Management

Guest Blogger: Liz Karagianis, MIT Spectrum

When Sina Kevin Nazemi ’03 interviewed then-President Clinton in the sixth grade, it changed his life. Scheduled to last just eight minutes, the interview lasted half an hour and aired nationally as an NBC Special Report.

Sina Kevin Nazemi ’03

Now in Manhattan, Sina Kevin Nazemi’s newest venture is in health care. Photo: Freddie Mejia.

The project began as a class assignment at the Fairview Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri. Although his teacher dismissed his choice of a US president as impossible, Nazemi persevered.

Every day, before and after school, he called the White House—dozens of times. Finally the White House operator connected him to the director of media affairs. After three more weeks of calls, Nazemi won approval. “I just didn’t think that interviewing the President was impossible,” he says.

Nazemi was profiled in the spring 2000 issue of MIT Spectrum.

Nazemi was profiled in MIT Spectrum when he was a first-year student.

Later, as a high school junior, Nazemi served as head page in the U.S. Senate, where he met Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. And, after graduating from MIT, he landed a job as associate product manager at Microsoft. He quickly rose to country manager, then global business manager, traveling to 22 countries around the world. Five years later, he headed back to the East coast, where he earned an MBA at Harvard Business School and a master’s in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2011.

Later, he co-founded and served as CEO of Done.com, an online marketplace for home services. Recently, Nazemi sold the company and moved to Manhattan, where he is now working on another venture, this time in the healthcare industry. “Long term, our ambition is to shake up the industry by putting the consumer experience first,” he says.

But it was that early interview, he says, that shaped his life and career. “My interviewing the President made me look at challenges through a non-traditional lens,” he says, adding that healthcare was high on Clinton’s legislative agenda.

“And,” he says, “it certainly propelled my ambitions. It taught me to think and dream big and to give anything a try.”

Watch Nazemi’s 1993 interview with President Clinton.

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John P. Kotter

John P. Kotter ’68 SM ’70

If you asked Professor John P. Kotter ’68, SM ’70 about his personal hero, he wouldn’t hesitate: Nelson Mandela. Kotter opened his keynote speech at the Association of Independent Living Groups (AILG) Annual Meeting by describing Mandela’s impact as a leader; Kotter credited that success in part to Mandela’s close friendship and collaboration with his political mentor, Walter Sisulu.

Kotter’s emphasis on the importance of mentoring future leaders fit the atmosphere of the AILG event, at which alumni belonging to MIT fraternities and sororities had gathered to discuss their plans for the coming year. The list of initiatives for the meeting included items like “provide educational guidance for leadership development” and “foster undergraduate mentoring programs”. AILG members often aid current MIT fraternity and sorority members by doing publicity during pledge weeks and by teaching undergrads how best to perform leadership positions with their chapters, like treasurer, vice president, and president.

In his speech, Kotter also fondly recalled his MIT undergraduate years in Sigma Phi Epsilon, emphasizing his hope that the AILG members would find more ways to inspire the younger generation to lead.

leading-change-book-coverKotter, author of international bestseller Leading Change, as well as 16 other books, is an expert on business and leadership. In 1994, he wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review that analyzed why businesses often fail in their attempts to make overarching changes. Kotter noticed eight common errors, such as “allowing too much complacency,” “under-communicating the vision,” and “declaring victory too soon”; he used his observations to craft an 8-step plan for how to better instruct business.

In 2012, Kotter re-released Leading Change with a new preface about how “the speed of change continues to increase”. Modern businesses have had to adapt to new technologies faster and faster each year, and Kotter believes that this makes leadership training all the more invaluable.

“Task forces, ‘work-streams,’ and project management organizations are still the most common vehicles used to drive significant change efforts. These structures can help, but … they simply don’t have sufficient power for an extremely difficult set of tasks,” writes Kotter in the 2012 preface. “Leading change competently is the only answer.”

Kotter’s updated book, Leading Change, can be found on Amazon.com.

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Over 75% of Americans live in urban areas, a number that has risen steadily in the past century.

Ensuring that cities are comfortable places to live for those growing numbers is tough. How best to house everyone? Get them to commute in eco-friendly ways? Provide families and children with fresh, healthy food?

Julie Lein GM '12. Photo: Sloan Women in Management.

Julie Lein GM ’12. Photo: Sloan Women in Management.

Doing so—on a large scale—requires creative thinking and smart solutions. Two MIT Sloan alumnae, Clara Brenner GM ’12 and Julie Lein GM ’12, aim to fund such thinking with a new startup based in San Francisco.

Tumml, which launched this spring and which comes from a Yiddish word for “shaking things up,” arose out of a study the two women did while at Sloan. After surveying startups nationwide, they found that a mere 15% of those that focused on urban problems got seed funding.

Brenner and Lein think of Tumml as an “urban impact accelerator.” Calling attention to that low result in the venture capital community, the two alums aim to foster creative entrepreneurs who are eager to make city living better. Brenner’s background in real-estate and alternative financing has combined well with Lein’s background in urban education and nonprofit advocacy in forming Tumml.

“At the same time that more people than ever are living in cities, the fiscal climate means that cities are less able to provide certain services and quality of life,” Lein said in an interview with VentureBeat. “Entrepreneurs can shoulder that load. There is such a market opportunity here. This is where entrepreneurship should enter, there is so much they could do. We were curious why more entrepreneurs are not stepping up to fill the gap.”

Tumml’s first project will be hosting ten “promising, for-profit companies” to work in their San Francisco office, appropriately named The Hatchery. Each for-profit selected for the 12-week residency will receive $30,000 in free services along with office space as they conceive of and launch their solution.

At the end of each cohort, Tumml will work with startups to pitch their projects to investors, potential clients, or government agencies.

“There is not necessarily a place for entrepreneurs to go right now when they want to solve a problem in their own backyard,” Lein said. “We want to be the place that addresses those needs, and create a meaningful pipeline of urban impact entrepreneurs to prove that these companies have the ability to succeed, and people have the ability to shape our cities in important ways.”

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NerdWallet logoWhen it comes to financial services, companies use everything from talking babies to Vikings to persuade people to use their products. You practically need a degree from MIT to decide on the best checking account or credit card rewards program. Which is exactly why the friends and family of Jake Gibson ’04, who majored in math and finance at the Institute, sought him out for basic financial advice.

“I realized that there was no trusted resource for them to find answers,” Gibson says. So he left his job at JPMorgan Chase and cofounded San Francisco-based NerdWallet, a website that helps consumers make informed choices about their personal finances by creating free, simple tools and resources using a numbers-based, analytic approach. Users can do personalized searches based on their spending habits and receive unbiased results—the company’s tagline is “We do the homework for you.”

Here are just some of the comparison tools on the NerdWallet site:

  • Credit cards based on the best balance-transfer offers, lowest interest rates, or most cash back
  • Brokerage firms broken down by best data-analysis tools or research reports or lowest fees
  • Checking accounts filtered by age and stage (teens, college students, seniors, or everyone else) as well as by type of financial institution (big, community, or Internet bank or credit union)
  • Student loans based on estimated repayments
  • Online shopping deals organized by cash back, points, or miles for purchases as well as those offering coupon codes and promos (there were nearly 46,000 deals and promos at press time, and you can sort by independent retailers and Etsy coupons as well)

One of numerous tools NerdWallet offers to compare financial services, like checking accounts, brokerage firms, and student loans.

Articles on the NerdWallet site provide advice on everything from investing to food stamps. NerdWallet Education offers a scholarship search and compares colleges based on highest employment rates and salaries for grads as well as schools with the most students volunteering or traveling after graduation. The education section of the site is completely free of ads and commercial referrals.

NerdWallet also provides advice on travel with a feature called TravelNerd. There’s an online tool to compare various airline fees, and a newly launched smartphone app helps at the airport by recommending parking and transportation (including any taxi-sharing offers and phone numbers for car/shuttle services), amenities, and terminal maps.

The site has been getting great buzz this year, with its services and tools recommended by and mentioned in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Time, Money, Huffington Post, and more.

NerdWallet is a labor of love for Gibson and his employees, many of whom took pay cuts and gave up successful corporate trajectories to help people and further the company’s mission of transparency in the realms of financial, travel, and educational services.

So, has it been worth it?

Joseph Audette ’05, VP of education and financial literacy, says it has. “My cousin just emailed me saying she used our site to know which bank was the best on her campus,” he says. “You don’t get those emails when you are working at a hedge fund.” A site like NerdWallet would have helped him with his own finances. “After MIT, I consolidated my loans privately and ended up paying much more than if I had consolidated using the federal system,” he says. “I just didn’t know that was an option for me. That is why we created NerdWallet Education as a pro bono resource.”

In the coming year, NerdWallet plans to release additional resources that focus on financial literacy and college affordability. It’s also expanding nonprofit partnerships by working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a new grant to help first-generation students and parents complete the FAFSA.

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Diagram showing how ProBueno works.

How ProBueno works.

It isn’t always easy to support the causes we care about. Money can be tight, our time is short, and we don’t always know how to help. Common wisdom says to do what we love, but for those who are altruistically inclined, that doesn’t always translate into work a charitable organization can use.

Now it can thanks to ProBueno, a company sprung from the minds of three alumni: Michel Rbeiz ’04, MNG ’06; Ryan Kabir ’05; and Ziad Sultan ’03, MNG ’05.

The idea behind ProBueno is simple: offer your skills to help anyone in exchange for a donation to the cause of your choice. For example, a tennis coach can offer to give a lesson to anyone who donates $30 to the Red Cross. Currently, there are 1.2 million US-based charities in the ProBueno database.

You can even support MIT just by helping someone else. ProBueno has set up a special page for those who want donations to benefit the Institute. Their goal is to raise $5,000. As of this posting, 20 volunteers had pledged 40 hours of work amounting to $1,700.

Guitar lesson that helped raise money for the Red Cross.

Of course, if you need help, browse the site by donation amount, date of service, or keyword. It’s still in beta but a variety of services (some general, some specific) are available: everything from sprucing up a resume, to solving a troublesome app-development problem, to learning to play “Hallelujah” on the piano.

What inspired this idea? “A while back, we were contemplating how helpless we were trying to make a difference with charities we cared about. We could not write a large check or drop everything and take a plane to go volunteer,” Rbeiz says. “For myself and Ziad, it was the Red Cross in times of war in the Middle East; for Ryan, it was the World Food Programme. There are things that we are good at and in demand for (thanks to MIT!), but they do not match nonprofits’ needs. It is inherently difficult to use our skills for good. ProBueno comes from the idea that we could contribute in a new way.”

The cofounders all met at MIT and have tapped into their MIT connections to help with their endeavor. Fellow alumni and friends provided support and counsel in pursuing this venture.

Since the spring, Rbeiz and Kabir have been building ProBueno full time. (Sultan continues to provide strategic guidance on a part-time basis and is focusing on his new startup, Marginize.) Currently, ProBueno is setting up more nonprofits to receive donations. Companies are also interested in using the site to promote community-service days.

Alumni, don’t forget that your do-gooding can support the Institute.

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A student-run online publication, the MIT Entrepreneurship Review (MITER), is showcasing the voices of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and alumni who share a passion for entrepreneurship. Lively articles offer insights from MIT classrooms and real-world results.

Founded in 2010, MITER styles itself as ‘where Einstein meets Edison’ or where thinkers meet doers. Here are a few highlights:

Penguin Finders are Eating the World!

Stav Davis, a Sloan graduate student and MITER chief executive, writes about the open hardware movement. He says that may be the “catalyst that Moore’s Law needs in order to sustain itself even further: make the basic secrets public.” His example from this movement is littleBits, a company that can’t keep up demand for its products: a collection of electronic components that click together magnetically to form electric circuits.

Critical Features for Multi-Device Applications

In part 2 of a series on morphing devices, MBA student Akshay Luther writes about morphing software, which can power devices from tablets to cars. He offers five guidelines for building such applications.

Drinking from the Well: A Serial Entrepreneur’s Journey from Information Technology to Agribusiness

Sloan graduate student Natacha Hardy describes the path of Dan Grotsky SM ’02, MBA ’02, from his background in military intelligence and information technology, through the Leaders for Global Operations program, and into his current role as a serial entrepreneur in clean tech and sustainability. In a recent effort, he and his father are working in Moldova to help the government develop agriculture and to create private export enterprises to sell agricultural products.

Tap the Toolkitfor some 20 articles on the basics of entrepreneurship:

Joining a Startup: The Team Aspect

Kiran Divvela MBA ’11 says pay particular attention to the team composition and leadership team because “A great team can make a mediocre idea successful, but a bad team will ruin any good idea that they lay their hands on.”

Be Obsessed About Your Product!

Ricardo Diz MBA ’10 describes what he learned about selling products, versus business services, during his Sloan studies.

MITER welcomes feedback and is looking for writers.

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From top: Duc Chau, Suma Thomas, and Dave Markert.

From top: Duc Chau, Suma Thomas, and Dave Markert.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal blog featured three Sloan students in the MIT Executive MBA (EMBA) low-residency program: Duc Chau, Suma Thomas, and Dave Markert, to see what a typical day is like for them when they find themselves on campus—which happens every third weekend and one week every six months.

The EMBA is not for the motivationally challenged. Students in this 20-month program for mid-career professionals work demanding jobs—often located outside of New England or in other countries—and pursue rigorous course work as well as complete a one-week international project trip. Most of these students hold director-level positions or above in their jobs and have families.

So how do they manage it all? Watch the slide shows. Here are some highlights:

Duc Chau, founder and senior VP of engineering at the Rubicon Project, an internet advertising company in Los Angeles, takes a red-eye from L.A. and arrives in Boston at 6:00 a.m.—plenty of time to check on things at work. Then it’s off to learn about stock, flow, and causation diagrams and retail pricing markdown strategies in class and swap career experiences with classmates.

Suma Thomas, a cardiologist at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., starts her morning with a run with classmates followed by Systems Dynamics and Operations classes then meetings with her learning group.

Dave Markert, a retired naval officer, is the cofounder and CEO of Tactical Systems Engineering LLP, a defense industry company. He leaves his house in Rhode Island at 5:40 a.m. for a full day of class and a 30-minute presentation (called a fireside chat) about his background titled “Unmanned Aerial Systems.”

The EMBA began two years ago, with the inaugural class of 62 students graduating this past June. At that time, over half the class had been promoted or taken on increased responsibilities and three new businesses had been launched.

Read student profiles and check out the program’s Executive Insights Blog.

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Beehive CollaborativeMIT students and alumni have a new place to turn great ideas into promising business startups. This summer some 40 teams, all involving at least one MIT student, tapped into the Beehive Cooperative, MIT’s newest and largest startup accelerator.

This Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship initiative provides a dynamic and supportive environment for early-stage companies. The heart of the hive is 5,000 square feet in E52, the site of office space and work tables, plus the buzz of brainstorming sessions, guest lectures, advice, and camaraderie. Budding companies include efforts to develop art works that generate solar energy, a twitter-like Q&A platform for management issues, and a universal design watch band attractive to people with and without vision problems.

Rallyt hopes to connect people to political movements.

Rallyt hopes to connect people to political movements.

The Buzz, a video profile series, introduces the startups. Here’s one sample:

Rallyt is an independent global online platform for political movements. Current web technologies don’t work well for political advocacy, says cofounder Eugene Feldman MBA ’12.

“We are trying to build a social movement from the ground up that focuses on political movements, as opposed to on individuals. It will give individuals a very safe and private way to engage politically in the cause that they are passionate about.” The group hopes to get a prototype to users later in August, just in time for the fall elections.

The Beehive Cooperative also provided an alternative to returning to California where Feldman and his two Rallyt colleagues are from. MIT provides guidance and mentorship and the young company does not lose control to investors, he says. “For an early company like us, it’s probably a perfect start.”

Want to know more? Read The Tech article on the Beehive Cooperative.

 

 

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When playing the lottery, there is usually one goal: hit the jackpot, claim the cash. But a group headed by then-MIT students took a different approach and won millions from the Massachusetts State Lottery–without ever needing to hit the elusive six-digit prize.

James Harvey ’05 was looking for a senior independent study project during his final semester when he came across the Massachusetts State Lottery game Cash WinFall. Unlike traditional lottery games, Cash WinFall’s biggest prize did not exceed $2 million. If the six-number jackpot was not won–which occurred almost 99 percent of the time–the $2 million prize was “rolled down” into smaller prizes that matched four or five numbers, sometimes increasing those prizes tenfold. Harvey determined that, during a “roll down,” each lottery ticket was worth more than it costs.

According to a report from the Massachusetts inspector general, on February 7, 2005, Harvey placed $1,000 worth of bets. After a $2 million jackpot passed with no winner, he won $3,000. Soon after, he and Yuran Lu ’05 incorporated Random Strategies Investments, named after MIT’s Random Hall, and began attracting investors.

The group eventually determined that if they purchased at least $600,000 worth of tickets during a “roll down,” they could garner an average profit of more than 15 percent. According to the report, the group earned an estimated $3.5 million over seven years.

In August 2010, Random Strategies won nearly the entire Cash WinFall prize in a single drawing, purchasing 700,000 $2 tickets and cashing in 860 of the 963 winning slips.

From Boston Magazine:

“…The biggest headache of (Harvey’s) system was finding places to actually place his large volume bets (running hundreds of thousands of tickets can tie up an employee for hours), filling out each betting slip by hand (computer generated slips are illegal), and correcting for other variables like weather (if it was too humid, the machines could jam), among others.”

The report identified other groups who profited from the game, including a team of scientists from BU and Northeastern, and confirmed that high-volume betting did not adversely affect other players’ odds of winning.  The report acknowledged that lottery officials did not enforce rules that made high-volume ticket purchasing more difficult because it was financially advantageous to the lottery and the practice is legal.

Unfortunately for would-be players, the lottery restricted the number of tickets any store could sell in a day in 2011, and the game was stopped earlier this year.

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As Businessweek notes, seven current or former central bank chiefs—from the U.S., Europe, India, Israel, Chile, and Cyprus—are alumni of or have taught at MIT’s Department of Economics. The graph, shown below, digs deeper and showcases the depth of the department’s influence in the global financial landscape, past and present. (Click on the graph for a larger version.)

From contemporary newsmakers like Ben Bernanke PhD ’79 to foreign policy makers like Mervyn King, an MIT visiting professor in 1983-1984 and current governor of the Bank of England, the Department of Economic’s fingerprints can be found in financial situations on nearly every continent.

If you’ve ever wanted to connect former faculty member and 1985 Nobel Prize winner Franco Modigliani with 2008 Nobel winner Paul Krugman PhD ’77–in four easy steps–this is the graph for you. Plus, take the quiz listed at the bottom and see if you can identify anyone listed in the graph in their younger days.

In your opinion, is there anyone that Businessweek left out? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

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