Family Business, Entrepreneurship and the Base of the Pyramid

This post was written by Ruchi Nadkarni ’20. Connect with Ruchi on LinkedIn.

“Family Business,” I thought – sounded like just another core course in the laundry list of core courses that we needed to know about. I wasn’t inspired or even intrigued at the notion of it. I had committed the very first faux pas that the class instructor warned all of us about – our A’s – our assumptions. However, my postulations were quickly checked when a poised woman, world renown Family Business scholar Pramodita Sharma entered the class and shook me to my very core, with the inspiration that followed the notion of Family Business.

As if I wasn’t already excited to be learning about concepts that spoke to my very essence, I became deeply fascinated with the promise of family business in the first thirty minutes of the class. I was captivated. As someone that grew up in India, I had a picture of what family business in my mind. It was a common occurrence growing up for me to have come across several family members and friends who were in variously sized family businesses around me. Family business was close knit, small and seemingly inconsequential to me from what I had observed. It seemed to be just another way of making a living, and I concurred with the popular opinion of it as being rather minor-league. Interestingly, I was very aware of the top 1% of my country’s wealth as being in the hands of some of the wealthiest in the world from the Tatas, Ambanis and Birlas! I again erroneously assumed that they were a small minority to the rule.

The various advantages and disadvantages peculiar of family businesses started to familiarize me with the telenovela that is family business! From high passion to high drama, it seemed to have it all. I wasn’t surprised to read the first reason why I was always averse to the idea of family business – its Achille’s heel mixing family and business together. My aspirations to work with the base of the pyramid were augmented further when I read about household enterprises in developing countries. As a more privileged member of society, privy to the lives of the base of the pyramid, I have intimately seen the struggles, lives and phenomenal resourcefulness that resides within it. My nonprofit work took me deep into the slums of Mumbai, and I was honored to have made it into their circles, as these communities are usually very wary of outsiders.

In my working with the community, I happened to also have a chance to observe the enterprises run by them, leaving me fascinated and inspired to bring more to them. It was heartening to read about the resilience of these populations and how their close knit, family-oriented values created informal micro-enterprises that helped void marginalization for them. These societies internalized institutional theory without even realizing it with each member of the family contributing to the household in these enterprises to combat poverty. Their norms, solidarity, values and beliefs in forming these institutions despite being marginalized from resource rich networks was always something of a feat to me as I have admired them all my life. In the US, I recently learned of at-risk neighborhoods and how, the law enforcement and broken system keep them in an inescapable cycle of abjection. Despite the challenges the socio-emotional wealth as an economic consideration was comforting to read about. They subsist where opportunities do not exist.

All our simultaneous classes and lectures pointed out to the most opportunity for business and sustainability for all stakeholders was in the bottom of the pyramid. When we shifted gears to alter that notion and understand that opportunity also resided in the top of the pyramid which consisted of family businesses in a big part because of their legacy oriented outlooks, it was almost like a eureka moment for me. The idea of sustainable innovation can sound insipid to a lot of businesses primarily concerned with the bottom line, but when the bottom line can be tied into this idea, a golden bridge is created where it suddenly all makes sense. This bridge I thought, was that of family business.

Growing up as I went through the various stages of academia, and many of my decisions were usually influenced by my parents or by society and I always had an entrepreneurial streak. I was a natural risk-taker and even have a black book full of business ideas that can change the world. As my non-profit venture progressed, as I became familiar with the pains of entrepreneurship my rose-tinted glasses slowly came off. That combined with the severe strain that my nonprofit put on my work-life balance and my family relationships made me more averse to entrepreneurship than ever before.

Outside of these challenges, being in the non-profit industry for ten years and pure science academic background before that, through my academia and career I was always convinced that ‘entrepreneurship’ is a bad word. Even still, as I ponder about being an entrepreneur I am absolutely terrified of the notion. The lack of resources, loneliness and stress are concepts that I am all too familiar with, being a nonprofit owner. As we spoke of various family businesses that our professor studied over the years, and how passionately she felt about them being contributors to the sustainability and business future of the planet, my fears were slowly dissipating. Every day in this program as we are convinced of becoming entrepreneurs, I can see the silver lining and feel like I am gaining my starry-eyed wonder that I harbored before life’s many challenges bogged me down. I was all at once reminded of the dividends of entrepreneurship, as well as family business as a route to solve the world’s sustainability challenges. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and reminded to be completely in that moment even as I was churning several ideas for the future.

Because the truth is, that we only have the present moment, and to be completely immersed in it is the true joy of life. So even as I drew grandiose plans with my learnings from this class and this program, I truly enjoyed being right there, just in that moment.

Sustainability and the Craft Brewing Industry

This post was written by Dan Versace ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Since the craft beer boom of 2012 started, many brewers across the country have found it hard to differentiate themselves from their competitors.  Many have tried to create new and inventive brews and invest in a tap room where customers can come to the brewery and learn more about how the process is done while sampling the products.

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

But, in recent years the focus has shifted from inventive and innovative products and experiences to differentiation through the process by which the beers are made, with many breweries investing in the sustainability of their product and manufacturing lines. They can do this in a multitude of ways as complex as installing a device called an anaerobic digester to recycle wastewater that the brewery produces, or as simple as working with local farms to use their spent grain as food for a variety of livestock. Some breweries in the UK have even experimented with using stale bread from local bakers as a starter for their beers, limiting the amount of barley or hops that is needed.

With that being said, there is still room for innovation when it comes to the energy used in the brewing process along with the distribution and supply chains linked with the operation of the brewery. Many large scale consultancies such as SustainaBrew are working to refine a sustainability plan that works with the nuances that are inherent with brewing and selling beer, as laws and regulations differ from state to state,  limiting the amount of barley or hops that is needed.

Environmental sustainability isn’t everything though; social responsibility has seen large growth in the brewing sector as well. Take Switchback Brewing for example. They recently shifted from a single ownership model to being 100% employee owned, allowing every single one of their employees to have a meaningful say in how the business operates and what decisions are made on a day to day basis. This has led to a company that operates like a family where everyone is vales and each person employed by the brewery is committed to seeing it succeed.

While it may seem like a no brainer to some, many others are still very wary of implementing these strategies for sustainability as they do run quite a high upfront cost, and can take a lot of resources and time to implement, with no guaranteed pay off.  However,  in a recent study produced by NPR it was shown that consumer’s willingness to pay increases when the breweries they are purchasing from are utilizing sustainable practices, something that is not necessarily true for other products in the marketplace. What is it about the brewing business that lends itself to this outcome? I believe that it is the client base and the values that they hold. The craft brewing industry has grown through, and is held up by the purchasing power of the millennial generation, a young consumer base that has sustainability at its heart and chooses to make purchasing decisions based on their values.

The proof is in the pudding (or perhaps beer in this case). Sustainability efforts in the brewing industry has positive effects on the world, the people who buy the product and work in companies, and, finally, the bottom line. There is only more to come in the future.

A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex

This post was written by Than Moore ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Before matriculating to business school, I worked full time as an emergency medicine physician assistant at the University of Vermont Medical Center. I, along with my colleagues, was solely focused on maximizing patient care. My responsibilities included diagnosing and treating patients of all ages and acuity levels. The clinical world became my home. Putting on scrubs every day to go into the hospital, I join the hundreds of other employees working towards a similar mission of delivering the highest level of patient care. The ability to practice and treat members in my community is a privilege. It is one of the greatest accomplishments with which I can relate. However, it can also monopolize your life, and is forever demanding. It becomes nearly impossible to pause and observe the system in which we operate. The pursuit of my MBA disrupted the traditional linear trajectory of my medical career and provided the time and space to refocus the lens in which I viewed the world.       

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

Medicine is a vortex. To become a doctor, one must dedicate years of commitment to the craft. You must first complete prerequisite coursework before donating countless years toward schooling, residency, and fellowship. By demonstrating academic and clinical excellence and passing more tests than one could imagine, it then becomes time to start your clinical practice. The journey is arduous, but the reward to grant another breath to a gasping loved one is worth all the effort. Medicine becomes an addiction. We are slaves to the system to glean all the knowledge we can to optimize our performance. It monopolizes our lives with long days, demanding call schedules, and tragic cases that keep us up at night. However, I was granted the opportunity to take a sabbatical from my clinical responsibilities and observe the field from the outside. 

I first learned of The Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program at UVM from a friend who knew of my love of academia and solving problems. Sustainable business became the perfect blend of my undergraduate analytical mathematical degree, my medical background, and my passion for the environment and society as a whole. Embedded in the curriculum are quantitative business skills such as finance, accounting, and economics, but there are also fundamental organizational skills taught through courses on corporate social responsibility, sustainable leadership, and teamwork. The focus of the coursework is to optimize a sustainable enterprise by maximizing the triple bottom line: people, profit and the planet. 

The beauty of the SI-MBA program is that one can personalize their education to incorporate individual interests. For example, I am fortunate to tailor my business research and projects towards medicine. Subsequently, I wish to highlight ways in which the triple bottom line educational model has broadened my perspective to incorporate sustainability into fundamental daily operations in both the medical community and greater society. 

People:

To begin, people are at the core of all operating systems. Our world revolves around successful human interactions. The ability to collaborate with one another stems from leadership and teamwork skills. Group work is a fundamental component in the SI-MBA curriculum. During each of the module terms, every student is designated a team. The team is responsible to execute all projects, presentations, and assignments together. Rarely, do you see employees working alone, so why should academics reflect that?

Medicine, in particular, revolves around team collaboration. With the blending of specialties and skills to navigate different disease processes, we are constantly reliant on our colleagues for their expertise. If a trauma victim presents requiring extensive resources, multiple hands are needed to gain IV access, deliver medications, perform diagnostic studies, and make life altering decisions. One could not operate alone in such a high stress environment. By maximizing team collaboration, executing impeccable leadership qualities, and maximizing the potential of all skilled team members, a team can perform at its highest capability. Medical schools are paying more attention to these traits by focusing efforts on team based learning; however, the ability to acquire these skills outside of medicine through my coursework and integrate them back into the clinic will become a critical asset in my performance as a provider. 

Continue reading “A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex”

Why I Left the Nonprofit Sector (and It’s Not the Reason You Might Think)

This post was written by Taran Catania ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Whether I was working in field research for a local conservation group or serving as a legislative representative for a national environmental organization, I loved my time in the nonprofit sector. No matter where I was, I was surrounded by mission-driven people, my work gave me a sense of purpose, and I was always proud to answer the standard icebreaker “so what do you do?”

Nonprofit technician in the field: Taran Catania ’20 flags a Semipalmated Sandpiper as part of ongoing endangered shorebird research for New Jersey Audubon.

But then I left the nonprofit world – and not for the reasons you might think. The assumption when people leave the nonprofit sector to go to business school is that person wants to make more money. Now, don’t get me wrong: there are extremely good reasons the nonprofit sector should stop undervaluing and underinvesting in staff. But the short answer is no, I did not leave for that reason.

The real reason is: I was tired of fighting for change, but not seeing an obvious plan for its impact or scalability. I was tired of “doing good” by rules that limited how much good we could do. I wanted the chance to take risks for something I believed in.

During Dr. Erik Monsen’s Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model class, I was introduced to a TED Talk by activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta called “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” As Pallotta points out, nonprofits are rewarded more for not acting like businesses (such as severely restricting overhead spending – “For every dollar donated, 83 cents go to the cause!”) than for what impact they have. From inherent rules limiting nonprofits’ ability to competitively compensate staff, market and advertise to generate revenue, or access capital markets to spur growth, the nonprofit sector is at a disadvantage to the business world in almost every way.

To add further limitation, nonprofits are systematically discouraged from taking risks. Risk, which always carries some chance of failure, is a generally unacceptable use of charitable dollars. And as Pallotta puts simply: “When you prohibit failure, you kill innovation.”

In other words, there is a reason there is no “venture capital” of the nonprofit world. No one is looking to make large donations to a nonprofit that wants to take chances, invest in its own growth, and pursue unexplored, better ways to make and scale change.

But as we can tell from the growing list of Certified B Corps and the increasing buzz around Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the business world is evolving to pick up where the nonprofit sector leaves off. And it’s doing so with some creative, innovative risk-taking.

So until we can foster a nonprofit sector that operates under fewer limitations, fighting for social and environmental change from a business angle may offer greater opportunities to create positive, scalable impacts. (That is, as long as businesses commit to doing so meaningfully.)

In the meantime, I’ll be here reading anything written by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF, bicycle commuting in my Allbirds sneakers, and pursuing a Sustainable Innovation MBA to be a part of this business evolution.

With Sustainability, Should Motives Matter?

This post was written by Lauren Frisch ’20

As long as you are making lasting sustainable change, should motives matter?  

This past semester, we’ve taken a deep dive into the world of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and thought about the different motives companies may have to invest in CSR practices. Some companies have economic motives.[i] Others want to build relationships with various stakeholders, called relational motives. Finally, some companies have moral motives, wanting to make the world, or their piece of it, run a little better.[ii] Consumers tend to digest CSR information better when there is at least a hint of a moral motive. But is this the right way to truly encourage CSR across the board?

Volkswagen stock prices before and after Dieselgate

Let’s use Volkswagen (VW) as an example. In 2015, news broke that VW had created technology that faked emissions levels in about 580,000 vehicles between 2006 and 2015.[iii] Defeat devices were created to register when a vehicle’s emissions were being tested, and modify performance to achieve a particular emissions level. By March 2019, VW had paid more than $30 billion in fines, penalties, resolutions and settlements towards Dieselgate.[iv] The company agreed to invest in electric vehicle (EV) technology and infrastructure to offset some of the damage caused by their deceptive technology.[v]

VW was able to survive this scandal and continue to thrive as a company, but not without a cost. The company had a turnover in high-level leadership after the scandal. The brand’s reputation was tarnished and stock prices dropped 23%[vi]. Enter Herbert Diess, a new CEO with a plan to completely reinvent Volkswagen as a sustainable leader in the industry. Diess and his team created Together 2025, a vision for how VW would grow between 2015 and 2025.[vii] The main goal of Together 2025 is to transform VW into a leader in the EV market. The company hopes that by 2025, 25% of VWs on the road will be EVs, a lofty goal that will help transform the makeup of the worldwide auto landscape.[viii]

Concept photo for Volkswagen’s new I.D. Buzz, an electric bus

The company has promised to launch a fleet of seven new electric vehicles, including four for VW, two for Audi and one for Seat.[ix] VW is also investing in new EV factory space and charging infrastructure, and the company hopes to establish and implement a carbon neutral supply chain by 2050.[x],[xi]

Critics of VW argue that the company should not be viewed as a leader in sustainable innovation because they were forced to implement aspects of this radical transformation to make up for Dieselgate. Others believe Diess is a transformational leader with strong moral motives, and is using this colossal environmental mess up to inspire change and create an automotive industry that he truly believes in. Consumers may never know the exact motives behind VW’s together 2025 campaign, although the truth likely lies somewhere between the suspicion of the cynics and the hope of the optimists. Almost all human behavior and corporate action is driven by varying degrees of multiple motives.

But should Volkswagen’s motives matter if the company is able to advance renewable technology? What matters is that Volkswagen is on the road to becoming a leader in EV technology, and is investing not only in vehicle design, but factories and infrastructure that will help support growing demand into the future. It would be best for the industry if Volkswagen’s transformation is wildly successful, because it will build momentum to advance critical EV technology at VW and may inspire other companies to make similar commitments. Of course, I’d prefer if all companies had strong moral motives to back their CSR work. But it’s important for us to recognize that people come from different experiences, and companies have different priorities. At this stage, the change we’re making matters more than the reason we started on the path. And if companies can profit from solving a problem for someone, hopefully it will encourage others to follow in their lead, and help sustain more change.


Endnotes

[i] Aguilera, Ruth V., Rupp, Deborah E., Williams, Cynthia A., Ganapathi, Jyoti. “Putting the S back in corporate social responsibility: A multilevel theory of social change in organizations.” Academy of Management Review. 3 Nov. 2007.

[ii] Aguilera, Ruth V., Rupp, Deborah E., Williams, Cynthia A., Ganapathi, Jyoti. “Putting the S back in corporate social responsibility: A multilevel theory of social change in organizations.” Academy of Management Review. 3 Nov. 2007.

[iii] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[iv] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[v] Voelcker, John. “VW Electrify America plan for electric-car charging across the US released.” Green Car Reports. 18, Apr. 2017,https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1109971_vw-electrify-america-plan-for-electric-car-charging-across-u-s-released.

[vi] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[vii] “2018 Sustainability Report.” The Volkswagen Group, Mar. 2019, https://www.volkswagenag.com/presence/nachhaltigkeit/documents/sustainability-report/2018/Nonfinancial_Report_2018_e.pdf

[viii] Keith, Travis. “Volkswagen stock price plunges after emissions scandal.” Column Five Media. https://www.columnfivemedia.com/volkswagen-stock-price-plunges-after-emissions-scandal

[ix] Rauwald, Christoph. “Volkswagen’s road to riches or ruin starts in this factory.” Bloomberg, 6 Sept. 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-06/volkswagen-s-road-to-riches-or-ruin-starts-in-this-factory

[x] “2018 Sustainability Report.” The Volkswagen Group, Mar. 2019, https://www.volkswagenag.com/presence/nachhaltigkeit/documents/sustainability-report/2018/Nonfinancial_Report_2018_e.pdf

[xi] Rauwald, Christoph. “Volkswagen’s road to riches or ruin starts in this factory.” Bloomberg, 6 Sept. 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-06/volkswagen-s-road-to-riches-or-ruin-starts-in-this-factory

Sustainable Innovation MBA Students Strike for Climate Change

This post was written by Jackson Berman ‘20

On Friday, September 20, 2019, MBA students from UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2020 joined forces with youth activists, students, and workers around the world to demand a just future free from fossil fuels. These global strikes are happening before the UN Climate Action Summit next week – our goal is to put pressure not just on politicians, but people from all generations. Climate change is a moral issue, it’s happening now, and we have an opportunity to take action.

Students from the Class of 2020 at the Burlington, VT Climate Strike on September 20, 2019.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon will all be participating in strikes across the country. Locally in Burlington, SI-MBA students followed in the footsteps of Burton Snowboards, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and environmentally focused non-profits such as 350 Burlington, VPIRG, Climate Disobedience Center, and Sunrise Movement.

Students from the Class of 2020 at the Burlington, VT Climate Strike on September 20, 2019.

We as the Sustainable-Innovation MBA Class of 2020 have also teamed up with some inspiring alumni to march for climate justice! I talked with Brodie O’Brien ’14 and now Digital Marketing Manager at Ben & Jerry’s.

“Here at Ben & Jerry’s, we see our opportunity as providing people with an onramp first-step into engaging in large-scale issues that may feel insurmountable. Climate change is a big, scary topic that’s too big for one person to address alone: we think that the power of collective action can change the system. That’s why we’re here at the Burlington Climate Strike scooping today – we want to celebrate our fans who are already involved with Climate Action, and provide a fun way for new people to get excited about creating real collective positive change.” Brodie also noted that “we use our digital channels to raise awareness of movements amongst fans, it goes beyond just showing up physically at events.”

Brodie O’Brien ’15 (right), Digital Marketing Manager at Ben & Jerry’s

Climate change is truly a world crisis: we have an obligation to create sustainable business solutions that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  

Insight: Albert Kittell ’20

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of Orientation Week, the Class of 2020 visited iconic, mission-driven companies here in Vermont for conversations about sustainability, innovation, and Business 2.0 with executives. We asked Albert Kittell ’20 about his take-away from a visit to Ben & Jerry’s headquarters.

Albert Kittell ’20

“After visiting Ben & Jerry’s South Burlington offices it became very clear to me, a native Burlingtonian, that the scope of the company’s influence was much greater than I realized. Ben & Jerry’s, since middle of the 1980s, have put in place innovative and lasting initiatives that often were the first, or among the first, in the world.  These included “Shared Prosperity,” social, and economic equality, and environmental issues. If an ice cream company can do all of that, then any business headed by similar type thinkers can help strike change in industry.”

Reflections on Winning The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

This post was written by Alyssa Stankiewicz ’19, and co-written by Andrew Mallory ’19

EDITOR’S NOTE: A team of five students from The Sustainable Innovation MBA program recently took first place in the Wharton-sponsored Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, beating a field of finalists from Yale, Columbia, Fordham, and Boston University. Read more here.

When I came to this program in August 2018, I had never even heard the term “impact investing.” I planned to focus my learnings on innovations in social justice and sustainable agriculture. I dreamed of founding a self-sustaining weaving center that provided support and reflection to folks through art therapy. While this is still an eventual dream of mine (stay tuned!), I realized that what really motivated me about this dream was the opportunity to help people.

The mission of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is using business as a force for good in the world, also described as “doing well by doing good.”  Through the mentorship and encouragement I received from Dr. Chuck Schnitzlein, I began to realize that not only does the world of Finance provide this same opportunity, but I possess a natural knack for the work involved. He presented us with two extracurricular opportunities to test and demonstrate our skills and studies. The first project revolved around developing an impact strategy for the UVM Endowment (for more on that, see this article), and the second was a Wharton-sponsored impact investing competition called the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge.

The competition was stacked, to say the least. 26 teams from 19 business schools including Yale, Columbia, Booth (Chicago), and Wharton (Penn) entered the competition, and with this being just the 5th cohort of our Sustainable Innovation MBA program, our team was ecstatic to find out in March that we’d been selected as Finalists. We had spent months taking extra classes with Dr. Schnitzlein in Portfolio Management and Evaluation, researching the companies who achieved “best in class” accolades, and developing our investment philosophy and strategy in our copious free time (“copious” might be an exaggeration). When they announced we won at the live competition in Philadelphia on May 1, we were completely over the moon.

We like to think that we had a competitive advantage because each of our professors integrates sustainability holistically into every single course. We learned about Entrepreneurial Business Design, Systems Thinking, and Cost Models from a sustainability perspective, so we were more fully prepared to incorporate sustainability into every piece of our portfolio.

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge provided us with two fictitious investor profiles from which to choose, and our team selected a Family Office who wanted to achieve multi-generational wealth and sustainable impact in line with five themes, which we matched to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our team took a unique and bold approach: we successfully invested the entire portfolio in companies and funds that are going beyond minimizing the bad; instead, each of our investments contributes to developing solutions for the greater good. We highlighted the innovations of Mary Powell at Green Mountain Power and the Reinvestment Fund’s success in the City Mission Project. We developed methods for measuring impact and adapted our findings to the unique characteristics of the various asset classes. Peter Seltzer even coined the SI-MBA Score, which goes beyond traditional ESG scoring systems to incorporate materiality. This is because, as we learned in our Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility course (and which was affirmed in this study written by Khan, Serafeim, & Yoon), companies that focus on the sustainability issues that are most material to their business actually see improved financial performance over the long term.

Where do we go from here?

I personally want to find ways to help accredited and non-accredited investors deploy their finances in ways that are more meaningful to them. I have a passion for efforts to democratize investment opportunities, and I’m working on an idea that incorporates my Linguistics background with my Finance interests to create a more effective system for financial literacy education. I look forward to exploring opportunities in place-based investing and community funding models as avenues to strengthen the resilience of local economies. Find me on LinkedIn!

Photo credit: Chris Kendig

Emily came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program passionate about opening up venture capital investment to women and other underrepresented founders. Through projects studying everything from community capital initiatives to equity crowdfunding policy to this challenge on integrating materiality into ESG scores, she sees increasing opportunities to promote a more sustainable form of capitalism for investors and entrepreneurs. After the program, she is seeking a career in impact investing and hopes her involvement can promote responsible investment opportunities in the industry.

For Andrew, this challenge was a perfect blend of his two professional passions: finance and sustainability. Coming from a traditional finance background, he sees how important it is for impact investing and ESG integration to continue to evolve and grow, and he is encouraged by how many financial institutions are now incorporating ESG into their strategies. After graduation, Andrew is interested in pursuing public and private equity research, specifically analyzing companies who are embedding sustainability initiatives into their core operations to see how impact alpha can mitigate risk and provide long-term growth.

 Peter came to the program as a CPA with ten years of experience. Throughout his career, he has gravitated towards opportunities to support social causes, including serving on the boards of two non-profits and working for three years at The Food Trust, a Philadelphia based non-profit. While here, he discovered a passion for the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and began a certificate program in the fundamentals of sustainable accounting. The group utilized his research in developing the SI-MBA Score, which was a differentiating factor in our presentation. After graduation, he is pursuing opportunities where he can incorporate his SASB knowledge to help investors generate greater impact with their investments.

Maura, coming from the client services and business development side of the investment industry, saw the demand for responsible investment solutions from young investors and European clients. She hopes to use the skills developed during her SI-MBA experience and her involvement in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge to re-enter the field and meet the needs and wants of the industry demand. Planting roots in Vermont, she looks forward to growing the responsible investing industry presence in the state.

We had great support from all of our classmates, but special acknowledgement (in no particular order) goes out to Andrew Oliveri, Alyssa Schuetz, Ryan Forman, Elissa Eggers, Caitlyn Kenney, Esteban Echeverría Fernández, Alexa Steiner, Emily Foster, Jeffrey Lue, Matt Iacobucci, and Keil Corey. In the spirit of The Sustainable Innovation MBA, this was truly a collaborative effort, and I believe that’s what ultimately gave us the competitive advantage. I’m personally looking forward to seeing where we go from here, and I wish good luck to next year’s cohort!

For other publications on this challenge and our approach, please see the initial post in the SI-MBA Review, as well as articles in CNBC, UVM, Poets & Quants, Forbes, and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative.

Breaking News: Sustainable Innovation MBA Team Wins Wharton’s Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

A team of Sustainable Innovation MBA students has emerged from an elite group of finalists as the winners of the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, sponsored by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. The team was comprised of Class of 2019 students Alyssa Stankiewicz, Pete Seltzer, Emily Klein, Maura Kalil, and Andrew Mallory. Their faculty advisor and coach was Prof. Chuck Schnitzlein.

More: Read CNBC’s coverage of the Challenge, featuring our team

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge involved creating and analyzing a portfolio that met risk, return and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) impact investing objectives. The team presented their work in Philadelphia on May 1 and 2.

The other finalists in the competition included Yale, Columbia, Fordham, and Boston University. Our group was named one of the “Final Five” back in late-March from an strong field of 25 teams that included entrants from the University of Chicago, Cornell, Georgetown, NYU, Wharton, MIT, and Northwestern.

This is a significant accomplishment, and an important milestone in the history of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

Beginning third from left, Emily Klein, Alyssa Stankewicz, Andrew Mallory, Maura Kalil, and Peter Setzer.

The Mission, and The Team

This post was written by Cameron McMahon ’19.Cameron served 4 years active duty in the US Marine Corps infantry, deploying twice.

There is a lot of discussion about mission-driven businesses and millennials being attracted to working for them.  Along with this come conversations about how to build up your people and create teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. This has been causing me to reflect on my time in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry and how we built and managed teams.  Shared hardship tended to be the element which rapidly allowed the willingness to form for us to perform well together.  As I am working on starting my farm business and considering best practices for finding and hiring people to help build the business, I am trying to think deeply about the type of culture I want to create. 

In the USMC the mission was always provided to us and there was a clear rank structure and roles within that which existed for eliminating uniqueness. There were jobs to be performed and the expectation was that you performed your role and anything else simply wasn’t an option. Extremely high rates of burnout are the norm for junior ranks with this treatment.  However, we accomplished the mission and pushed our limits far beyond what we had previously thought possible. We as a human community are facing grave threats in the next several decades that will decide whether or not we are able to continue living on this planet. It is difficult to find the language in a civilian setting to pull the best lessons from the USMC. How to translate the brutal methods and speech for rapidly binding teams together who are willing to work through pain, exhaustion, and fear to run through calf- deep mud filled with mines toward the multiple machine guns firing at you and your friends to a business setting?

I don’t pretend to have any firm answers to these questions. In the process of trying to figure it out though, some things have been clarifying. Motivation is encouraged when people are able to feel a sense of ownership over the process as well as the results.  Having a sense that you are part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal that serves humanity in useful ways helps to make the day to day tasks required for job performance gain deeper meaning and purpose. Hope works better than fear for motivating people to perform at a consistently high level over time. 

Facing the myriad challenges from threats such as climate change cannot be done effectively if people don’t feel as if a better future is possible and their actions matter in creating it. Just as there is no place for cowardice on the battlefield and those who are unable to push through their natural hesitation to endanger themselves are removed from roles where they will get others killed; it is necessary to identify those in an organization who are not bought into the mission and cull them from the team. To create a culture of willing high performance there should be rewards for the victories and the failures in order to encourage everyone to stretch themselves and not fear failure. Great ideas won’t come out if people are afraid of the consequences of failing.  An organization, culture or person who is unwilling to change is more of a problem than a solution.  As Darwin said, “The species best able to adapt is the most likely to survive.” and as we say in the Corps, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.”