Category Archives: Alumni

Spiraling toward success

Adina Mangubat2Adina Mangubat (UW BS in psychology, 2009), CEO of Spiral Genetics, has “change the world” in her DNA, and the world is taking notice. In the past two years, Mangubat has been interviewed by news outlets like Xconomy and GeekWire, and featured on Forbes’ list of the top 30 under 30 in science and technology. Why all the attention? Spiral Genetics is using sophisticated algorithms, distributed computing, and a cloud-based framework to change the way DNA is analyzed.

In the most basic terms, there are two parts to processing DNA. First, DNA is extracted from blood or tissue and put into a sequencer that chops up and reads the DNA, resulting in millions of raw reads, “essentially text files of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts,” explains Mangubat. Next, these millions of text files are organized, analyzed, and compared to a normal DNA sequence to find unexpected variants. Researchers use these variants to identify gene mutations that are the cause of everything from color blindness to cancer.

Mangubat and her cofounders, CSO Becky Drees (UC Berkeley PhD in Molecular & Cellular Biology, 1995 and UW Certificate in Biotechnology Project Management, 2008) and CTO Jeremy Bruestle, have developed a platform that significantly speeds up the analysis process. Spiral Genetics can analyze in hours what has previously taken biologists days to complete using complicated open source software. “As far as I know,” Mangubat says, “we’re the fastest in the world. We can process raw reads down to a list of annotated DNA variants in three hours for a human genome.” This is especially significant as DNA sequencing gets faster and faster, and biologists are unable to keep up with the resulting mountains of analysis-ready data. Spiral Genetics is also highly accurate and scalable, able to detect genetic variations that most analyses might miss. “We’ve far ahead of the curve in our ability to handle datasets,” states Mangubat.

Another thing that sets Spiral Genetics apart is that its software is designed to analyze DNA for multiple species. As Xconomy recently pointed out, while similar companies are focused specifically on the human genome, SpiralGenetics also analyzes genomes for animals and plants, which could have implications in agricultural research and development.

Mangubat didn’t set out to become a leader in DNA analysis. Just four years ago, she was a senior who simply knew that she liked being an entrepreneur (she had been involved in two startups by that time), so she registered for Professor Alan Leong’s Technology Entrepreneurship class.  There she met Drees, who was interested in starting a genetic analysis company.

Drees and Mangubat joined forces and pitched Spiral Genetics as a consumer-genetics service in the 2009 Business Plan Competition, but soon realized they were late to that party and needed a new model. Mangubat took the pivot in stride. In a moment of inspiration, the team (including Bruestle) decided to bet on the fact that the research community would soon need software that could keep up with the increased speed of DNA sequencing, and Spiral Genetics was reborn.

Three years later, their bet is paying off. In early March, Spiral Genetics announced $3 million in financing from venture firm DFJ, have begun to scale significantly. “We’re in the process of essentially doubling the size of our team,” says Mangubat. The company currently has eight employees, but plans to double in size in the near future, adding more developers and a sales team, as demand increases. “The explosive growth of the market is driving our business,” she explains. “We’re about to get much bigger very quickly, which is exciting.”

As for changing the world, Mangubat is confident. “Long term,” she says, “my goal is to make the process of figuring out what raw sequence data means as easy and as fast as possible, and we are seriously getting there.” In the meantime, Spiral Genetics is already making its mark. “We’re working with groups that are doing pediatric cancer diagnosis – you can’t get much more meaningful than that.”

Driven by a mission, fueled by investment

Drew Tulchin2We’re all familiar with for-profit businesses, focused on the sales of a product or service, and motivated by value creation and financial return. We also know nonprofit organizations, focused on public needs, a social mission, and global impact, and supported by charitable dollars. But there’s an emerging middle ground: social enterprise. A for-profit/nonprofit hybrid, social enterprises use market-based practices and the discipline of business to support efforts that benefit people and the planet.

“There is a space in society for a social safety net,” says Drew Tulchin, founder of Social Enterprise Associates, a management consulting firm that helps organizations raise the capital they need to achieve their social and environmental goals. Traditionally, this space has been the domain of the nonprofit sector, but as need continues to increase, there is not enough philanthropic money to support the growing nonprofit marketplace. Social enterprises avoid this problem by forgoing a donation-only model in favor of market-based efforts to sell products and services that earn income. “It’s a pretty basic economic proposition,” explains Tulchin. “Where can a mission driven entity find more money to do the things it needs to do if donations aren’t enough? The answer is in risk capital.”

Social Enterprise Associates helps entrepreneurs of for-profits and nonprofit entities become game ready to attract investment. Tulchin says that while social impact is attractive to many investors, mission-based organizations may be far more accustomed to appealing for donations and lack the business skills needed to secure capital.  “It’s very important for organizations that are trying to ‘do well by doing good’ to actually do well,” he explains. “Take the discipline of business, of a well-run organization, and do that first. Once those elements are in place, investors are more likely to see a social enterprise as investment-worthy.”

When Tulchin entered the MBA Program at the UW Business School in 1998, he’d never heard the term “social enterprise.” All he knew was that he had a goal—to make the nonprofit model work better—and he believed in using the power of business to achieve it. “I came in trying to solve this puzzle,” he says, “and the University of Washington was a fantastic place to do it.” Tulchin learned from accomplished leaders in Seattle’s growing social entrepreneurship community (including Paul Shoemaker of Social Venture Partners and Gary Mulhair of Pioneer Human Services) that there was opportunity at the intersection of nonprofits and for-profits for mission driven businesses.

After business school and a brief stint with a Bluetooth start-up company, Tulchin focused his career on social enterprise. He joined Prisma Microfinance, where he co-wrote a Global Social Venture Competition award-winning business plan and raised $1.2 million in private equity to launch subsidiaries in Nicaragua and Honduras. He went on to work as a program officer and founder of the Capital Markets Group at the Grameen Foundation, and directed a U.S. microfinance organization in Washington DC before starting his own firm in the early 2000s. Social Enterprise Associates was incorporated in 2007.

Six years later, the company is a leader in social enterprise consulting, working with nonprofits, for-profits, foundations, and government entities throughout the U.S. and around the world. The firm’s recent consulting projects have including working with banks in Afghanistan, providing strategic planning for Native American housing organizations in New Mexico, and helping a mobile grocer bring healthy food to rural communities. Social Enterprise Associates was named a 2011 “Best For the World” Small Business by B Lab, which certifies businesses as “B Corporations” that meet standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Tulchin is perhaps most proud of having advised numerous social enterprises on raising the money needed to accomplish their missions. Most recently, the firm helped close $250,000 in debt for Sea2Table, a family-owned sustainably-caught fish distributor, and is securing $1 million for Florida-based Solar and Energy Loan Fund, supporting efficient home improvements. “Raising money for social entrepreneurs is fantastic,” says Tulchin. “It’s something I’m fortunate enough to wake up and do every day.”

Enliken: putting an end to surreptitious data

Avniel Dravid2Have you noticed that since you clicked that YouTube link for Nora the Piano Cat, you’ve been seeing significantly more online ads for pet food? Or that after you googled “cheap airline tickets,” every site you’ve visited seems to be advertising them? Or that once you bought 50 Shades of Gray, Amazon started suggesting products like . . . well, you get the idea.

Every day, online advertisers target internet users with ads for specific products and interests based on information they glean from our search data—the websites we visit, the amount of time we spend on a specific page, the links we click on, the content of our inboxes.

For most of us, this “behavioral targeting” feels like an invasion of privacy. According to Avniel Dravid (UW MBA 2007), cofounder of Enliken, a Seattle- and New York-based start-up that aims to give consumers control of their internet search data, it’s also inaccurate. Dravid explains that when you visit a website, that company can take what you’re browsing and sell the information to a third party. “Advertisers then buy that information and use it to advertise to you,” he says. But these advertisers can’t measure the accuracy of the search data they purchase, which is why they think you’re in the market for a blender, when really you just wanted to watch a Blendtec puree that iPhone 4s. As Dravid puts it, “You may think I like Nike shoes, but really I like Reeboks. I’m just looking at Nike shoes. It’s not great data. It’s almost garbage in, garbage out data.”

Enliken addresses this problem by giving consumers a way to inform advertisers of their preferences. As the company’s website states: “We believe a small amount of information shared willingly is worth more than a mountain of data gathered surreptitiously.”

Enliken’s model is fairly straightforward. By installing a free plugin, users can view the search data being collected about them, deciding which data they want to share with advertisers and which they want to keep private. In exchange for sharing that information, consumers will collect reward points, which they can use to pay for digital content from online retailers or publishers.

Enliken is free for consumers. Revenue will come from advertisers. Dravid explains advertisers want their online advertising to be more relevant, and he believes that advertisers will pay to receive quality data about their customers, straight from the source.

In the meantime, Enliken has already released its first product, Enliken Discover, built by Dravid and cofounder Marc Guldimann during a summer spent traveling around Europe. It’s a teaser as to what the company will offer once they’ve built partnerships with consumers, online retailers, and publishers. The two cofounders have also secured $250,000 in angel investments and plan to raise another $250,000, all to keep you safe from advertisers who target you with ads for the latest BMW, just because you bought some turtle wax for your Tercel.

The path less traveled in Shanghai

Guest post by Tim Anderson, Foster School and Certificate of International Studies in Business alumnus

Tim AndersonAfter graduating with degrees in business administration and Japanese linguistics as well as completing Certificate of International Studies in Business’s (CISB) Japan track program, I honestly didn’t think I’d end up living in Shanghai, China for the past nine years. However, ending my undergraduate studies on the eve of a burgeoning recession in the U.S., and a full-blown recession in Japan, it seemed like the path I’d set myself up for wasn’t so clear cut anymore.

At first, I was considerably lucky and managed get a nice job working in the marketing department at an international PR firm located downtown by the Pike Place Market. The experience was great and taught me a lot, but as good as it was, it still wasn’t what CISB and the Foster School of Business trained me to do: be a truly international entrepreneur.

About a year into that first real job, I was given an opportunity to help start up a language school in the city of Shanghai. Admittedly I was nervous about taking the offer because although I had spent time in Japan and a couple other parts around Asia as a student, I had no idea what to expect of China. In the end though, my love of Asia proved to be overwhelming so I packed my bags for a new life in a new place with a new language to learn.

The people I’ve met and business challenges I’ve overcome in the past nine years has made my decision to live here well worth it. Since moving here, I’ve found my place amongst the locals as well as the expat community, and have really been able to put my business studies to work. I’m currently managing the marketing operations for an international clothing brand that is trying to break into the China mainland market. The business environment in China is fast-paced and filled with unforeseeable challenges, yet extremely rewarding if know how to play your cards right.

I can’t thank CISB and the Foster School of Business enough for preparing me for the wild journey my life has taken this past decade. I hope many future graduates will be inspired to challenge their comfort zone and follow the path less traveled as I and other alumni have done. In the end, it’s especially gratifying to know I am part of a community of CISB and Foster graduates who are also experiencing what I am experiencing, connected by a common bond.

Learn more about the Certificate of International Studies in Business Program.

Educated quest

After proving herself on Wall Street, Kate Kingen is out to reform America’s schools

Kate Kingen

It is likely that no young finance prodigy has ever followed up a promising analyst program at a prestigious Wall Street firm such as Deutsche Bank by going to work for the Newark Public Schools.

Until Kate Kingen (BA 2009).

But then, Kingen has never followed a script. The daughter of Seattle restaurateurs (Red Robin, Salty’s) chose to study accounting at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, earning the Most Outstanding Accounting Graduate Award at the top of a long ledger of accolades. But when an internship with Deutsche Bank’s Mergers & Acquisitions group turned into a job offer, she packed her bags for New York City.

Finance phenom

The analyst program is Wall Street’s trial by fire for the elite young members of a testosterone-fueled fraternity of high finance—“mainly male, very aggressive,” asserts Kingen.

Those who survive write their own ticket. Kingen thrived.

She rocketed to the top of her class at Deutsche Bank, and was named lead analyst on a number of marquee deals, most notably the $9.7 billion announced merger of Deutsche Boerse and NYSE and the $8.8 billion sale of Bucyrus to Caterpillar.

When she emerged triumphant from this two-year crucible, a gold-plated career at an investment bank or hedge fund or private equity firm was hers for the taking.

But Kingen had something more in mind. “I really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot,” she says. “But I wanted to apply my finance skills where they could make the most impact.”

Something more

Kingen had been raised to revere education. So when she was invited by the new chief operating and financial officer of the Newark School District—a Morgan Stanley veteran named Photeine Anagnostopoulos—to help implement sweeping reforms in finance, operations and strategy, Kingen jumped at the opportunity.

“If I wanted to be part of the coming change in education,” she says, “there’s no better place to start than Newark.”

After a 360-degree analysis of one of the nation’s poorest-performing districts, their team cleaned up the nearly $1 billion budget and closed under-enrolled schools. Kingen introduced a more equitable funding model that gives principles more autonomy and developed a graduation tracker that now allows parents, teachers, and students to monitor academic progress.

Going to state

With knowledge of their breakthrough work in Newark, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education hired Anagnostopoulos and Kingen to analyze the critical links between funding and performance across the state. They’re currently studying a cross-section of districts in search of the best practices that can be replicated elsewhere in the state.

“Most studies and reform efforts are focused on instruction—as it should be,” Kingen says. “But I believe that connecting finance and resource allocation to performance is going to be the next big step in education reform.”

Systems education

More than just some quixotic idealist tilting at academic dysfunction, Kingen may be onto something big.

The past year’s efforts are revealing a possible new paradigm: an interdisciplinary “systems” approach to education management that marries the wisdom of pedagogy and social science with the insights of data analytics, organizational behavior, accounting and finance. Its potential to improve student performance is transformational.

Once her work in New Jersey is complete, Kingen is planning to go for an MBA. She’d also like to start a company in this new area of expertise. “When you’re in education reform, you’re working against the clock,” she says. “Because every day you don’t make progress is another day lost for a child. So we need to keep pushing to make these changes.”

It will take some serious pushing. But Kingen—experienced, smart, energetic, ambitious, and appropriately impatient—is more than game.

“I’ve learned that management and finance acumen are sorely missing in K-12 education,” she says. “There’s a huge opportunity. It’s exciting to be at leading edge of something so important.”

Chen master

Jeff ChenFoster MBA alumnus and benefactor balances an eclectic curriculum vitae

1) Foster MBA who constructs crossword puzzles worthy of the Sunday New York Times.

Hmmm… Eight letters. Begins with J, ends with N. Let’s see. Has to be a bona fide polymath, well-read and widely experienced. Creative and analytical. A serious student of culture—both popular and passé—equally versed in history, commerce, literature, sport, art, film, science, architecture, medicine, warfare, language. A jack-of-all-topics.

Got it! Jeff Chen (MBA 2002).

And big-time crosswording is just a recent addition to the ever-expanding, endlessly fascinating curriculum vitae of this remarkable graduate of the University of Washington Foster School of Business. Chen is an entrepreneur, author, wealth manager, Big Brother, board member, game enthusiast, rock climber and world traveler.

He’s also a philanthropist who directed a major gift to the Foster School from his family foundation last year. His generosity inspired many fellow alums from his MBA class of 2002 to mark their 10th year reunion by contributing to a record-setting annual gift—a combined $468,000 to endow an MBA scholarship fund.

“I had a fantastic experience at Foster,” says Chen. “The education was great and the people were even better. I wanted to offer the same opportunity to others to experience what the MBA Program did for me.”

Gave as well as got

Chen earned two degrees in mechanical engineering from Stanford and worked at a product design firm before enrolling in the Foster School’s MBA Program, as so many, to enhance his organizational impact.

The engineer proved a quick study of management. “Simply the best of the best of our MBAs,” assesses Ed Rice, an associate professor of finance and business economics who has seen plenty in his four decades at Foster.

What really distinguished Chen, Rice adds, was his generosity of intellect. When he saw some classmates struggling in Rice’s core finance course, Chen began offering free review and tutoring sessions. Pretty soon those classmates were sharing their own particular strengths with each other, creating a peer-to-peer dynamic that has since been institutionalized in the Student Support Network.

“This ethic has become engrained in the program,” says Dan Poston, associate dean for master’s programs. “It always existed, to some extent. But after Jeff established the model, it became the way it’s done at Foster.”

Acucelerate

Poston would argue that Chen’s exhaustive job search should also stand as a model. After interning at Immunex and working in technology commercialization through the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, he targeted early stage bioscience as his chosen field.

But rather than waiting for opportunity to find him, he created it. After conducting a comprehensive audit of potential firms, he connected with Dr. Ryo Kubota, a UW professor of ophthalmology who was developing a revolutionary treatment for blinding eye disease such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. Chen helped Kubota get Acucela off the ground, then headed business operations and helped raise more than $40 million in financing. After Acucela brokered a transformational partnership with a large Japanese pharmaceutical company in 2008, it was time for a new challenge.

“After the partnership deal, I felt like Acucela had outgrown what I could bring to the company,” Chen says. “It was time to step away.”

Cross worlds

Seven breakneck years with Acucela behind him, Chen decided to seek a modicum of balance, try his hand at a range of activities and “see what sticks.”

In a word, lots.

He has served on the boards of Big Brothers & Big Sisters and Passages Northwest, and on the finance committee of Treehouse. He manages the portfolios of friends and family. He has done field work with microfinance organizations Gambia Help and Global Partnerships. Alongside his brother and father, he manages the family’s Paramitas Foundation. He travels, climbs and plays games with perhaps a bit more brio than most. He recently got married.

It was Chen’s wife, Jill, who introduced him to the joys of crossword puzzles. Working together and solo, he has published upwards of 50 in major newspapers and has become a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. On November 25th and again on January 27th, he landed the most prestigious spot in all of puzzledom: the Times Sunday crossword.

Chen also just completed a book of 52 puzzles around a theme of bridge (the card game, another passion). “Doing crosswords about bridge is kind of the nexus of everything that’s good in the world,” he says, exaggerating just a bit.

Or, to put it another way, as he did when announcing the project on Facebook: “I’m officially 80 years old.”

The writing life (and living)

Constructing crossword puzzles is a hobby for Chen. Writing books, on the other hand, is becoming much more.

Since penning his first sentence of fiction in earnest just two years ago, he’s completed eight novels for middle-grade readers. Among them are tales of exceptional kids recruited to a remote island to construct monsters for the Greek gods, of flying pygmy elephants from Burma who plot the overthrow of Victorian-age Britain, and of an overworked Grim Reaper taking on a bumbling apprentice who screws up everything.

Fanciful plots, but will they sell? Chen has a few advantages in the notoriously difficult-to-crack publishing industry. For one, an agent as active as his imagination. For another, a preternatural ability to fuse right and left brain at once, to approach writing as both an art and a business.

Many principles of enterprise are evident in his literary method, including:

Work flow management – Chen writes 6 or 7 days a week, for 3 to 4 hours a day, aiming for 1,500 words each day, actually keeping a timecard to stay on task.

Research – He’s read, dissected and analyzed upwards of 300 middle-grade books in the past couple of years to discern what works (and what doesn’t).

Development – He wrote off his first five manuscripts as, essentially, practice.

Scaling – He’s outlining multiple book series from original tales, the overwhelming trend in kid lit today.

Outsourcing – He has assembled a network of fellow writers and truth-tellers to assess ideas and drafts.

Diversification – He keeps a running list of story ideas that currently numbers in the 300s.

And one last entrepreneurial trait: ambition.

“I don’t just want to get something published,” Chen says. “Ideally, I’d like to be one of the most successful authors of all time.”

Is he tempted to get back into business? “I get that inkling,” he admits. “But you know with the writing, it’s kind of like trying to get a startup off the ground.”

Could an entrepreneur see it any other way?

From Norway to Foster to Boeing: a conversation with MBA alum Hans Aarhus

Hans Aarhus bio pictureHans Aarhus is the director of Estimating and Pricing for Boeing’s 787 program. He received his MBA from the Foster School in 1989 and is a member of the Global Business Advisory Board.

In 2011 you were named Director of Estimating and Pricing for Boeing’s 787 program after serving as the Director of Financial Planning for the program. Tell us about your new role.

In my new role, I’m responsible for all of the estimates that are done on the 787 program.  These estimates can be broken down in a couple of different categories: the engineering changes that are being considered for the airplane, customer requested changes to the airplane, new derivative airplanes being studied and any production system investment under consideration.   All of these estimates require my team to reach out to all of the different organizations that would have impacts due to the proposed changes, including engineering, procurement, production and support.  Most of these estimates get presented in a business case format that includes a number of financial metrics and considerations.  We also work with our pricing organization for estimates that include pricing considerations with our customers.

I also have responsibility for all systems, processes and tools that support our function in our day to day activities.

What was it like to come to the US from Norway to study at UW? Did you plan to stay in the US after earning your MBA?

It was a great opportunity that also included quite a culture shock.  I had not been to the US before and I still recall very vividly the first day which included the I5-I405 Hwy interchange coming out of Seatac, the downtown skyline and Bellevue Mall.  My impression was, “wow everything is bigger in the US.”The first couple of days on the UW campus were also very impressive in regards to the sheer size of the campus and all of the great architecture of the buildings. My first quarters were certainly influenced by the fact that English is my second language and some of the challenges it drives.  I also recall the excitement I always had talking to friends and relatives back in Norway in regards to my experiences that UW offered including my first Husky football game with 60,000 plus fans in the stands.I did not have any plans whatsoever to stay in the US in the beginning but that changed very quickly when I ran into a student from Oregon in the McMahon dining room in the spring of 1986.  A very long and great story but here we are 25 years into our marriage with 2 great sons.

How has your global experience helped you in your various positions?

I think the global experience has been very important for me throughout my Boeing career.  English being my second language has always made me pay very close attention when other people are communicating so I end up doing a little more listening than talking, which I have found to be a good thing.  I also think having a global experience enables you to recognize that most people come from different cultures and the more you understand about their background and can take that into consideration, the more productive your interactions will be.

What would you tell students about the world of global business?

The world is becoming a smaller and smaller place every day.  By that, I mean that advances in transportation and technology enable a much simpler way to connect with people around the world.  It is paramount for us to recognize this and embrace it.  The quicker you can adapt yourself to operate and efficiently interact with people in all of the different cultures, the more successful you will be.

I think the UW is an excellent place to start that journey. You have a tremendous opportunity at UW to really reach out to the diversity that the school has to offer. Taking advantage of these opportunities will put you ahead of a lot of your peers that you will be compared to and compete with as you progress in your school work and your professional career.

Consulting as career catalyst

Guest post by Melon Feleke, Foster alumna

Melon FelekeMy name is Melon Feleke and I am a first generation immigrant. I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and moved to Seattle with my family when I was ten years old. After attending Roosevelt High School I stayed true to my NW roots and attended the University of Washington.

For much of my childhood I was determined to be a doctor –despite the fact I fainted at pretty much every hospital visit and had no tolerance for watching pain or blood. Luckily my parents recognized my other strengths and encouraged me to consider business. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs; from my grandmother in Mettu to my parents here in Seattle; my mother owns a 7Eleven store in Mountlake Terrace. While in high school and college I managed inventory over the weekends and when my mother decided to take a vacation back home I took on the acting manager role for the store.

During my junior year at UW a classmate told me about the Business & Economic Development Center at the Foster School, specifically a program where students work with local minority business owners to improve their businesses. I thought it would be great to give back to my community in a very practical way. My client was the Theater Off Jackson, a unique minority-owned theater in the heart of the International District.  The theater was looking to relocate because of increased property costs. Our team of five students and a professional advisor worked with the clients to identify their core target market, conduct location analysis, surveying clients and ultimately making a recommendation for their new location. Our clients were facing a very real business challenge and our team brought to them meaningful business knowledge and human capital.

My BEDC experience gave me a very real sample of a career in consulting and I loved it! First and foremost I loved helping my client – this was a real problem, and if the issues weren’t resolved the owners and employees would not have a paycheck to take home to their families. I especially like that there was a beginning middle and end to the project… an end with a real result. I entered the program thinking it would be a good chance to give back to my community, but what happened along the way is I discovered the career of consulting.

The BEDC offers a two way success story –businesses succeed and students receive real and meaningful experiences that shape their careers. Fast forward three years and I am now a consultant at Accenture Consulting.

I invite you to help the BEDC create more success stories, for students like myself, and for small businesses. Make a gift to the BEDC today.

 

Found in translation

Found in Translation: Frenchman fêted for bringing American management to Chinese business

When Cyrille BrearCyrille Breardd (TMMBA 2010) was studying global strategy, cross-cultural management and how to lead organizational change at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, he had no idea just how far—and how fast—his education would take him.

In late September Breard found himself in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, where he received the National Friendship Award, China’s highest honor for a foreign national, from Premier Wen Jiabao.

Elapsed time? Just over two years out of Foster’s Technology Management MBA Program.

“This is a huge award in China,” says Xiao-Ping Chen, a professor of management at the Foster School who taught his cross-cultural management class. “It’s quite a remarkable honor that Cyrille has won, and won so soon.”

If the pace seems extreme, well, then, that’s China. Breard was recognized for his significant coordination and collaboration work with COMAC, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, a state-owned company that launched in 2008 with ambitions to join the global aerospace market almost overnight.

Technical bona fides

Breard has the cut of an absolute engineer: PhD in mechanics from the Université du Havre in France. Author of papers with titles such as “An Integrated time-domain model for the prediction of fan forced response due to inlet distortion.” Researcher at the Rolls-Royce Vibration University Technology Center at Imperial College London. Senior scientist/engineer at Redmond-based Analytical Methods. Acoustic scientist engineer at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

After proving himself a top technician during a decade in the United States, the French-born Breard aspired to manage innovation at a higher level. His time in Foster’s TMMBA Program proved pivotal.

“My outlook changed entirely,” he says. “As an engineer, you see a problem as something to fix. Now I see every problem as an opportunity. The Foster TMMBA experience made me more positive, more entrepreneurial, to view every situation as a way to improve something. That’s the philosophy I took with me to China.”

It would serve him well.

Unique opportunity
Cyrille Breard
Breard was recruited under China’s Thousand Talents Program which imports international experts to help develop the nation’s industries. Aiding his decision was his wife Xuehong’s desire to return to her native China. With their two daughters, the family relocated to Shanghai in 2010. Xuehong went to work for a Chinese civil engineering firm. And Cyrille joined COMAC, at the time a two-year-old “startup” founded with $2.7 billion in capital. Its aim was unprecedented in the history of aviation.

“You don’t just create a company from scratch in the aerospace business,” Breard says. “I had to take this opportunity.”

He was initially hired for his acoustic engineering expertise. His charge was to bring the firm’s single-aisle commercial airplanes into compliance with strict international noise standards. But this proved to be a difficult challenge.

Like many Chinese enterprises, COMAC is organized into distinct departments with clear responsibilities. But acoustic engineering, by nature, must cut across every function of aircraft design. It requires enormous collaboration, something Breard knew well from his time in the US and at Foster.

So Breard took it upon himself to connect the dots. He amended his job description to become a kind of in-house organizational consultant. “I go into different departments and try to find a better way to do what they’re doing,” he says.

His tacit understanding of Guanxi, the powerful rule of relationships in China, enabled him to begin fostering a Western-style collaborative culture across the company. And he quickly proved himself an indispensable asset to COMAC—an engineer who knows how to manage organizations.

Famous in China

COMAC and the Chinese government formally recognized Breard’s contributions in September. Xuehong joined him in Beijing for the ceremony. And both attended, as special guests, the following day’s National Banquet, officiated by Premier Wen and then-President Hu Jintao.

In early December, Breard and a small group of foreign experts met with Xi Jinping, the newly elected General Secretary of China’s Communist Party and likely next president of China.

“There are not many people who get the chance to do these things in their lives,” Breard says.

All of this has been covered extensively by the Chinese press, bringing him a rapidly growing notoriety.

Breard says his first sensation of celebrity came a few weeks after the Friendship Award proceedings. A two-minute profile of his work at COMAC aired in prime time of the national news broadcast on CCTV1. The program was viewed by over 320 million people.

“After that,” Breard says, “people I didn’t even know where coming up to me and saying, ‘Now you’re famous in China.’ ”

Suzan DelBene

Tech entrepreneur and former Microsoft executive heads to Congress

Suzan DelBeneSuzan DelBene (MBA 1990) has been a Microsoft vice president, CEO of a software startup, microfinance consultant, and director of a state agency. Now she is representing Washington state’s First Congressional District in Washington D.C.

DelBene ran for Congress to improve the economy and put the middle class first. According to The Seattle Times, DelBene said, “For me this campaign always has been about standing up for working families and the middle class.” She won the district with 54% of the votes and was sworn into office on November 13, 2012. She is finishing the final weeks of former Congressman Jay Inslee’s term and will start her 2-year term in January.

Prior to being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, she was looking for ways to help businesses as director of the Washington State Department of Revenue. Governor Chris Gregoire appointed DelBene to head the state’s tax collection agency after her first foray into politics as a 2010 candidate for Washington’s Eighth Congressional District. That highly credible effort earned her the endorsement of the Seattle Times, which cited her “tremendous promise” and “sharp business and entrepreneurial skills.”

DelBene freely admits she knew little about tax administration before agreeing to run the agency that collects more than 90 percent of state taxes. But observers say she has been a quick study on the complex intricacies of tax policy.

After DelBene joined the agency, the governor directed her to examine ways it could improve the business climate by streamlining the tax system. DelBene consulted businesses and other stakeholders across the state to determine what the state could do to reduce the burden of complying with multiple state and local tax obligations. The resulting report issued in June 2011 recommended that the state consider assuming administration of local business and occupation taxes, much as it now collects local sales taxes. Gregoire subsequently directed the Department to work with business and local governments to develop a proposal. Such an overhaul of the tax system would require legislative approval.

In the end, cities such as Tacoma and Seattle were resistant to centralizing the collection of B&O taxes at the state level, and as a result the bill was not approved. While DelBene was not able to centralize B&O tax collection, she was able to move business licensing to the Department of Revenue from the Department of Licensing, which helps streamline the process of starting a business.

The Eastside resident started her career in immunology research after graduating from Reed College in Portland. She first became interested in the business side of technology while working at ZymoGenetics in Seattle. That led her to enter the Foster School in 1988. She interned at Microsoft while in school and joined the company after graduation, marketing Windows 95 and other products. She then left Microsoft to help launch drugstore.com in 1998, and in 2000 became CEO of Nimble Technology, a data integration software firm. Along the way, she’s also mentored students at the Foster School.

DelBene returned to Microsoft in 2004 as a corporate vice president for the mobile communications business, and in 2008 became a consultant at Global Partnerships, a microfinance nonprofit.

Now that she is on the government side of things at the national level, DelBene’s business background will come in handy again as she works to solve the economic issues currently facing the United States.