A new speakers series at Yale SOM gives students insights into management challenges in organizations where business and society intersect. The series, called "…on Management," was inaugurated this winter with visits from four speakers in three weeks.
The series opened on January 25 with a talk by Martha Finn Brooks ’86, who became the COO of Novelis, the world’s leading producer of rolled aluminum, when the company was spun off from Alcan in 2005. Her presentation, “Spin-Off Challenges:Driving Change in an $8 Billion Startup,” outlined how Novelis wrestled with debt inherited from its parent, reoriented itself toward the customer, and developed a culture of innovation.
Brooks’s talk was followed rapidly by appearances by John C. Hueston, a lead prosecutor in the Enron trials, on February 5; Charles L. Slaughter ’90, the founder of TravelSmith, on February 7; and Antoine van Agtmael, the founder of Emerging Markets Management, on February 15.
Hueston, a Yale Law School graduate, laid out a series of lessons in corporate governance that can be drawn from the implosion of Enron, particularly the company’s failure to respond to concerns raised by whistleblower Sherron Watkins in 2001. “If they had handled [the Watkins memo] correctly, there would still be an Enron today,” he said. He illustrated his points by recalling crucial moments in his cross-examinations of Enron officials.
Slaughter says that when he founded TravelSmith, a leading travel outfitter, shortly after graduating from SOM, “I had the aspiration that it would synthesize a private purpose and a public purpose.” The company was a commercial success, and Slaughter sold it in 2004, but it did not fulfill that public aspiration. His new project does. Living Goods uses the Avon franchising model to bring needed goods — including bed nets, condoms, and water-treatment kits — to rural Africa, simultaneously preventing disease and launching a corps of local entrepreneurs.
Agtmael, the fund manager who coined the phrase “emerging markets” in the late 1970s, told students, “We are witnessing the biggest shift in global power since the industrial revolution.” Agtmael predicted that in 25 years, 50% of global economic activity will take place in the emerging world, and urged students not to think of the shift as part of a zero-sum game. He discussed his new book, The Emerging Markets Century: How a New Breed of World-Class Companies Is Overtaking the World, in which he examines 25 leading companies with roots outside the West and concludes that, contrary to popular belief, their success stems more from unconventional thinking and adaptability than cheap labor.
The 2006–2007 “…on Management” series will end on April 3 with a visit from Burnetta Williams, the corporate vice president and treasurer of the FedEx corporation.