One way to measure the impact of Yale SOM’s mission is to look at how it has changed the way its graduates lead and influence organizations. We gathered several Yale SOM alumni to ask, “When has the mission made a difference in your life?” A vigorous conversation ensued.
- Curtis Chin ’90
Asia Center Fellow, Milken Institute
- Maud Daudon ’83
Executive Leader, Career Connect Washington
- Scott Davidson ’93
CEO and Manager, SSD, LLC
- Liz Gips ’89
Chief Strategy Officer, Village Health Works
- Lindsay Greene ’11
Senior Advisor, Economic Development, New York City Mayor’s Office
- Shannon Marimón ’10
Executive Director, ReadyCT
- Arthur Mizne ’95
CEO, M Square Investimentos
- Jeff Schroeder ’90
Senior Director, The Goldman Sachs Group
Maud Daudon: Yale SOM’s mission has made a difference at every juncture of my career path. My career has gone from private to public to another public to private to nonprofit and so on. I’ve seen first-hand that the sectors have preconceptions about one another and that bridging between them is a vital part of coming to solutions to our toughest challenges.
Right now I’m working on a project for the governor of the State of Washington, connecting students to career paths earlier in their lives. This requires stakeholders from the business sector, from the government sector, obviously from education, from nonprofit communities and NGOs.
There are different languages used in different sectors that can be confusing to the others, and yet they so desperately need one another. Businesses are struggling in our state to find talent. Educators want students to have experiences with business. But finding each other and building those partnerships is really challenging. People who can do that translational work can forge really interesting solutions.
Arthur Mizne: For me, I’ve had a career entirely in the private sector. But I think it’s really not that different. Yes, there are nuances and people tend to self-select into who works in the public sector or in the private sector. You have different kinds of bosses and different kinds of constituents, but you need probably 90% of the same skills.
I think what I took from SOM over my career is really the society part of the mission. I work with investments. Now it’s very much in vogue to talk about impact investing or responsible investing. That is something I’ve always thought you cannot separate. Every investment you make has to be good for returns, good for our clients in the long term, and that cannot happen if it is bad for society.
Another way to put it is that in my firm, when we make investments, one of the things that is a pillar of how we select investments is alignment of interest. I’ve seen time and time again that if our interests are aligned with the manager, the outcome is better. Usually the returns are also better, but the overall outcome is better. You can remain invested for longer periods of time. Even if there is a rough patch, you tend to ride it out. A key part of the alignment of interest is, how do they think about the world? It’s not just, do they have money invested in the fund or do they work hard? Of course, that’s super important. But it’s also how they think about the world. What is fair? What is good? What are the tradeoffs you make or don’t make? I think that has helped us choose partners and investors that end up doing better because the way they look at the world is more comprehensive than people who don’t give enough importance to the impact of what they’re doing in society.
Maud Daudon: Building on what Arthur said, it’s always been a touchstone for me that you never would do something that wasn’t in the interests of, not just the specific player that you’re advocating for, but also the community or society as a whole.
I don’t necessarily think this is everyone’s first out-of-the-gate viewpoint, but if you unleash this, it’s a very powerful aspect of getting people on the same page, because generally speaking, people want to do the right thing.
Scott Davidson: When I was searching for a specific event where the mission made a difference in my life, it occurred to me that it’s really bigger than any one moment.
When I think back over my business career, which has had three distinct phases—working for a large organization, working for a medium-sized investment company, and now running a family business—the way that I’ve felt distinctive within those organizations is that I tend to care about how the business affects individuals. The role of business, in my view, is to make the lives of everyone it touches better: its employees, its customers, and its shareholders. Of course, it doesn’t work if the business isn’t successful, but it is key to focus on improving the lives and touchpoints of everyone involved in the business, as opposed to simply focusing on bottom-line results.
Maybe the best example that I can give is, in the family business, we’ve had some employees who have worked for the business for over 50 years, some who continue to work into their 80s and 90s. That’s because it gives their lives meaning. In many other businesses, they may no longer have a job or be wanted. For us, it’s the opposite, because they have so much institutional knowledge, they have so much concern for the customers, and they have so much care for the business—the business as a living, breathing entity, not solely a moneymaking entity. Their value can’t be overestimated.
Lindsay Greene: I really appreciate the point about people. That was my biggest takeaway from SOM—that a business rises and falls on the success of its people, and how well set up the people are to fulfill the mission of the organization. A lot of people miss that. I spent a lot of time working in very young food startups. I would say the majority of the artisanal food industry has not figured out what the meaning of human capital is, let alone how to develop the strategy for it.
Jeff Schroeder: I’ve long believed that relationships are a key currency, in any context, whether it be in a university, or in business, or in the public sector. Relationships are key. Yale SOM taught me how to connect and how to build relationships. Yes, I learned a lot of technical knowledge, but the ability to learn from my classmates, learn from an outstanding faculty and staff, and to build relationships is what I remember the most and what has helped me the most.
I think where it really stood out for me, during my 30 years at Goldman Sachs, was in building our international businesses. What I learned from Yale SOM and I tried to apply throughout my career is, how do you bring people together, how do you build a team, how do you do your best to drive excellence and to encourage creativity and communication and teamwork?
I was responsible for building out our business in Bengaluru, India. It was invigorating to work on something that was entrepreneurial—hiring talented people, particularly young people or lateral hires, getting them to work together, espousing teamwork, getting them to connect globally across all of our other major business centers. From a standing start, we grew to about 7,000 people, and Bengaluru is now the second-largest office after New York. It was also a boon for the local economy in India. So we worked very closely not only with business leaders in India, but with the government, to build this enterprise. So it was investing in the people, investing in the country, investing in the culture, all while trying to build an international best-in-class organization.
Shannon Marimón: The world doesn’t go around unless you actually invest in your employees and ensure that they’re feeling appreciated and inspired and motivated by the work and the mission of your organization. I think SOM cultivates that in its students and its graduates, so that we’re always attentive to that as employees and as employers.
Like Maud, I’ve worked across sectors and now I’m focused on the education space. I worked at Google, and then immediately following SOM worked for a large nonprofit that operated more like a corporation, and then switched into the public sector in state government, which was very eye-opening. Now I am running a nonprofit.
I feel often that I am living the mission of SOM, in the sense that I am sitting at the intersection of business, education, and the public sector. I work at a nonprofit that does public policy advocacy for education and workforce development. I’m constantly navigating between the worlds of policymakers, legislators, the office of the governor, business leaders, community-based organizations, and even the federal government.
I came in to my new role with this idea that I wanted to think differently. My first priority was to lead the nonprofit through a process to clarify our brand identity and value proposition. Our refined mission is achieved through coordination and communication across and among business, civic, and education leaders, and we can’t do it without that cross-sector collaboration and breaking down silos.
Everything from my experiences and learnings at SOM completely informed that process, and allowed me to bring a clear vision to my board of directors and get their buy-in and support in making a pretty substantive change in our organization’s direction.
Maud Daudon: It always makes me shudder a little when I hear somebody from a company talk about bureaucrats as people who don’t get anything done. Having worked in the government sector, I would say that the most dedicated, professional, competent, hardworking people are as likely to be in government as in business.
Shannon Marimón: I think it was Professor Paul Bracken who always referred to the second bounce of the ball—that it’s always important to think about where the ball is going to go next based on how different stakeholders might react to a given situation. In the education sector, there has historically been a lot of distrust when it comes to the for-profit sector. There are some wounds that need to be addressed, and so I anticipate this when I walk into a room. I’m ready to show that there are really, really good, well-intended people in the for-profit sector who want to make a difference and be the ambassadors for the business community. They fully recognize and appreciate that they can’t ultimately be successful without considering and investing in the long-term impact of our educational system.
Lindsay Greene: One thing I take from the mission is that it’s important that when you’re in a leadership position in any sector, you think about your responsibility in a broad way and understand that when you make choices, there are downstream effects on people. We need to remind ourselves that these are not just numbers or bullet points on a page; they translate into impacts on human beings.
Take, for example, this issue in New York about the delivery bikes for all the food we all order. A lot of the delivery people now ride bikes with electric motors, and there are complaints and concerns about the bikers breaking traffic laws and going too fast. There are discussions about how to enforce but also about changing the bikes so they can only operate in a safe way, but there are also questions about the trends that are incentivizing this whole structure. Delivering food has been a job in NYC for decades and this is how people earn their livelihood. They’re out there in the rain, in the snow. Yet people complain while sitting in apartments demanding food as fast as possible. So there is just way more to this than you might think.
When we’re trying to make policy decisions in my world, we need to work to bring in all sides. When we are having these debates, we have different teams with different perspectives. They bring me in to defend the business community. I’m also sometimes the one talking about the workers, so it’s a funny dynamic, but an interesting one.
Curtis Chin: One important point that I believe in very strongly is that if you really are going to have an impact on society, you need to understand business. It goes both ways, too. Business also needs to understand the larger society in which it operates.
I began my career in business, continued in business after SOM, but then had the chance to go in and out of government, and now in and out of the nonprofit and startup world.
I’ve just come back from Timor-Leste, which is Asia’s newest nation. It’s a tiny little country, a former Portuguese colony granted independence but then invaded by Indonesia. It only regained its independence some 18 years ago. I was there meeting with government officials, meeting with young political leaders. And as this country tries to move forward, my message to them was very much an SOM one. It’s that as you take Timor-Leste forward, you really need to understand the importance of building an enabling environment for business so that business can succeed and create jobs and grow the economy. These sectors need to interact—public, private, civil society—to bring a country forward.
I think the reality is that as things move forward, we’ll see how what we thought is just business, or government, or the nonprofit sector, kind of blend and merge together.
Before coming to Yale SOM, I was a volunteer in Washington for a group called Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, which is a nonprofit focused on social entrepreneurship. You’re taking business skills to create more sustainable institutions or organizations that can have an impact.
Fast forward all of these decades later, and I think that notion of social entrepreneurship is thriving and growing. And I think we’ll see more of that blending of goals. And for me, that’s the mission of SOM, no matter what words we use, and hopefully I continue to add my own little contributions to making that mission come alive.
Liz Gips: There are a lot of echoes of what others are saying in my story. I was really drawn to SOM because of the mission and the notion that SOM was training leaders for multiple sectors. I always knew that I wanted to have an impact in international development, but I wasn’t drawn to one particular sector to do that.
When I graduated, I decided to work in international consulting and worked for a boutique consulting firm and very much applied my SOM skills. After a couple of years, I realized that I wasn’t making quite the impact that I wanted to. I loved working in emerging economies but I really wanted to focus more directly on a specific challenge. So I decided to make a pivot to education and went from the for-profit sector into the nonprofit sector. I ended up initially focusing on solving domestic challenges, working with an early incubator that funded new approaches and new designs for U.S. public schools. And then I was able to pivot back into the international space and have worked in the public sector for USAID and then for the African Leadership Academy and now for Village Health Works.
So many of my classmates have also had careers that cross sectors, and I think I really have seen that it’s not crazy to think about that kind of career. It’s actually really empowering. When I was working in government for USAID and trying to help launch a leadership development program in Africa, the fact that I had worked on the nonprofit side, actually doing the work, gave me an appreciation for the role that innovators can play. And that helped me encourage people in government to think beyond their typical approach to the kind of partners they would work with and think about how government can play a role in taking new approaches and scaling them up.
And I think increasingly with the really big problems—problems in health, problems in education, problems in climate, challenges with democracy—having a multi-sectoral approach, either literally by bringing people in different sectors together or even if you sit in one seat, having an appreciation for the other players, is crucial. Absolutely crucial.