the public sector prior to coming to SOM, and even when I was in the private sector, I served on several boards and remained very focused on community service.”

SOM’s new interdisciplinary curriculum aims to serve current students who, like Koch, are eager to explore intersections of management practice between various sectors. But alumni say the interdisciplinary curriculum will also continue SOM’s tradition of honoring socially responsible business.

“At other schools students interested in non-profit or the public sector feel like they’re outliers or on the fringe,” Goldman said. “They’re discouraged from speaking up in class about something soft, like the environmental impacts of a case study. At SOM that kind of inquiry is not only accepted, it’s almost expected.”

Nancy Pfund SOM ’82, a managing director at J.P. Morgan, said that attitude remains with SOM graduates long after they leave the school.

“The idea is that you can take great people and great ideas to transform an industry one company at a time,” Pfund said. “Social responsibility and diversity are common buzzwords at management schools these days, but back then it really wasn’t part of the business parlance. But SOM was clearly able to focus its students on learning to balance and optimize financial and social return.”

Pfund — who manages the Bay Area Equity Fund with fellow alum Mike Dorsey SOM ’81 — described it as an “SOM-like” fund that is just as concerned about its social effects as its financial profits.

“It’s a double bottom line venture capitalist fund, so you’re going to great lengths to achieve extraordinary social, economic and environmental return for the community you’re serving,” said Pfund, whose fund strives to invest in companies near low-income neighborhoods to generate more jobs and a greater tax base for local residents. “It’s very similar to the kind of development Yale has done in the surrounding New Haven area, and I think SOM has contributed a lot to that ethos of service and giving back.”

Director of SOM Alumni Relations Pat St. Germain said graduates’ diversity of career choices directly relates to the school’s mission of producing leaders for both business and society.

“They are absolutely fulfilling SOM’s mission, there is no doubt about it,” St. Germain said.

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