By Nancy Moffitt
A rainy, cool May in Philadelphia continued during Reunion Weekend, but the more than 950 returning alumni and guests were undeterred and unwaveringly cheerful. The May 19-21 weekend brought together the classes of WG’95, WG’90, WG’85, WG’80, WG’75, WG’70, WG’65, WG’60, WG’55 and WG’50 – the second time 10 MBA reunion years have been celebrated at once.
Christine Bourron, WG’95, Defies the Skeptics
Christine Bourron knew exactly what she wanted to buy — a floral painting for her mother’s 60th birthday. It seemed a simple and sure-to-please plan, but after scouring dozens of galleries in Boston and New York and still coming up empty handed, Bourron realized that buying original art is anything but a customer friendly experience.
She also realized that an incredible business opportunity was staring her in the face.
“People would tell us that searching for a specific thing really wasn’t the way to buy paintings, or that we should buy Chinese abstract instead because that was in vogue at the time,” Bourron, WG’95, says. “It really started to fascinate me how inefficient the distribution channel for art was.”
Intrigued, Bourron, 33, searched the Internet for online companies selling original art and saw that none existed. The French native incorporated PaintingsDIRECT.com just a few months later in November 1997, and launched the site in April 1998.
Today, PaintingsDIRECT.com offers more than 8,000 paintings from about 450 artists, has 15 full-time employees, and has been written about by major media including The New York Times and USA Today.
Art was always a part of Bourron’s life — her parents collected original paintings in France — but she never imagined it would become the foundation of her work world.
But combining the two worlds while simultaneously turning the art scene on its ear has been satisfying and exhilarating, she says. “The way art is sold hasn’t changed in a hundred years — primarily through small, local galleries that tend to specialize in a particular style of painting or artist. Would-be buyers spend long hours searching, often in vain. At the same time, thousands of artists are not represented by galleries and are looking for an alternative means to showcase their work,” Bourron says.
PaintingsDIRECT.com is a departure from this longstanding sales pipeline. Visitors to the site seek out and find paintings using criteria they choose, including style, medium, price, size, or subject. Prices range from $40 to $20,000.
Bourron worked in market research for Procter & Gamble in Paris immediately after graduating from Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris with a degree in finance, then had the chance to be a part of CDV Apple Computer’s launch in the Ukraine. Once immersed in that project, Bourron quickly realized she needed an MBA, applied and got into Wharton, and graduated in 1995. She worked in consulting for Corporate Decisions Inc. in Boston for two years, then co-founded a newsprint importing company in 1997. She soon scrapped that effort after deciding to move forward with PaintingsDIRECT.com. After initially creating the site on a shoestring in Boston, Bourron realized the company would never really take off unless it was based in New York. So once she closed her first major round of financing in April 1999, she and her husband, Ilia Tchelikidi, WG’94, sold their house and moved. Tchelikidi transferred to Mercer Management Consulting’s New York office is now a partner.
Recruiting her first group of artists was an early challenge. Artists from the U.S., she found, wouldn’t sign up unless the site was already live, but Bourron needed artists in order to create the site in the first place. Ultimately, she called on contacts in France and Russia where she was able to recruit artists who were hungry for exposure in the U.S. The site launched with about 30 such artists and Bourron never had difficulty recruiting again.
Bourron also faced early skepticism from those who doubted that people would be willing to buy art over the Internet. “When I began talking about selling art online two years ago, people told me I was crazy and that that this would never work,” Bourron says. “But it has.” Bourron won’t disclose sales figures, but says the site has more daily traffic than most galleries enjoy in a year, and that people are buying paintings from the site every day. She admits, though, that for all of its advantages, the Internet can’t replicate the tactile and visual experience of seeing a painting in person. Bourron has worked to offset these limitations by offering customers extras they wouldn’t likely find at a gallery. For instance, the site provides bios on artists, quotes from artists about the inspiration behind each painting, and offers customers the ability to return the painting for any reason up to ten days after they receive it. “I never, ever thought that art would be my business,” Bourron says. “And I would never have seen myself in the traditional art world — to me it wasn’t creative enough. But for me this business is the best of both worlds.
Defining Crisis Management
Brian Perkins, WG’80, on the Front Lines of Corporate Responsibility
It was one of the most sensational news stories of the 1980s, placed tremendous pressure on one of the world’s most admired companies and became a bellwether case study for business ethicists and public relations professionals alike. It also gave Brian D. Perkins, WG’80, a first-hand glimpse of how a company should deal with a crisis.
In 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died after taking TylenolTM, a popular pain-killer manufactured by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson. The Tylenol had been laced with cyanide, and for weeks it wasn’t clear whether the capsules had been tampered with during the manufacturing process or after leaving the factory.
Perkins, who had joined McNeil two years earlier as a product director and was assigned to help manage the Tylenol brand, vividly remembers September 29, the day the news broke. Chicago authorities phoned the company with news of the incident, and at that moment, Perkins says, “the world changed” and McNeil and J&J went into overdrive.
“It was a massive corporate effort from the chairman to the folks in PR to people in security and marketing and sales, and other J&J divisions Ð everybody had a hand in responding to what was a really tragic and terrifying event,” says Perkins, who today is worldwide chairman of J&J’s Consumer Pharmaceuticals and Nutritionals Group.
Some 31 million bottles of Tylenol, worth $100 million, were recalled. J&J sent 500,000 letters outlining the situation to physicians, hospitals and Tylenol distributors, and set up a toll-free hotline for consumers.
Pundits had a field day, predicting that the Tylenol brand would never recover. Perkins still has a copy of a quote from one advertising executive who opined that consumers would never again see “the name Tylenol in any form. I don’t think they can ever sell another product under that name.”
Eventually, a massive investigation revealed that the capsules had been sabotaged outside the manufacturing process, though no arrests were ever made.
The brand, of course, did recover, and J&J and its then-chairman, James Burke, were widely lauded for their immediate response to the crisis. J&J also developed tamper-resistant packaging, now broadly used by food and drug product manufacturers, as a result of the incident.
And Perkins learned volumes about corporate responsibility by observing his employer’s reaction and response to the case. He cites the company’s long-standing credo, which puts the well-being of customers first, followed by employees and the communities J&J serves, as the compass of the Tylenol incident.
“Working for J&J, you don’t walk around reading the credo every day, but you do try to live it every day,” Perkins says. “I’m convinced that the Tylenol brand and our reputation are better now than before the incident because of the way this case was handled. We tried to do the right thing and the public and the press recognized that.”
Since those early, pivotal days of his career, Perkins has steadily risen through J&J’s ranks. He was appointed to McNeil’s management board in 1989 and promoted to vice president of marketing in 1991 and has managed brands including Motrin, Imodium and Lactaid over the years.
In 1993, he was named president of J&J’s Personal Products North America division. He rejoined McNeil in 1994 as president and was promoted to company group chairman of Consumer Pharmaceuticals Worldwide in January 1999. In September of that year, he was named to his current post as well as to a seat on the J&J executive committee.
Perkins spends virtually all of his free time with his wife, Lois, and sons, D.J., 15, and Michael, 11, at their home at the New Jersey shore, where he likes to take his kayak out into the ocean and “get tossed around.” He also enjoys coaching his younger son’s baseball team and juggles a heavy overseas travel schedule. “Our over-the-counter and nutritionals business is dominated by North America, but we have fairly ambitious goals in Latin America, Europe and Asia,” he says.
Since the Tylenol scare, Perkins has visited Wharton and other business schools to lead student discussions on the ethical dilemmas that arise when marketing products. “I’m always amazed at the students’ response,” he says. “They come in sleepy in the morning and within five minutes they’re energized, and I’m surprised how little clock-watching there is.”
Like Father, Like Daughter – Almost
Carol James, WG’75, Breaks Tradition
Carol Riggins James, WG’75, grew up in a company town — the company was IBM Corp., the town Poughkeepsie, N.Y. — and her family was a company family.
Her mother worked at IBM during World War II. Her father, Edward Riggins, joined the company as a systems engineer after he was discharged from the Army.
IBM loomed large throughout James’ teen and young-adult years, thanks to her father. While other students at Ladycliff College, where James earned a BA in mathematics, received the usual letters from home, James did not. “My father sent descriptions of new systems at IBM and used words like ‘nanosecond’ and ‘gigabyte’ and ‘megabyte,'” she recalls with a laugh. “Instead of ‘Hi, honey, how are you?’ I was getting specs on systems. My friends thought I was an oddball.”
It came as little surprise, then, when James landed a job at IBM after graduating from Ladycliff. James worked in software development at IBM from 1969 to 1972, then left the company to earn an MS in computer science and engineering from Penn’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering. She fully intended to rejoin her dad at IBM, but her prescribed path took a twist.
After also earning an MBA from Wharton, she decided to break tradition and take a post at Exxon Corp., where she was a senior petroleum analyst for nine years. “Wharton prepared me from a business standpoint and gave me total credibility, but I had to prove myself,” she says.
Initially her father was dismayed with her decision, but had a change of heart. Says James: “He told me there was some history of his family being connected with Standard Oil, the precursor to Exxon.”
As James’ career evolved, her father’s interest in her work continued to encourage her. One of just a handful of women at the Moore and Wharton schools, James was also largely surrounded by male colleagues at Exxon. She says humor was a key to overcoming any potential gender friction.
“In the early part of my career at Exxon, I participated in a high-level conference where executives from all over the world came together,” James recalls. “There were discussions, we were making decisions, and then we took a break. I was the only one who went to the ladies’ room. Everybody came back and we seemed to pick up further ahead than where we had left off. I raised my hand and asked about these new issues, but was told, ‘We’re very sorry, Carol. We talked about these things in the men’s room.’ I said, ‘Well, I know where I have to go if I want to find things out.’ That broke the ice, and I ended up having lots of mentors.”
James left Exxon in 1986 to become vice president at S.N. Phelps & Co. of Greenwich, Conn., where she was an investment banker for mergers and acquisitions and recapitalizations. In 1993, she joined Artemis Capital Group in New York, an investment bank and financial services firm founded by six women, and served as senior vice president and chief financial officer.
Since 1998, James has been vice president and senior private banker at PNC Advisors in Greenwich, a financial management unit of PNC Bank Corp., where she heads relationship management and new-business development. She also manages the expansion in the New York area of a PNC initiative called the Women’s Financial Services Network. Launched as a pilot program in Philadelphia in 1995, the network caters to the financial needs of women executives and professionals, women business owners, women of wealth, and women facing significant life changes such as divorce or widowhood.
James’ interest in women’s issues extends beyond the workplace. The longtime Greenwich resident, who has two children (William, 19, and Lizzy, 15) and is married to William James, also WG’75, involves herself in a host of charitable, faith-based and community organizations. They include Girls Inc., which sponsors educational programs and other activities for girls 7 to 18.
“That’s my own personal crusade,” James says. “It’s my feeling that women — whether they be seven or 12 or 50 or 80 — should understand that they have capabilities.”
When her father died last September, it “was a huge blow to me,” James says. “The two times during my career that he took pause was when I decided not to go to IBM out of business school, and then when I went to PNC. But ultimately I think he appreciated why I opened another chapter in my life.”
The Doctor Is In
A Sea Change Leaves David Zlotowski, WG’85, Still Searching
How many people, even among Wharton alumni, can say they have won marketing awards, helped a company grow its profits by 50 percent in six months, founded a consulting firm, and delivered a baby?
Few would argue that David Zlotowski, M.D., WG’85, has had anything but a conventional career.
After working 10 years in marketing, most of them in brand management at Kraft General Foods, Zlotowski made a life-changing career shift in 1994 when he enrolled in the Medical College of Pennsylvania-Hahnemann Hospital. He graduated summa cum laude in June 1999 and became a resident physician at Montgomery Hospital Medical Center in Norristown, Pa.
“I’d like to tell you it was part of a grand plan, but it wasn’t,” he says, noting that he entered college at 16 and was only 17 when he came to Penn as a sophomore. “I took the path of least resistance, which people do at times when they’re young and immature.”
Zlotowski, 40, earned a BA in English from Penn and took a job as an assistant manager of a suburban Philadelphia cable TV company. Though he enjoyed the post, he realized he needed some formal business training and decided to return to Penn as a Wharton student.
After receiving his MBA in 1985, Zlotowski joined General Foods Corp. in White Plains, N.Y., as a business analyst, overseeing one of the company’s frozen foods businesses. [General Foods was later acquired by Philip Morris Cos., and merged with Kraft to form Kraft General Foods].
“I had gone to work for General Foods in a financial capacity, but realized it was a consumer products company and the leadership positions were marketers, not financiers,” Zlotowski says. “I bucked for, and was able to make a transition to, brand management.”
Zlotowski was named business analysis supervisor for General Foods’ packaged desserts unit in 1986, and went on to hold senior positions there. He created and launched, on a regional basis, Kool-Aid Kool-Pops, beating volume and profit goals by 50 percent. Over the years, he continued to rise through the ranks of brand management, working on such household names as Jell-O, Sealtest and Kool-Aid. In 1991, Zlotowski returned to Philadelphia to become product manager for Breyers Frozen Desserts, then decided to take a post at Wayne Pa.-based CONFAB Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of private-label feminine sanitary and adult incontinence products. In the six months he was there, he grew CONFAB’s volume by 40 percent and profits by 50 percent through the launch of two product segments.
But despite his successful career in brand management, Zlotowski found himself distracted by his long-time interest in medicine. In 1994, he finally decided to take the leap: he left CONFAB to enroll in some required pre-med courses at West Chester University, then set off for medical school.
Zlotowski calls himself “a standard-issue, family-practice intern, which means for 80 hours a week I do soup to nuts — from delivering babies to taking care of critically ill patients.” He relishes the “emotional connection” he makes with patients. “People will share things with you that they don’t share with anyone else in their lives. To me it’s the most satisfying part of medicine,” says Zlotowski.
But like an increasing number of physicians, Zlotowski worries about managed care’s influence on his practice. “Many doctors are frustrated that the doctor-patient relationship is being torn asunder. Although I did not [become a doctor] to maximize my income, my fear is it’s not possible to make an adequate income without providing substandard patient care.
So, Zlotowski is once again mulling career options, with an eye toward areas that would allow him to merge his consumer products and medical backgrounds. Pharmaceuticals are one possibility, he says, as is consulting. At least Zlotowski never left the business world entirely: in 1994, he started Alpha Zed Group, a consulting firm specializing in business planning and marketing services for small companies. Work aside, he and his wife Eileen, an occupational therapist, and daughters Anna, 8, and Lila, 4, enjoy camping, canoeing, hiking, cooking and organic gardening.
“I enjoyed medical school, but as an older student I had eyes and ears more open than those of the average 22-year-old when it came to the realities of the marketplace,” he says. “I unfortunately came to realize something that could be said about medicine — great profession, but bad career.”
Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., WG’70 At the Center of a Dangerous and Heady Revolution
The 1980s were tumultuous years in the Philippines, and Jose L. Cuisia Jr., WG’70, was at the center of the upheaval.
Benigno Aquino Jr., the main political opponent of President Ferdinand Marcos, was assassinated in 1983 when he returned to his native country from exile in the United States. The killing fueled the growing opposition to Marcos, and before long Aquino’s wife, Corazon, a homemaker and political novice, was faced with a choice.
“I was one of the people who convinced Corazon Aquino to run against Marcos,” Cuisia (pronounced KWISH-ah) says in a telephone interview from the Philippines, where he is president and chief executive officer of The Philippine American Life and General Insurance Co. (Philamlife) in Manila. In those days, Cuisia was a member of the Management Association, a group of executives that one day held a pivotal meeting with Aquino.
“We felt she was the only one who could rally all the opposition groups to unite against Marcos,” Cuisia, 56, explains.
Two of Aquino’s strengths were her sincerity and simplicity, Cuisia says. “People can see through people who pretend, and she had no pretense. She was the first to admit she knew nothing about running a country.”
But the 1986 election, called unexpectedly by Marcos, didn’t settle things immediately. Marcos was declared the official winner, but Aquino accused the dictator of voter fraud. Aquino and Marcos were both inaugurated by their supporters, but the pressure on Marcos became so intense — he finally lost the support of key military officials — that he fled the country.
Pressures of other kinds had been mounting for Cuisia, who at the time was president of a bank. “My bosses were very concerned,” he says. “I almost got fired. I had to tell my principals, “If you want me to resign, I’m willing to resign right now.’ I was put to the test and I was willing to lose my job.”
Shortly thereafter, Aquino invited Cuisia to become administrator of the Philippine Social Security System. Cuisia agreed to a six-month term, but ended up staying four years, during which time he instituted key reforms. Among them: receiving presidential approval for the system to invest in stocks.
Cuisia yearned to return to the private sector, but the president asked him to become governor and chairman of the Monetary Board Central Bank of the Philippines. Once again, in February 1990, Cuisia signed on for public service. It was not an easy job.
“My predecessor had the most difficult responsibility because he took over during the Marcos years and Marcos had bankrupted the central bank,” Cuisia says. “There was capital flight, the bank could not meet its obligations and neither could the national government. My predecessor took six years to get things back on track, but it was still in a sorry state.”
For more than three years, Cuisia oversaw debt restructuring, the liberalization of foreign-exchange regulations and the passage of a bill that reorganized the central bank. “The bank today can effectively manage monetary policy,” he says. “It couldn’t before.”
Cuisia eventually got his chance to rejoin the private sector. He was prohibited from joining any bank he had regulated, so in 1993 he accepted an offer to become president and CEO of Philamlife, a wholly owned subsidiary of New York-based American International Group (AIG).
With more than 30 percent of the market and some 7,000 agents, Philamlife is the largest and most diversified life insurer in the Philippines. Cuisia, who is married and has five daughters, also serves as vice president for life insurance at AIG, is a director of several corporations, and is active in three educational institutions. He also sits on Wharton’s Asian Executive Advisory Board.
Since joining Philamlife, the company’s revenue and income have grown sharply. Cuisia, whose nick-name is Joey, intends to expand the business even more by targeting potential customers at home as well as the millions of Filipinos living abroad.
Though significant, the challenges Cuisia faces today pale in comparison to those of the heady and dangerous 1980s. “I’m very glad I was part of this movement, this bloodless revolution against Marcos,” he says. “In those fateful days we didn’t know if we would be alive the next day.”
Jeff Hyman’s Cruel World
A Pioneer in Online Recruiting Hangs Tough as Competitors Multiply
Five years ago, all Jeff Hyman wanted was a job with a small, forward-thinking technology company. But Hyman, W’90, who was just finishing his MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School, was disappointed to see that none of the 400 or so firms recruiting on campus fit the bill.
“Unfortunately, the most dynamic high-tech companies were West Coast-based and could not afford to recruit at Midwestern schools,” says Hyman. “I spent hundreds of dollars and many missed hours of classes financing my own job search trips.”
His scrappiness ultimately landed him a job at software maker Intuit. And while his job search was arduous and expensive, it got Hyman thinking that there must be a better way to connect business school alumni with firms of all sizes and sorts. About a year later, he and Lun Yuen, an engineer he met at Intuit, launched Cruel World (formerly Career Central), one of the Internet’s first online recruiting companies.
“We started in 1996, and while that isn’t that long ago, in the Internet space, it’s an eternity.” says Hyman. Today, the Internet is crammed with nearly 2,000 recruiting, career and job sites. Forrester Research predicts online job/recruiting will rack up more than a billion dollars in revenue this year.
All the more reason for Cruel World’s very recent name change. “We have a very, very different model than most online recruiting companies,” Hyman says. “The vast majority offer an Internet version of the classifieds: job listings are posted and people can come and look at those jobs and apply if they are interested. It was frustrating for us because we have a very different business but because we sounded similar, people lumped us in with the others.”
Cruel World stockpiles the resumes of job seekers, who fill out “member profiles” that provide detailed information on professional experience, education, salary expectations and other particulars. These members pay nothing, and their resumes are not revealed to the companies seeking applicants unless they are interested in a particular job. Employee-seeking companies contract with Cruel World for a peek at this group. Members are matched with companies via Cruel World’s proprietary software, sent an e-mail about an opening, then invited to apply. Client companies are guaranteed to receive resumes from a minimum of 10 qualified applicants within five days of their request. Introduction made, Cruel World then steps out of the matchmaking process.
Since its 1996 launch, Cruel World has expanded dramatically and plans an IPO in the near future. (In April, the company filed its S-1 statement with the SEC). More than 200,000 job seekers have registered with the site, which has recruited employees for about 1,000 client companies. Revenues for 1999 were $4.4 million, up from about $2 million in 1998, according to the company’s SEC filing. And though it originally focused on connecting MBAs with jobs, the company now offers recruiting services for a host of fields, including software developers and marketing professionals. Cruel World has 100 employees and plans to move into a tony new office, complete with coffee bar, this summer.
In all, the company has raised $35 million in venture capital funding, a far cry from the site’s pre-launch days when the idea was rejected by about 150 venture capital firms. “It was incredible,” Hyman says of that time. “I can take some rejection, but if you get 150 very smart people telling you that this idea is interesting, but not for us, you start to wonder whether it’s just not a good idea. There were some very dark days when you don’t want to get out of bed.” A fluke meeting with Softbank Ventures at the suggestion of an Intuit colleague finally led to the company’s initial $500,000 in seed capital.
Signing on major business schools at the outset was another early key to launching the business. Wharton, Harvard and Kellogg were the first three schools to agree to promote the site to graduating MBAs, and without them, Hyman says, the business would have likely flopped. “Their commitment enabled the company to get its initial VC money,” he says. Today, nearly every major business school offers the site as a resource to its graduates.
Managing and retaining smart, driven, creative people has been his toughest management challenge by far, says Hyman, a Jazz and Blues devotee who has been known to fly to Philadelphia just to stop at Abner’s Cheesesteaks. “Some of these people get an offer a week and you can’t simply retain them with money because if they stay just for money, they’re staying for the wrong reasons.”