What was your background prior to Harvard Business School?
Prior to coming to HBS, I worked with homeless women running a shelter and drop-in center. Before working with homeless women, I was enrolled in a PhD program in theoretical linguistics. I spent a year in Kenya doing linguistic research on a Fulbright scholarship.
Why did you decide to come to HBS? How did you think an MBA would help you reach your career goals?
After spending five years working with homeless women, I decided that if I wanted to do something about poverty I had to learn more about money. Beyond providing emergency food and shelter, I wanted to contribute to more permanent solutions to homelessness. I felt that I needed business and financial skills to get involved in creating permanent affordable housing.
How did HBS change how you viewed your role in the social sector?
My experience at HBS really didn’t change how I viewed my role in the social sector. However, I have been able to apply a lot of what I learned while earning my MBA to my career in affordable housing. I came out of HBS with the opportunity to do the work that I’d wanted to do when I began the program. After graduating, I worked for The Community Builders for four years. HBS definitely helped open the door to that opportunity for me.
What academic skills did you learn at HBS that you have found most useful?
The coursework in the MBA program has served me throughout my career. I have used finance extensively in developing models and projections, and in thinking creatively about how to structure deals. The strategic planning skills that I picked up at HBS have also been very relevant in working with non-profits and community development organizations that are changing and growing rapidly.
Did you ever consider a career outside of the social sector after HBS?What do you find most rewarding about your career?
Making a difference. Working in affordable housing is wonderful because it’s so concrete. It takes a long time to get projects done, but ultimately things get built and your efforts get very tangible results. I can travel around the Northeast and point to buildings and homes that I helped create. That has been enormously gratifying.
What have been some of the biggest surprises of your career?
The affordable housing world – which I didn’t have direct experience with before HBS – is extremely sophisticated. There are lots of HBS graduates working in the field. Affordable housing work happens at the intersection of the private, public and non-profit sectors. As a field, it’s as complicated as anything you find in the private sector and it attracts people with incredibly refined skills.
What are your long-term professional goals?
I am really happy where I am right now. I recently started a joint venture consulting firm with three colleagues with compatible skills in housing and community development. My long-term goals are to build as much housing as possible and to keep pursuing more challenging and interesting projects. I want to continue contributing to the output and efficiency of the community development world.
What advice would you give HBS students hoping to engage social issues more directly through their careers?
I have learned that not all problems have business solutions. Business skills are helpful and applicable, but can go only so far in addressing complex social issues. It’s important to realize that with almost any social issue you choose, a lot of very smart people have been thinking about it and working on it for a very long time. In addition to all of the skills and talent and energy HBS graduates bring to bear, humility can also be a very big asset.