Donaldson Fellows Reflect on Careers Devoted to Business and Society
The 2021-22 Donaldson Fellows, five alumni recognized for embodying the Yale SOM mission in their personal and professional lives, spoke about their values and careers during a visit to campus this spring.
Since 2010, the Yale School of Management has named six cohorts of Donaldson Fellows. The program honors alumni from all sectors who share a dedication to solving complex problems and pursuing positive change across the globe—who, in short, embody the school’s mission of educating leaders for business and society.
In April, the five alumni who were named 2021-2022 Donaldson Fellows came to campus for a day of conversations with students, in which they discussed their careers and how young leaders can effect change no matter the professional path they choose. The fellows talked in interviews about how they view leadership, how best to have an impact, and how the school’s mission has helped guide their professional lives.
Lori Hotz ’94, co-founder and co-CEO of Lobus, was a leader in the asset management space for two decades, rising to COO at Lazard, Barclays, and Lehman Brothers, before changing direction and moving into the art world, where she led Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art division. Moved by the fact that artists rarely benefit from secondary sales of their work, she cofounded Lobus, an art management platform which uses Web3 technology to help artists create, market, and distribute NFTs, execute “smart contracts,” and retain fractional ownership of their digital and physical art after its initial sale.
“At SOM I learned not to think about problem solving as a zero-sum game,” Hotz said, “That’s why, at Lobus, we strive to create a bigger marketplace, a bigger opportunity set for our investors, for the artists that we work with, as well as within our team.”
The company uses technology in service of larger goals, she added. “What’s so fascinating about blockchain, smart contracts, and NFTs is they allow a much more diverse array of artists to participate in their markets economically, but also enable them to connect directly with larger, more engaged communities. That’s the real impact that we’re having. And the genesis of that, for me, is what I learned at SOM, which underscored a focus on inclusion, diversity and social impact.”
Jane Mendillo ’84 spent more than 30 years as a leader in the fields of endowment and investment management. Her first job after completing her undergraduate education at Yale was in the Yale Investment Office—a role that sparked an interest in financial markets and eventually an application to SOM. After receiving her MBA, she moved to Boston to work at Bain and then moved to the Harvard Management Company (HMC), where she spent 15 years as an investor. She left Harvard to become the first chief investment officer at Wellesley College. In 2008, she was named CEO of the HMC, leading the largest university endowment through the global financial crisis, while helping to move the fund toward more sustainable investments through the incorporation of environmental, social, and governance factors into its investment decisions.
“It’s really important to balance success and impact,” Mendillo said. “This is harder than it sounds. It’s easy to become so focused on success that you lose focus on having an impact on the world. We can see examples of people who become rich and famous, who could have huge impact but don’t—and there are others who have way outsized impact relative to where they work or what their fame and fortune might be.”
Finding that balance is central to the SOM culture, she said. “It comes through in the education and the experiences with colleagues here and after we graduate, and across every sector in our careers. Yes, people want success and they work very hard for it. But the mission of SOM – and the message to its graduates—is to never lose sight of the greater role you have in society. I don’t think you can be truly successful if you don’t try to have an impact as well.”
Amanda Skinner ’08 is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. Her career has also included clinical work—she spent a decade as a nurse midwife—and helping the Yale New Haven Health System build out its population health, clinical integration, and value-based care operations.
“I like to be intrapreneurial,” she said. “I like to do new things in existing spaces. I like to go into an organization at the time when something is changing or something new is happening and be part of the next evolution or the next metamorphosis of things. And I feel most successful, most professionally proud of myself when I’m doing work that is in alignment with my personal values and where I’m having an impact in my communities.”
SOM taught her to translate those values into action, she said. “The education that I got here and the community I was surrounded by were crucial parts to advancing my own ability to actually translate that into something real when I left SOM and built a career.”
Catherine Smith ’83 spent the majority of her career in the retirement and financial services, rising to CEO of ING’s U.S. retirement business, helping it to build more than $280 billion in assets. She retired from the private sector in 2011 to become commissioner of economic and community development for the State of Connecticut, helping to guide its economy in the wake of the global financial crisis. She currently serves as chair of Outward Bound USA.
“I’m a real believer that if you don’t have your values attached to the things you’re dedicating your life towards, it’s going to be hard to be as motivated and engaged,” she said. “And so it’s been a really important component for me to be working in areas like retirement, where we’re helping thousands of people make sure they have enough to retire successfully. Or with Outward Bound where we’re touching 50,000 students a year, and helping them determine that there’s more in them than they realize. And so that’s been a really core driver for me.
Returning to campus made it clear that the values that have informed her career remain touchstones at SOM, she said. “Talking to people at lunch today, I feel that there’s that same sense of, we’re after something bigger and more important here than just getting a business degree. And I find that compelling and exciting about SOM.”
After stints in consulting, nonprofits, publishing, and government service, Josh Wright ’98 built Ideas42, a company that applies behavioral science to public policy, nonprofits, and private sector organizations. As the company’s executive director he has helped push behavioral science out of academia and into the practical realm.
The skills he learned at SOM have been key to launching a new venture, Wright said. “When you’re at business school, there’s a lot of focus on the hard skills, like building financial models, thinking about business strategy, creating a marketing campaign. Those things are quite helpful in the first five years of your career, but as you become more of a leader and a manager of people, you start to recall things from organizational behavior class and the leadership and management classes that you took. As I’ve grown as a leader, my appreciation for the full skillset SOM provides has only deepened.
Yale SOM’s focus on its mission has provided a model for making values central in his own organization, he added. “As a leader, you have to lead with values and you can’t be phony about it, because those values permeate through an organization and they help determine how people see you and how you drive your organization forward. People don’t want to follow some strategic plan or financial model. They want to follow a mission; they want to follow values. The values and mission of SOM has been an ongoing learning tool and something that has really driven and helped me as a leader.”