Vermont’s Sustainable, Innovative Roots

It’s popular to think of the 1960s and 1970s as a time when the hippie and counter-culture movements found and flooded Vermont — “turn on, drop out” and all that.

Lesser known is the history of that time when, although many moved to Vermont to find and build a different way to live, a number also were inspired to find and build a different way to do business. Some of Vermont’s most iconic brands — like Ben & Jerry’s and Burton Snowboards — were born out of this spirit, and have set the standard for an approach to business that emphasizes multiple bottom lines.

The Jogbra, which revolutionized women’s sports and is in the permanent collection at the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institute, was invented here in Vermont in 1977. One of the inventors, Hinda Miller, is a member of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Advisory Board, and is very active in helping our students think about and launch careers in sustainable, innovative businesses.

Listen to Hinda — trained as a theatrical costume designer — talk about her Vermont entrepreneurial awakening in this podcast produced by the Vermont Historical Society, the Vermont Humanities Council, and VTDigger.

Podcast:  Before Your Time: From communes to commerce

Alumni in Review: Dana Gulley, Class of 2017

Dana Gulley ’17 is a consultant in private practice. She was the valedictorian of the Class of 2017. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

What have you been up to since graduation?

Making a whole new life for myself! I launched my own consulting practice, Third Peak Solutions, and spent much of the fall working from the road while my partner and I traveled around the west (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico) figuring out a new place to call home. In November my partner landed a position at a very cool organization called Adventure Scientists and just after Thanksgiving we moved to Bozeman, Montana. After spending 30 years living in the Northeast, moving to big sky country is a pretty big life change. It’s somewhat terrifying, but mostly thrilling. Now that I’m settling into my new home, I’m focused on defining exactly what Third Peak Solutions does: organizational development consulting with conservation non-profits? Sustainable strategy consulting with for-profits? A little bit of both?

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I’m passionate about environmental conservation and eager to see this work improved by a) building more effective and sustainable non-profits and b) engaging the business community to do their part in innovative and impactful ways. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has the values that match my own and attracts a community of students, faculty and business partners that we must lean into if this important work is going to gain the momentum it deserves.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

Developing relationships with the people in my cohort academically, professionally and personally. As I work to build my own practice, I’m eager to emphasize team work in the way that The Sustainable Innovation MBA modeled it. Working with a team strengthens work products and makes the experience more rewarding.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

I’m taking risks, staying true to my desire to transform business as usual, focused on building teams to tackle big problems, and figuring out how to balance an emphasis on non-profits and for-profits.

What would you tell someone who is considering the Sustainable Innovation MBA?

The program is not for everyone. You will not emerge with a clear set of pre-described next steps for making the world a better place. Instead, you will have a mindset, a network, and a toolkit of skills that will enable you to be entrepreneurial in building your own, unique path forward. The Sustainable Innovation MBA will serve you if you’re someone who is committed to keeping your brain switched on to constantly find better ways to make a difference. It’s a degree for movers and shakers.

When Things In The Classroom Get “Ruff”

This post was written by Ben Hastings ’18

All dog lovers know the feeling. When you come home from a long day and receive a warm greeting from your four-legged friend – it’s almost as if the stresses of the day melt away with a few wags of the tail and a walk around the block.

Fortunately for us at The Sustainable Innovation MBA, we don’t have to wait until we get home to experience this joy. Meet Willy Wonka, a 3-year-old chocolate lab who has bounded into Kalkin 110 as our 31st classmate during Professor Erik Monsen’s “Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model” class.

Throughout the course of the class, our learning teams have come up with various entrepreneurial ventures. One of the most important processes in determining if the venture is viable is mapping out what the value proposition of the company is.

Prior to creating value proposition maps for our entrepreneurial ventures, Dr. Monsen suggested we first practice on Willy Wonka. He was a prime subject for this class exercise. In creating a value proposition map, one needs to ask 3 questions of the business — or in this case, a lovable pooch.

Question: What are the services that he provides (or in this case, what does he do)?

Answer: Enjoys sports (fetch, obstacle courses, etc.), lover of all things outdoors, likes people, loves to eat (hopefully, he doesn’t love to eat people — Editor)

Question: How is Willy a pain reliever?

Answer: Encourages exercise, provides comfort, absorbs negative emotion  and reduces stress, acts as a home security system

Question: How is Willy a gain creator?

Answer: Makes exercise fun, provides opportunities to cuddle, delivers a sense of achievement when he learns tricks

Willy Wonka doesn’t just demonstrate his value around the house. His “dad” is a professor of entrepreneurship, so naturally he has a few different jobs. As a certified therapy dog, Willy Wonka can be seen around campus during exam season providing stress relief to students. When he’s off-campus, you may be able to spot him at your local library, where children read to him. He loves a great story, but it’s hard to know exactly what his favorite genre is. He was even a tester for last year’s cohort’s recycled dog toy company, RePawposed.

I know what you’re thinking: his resume is getting much longer than yours. I think I speak for the rest of the cohort when I say we are all striving to achieve Willy Wonka levels of success.

 

 

CEO Profile: Andrew Arnott of John Hancock Investments

This post was written by Taylor Mikell ’18

Late in 2017, I interviewed Andrew Arnott, CEO of John Hancock Investments. I am fortunate to be acquainted with Mr. Arnott through the school where I worked for the past eight years, and as the leader of a large, high profile organization, I was curious to hear his perspectives on the concepts of leadership and teamwork that we’ve discussed in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

Mr. Arnott describes his background as somewhat atypical among public company CEOs in that he had lots of operations experience, but relatively little formal leadership training, when he started as CEO. His style is therefore largely self-taught, but I was not surprised that his sentiments echoed what The Sustainable Innovation MBA has taught us so far.

A theme that recurred throughout our conversation is that Mr. Arnott sees his role much more as a people-managing job rather than a task-managing job. From his stated goal of assembling his core team so that he can (humbly) say “I’m the dumbest one in the room,” to insisting that “our business can’t be successful unless our customers are successful,” Mr. Arnott stressed in all his answers that maintaining personal relationships and strong organizational culture are key pieces of his job description. He underscored this point by repeating that his goal was to create a family-like atmosphere. For example, on the day I spoke with him, he had been to an office holiday party at a branch office in Portsmouth, NH in order to “stay visible and accessible to the people there.”

One challenge for him is that, since he has intimate knowledge of his business’ operations, he has to consciously work to not get too far “down in the weeds” with minutiae because, although he cares deeply about these details, “if you come across as too frantic or intense then you become unapproachable and you lose touch with people.” For me, this idea harkened back to Joe Fusco’s oft-quoted line that “leadership is a love affair with the truth.” In order to make the best decisions for his organization, Mr. Arnott’s strategy is to carefully manage all the personal relationships his job presents so that he knows he has the best possible information — the truth. Very consistent with The Sustainable Innovation MBA worldview!

 

Alumni in Review: Taylor Ralph, Class of 2017

Taylor Ralph ’17 is a project manager with SSG Advisors, leading engagement with multi-national food and beverage corporation investigating opportunities for partnership within its agricultural supply chain across emerging markets, with focus on small-holder farmers in Latin America, North Africa, and South Asia. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

Image result for taylor ralph

What have you been up to since graduation?

I’ve had the privilege of working with SSG Advisors (based right here in Burlington), an international development firm that seeks to harness the power of partnerships to achieve sustainability objectives. I’ve been project managing on a small team working closely with PepsiCo’s Sustainable Agriculture team who is eager to build partnership muscle across their procurement and sourcing departments. At it’s root, PepsiCo is an agricultural company, procuring fruit, vegetable, dairy, and commodity crops across over 40 countries and from a variety of farmers (from large commercial operations to small-holder farmers in emerging markets), as you might imagine this opens up PepsiCo to a variety of challenges and risks — and of course, opportunities. Our team has been developing a Partnership Playbook to help the organization engage the necessary stakeholders to address these challenges and ultimately achieve their Performance with Purpose goals around sustainable sourcing; necessary stakeholders might include anyone from bi-laterals to development banks to impact investors to research organizations to foundations to NGOs to civil society organizations and of course, the producers themselves. We are also going into the field to develop three specific partnership concepts around sustainable agronomic practices in emerging market contexts.

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I was looking for a program that aligned with my values: that business can and should be used as a force for positive change. I also knew that I needed to learn the language of business to have the impact I wanted to have in the world.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

The collaborative nature of the work environment, by far. Learning to work with diverse personalities was enriching and also helped prepare me for the work I seek to do going forward: create a common language among diverse actors to achieve sustainability objectives.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

My practicum involved working with a large multi-national corporation to develop business strategies that address the needs of emerging market actors. I was able to dig into a specific value chain (small-holder farmers producing fresh vegetables from farm to retail in São Paulo, Brasil) and explore ways that a large, matrixed refrigeration corporation could provide cold-chain solutions and prevent food waste in that context. At PepsiCo, I am engaging in similar market research and working to investigate how a large group with seemingly disparate objectives might align with other actors in the value chain to achieve development goals. In my experience, it’s been about creating that common language, and SEMBA helped me learn how to translate.

What would you tell someone who is considering the Sustainable Innovation MBA?

What SEMBA lacks in scale of alumni network, they make up for in richness of connection. If you’re looking to challenge your assumptions about the way the world works, this is the program for you. Also – I’m happy to speak more with anyone interested in learning more.

Alumni in Review: Aditi Datta, Class of 2017

Aditi Datta ’17 is an Account Manager at Select Design, a strategic brand consultancy and design agency located in Burlington, Vermont whose clients include Doritos, Mountain Dew, Jim Beam, and Dunkin Donuts. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I always knew I wanted to go back to school eventually but I wasn’t exactly sure for what. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program actually fell into my lap (because I was moving to Vermont one way or another) but I ultimately decided to do the program because of the emphasis on looking at things differently. Though I couldn’t articulate it before the program, I’ve learned that I am naturally inclined to solve problems through an atypical lens and encourage my peers/colleagues to do the same. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program was attractive because it seemed to be more focused on perspective and less focused on quantitative jargon, like traditional MBAs.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

I feel like this is a trick question! Above all else, the friends I’ve made through The Sustainable Innovation MBA program (past and present cohorts) are invaluable. Even though we aren’t sitting in the same room all day, every day I know that every person in my cohort has my best interest in mind and genuinely supports me in everything I do. Additionally, it was incredibly unique to be a part of a program — focused on sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship — that was actually a startup itself. It was both challenging and rewarding to take an objective look at the program and provide feedback that would continue to enhance the experience for future cohorts.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

More than anything, I find myself using the vocabulary and tools learned in our various leadership and teamwork classes. Things like “how do I do this on Excel” are easy enough to Google but not everyone is well-equipped to discuss why a certain co-worker is rubbing so many people the wrong way or what actions can be taken to remedy this. Especially in a flat organization like Select Design, I’ve found that everyone is a leader in a sense so I try to offer assistance to my co-workers who are trying to navigate this unusual structure by using tools/skills learned in the program.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

1.  The year will be over before you know it so take time to get to know your classmates outside of the classroom. They will be your biggest advocates and best “letters of recommendation.”

2.  It’s OK to not know exactly what you want to do after the program is over but don’t wait until August to start introducing yourself to the right people.

3.  Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself; everyone is new and everyone is nervous.

Is Wall Street Waking Up To The Benefits of Sustainability?

There’s something brewing among our economy’s biggest institutional investors, risk analysts, and economic forecasters.

Larry Fink is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment firms with over $6 trillion in assets under its management. Each year, Fink writes to the CEOs of leading companies in which its clients are shareholders. “As a fiduciary,” Fink states, “I write on their behalf to advocate governance practices that BlackRock believes will maximize long-term value creation for their investments.”

In this year’s letter, Fink urges business leaders to focus on “long-term value creation”. BlackRock also said its “engagement priorities” for talking to CEOs would include climate risk and boardroom diversity.

Also included in the letter is this paragraph:

“Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth: sustainability of the business model and its operations, attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company, and recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates. A global company needs to be local in every single one of its markets.”

As they say, read the whole thing.

BlackRock is not alone.  Fund giant Vanguard, which led a successful shareholder resolution on climate disclosure and strategies at ExxonMobil, also declared climate risk and gender diversity “defining themes” of its investment strategy.

Our mission at The Sustainable Innovation MBA is to build and launch the next generation of business, enterprise, and organizational leaders who are exceptionally well-equipped to create, and lead in, this new world.

The Year In Review: The Grossman School of Business

In addition to being ranked as the best Green MBA in the United States by the Princeton Review, The Sustainable Innovation MBA is a flagship program at the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business. The Grossman School of Business has as its mission to prepare students — undergraduates as well as post-graduates — to be thoughtful, agile business leaders in a complex and dynamic global environment.

The just-released Dean’s Report for 2017 details a year of continued accolades, growth, and student success for the School. Click here — or the picture above — to read the Report.

Learn more about The Sustainable Innovation MBA, or download our e-book here.

Making Time for Reflection: Module 2 Comes to An End

This post was written by Greg Paylor ’18

The final two weeks of Module 2 have arrived! As have exams, the due dates of many individual assignments, and many team related deliverables. It’s an exciting time and the pressure dial has been cranked up a few notches. In an intensive MBA program such as this one, especially now, I find myself completing tasks and moving on to the next in rapid succession.

Finding time to both reflect on and celebrate successful team projects, or debrief on things that could have worked better, has often taken a backseat to other pressing needs.

One of my favorite assignments from this module came in our Leading for Sustainable Innovation class with Professor Kenneth De Roeck. We were asked to write two “Leadership Reflection” papers on past experiences we have had pertaining to leadership and motivation. Professor De Roeck would then use student responses (anonymously) in class to frame course concepts and organizational behavior theories.

At a very high level, some of the questions that we were prompted with were: “Describe an Experience with Injustice (Unfair Treatment) in the
Workplace”, “Insights about Your Own Less-Than- Ideal Performance,” “Describe a Leader that Inspired (or Inspires) You,” and “Describe Your Experience(s) with Organizational Change.” Sitting down to write
these papers was truly an experience. I found myself thinking about things that hadn’t crossed my mind in years.

As Module 2 comes to an end and winter break begins, first and foremost I am looking forward to spending quality time with my wonderful wife. I am also looking forward to reflecting on these first two modules and really  reexamining and interpreting the experiences that I have had in this program because so much has happened already. It is with reflection that we gain a new understanding and making time for this will be a priority for me going forward.

Alumni in Review: Margaret Arzon, Class of 2017

Margaret Arzon is currently working with the Ethical Shareholder Initiative (ESI) as a business consultant. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

To learn the skills and tools necessary to build and run social enterprises.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

Networking, learning about teamwork and leadership, and how to run a business.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

I apply tools and skills from the program every day. Just today I was in a meeting and referenced the business canvas model I created with my team in Module 2, for RevitaFiber, and how some of the questions we received about the business applied to the project I am working on now.

What would you tell someone who is considering the Sustainable Innovation MBA?

Definitely do it.