Alumni Change Maker Award: Passion meets Purpose


It used to be so easy: business schools could tailor courses to traditional career paths like banking, investing, and consulting, and equip alumni with the know-how to accelerate the career ladder and maximize their salaries. The better the alumni did, the better the colleges did in MBA rankings and the more candidates vied for a spot.

But the equation has changed. Business schools are shaping a generation of leaders in a world that needs sustained growth and persistent calls for social justice in the midst of a climate crisis. Managers are expected to address environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues; Entrepreneurs want to make profits with a purpose.

The curriculum has changed accordingly. For example, they now include ESG electives and more company-specific courses. Many business schools also connect students to entrepreneurial networks, host inspirational lectures, or have set up incubators to get ideas off the ground.

The Alumni Change Makers award highlights what is arguably the most important product of these efforts: the graduates whose job it will be to create and shape the sustainable companies of tomorrow. It celebrates alumni who are taking on society’s challenges head-on, whether in the fields of health, conservation, or manufacturing.

path change

Among them is George Boghos, who has no doubt that business school was crucial in starting his company. “Without the resources, I probably wouldn’t have taken this path,” he says. “I probably would have gone back to a traditional finance role.”

Boghos graduated from the Chicago Booth with an MBA in 2018 and co-founded Autism in Motion (AIM) Clinics while in college. The company provides behavioral therapy for children with autism and focuses on underserved rural populations, particularly in the southeastern United States. In addition to providing clinics, the company has established a scholarship program to help educate the next generation of clinicians.

George Boghos says Chicago Booth “really helped me figure out how [AIM Clinics] is a mission-oriented organization’

Prior to his MBA, Boghos worked in investment banking and private equity, both with a focus on healthcare. He took the course “with the idea of ​​exploring the avenues of entrepreneurship specifically focused on this area of ​​healthcare,” he says, and chose Chicago Booth for its support for entrepreneurship and social impact. It houses the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, which runs an incubator that Boghos has gone through.

“That really helped me define the idea and strategy – it connected me to resources,” he says. “It really helped me to understand how this is a mission-driven organization and how we track and measure the impact we are making.”

material difference

Not all entrepreneurs go to business school with an idea. Johanna Baare worked for a start-up consultancy for six years before starting the Global MBA at IE Business School in Madrid in 2018. During the program she realized that she was interested in building an organization.

For her final thesis, she created the business plan for a potential start-up with a group of fellow students and always had one question in mind: Who is actually doing it? “I’ve always said, ‘Well, I’d like to do this, but I don’t have the idea,'” she says.

Johanna Baare credits her IE MBA for giving her “the perspective and understanding of how things connect” she needs to manage multiple responsibilities in her start-up company © Rico Feldfoss, for the FT

After graduating, Baare joined a German incubator and began mentoring Anne Lamp, who had invented a sustainable alternative to plastic. The two worked well together and found their technical and business backgrounds to be complementary, so in September 2020 they co-founded Traceless Materials to bring the product to market.

As the managing director of a small start-up, Baare takes on tasks ranging from financing and legal advice to hiring. The MBA is helping her, she says, because it has introduced her to a wide range of business concepts, so she knows where to find information and what questions to ask consultants. “You get an overview, an understanding of how things are connected [in a business],” She explains.

Learn a new language

Elisa Dierickx was looking for such insights and perspectives when she enrolled for an MBA at Insead. In 2011, after completing her bachelor’s degree in organismal and evolutionary biology at Harvard, Dierickx moved to Cape Verde to found a non-governmental organization (NGO) for nature conservation on the island of Maio. Its programs include preventing turtle poaching and developing a marine sanctuary.

Over a decade, Dierickx built the Fundação Maio Biodiversidade (FMB) while pursuing other career paths alongside, including a PhD in zoology from the University of Cambridge. But “conservation is really an interdisciplinary field,” she says, and she realized that to make a bigger impact, she needed to bridge the worlds of “nature lovers” — NGOs and academia — and business. “As a first step, I thought the MBA would be perfect. . . It’s good to learn this language, learn the other perspective and learn some of their tools,” says Dierickx.

Matching disciplines: Elisa Dierickx realized that in order to have a greater impact, she needed to create a bridge between the worlds of “nature lovers” – NGOs and academia – and business © Leonardo Graterol, for the FT

The FMB is already using the new perspectives of the business school. Dierickx worked with two professors to write cases involving FMB—one on organizational behavior and one on strategy. The latter was used at Insead’s Master Strategist Day, part of the strategy course where students, in collaboration with mentors from consulting firm Bain, present recommendations on business dilemmas.

“That’s a huge amount of information. . . for us to explore,” says Dierickx. Some of this is already having an impact: As part of the exercise, FMB asked students how they should deal with a tourist spot planned for Maio: should the NGO fight it, ignore it or work with developers? The different perspectives that brought interdisciplinary perspectives “changed the minds of some of our teammates at FMB,” notes Dierickx.

Shop with Chinese characteristics

Social and environmental impacts are not the sole domain of start-ups and NGOs. Highly acclaimed change maker Chaoxing David Fu made his mark at an established Chinese energy company after completing an MBA from China Europe International Business School (Ceibs) in Shanghai.

Fu left China at the age of 12 and pursued a career in Silicon Valley. But when he flew to northern China for a friend’s wedding in 2015, he looked out of the plane as it landed and saw a blanket of smog. It was, he says, a turning point: “I said to myself, ‘Enough is enough. i want to change something I want to make a difference.” That’s why I decided to return to China.”

This article appears in the January 19 issue of FT Magazine Responsible Business Education

Ceibs approached him for insights into China’s business culture and networking opportunities. “A lot of things that we learn in the West, like the techniques or marketing terms or methods in the US, don’t apply in China,” Fu says. “So we learned the same skills with Chinese characteristics. That’s a big part of what Ceibs offered.”

In 2020, Fu became a full-time board member of Gujiao Guosheng Coalbed Methane Company in Shanxi Province. His work includes building a strategic partnership with local government to increase public use of natural gas for heating and cooking instead of coal. He is also trying to stabilize the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) so that local transport can invest in LNG truck fleets instead of diesel. The next step is to build storage units for LNG to minimize gas flaring.

Nearly seven years after his smoky revelation, Fu is proud of what he’s accomplished. “Every time you see the blue sky, you feel like you did it,” he says.

A chance for change

It’s a feeling that could hit Gaetano Lapenta. In his Executive MBA graduation speech at Italy’s Politecnico di Milano School of Management in 2019, he focused on one message: that the cohort was given a chance to succeed in something they were passionate about.

Before the course, Lapenta was Head of Innovation at construction company Focchi Group, but felt uneasy – he is, as he says, a person who needs “fire”. Today he is co-founder and CEO of Fybra, a start-up specializing in indoor air quality. Its smart sensors indicate exactly when more ventilation is needed in offices and classrooms, maximizing both air quality and energy efficiency. The algorithm used can also be adjusted to minimize the transmission of airborne diseases such as Covid-19.

Gaetano Lapenta, co-founder of Fybra: “The good match between passion and reality came from the hard skills of the MBA” © Susi Belianska, for the FT

The idea came to Lapenta during his time at the Politecnico di Milano and he applied for a patent in January 2020. About 18 months later he left Focchi to go it alone and formed Fybra with co-founder Marco Scaramelli.

Lapenta says he did an EMBA because he “felt this passion that burned, but . . . didn’t have the tools to make it a reality.” But now his quest has turned into a real business. “The good match between passion and reality came with the hard skills of the MBA,” he says.

As inspiring as such projects are, some alumni feel that business schools have more to do when it comes to teaching ESG. For example, shortlisted Harry Hely-Hutchinson, a recent Iese graduate, says that while he would not have started his business without the MBA, there is room for improvement. In his opinion, there is “still a strong focus on the traditional career paths like consulting and finance because that’s good for the rankings” – at the expense of start-ups and entrepreneurship.

Shortlist colleague Giorgia Granata, who completed an MBA from the London Business School in 2018, also attributes many advantages to the course, such as valuable knowledge and a strong network. But she adds that sustainability was still treated as a “side issue” even though it should have been built into the core curriculum – it’s just too important to be optional.

Winners and judges are listed below; The full shortlist is available here.

The judge

Rodney Appiah
Cornerstone Partner

Steve Davis
Stanford University/Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Andre Hoffman

Jacqueline Novogrätz

Felix Olale
LeapFrog Investments

Paul Polman

Oliver Rothschild
Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation

Matthew Vincent
financial times


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