By Tuck Communications
Published Oct 18, 2010
An environmentalist who had been working in land-conservation issues, Katherine Birnie T’07 wanted to attend business school to learn management skills and better understand the competing interests around land use. Tuck set her on a new career path. “It was incredibly valuable to explore how sustainability gets put into practice in the business world.”
It’s Day One of the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and Frank Madden T’10, in town as part of an eight-member student delegation from Tuck, is feeling the chill. The students were granted official observer status for the climate summit, but so far on this raw December day there’s not a lot to see. In an epic case of overbooking, the U.N. issued 45,000 permits to representatives from nongovernmental organizations and held their main event at the Bella Center in downtown Copenhagen, a venue with room enough for 15,000. In the end, however, the students were rewarded for their patience: More than half of the group managed to get in.
“Never fight a land war in Asia, and never hold a December conference in Scandinavia,” wrote Madden in a blog updating readers on the progress of the Tuck contingent, the only group of MBA students in attendance at Copenhagen.
Though blighted by poor planning—at one point, exasperated Danish police officers suggested the students scale a fence to get into a presentation—it’s hard to imagine a more fitting metaphor for one of the most complex issues confronting the world today. “It was eye-opening,” adds Stephen Parks T’10, also part of the Tuck delegation. “You got to see how the process works and how hard it was to reach a consensus from hundreds of viewpoints.”
The highlight for students, however, was their meeting with Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC received significant media attention in the fall, and not all of it good: Much was made of a series of emails stolen from the center that appeared to suggest IPCC scientists had been selective about data. “Obviously, a lot was written about Pachauri and the IPCC in the past few months,” says Madden, who, together with the rest of the Tuck delegation, joined the Nobel laureate for drinks one evening. “It was fascinating to hear his take on the hacked emails, how politics and science have become so intertwined, and how they were trying to address the public’s concerns.”
In addition to such unprecedented access, the Copenhagen trip had, in effect, taken the students to the nexus of business and society, a crossing Tuck’s Allwin Initiative for Corporate Citizenship helps prepare MBA students to navigate. That Tuck was the only business school to send a delegation to the climate summit—arguably one the most important events of its kind of the last 10 years—speaks volumes about the work of the Initiative, whose mission it is to ensure that the changing issues at the intersection of business and society are a key component of the Tuck MBA. On the eve of its 10th anniversary in 2011, the Allwin Initiative is delivering students a wide range of enriching experiences at that juncture—both in and out of the classroom.
In 1998, Jeffrey Halpern D'90, T'95 was overseeing the Ariel Halpern 1959 Memorial Endowment, created in the mid-80s by his father, Ariel D’59, T’60 to foster the discussion of business ethics at Tuck, when he was approached by adjunct professor John Vogel to see if he would help fund visiting speakers for his nonprofit management class. Halpern agreed, and when Vogel reached out to then-director of student affairs Pat Palmiotto about adding a day of community service to Tuck’s Orientation week, the pair formed a partnership that, with Halpern’s help, laid the foundation for the Initiative. “Students in the ’90s were volunteering at Tuck,” says Vogel, the Allwin Initiative’s associate faculty director for corporate citizenship. “But it was like they were volunteering in spite of being at Tuck, rather than because they were here. We were actually sending a strange message: all that community service that had made them the perfect MBA candidates went into the background once they got to Tuck.”
Crucial to the undertaking were the efforts of Gretchen Wallace T’01, who turned the ideas of Halpern, Palmiotto, Alan Pesky T’60, and Vogel into a 45-page strategic plan outlining an initiative to instill a sense of ethics and social responsibility in future business leaders. With financial support from Pesky, a frequent speaker in Vogel’s class, Wallace spent eight months preparing her plan, which she issued in October 2000. With the support of Dean Paul Danos, the Initiative for Corporate Citizenship was created in July 2001.
The next month, Jim Allwin, then a Tuck overseer, gave a speech to students during Orientation, in which he connected the dots between community service and students’ career aspirations. The message resonated deeply with those in attendance. Allwin had worked for 23 years at Morgan Stanley before founding Aetos Capital, an independent investment management firm, in 1999. But in many ways, community service was his life’s work. For 28 years—11 of them as chairman—Allwin had served as a member of the board of Communities in Schools, the nation’s largest stay-in-school program. Allwin’s speech would be a defining moment for the Initiative. “Our interests and values were aligned,” says Palmiotto.
Allwin’s interest in this area went back to his time as a student at Tuck, where he served on the organizing committee of the school’s 75th anniversary celebrations. “A major theme for the event was the interplay of business and society and the history of the school’s response to Edward Tuck’s founding advice about honesty, honor, and altruism,” recalls Dean Emeritus John Hennessey. With Allwin’s naming gift, the Allwin Initiative for Corporate Citizenship was launched in February 2002.
Allwin died in October 2007 of a brain tumor, at the age of 54. Attendees at his funeral, a mass held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, filled the center aisles of the enormous structure. Allwin’s Tuck classmates would later establish the Allwin Community Service Award, which recognizes Tuck students and recent graduates who embody Allwin’s values of community service, with a preference for students pursuing a career in the nonprofit or public sector. Brad Lang T’09, a Peace Corps volunteer before coming to Tuck, was its first recipient. Today he’s a program manager at the Aquaya Institute, an international nonprofit devoted to reducing waterborne diseases.
Gretchen Wallace’s strategic plan served the Allwin Initiative well in its early years, but as the program grew and became an integral part of the Tuck experience, its needs and aims changed too. In 2005, Esi Nana Sekyiamah T’07 drafted a new five-year strategic plan that broadened the scope of the original so that the Initiative was not just a platform for visiting speakers and a “broker” for local community-focused projects—board service and roof repairs—but was more academic in nature, better positioned to host forums, sponsor case studies, and prepare students for the complex business issues they would face after Tuck. The plan took aim at current, evolving problems, such as the societal impact of building factories abroad or closing them at home.
Many of these opportunities directly involve Tuck’s faculty, who have worked with the Initiative to develop case studies on social-responsibility issues, such as the communications challenge Starbucks faced when it ran afoul of fair-trade advocates and the environmental impact of exporting bottled water to the United States. Tuck also offers a new Business and Climate Change course. The elective—a first of its kind among MBA programs—examines the business risks and value-creation opportunities posed by climate change. “We wanted the Allwin Initiative to take a scholarly approach to issues at the intersection of business and society,” says Senior Associate Dean Bob Hansen, faculty director for the Initiative. “It’s not the place of the school to advocate for corporate social responsibility. We want to study corporate responsibility, but it should be an investigative, learning-oriented approach.”
At the same time, Hansen acknowledges that Allwin himself had little patience for discussions over whether corporations should be involved in society. “‘You guys can debate about this all you want,’” Hansen remembers him saying, “‘but the issue is settled. Getting involved in the community is good, and it’s good for business too.’”
Adjunct professor Rick Shreve, who teaches the Ethics in Action course at Tuck and serves as the Initiative’s associate faculty director for business ethics, saw the same side of Allwin. Incidentally, both had worked at Morgan Stanley, though Shreve left in 1988 to pursue a master’s degree in divinity at Yale. “Jim was impatient with the talk about whether it was the right thing to do,” says Shreve. He was also candid about the financial benefits of serving on boards with other dealmakers. “‘That conversation is over,’ he would say. ‘Every prominent CEO is on board.’”
The allwin initiative has been deeply influenced by the ideas and energy of faculty and students, architects of many of its most successful and longstanding programs. TuckBuilds, a weeklong pre-term program in which students collaborate with local nonprofits on Habitat for Humanity-style projects, was developed five years ago by Jamesa Brown T’06. The program brings together approximately two dozen students to work on construction projects; last year they helped Habitat for Humanity build a duplex in nearby Lebanon, N.H., and worked with another group to re-roof a home in Claremont, N.H.
The Tuck Business & Society Conference, a forum for leaders to discuss the role of business in creating a more sustainable world, is another student-driven effort.
The Tuck Business & Society Conference, a forum for leaders to discuss the role of business in creating a more sustainable world, is another student-driven effort. “It’s very practically oriented—it’s about finding solutions,” says T’03 Paul Ligon, who started the student-run conference eight years ago and today is a senior director at Houston-based Waste Management, the waste- and environmental-services company. Guest speakers this spring included Jennifer Rushmore, global sustainability leader for Procter & Gamble’s beauty and grooming division, and David Murphy T’84, CEO of Better World Books. (Many readers have purchased from Better World Books without knowing it; the charitable organization is one of the largest used-book dealers on Amazon.)
The Allwin Initiative’s Revers Board Fellows program, meanwhile, matches MBA students with local nonprofits, which benefit from the students’ enthusiasm and expertise. Tuck’s Ethics Fireside Chats bring in an unexpected mix of speakers. In October, Shreve hosted a discussion between Hank Shea, former assistant U.S. district attorney for Minnesota, and two of his nabs, Nick and Carolyn Ryberg. The Rybergs defrauded Koch Industries of nearly $1 million through a fake billing scheme. “I try to find white-collar criminals who look and talk like the students,” adds Shreve, who wants students to think about how easy it is to land on the wrong side of the ethics divide.
The Initiative also serves as a platform from which students can develop their own learning opportunities. In 2009, four second-year students developed a marketing plan for a nonprofit in Kosovo, while six first-year students wrote a resource guide for the Gap Foundation. The student-run Tuck GIVES (Grants to Interns and Volunteers for the Environment and Society) auction, also under the Allwin Initiative’s purview, provides an opportunity for members of the Tuck community to support students who accept nonprofit and public-sector internships.
The allwin initiative today has grown well beyond the dreams of any of its founders to become not only an integral part of a Tuck education but also a significant influence on students’ careers after Tuck. Gretchen Wallace, whose strategic plan played a crucial part in the Initiative’s development, later founded Global Grassroots, a Hanover-based nonprofit that promotes social change for vulnerable women around the world. Wallace is just back from Haiti, where she worked with women recovering from January’s devastating earthquake. She calls her experience with the Allwin Initiative “deeply meaningful and entirely formative. I don’t know of any other MBA program that would have been so willing to let students change the program itself in such an important way.”
Katherine Birnie T’07 says she might not have come to Tuck had it not been for the Initiative. An environmentalist who had been working in land-conservation issues, Birnie wanted to attend business school to learn management skills and better understand the competing interests around land use. What she found through the Allwin Initiative, however, set her on a new career path.
In addition to taking several courses sponsored by the Initiative, Birnie designed two independent studies with Vogel: one in which she worked with the Squam Lakes Conservation Society to explore different land-conservation strategies, and another co-writing a case study on LEED-certified development in Birmingham, Ala. “I knew I wanted to go back into land conservation,” she says. “The independent studies gave me a way to shape some of my academic experience around those interests within an MBA program.”
It was a summer internship funded through Tuck GIVES, however, that opened her eyes to new market-based strategies for conservation. Working with The Wilderness Society, she wrote a business plan for conserving large tracts of forest through sustainable timber harvesting and the sale of carbon credits to businesses to offset greenhouse-gas emissions. During her internship, Birnie interviewed the principals of the private equity firm Ecosystem Investment Partners, which buys and restores wilderness land and then sells environmental credits to developers and other companies looking to offset the environmental impacts of their projects. She now works as marketing director for the company, performing market research for new investments and outreach to companies to find new buyers—a position she calls her “dream job.”
“I am so amazingly grateful for that internship,” says Birnie. “Not only did I learn a lot about carbon markets, but I made some wonderful contacts.” More importantly, through the Allwin Initiative, she discovered an entirely new field perfectly suited to her intellectual and social interests. “It was incredibly valuable to me as a way to holistically explore how sustainability actually gets put into practice in the business world and how it can be a competitive business strategy.”
Marcus Norton T’09 came to Tuck to learn more about business approaches to sustainability. But he didn’t know that he’d meet his future employer here: Paul Dickinson, CEO of the Carbon Disclosure Project, who spoke in one of his classes. Norton now works for the United Kingdom-based nonprofit, which collects data on companies’ carbon and climate-change initiatives on behalf of institutional investors. “The aim is to improve performance,” says Marcus, who is developing a new database for water sustainability information. “By encouraging companies to measure their initiatives, we give them an incentive to better manage them.”
Norton has always been passionate about sustainability, but he was impressed by the way the Allwin Initiative opened his mind to the opportunities inherent in socially responsible business ventures. “I love the fact that people who hadn’t encountered or thought about sustainability were exposed to it,” he says. “There are going to be whole new fields that emerge in which Tuck graduates can be successful and at the same time have a positive impact on society.”