Neal Dempsey’s advice for the class of 2013

The Foster School of Business was honored to have Neal Dempsey (BA 1964) speak at the undergraduate commencement ceremony this year. Dempsey is managing general partner at Bay Partners, focusing on enterprise software applications. Over the past 19 years he has guided more than two dozen start-ups to obtain highly successful outcomes—either through an IPO or by acquisition. He recently made Forbes’ 2013 Midas List of top tech investors. In 2012 he had three companies go public and three others get acquired.

Dempsey gave an animated and insightful send off to the class of 2013. His three secrets for success in the real world: accept failure, embrace change and give back. Below is an excerpt from his blog and video of his speech. Congratulations to the class of 2013!

Re-posted from Dempsey’s blog:

I had the honor of being asked to give the commencement address for the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business undergraduate class this month. As many of you know, the University of Washington is my alma mater and near and dear to my heart. It was a real treat. To prepare for the speech, I spent some time with about 25 of this year’s graduating class. I wanted to know their hopes, dreams, and worries for what’s ahead. After all, these are some difficult times for new college graduates. I must say I was surprised and impressed with the caliber of these students. Most have jobs and all are prepared and ambitious. I expect to see great things from this group of students in the future.

This is not your ordinary commencement speech, so get ready for more than a few surprises. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed giving it. Congratulations to the class of 2013!

See more from the Foster School’s graduation ceremonies.

MBA transformers: Crystal Wu

Once: Environmental Scientist, SWAPE

Now: Senior Analyst, Expedia

Crystal WuCollecting dust from old attics. Sampling oil field air in the middle of the night. Ah, the romance of environmental science.

Crystal Wu (MBA 2011) knows it well. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in molecular, cell and developmental biology, she began her career managing environmental consulting projects for SWAPE.

But eventually, Wu decided to come in out of this niche field. The Foster School helped her identify—and achieve—a broader role. “I didn’t know I wanted to move into finance,” she says, “but it was a natural step given my background in modeling and analysis.”

Wu found finance at Foster. She also founded the Seattle chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs.

But it was her internship at Mike’s Hard Lemonade, of all places, that activated her transformation to business finance. “It was the stepping stone I needed to connect my two careers,” Wu says.

Her re-launch has begun at Expedia, where she applies her modeling and financial analysis skills to its affiliate network. The company recently transferred her to London where, it is presumed, she’s able to avoid dusty attics and stinky oil fields.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Carrie Stearns

Once: Research Scientist, Cornell

Now: Senior Marketing Manager, Philips Healthcare

Carrie StearnsAfter defending her doctoral thesis in chemical biology at Cornell, Carrie Stearns (MBA 2008) climbed into her car and drove four days straight across the USA to begin orientation for the Foster MBA Program.

She wasn’t keen to prolong the transition from cancer research to management development. “I loved the science,” she says. “Just not doing the science. I wanted a little more control over my destiny, a way to make a more immediate impact on healthcare.”

Foster was the ticket. She loved the diversity of students, dove into the coursework and entered the UW Business Plan Competition (her team’s plan for an algaebased biofuel won Best Clean Tech).

She also turned an internship at Philips into a job managing the healthcare company’s cardiovascular and surgery device service portfolios. She helped launch the prostate cancer drug Provenge at Dendreon before returning to Philips to lead its women’s healthcare ultrasound business in North America.

“It’s the rare opportunity in marketing to both set the strategy and drive implementation,” she says.

And no looking back. “I don’t think I would have been happy doing research,” she admits. “I’m passionate about marketing and healthcare. And improving patients’ lives.”

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Shrenik Shah

Once: Engineer, DuPont

Now: Director of Site Merchandising & Operations, Walmart eCommerce

Shrenik ShahShrenik Shah (MBA 2010) chose a career track early. He studied science and math at the Indian High School of Dubai, majored in engineering at Virginia Tech, and began his career as an engineer at DuPont, ensuring the safety and efficiency of new product facilities.

But Shah wanted to do more than execute on a firm’s strategic decisions. He wanted to make those decisions. He needed an MBA to move to the management side.

On first impression, he says, “the Foster School blew my mind. The people, the environment, how collaborative the whole place is.”

Shah absorbed every course, every classmate, every case competition, every mentor, every opportunity to work and learn.

After assisting in several start-ups and a brief stint in strategy consulting with Alvarez & Marsal, Shah joined Walmart eCommerce, where he helps manage the sprawling Internet operation of the world’s largest retailer.

His engineering background has helped him navigate the analytics and interactions with technical teams. But it’s his management skills that are making the difference. “My engineering work was never customerfacing,” he says. “At Walmart, however, I’m exposed to the entire US market—actual people spending their hard-earned money with us in this tight economy.”

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Natalia Perez

Once: Economist, US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Now: Category Development Analyst, Starbucks

Natalia PerezNatalia Perez’s (MBA 2012) first job after college was conducting market research and analysis focused on the trucking industry for a transportation consulting firm.“ I didn’t even know how my car worked,” admits the Chilean expat.

But she did know how to analyze complex economies. And she soon found employment as an industry analyst at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, helping produce the monthly jobs report and the Producer Price Index.

But she didn’t see herself in government long term, and decided an MBA was the most versatile degree to get.

Her coursework at Foster helped her self-identify with market analytics. Even before graduation she began working at Starbucks, first as a workforce strategist and now as a category development analyst for emerging Starbucks brands including Evolution Fresh and the Verismo home brewing system.

Her time at Starbucks has revealed an under-heralded value of the program. “Every piece is important,” she says. “And it may sound like a small thing, but learning to work in teams has been critical. At Starbucks, I don’t do anything on my own. Everything is accomplished in teams. It’s such a vital element of the Foster MBA.”

Update: Drawing on her belief in the power of teams, Perez has moved from analysis to management. She still works at Starbucks but is now a Bakery product manager.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Lisa Lissandrello

Once: Math Teacher/Ski Instructor, Jackson Hole

Now: Senior Financial Analyst, Amazon.com

Stacy LissandrelloFor a while, Stacy Lissandrello (MBA 2011) didn’t really care to have a career at all.

“I wanted to be a ski bum,” she admits.

After studying mathematics at Colby College, Lissandrello moved to Wyoming to ski. She gave ski lessons and did math tutoring to fund her skiing.

Tutoring led to a job teaching calculus and statistics and, eventually, heading the math department at a private school in Jackson Hole. But eventually Lissandrello’s vagabond existence wore thin. She wanted a career both challenging and rewarding, and thought finance might make a good transition. “I figured an MBA would be the quickest way to jumpstart my career,” she says.

It was a comfort to find that she was not alone in her non-traditional path to the MBA. And from her first finance course, she knew she had made the right choice.

So did Amazon, which hired Lissandrello as a senior financial analyst. She began working on the company’s fulfillment supply chain and now covers retail health and beauty products.

It’s a dream position for someone who, like her employer, tends to be data-driven. “I have this great job in the city,” she says, “and the mountains in my backyard.”

Update: Now working at Microsoft as the senior finance manager for the Surface Tablet, Lissandrello continues to combine finance work at a data-driven tech company with proximity to great ski slopes.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Stacie Johnson

Once: Personnel Officer, US Army

Now: Senior Consultant, PwC Consulting

Stacie JohnsonOh, the places she’s gone.

In the years leading to her Foster MBA, Stacie Gowdy Johnson (MBA 2012) studied chemistry and nuclear engineering at the US Military Academy, served as postal platoon leader in Korea and executive officer to the commanding general at Fort Bliss, founded the first medical school on the US-Mexico border (for Texas Tech), and led a strategic overhaul of Washington state’s Employment Security Department.

Such a varied suite of formative experiences gave Johnson reason to think that consulting might be a good fit. “But I wasn’t qualified,” she says. “They all wanted 10 years of experience or an MBA.”

So she came to Foster. Johnson made the most of her classmate collaborations and coursework, especially in strategy, project management, market research and quantitative analysis. Plus an internship in customer strategy and operations at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Now in her first full-time assignment at PwC Consulting, Johnson is mapping processes for a new organization within Microsoft.

Where to next? Johnson says that consulting is a great place to learn, the nexus of many possibilities. “I’m not sure if I see myself in consulting forever,” she says. “But who knows?”

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Lisa Henke

Once: Philanthropy Director, The Nature Conservancy

Now: Vendor Management, Amazon.com

Lisa HenkeExperiencing the fragile natural splendor of Ecuador and Costa Rica during her college years, Lisa Henke (MBA 2010) couldn’t help but become an environmental advocate.

She joined the Nature Conservancy’s Latin American programs, initially handling marketing, fundraising and business development. Eventually, Henke rose to associate director of philanthropy, forging relationships with wealthy individuals and corporations with a conscience.

“I was inspired by the people I met on the advisory board,” Henke says. “I began to see the power of combining business and environmental management.”

She came to Foster to learn how to harness the market to do good. She says her classes and classmates really helped.

And now that free-market education continues at Amazon, where Henke began as a senior product manager on the books team and now oversees vendor management on the home improvement team.

“I’ve learned so much here, working with smart people from so many different backgrounds,” she says. “It’s like an extension of the Foster School.”

Henke also remains active on the board of EarthCorps, a Seattle-based organization she first served through the Foster Board Fellows Program. “That’s how I get my environmental fix,” she says.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Seth Eisner

Once: Chef, Etta’s, Dahlia, Harvest Vine

Now: General Manager, Microsoft Financing

Seth EisnerFood to finance. This odd trajectory is the story of Seth Eisner’s (MBA 2001) professional life.

His epicurean nature activated by a stint teaching English in Paris, Eisner returned to the States to attend the New England Culinary Institute. Then, in the late 90s, he worked at the newly opened Etta’s Seafood, Dahlia Lounge, and Harvest Vine, cooking alongside some of Seattle’s top young chefs.

But Eisner, who studied history at Washington University, also harbored feelings for financial markets. Faculty in the Foster MBA Program helped him explore this growing interest, and an internship at Microsoft proved that his perfect job exists in the corporate world. In fact, it exists at Microsoft.

So out of the frying pan and into the fire. In his decade-plus at Microsoft, Eisner has directed foreign exchange, capital markets, and investments and acquisitions units. Today he leads the complex enterprise of Microsoft Financing.

He still cooks whenever possible, and carves out a few weekends to make duck confit, cure meats or pickle vegetables. And lessons from the professional kitchen are seared in his psyche.

“That experience helped me find order in chaos, develop productive working relationships under pressure,” he says. “The parallels to what I do now are striking.”

Update: Eisner’s passion for Microsoft continues. Today he has moved from Microsoft Financing to Worldwide Licensing and Pricing, managing company financial decisions that have a global impact.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Benjamin Pierson

Once: Emergency Management Planner, Pierce County

Now: Director, Alvarez & Marsal

Emergency managemenBen Piersont may not be the most obvious prelude to an MBA. But Ben Pierson (MBA 2009) found the complexity of his work with Pierce County Emergency Management to be growing rapidly beyond his skill set. After four years, he was leading the agency’s countywide planning for disaster response and economic recovery, an endeavor that demanded system-wide coordination of public and private sector.

Pierson sought a Foster MBA to understand the business end of such partnerships. “I just came to learn,” he says. “And I trusted that something good would come from it.”

He emerged a fixer of the highest order.

His first contribution was to develop a green economy jobs strategy for Seattle/ King County with its Workforce Development Council. Now he’s with the consulting firm of Alvarez & Marsal, advising philanthropic clients on their efforts to solve wide-scale social, economic and health ills.

“To solve these complicated, systemic problems, we ultimately need to find market-based solutions that don’t rely solely on public funding or philanthropy,” Pierson says. “I have to know all the levers to pull, understand how to coax stakeholders out of their comfort zones. I wouldn’t have been in this position without the Foster School.”

Update: Pierson has moved from advising philanthropic clients on tough problems to working for philanthropy organizations directly. He is now the principal technical adviser for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and serves on the board of the Seattle Jobs Initiative.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

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