Category Archives: Alumni

Leaning… forward

Zevenbergen

Nancy Zevenbergen, Leslie Tubbs and Brooke de Boutray lead a proudly perceptive, fiercely aggressive Seattle investment firm

Nancy Zevenbergen (BA 1981) recalls a childhood visit to her uncle George Zoffel’s (BA 1956) credit reporting firm where she found him and his business partner at the front desk reading the Wall Street Journal while a legion of ladies typed credit reports in the back. The image made an impression.

“I thought, if I never learn to type, maybe I’ll get to sit up front and read the Journal someday,” she recalls with a laugh.

That little girl with big ideas is now president and chief investment officer of Zevenbergen Capital Investments, a finance firm of her own making. She and partners Leslie Tubbs (BA 1982) and Brooke de Boutray (BA 1977) manage $3 billion in assets, boldly invested in companies on the uphill slope of significant and sustainable growth.

And they are good, consistently—and sometimes spectacularly—beating the benchmark Russell 3000 Growth Index.

The hard way

Each of these Foster finance alumnae forged her own path via banking—Zevenbergen at Rainier National, Tubbs at Key, and de Boutray at First Interstate—to the men’s club of investing. “In our first jobs,” Zevenbergen recalls, “the glass ceiling was thick.”

So she created her own job. After six years in trust investment, Zevenbergen launched ZCI headlong into the market crash of 1987.

“It was a terrible year,” she says. “But a perfect year to start the firm, because it was the equalizer that decimated everyone. People realized that their money was no safer in a 100-year-old investment firm than it was with an independent asset manager like me.”

Zevenbergen started level, but quickly demonstrated her advantage. And ZCI grew rapidly. In 1992 she hired de Boutray, whom she had met while both studied for their CFAs. She convinced Tubbs, a sorority sister at the UW, to join in 1994.

Cut loose from the strictures of Big Finance, the team was free to invest on its own terms.

Game changers

Zevenbergen says it feels strange reflecting back on a firm that’s perpetually looking forward. ZCI is the aggressive piece of clients’ investment portfolios. Growth is their game.

“Investing is both an art and a science,” says de Boutray. “Because we are growth managers, we open our minds to what can be as opposed to what happened in the past. This approach has served us well.”

This means relying less on historical analysis and more on assessing opportunity. “We’re not venture capitalists,” Zevenbergen adds. “But we share their focus on the people, the concept and the addressable market when we’re consider investing in a company.”

“We look for game changers.”

Among them, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Netflix, Facebook, Zillow, Google, Chipotle, LinkedIn, Qualcomm— each bought early and held until the waning of growth.

Aside from impeccable timing, the secret to ZCI’s success may be its powers of perception. The women of Zevenbergen Capital are proud of their success in the testosterone world of growth investing. They both accept and embrace their difference from other firms. “It’s Venus and Mars,” Tubbs says.

While men in finance tend to be more analytical, more driven by ego, she says, “we collaborate, listen, observe. These are clichés, but they are also our competitive advantage.”

Where are the women?

Having blazed a considerable trail in finance—especially in the Northwest— Zevenbergen, Tubbs and de Boutray have lately been wondering why they don’t see more young women entering their industry or other male bastions of computer science, engineering and mathematics.

They’ve decided to stop asking and start acting. ZCI has created a number of ARCS Fellowships to promote science-related careers at the UW. They’re also offering internships to Foster students and recently endowed a scholarship fund to support undergraduate women studying finance.

“We believe that funding education brings a richness to our community,” Zevenbergen says. “Instead of just asking where are the women, we want to do something about it.”

Seattle meets Saudi

Lateefa Alwaalan

Lateefa Alwaalan wants to bring Arabic coffee to a global market

Coffee and start-ups might seem more Seattle than Saudi Arabia, but not to Lateefa Alwaalan (TMMBA 2011). Yatooq, the company founded by Alwaalan, makes it easier and faster to brew Arabic coffee, a blonde, spicy coffee central to all social gatherings in places such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Alwaalan came to Seattle to get her MBA after studying computer science, and working in IT and then banking in her home country of Saudi Arabia. While in the Technology Management MBA Program, she focused intently on gaining business and entrepreneurial skills. She competed in the Business Plan Competition with her idea for Yatooq. She also enrolled in the Entrepreneurship Certificate, offered by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at Foster. She says her experience at the Foster School, “transformed me. I use everything I learned—from change management to supply-chain management to marketing.”

Upon returning home after graduation, her father offered her a job in his pharmaceutical company. Her first job was entering invoices, but that didn’t last long. She quickly moved up the ranks and became the general manager in less than two years. During that time, Alwaalan was also busy launching Yatooq.

The coffee business

Yatooq started by selling ready-made blends of coffee, with good results. The company’s most successful product, however, has been the introduction of its coffee machine last year. When made traditionally, Arabic coffee takes 20-30 minutes to prepare and requires over ten steps. Yatooq’s machine dramatically reduces the time and effort required to make Arabic coffee, and it’s one of the first such machines to be sold in Saudi Arabia. Within two weeks of launching the coffee machine in grocery stores and online, it sold out.

Shortly after that initial success, Alwaalan was able to stop working at the pharmaceutical company and focus on growing her business full-time. She is relentlessly focused on improving the product. The coffee machine has gone through several iterations and improvements, and Alwaalan says, “I’m focusing on acquiring market share and building the brand.”

Recently, competitors have entered the coffee market in Saudi Arabia with machines similar to Yatooq’s, and Nestlé introduced its own version of ready-made blends of Arabic coffee. Alwaalan views this positively; it means the market is growing.

Networking advocate

Not only has Alwaalan managed a pharmaceutical company and launched a successful start-up, she also co-founded the organization CellA, which offers women the opportunity to regularly network with each other—a foreign concept for many women in Saudi Arabia. CellA also provides career management training and a mentorship program for women who are just starting their careers. In 2011, the group had 70 members. Today, membership has ballooned to almost 3,000, and the organization has provided training to 600 women. Alwaalan was nominated to be president of the organization earlier this year.

Onwards

The future looks bright for Alwaalan. Yatooq continues to expand. Last fall, the company started distributing its coffee and coffee machines in Kuwait and opened a store there. In December, she was chosen by Forbes Middle East as one of its “Leaders Inspiring a Kingdom in the Business World.”

Alwaalan said her greatest challenges now are scalability and shifting from a start-up to a more established company. Her goal for the future is to bring Yatooq’s coffee and coffee machines to the world, and her vision is for Arabic coffee to be the next Chai tea. Look for Yatooq in a store near you soon.

PhD alumnus wins Poets&Quants teaching award

Greg FisherGreg Fisher (PhD 2012) recently made Poets&Quants “Top 40 Under 40” list. The list recognizes the rising stars in academia who represent elite schools from around the world. To determine who should receive this award, Poets&Quants asked business school officials, faculty, students and alumni for their top picks.

Fisher, who received a PhD in entrepreneurship and strategy from the Foster School in 2012, is now an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Suresh Kotha, professor of management at the Foster School and Fisher’s PhD advisor, said, “In addition to being a great teacher and researcher, he was one of those really focused PhD students who knew what he wanted. Rarely do you see a PhD student who is so focused and knows what he wants from his PhD program in such a short period of time.” Fisher was also one of the few PhD students at the Foster School to receive an invitation to teach in the Executive MBA Program—positions typically reserved for senior faculty.

In response to winning the award, Fisher said, “It was nice to receive recognition for teaching because you often don’t know if you’re having an impact.” He also said he was honored to be part of the cohort of professionals who also received the award.

When teaching, Fisher brings the content to life. For example, at Foster he taught the business case about HomeGrocer, one of the first online grocery delivery services. In addition to analyzing the case, Fisher invited Terry Drayton, co-founder of HomeGrocer, to his class to talk about the rise and fall of the company. At the Kelley School, he teaches a business case about a bowling alley that goes through a turnaround. To make the case more memorable, Fisher teaches the class at a bowling alley. It’s experiences such as these that Fisher hopes provide a deeper, more impactful learning experience for his students.

Fisher also made the point that becoming a teacher who has impact doesn’t happen overnight. He said, “I’ve been teaching since 2005 and am always looking for ways to improve.” According to Fisher, the five years he spent at Foster as a PhD student served as an apprenticeship. He had the opportunity to see many excellent teachers in action, and would spend time figuring out what they were great at and how to emulate that in his classroom. He also said his time at Foster gave him the confidence and insights necessary to be able to experiment in the classroom.

According to Poets&Quants, “A few common characteristics cut through the whole group: Most, if not all, of the top profs leverage their youthful energy and Generation Y knowledge to create an engaging classroom environment. They naturally build genuine and meaningful relationships with their students, and they pursue another profession or serious hobby on the side.” Fisher’s serious hobby is running. He has run 45 marathons, 16 ultra-marathons and completed three Ironman Triathlons. As for upcoming races, he’s running a marathon in May and doing a triathlon this summer.

Learn more about Greg Fisher and the other “Top 40 Under 40” professors.

When the path isn’t always clear: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene on leadership

“A key part of leading is deciding. Deciding with imperfect data. Deciding when there isn’t always a path that’s clear.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene says she came to this particularly astute conclusion while working as a youth football referee. Like her positions at Microsoft and Drugstore.com (she served as vice-president) it provided her with two essential lessons; 1) the importance of decision making when there are still unknowns and 2) a leader must always provide a vision and a path forward.  Further qualifying this belief, the congresswoman stated, “With any organization, people are most effective when they have that vision going forward and they know where they’re heading and they know why they’re heading in that direction.”

A Foster MBA Alum, Congresswoman DelBene says she was inspired to run for Congress during her time at Global Partnerships, a micro-finance non-profit that provides loans to small business owners in Latin America and the Caribbean. After her first run for Congress in 2010 (in which she was unsuccessful) she was appointed by then governor Christine Gregoire to serve as the Director of Washington state’s Department of Treasury. In 2012, she successfully ran for a congressional seat in the newly drawn 1st district. Sitting on the House Judiciary and House Agriculture Committees, DelBene now deals with issues such as copyright laws, biotechnology and more.

Using terminology such as ROI (return on investment), the congresswoman routinely uses her business experience when approaching policy-making. Pointing to the seemingly unending federal budget debate, DelBene believes that too many of her colleagues are plagued by short-term thinking. She argues that Congress should approach budgeting concerns like successful CEOS, focusing on investment and long-term strategy. She points to the indelible benefits and returns from federal programs that invest in early learning, unemployment insurance, research and infrastructure as examples.

During her time at the podium, the congresswoman also stressed the importance of being good stewards of policy and citizen engagement, urging audience members to work in conjunction with business and community leaders to pressure Congress in to action.

Watch some highlights below:

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the monthly Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

You’re in charge–now what?

EMBA Panel
Left to right: EMBA student Christy Bermensolo and alums Vetri Vellore, Kevin Conroy, and René Ancinas shared insights at the Forum on Leadership and the Executive MBA.

Three Foster Executive MBA alumni and one current student, all of whom are CEOs at mid-career, shared their experiences on the challenges and rewards of leadership with an attentive audience of students, prospective students and alumni on January 29.

The four came to their leadership roles in different ways. Kevin Conroy (EMBA 2004), president and founder of Blue Rooster, has been self-employed since 1990 and has started several companies. René Ancinas (EMBA 2009), president and CEO at Port Blakely Companies, and Christy Bermensolo (EMBA 2015), CEO at Engineered Software, Inc., assumed leadership of family-owned companies fairly recently–Christy just last year. Vetri Vellore (EMBA 2006), CEO and co-founder at Chronus Corporation, started his company in 2007 after a successful 14-year career at Microsoft.

René and Christy found getting comfortable in the leadership role especially challenging. Both said the advice and guidance they received from mentors inside and outside their organizations, including EMBA classmates, had been tremendously helpful. They both quickly realized their responsibilities required the ability to manage change. For René, the challenge was growth–unusual for a family business, he said. For Christy, it was the need to adopt a style of management different from her parents’ intensely hands-on approach.

All the panelists said finding mentors who offer sound advice and counsel was a key priority, no matter how long they had been in the lead. Kevin spoke about his recent experience recruiting a board of directors, and how much he had learned in the process of preparing to take his business to the next level. René looked to his board, experienced staff members and colleagues in the Young Presidents Organization. Velore sought out executives who he considered 3-5 years ahead of him in their development.

Christy offered some insight into the reason all these leaders had chosen to enroll in Foster’s Executive MBA Program. Preparing to assume her new role, Christy–an engineer by training and analytical by nature–developed a spreadsheet listing expertise that she figured she would need in order to handle the CEO job effectively. She quickly realized her list closely matched the curriculum of the Executive MBA Program. That made one of her first big decisions an easy one.

Undergrads meet alumni at networking night

The Foster Alumni Relations team hosted a networking night as a way for alumni and current undergraduates to connect. Twenty-five alumni and 100 students attended. The event allowed young alumni to contribute to the Foster community by connecting with students and sharing their stories, while also building their professional network with other Foster alumni. As for the students, Zak Sheerazi, Assistant Director of Career Development at the Foster School, said, “This event gives them better insight into different careers as they move forward from Foster. But the ultimate goal is to connect current students with past student in order to help them navigate the transition from academics to the world of work. And potentially down the road have a mentor.”

Check out our photo blog of the event below.

Undergrads meet alumni at networking night

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Hit the ground running

Hayden Krall (BA 2013) is the youngest salesman at Barrier Audi in Bellevue. He’s also one of the best, consistently exceeding his sales goal by several vehicles. Under the title of brand specialist, Hayden is in charge of new sales for Audi, which means his job consists mostly of face to face interaction and building relationships with his clientele, most of whom are a generation or two older. When asked if the age difference between himself and his clients is a hindrance, Hayden takes it in stride saying, “It’s about using what you learn. I feel prepared.”

When it was time to pick an academic focus, Hayden was drawn to what he refers as the “tangible” outcomes of the Sales Program. “Getting placed at a job, as a junior [in college], that’s all you want.” When asked about his success, Hayden points to his professors and time spent role-playing in the Sales Program, stating, “[in sales] you hit the ground running.”

Although, he’s already achieved so much as a brand specialist, Hayden’s goal is to one day start his own business. For prospective sales students, Hayden advises them to “Take it seriously [and] have fun.” He also notes the prestige that comes with completion of the Sales Program, stating “Employers look at you and can tell that you’re ahead.”

Find out more about the Sales Program at the Foster School of Business here.

On breaking the mould

Guest post by Robert Mercer-Nairne (MBA 1971 and PhD 1989)
Dr. Mercer-Nairne actively seeks “to define how human organization forms and evolves as an expression of evolution as a whole.” His work can be found in novels like The Letter Writer, set in Bellevue, WA, to more recently in regular contributions to the Huffington PostMercer-Nairne currently resides back home in Scotland where he continues to grow beyond his original focus on organization theory.

Dr. Robert Mercer-NairneProbably the greatest challenge facing the developed world is growth. This is not least because we are unclear what the word means. We have various statistical definitions, such as the augmentation of our gross domestic product—essentially the level of our economic interactions with one another—but our gut instincts tell us that such measures may not address the quality of growth. One example of that is our increasing awareness that the lifestyles we enjoy today may be adversely affecting what our environment will be tomorrow. The post-war notion that we can look forward to a better future for ourselves and our children has become decidedly tarnished.

Probably the greatest challenge facing the academic profession right now is how to escape from its own departmental rigidities so that the challenges facing the human world can be looked at afresh. Are these problems connected? I think so. The expression Breaking the Mould refers to doing something differently, after it has been done in the same way for a long time. In the scientific world, the physicist Thomas Kuhn called these mould-breakings ‘paradigm shifts’. Because of their fundamental nature, they inevitably upset a lot of careers laboriously built upon the old way of seeing things. Consequently their heralds, like the three kings, are invariably dismissed as being weirdoes, troublemakers or just plain delusional.

In most walks of life, the line between maverick and idiot is narrow. Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff is a buffoon whose comic utterances often embody a wisdom which would be unpalatable to the status quo without humor. In his short story The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hans Christian Anderson uses the innocence of a child to puncture the crowd’s acceptance of the emperor’s sartorial magnificence (two swindlers make him an ‘invisible suit’ that can be ‘seen’ only by the worthy and naturally his sycophantic subjects see it even though there is nothing there). Philosophers occasionally debate whether the sane are insane and the insane sane. And even the scientific quest for objective reality can be subverted by the context within which a scientific question is phrased.

My own area of interest – the nature of structure in the evolutionary process—spans every discipline imaginable qualifying me for the accolade insane idiot, although I would prefer maverick. What I am fairly certain of, however, is that while we need the mould—without structure we have nothing – we must pay far more attention than we do to the process whereby moulds are broken and new moulds are formed. And unless you believe in a deterministic universe (and I certainly don’t) space must be left for the creative impulse to work—in politics, in business, in academe.

In the twentieth century we allowed ourselves to be led seriously astray by the false assumption that there was such a thing as inevitable social progress which overrode any moral notion of individual right or wrong. Structure always and everywhere is a function of context. In the conscious, human world, that context is shaped by our values. Start there and growth suddenly becomes limitless and sacred cows (or sacred moulds) less sacred.