BOSTON—To cap the first day of orientation, the Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2015 sat down with five outstanding individuals who were being honored with this year’s Alumni Achievement award: Joanna Jacobson, cofounder and managing partner, Strategic Grant Partners; Andre R. Jakurski , founding partner and managing director, JGP Asset Management; Thomas A. James, chairman, Raymond James Financial, Inc.; Thai Lee, president and CEO, SHI International; Roger W. Sant, cofounder and chairman emeritus, The AES Corporation. In a panel discussion led by Senior Associate Dean Robert S. Kaplan in Burden Auditorium, the five honorees offered advice to the 932 first-year students, drawing from their experiences, both at HBS and in their careers.
Since 1968, with the help of suggestions from alumni, students, faculty, and friends, the School has annually named a select group of outstanding men and women to receive this award. Throughout their careers, these distinguished graduates have contributed significantly to their companies and communities, while upholding the highest standards and values in everything they do.
“These illustrious alumni have each, in their own ways, made very important contributions not just in the world of business, but to society as well,” said Dean Nitin Nohria. “Encompassing the fields of education, health, poverty, and the arts , these distinguished alumni are truly dedicated to making the world a better place. We are pleased to honor and recognize their contributions.”
Joanna M. Jacobson (MBA 1987)
Joanna Jacobson’s marketing career is one that many HBS graduates dream about. As SVP of marketing for Converse during its bankruptcy, Jacobson saw the serious competitive threat being posed by Nike and led her team to help grow the company by $200 million. With Converse back on its feet, Jacobson left to join Keds as president, where she and her team reversed Keds’ 25 percent annual sales declines with double-digit growth in sales and profits. When Keds’ parent company, Stride Rite, wanted to promote her to COO, Jacobson knew it was time to make a change. The position would require working six days a week, and with three young children, it wasn’t the life that she wanted. She chose to resign, then taught at HBS, consulted, and began to focus on philanthropy. She and her husband, Jon, were interested in finding ways to have an impact on society’s most difficult problems. They co-founded Strategic Grant Partners (SGP), a coalition of 15 family foundations that also offers pro bono consulting focusing on nonprofit scale and systemic change, primarily in Massachusetts. SGP’s track record speaks for itself, having helped to launch or scale many Massachusetts social ventures, several of which have expanded nationwide. In the past 10 years, SGP has completed four rounds of funding, the most recent totaling $36 million. Helping others do their best work is what drives Joanna Jacobson, whether she's turning around a failing sneaker company or coaching the CEO of a charter school management organization.
Read her award profile.
Andre R. Jakurski (MBA 1973)
As part of the Polish underground resistance during World War II, André Jakurski’s family fled to Brazil where his father found success as an engineer, and his mother as an entrepreneur. Like his parents, Jakurski has achieved remarkable success seizing business opportunities in Brazil. After business school, Jakurski joined Unibanco, one of Brazil’s top banks, where he spent 10 years rising through the company. With money markets in their infancy in Brazil, Jakurski and a colleague decided to strike out on their own to form brokerage firm Banco Pactual. By 1997, the once small Pactual had grown into a large institution and Jakurski decided to leave and launch JGP, a global hedge fund. Over the last 15 years, Jakurski and his team have grown the now 80-person firm into one of Brazil’s top five independent asset management firms that includes credit and wealth management divisions. JGP is the only firm of its kind in Brazil that has been awarded an MQ1 rating by Moody’s. Outside of his profession, Jakurski is a wine connoisseur, hiking enthusiast, amateur astronomer, sports fan, and historian. He and his wife, Maria, have raised five children and generously support various organizations in Rio de Janeiro as well as educational institutions, including his alma maters.
Read his award profile.
Thomas A. James (MBA 1966)
As an avid coin collector at the age of 15 and founder and manager of his college rock band, Tom James’s entrepreneurial nature was apparent early on. Following business school, James took a job at his father’s firm, a 75-person financial planning company called Raymond James Financial (RJF). Four years later, James was named CEO, a position he embraced for the next 40 years. Although the early years leading RJF were not easy due to regulatory changes and the stock market decline of the early 1970s, James’s commitment to the firm, his entrepreneurial mindset, and his investment in people have remained steadfast as he has grown the company into a leading global financial services firm. In 1983, the firm went public, and today, RJF is a diversified financial services holding company with more than 2,500 offices around the world, 14,000 associates, and a market capitalization of $5.1 billion. Through RJF and his own personal philanthropy, James has supported education, the arts, disadvantaged youth, and cultural institutions within his local community, as well as nationally. As board chair of the Dalí Museum, he led the effort to build a new museum that opened in January 2011. Earlier this year, Eckerd College opened the James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences.
Read his award profile.
Thai Lee (MBA 1985)
Thai Lee has always had an extraordinary ability to take the long view. When she applied to HBS, she set forth several ambitious objectives: to gain experience in the corporate world in her 20s; to launch her own company by 30; and to have a child by 40. Lee met—and exceeded—each of these goals. After cutting her teeth at Procter & Gamble and American Express, Lee purchased a small, unsuccessful software sales company in 1989. Within a year she had changed the name to SHI International, and the company was doing $1 million in revenue. As a new CEO, Lee again operated with a long-term perspective, gradually building a company where people wanted to work, creating hundreds of jobs, and fostering a community of employees who worked together to meet the same goal: to exceed customer expectations. Under Lee’s leadership, SHI has grown into a successful $5 billion provider of IT products and services. With an industry-high of 99 percent in customer retention, SHI is one of the largest privately held firms in its field, employing more than 2,300 people in offices across the globe. In a field generally dominated by men, SHI is the largest minority- and woman-owned business in the United States. Lee was named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of The Year in 2012 and has two children, ages 10 and 15.
Read her award profile.
Roger W. Sant (MBA 1960)
A two-year stint at the Federal Energy Administration in Washington, DC, led Roger Sant to launch a think tank focused on how to shift energy investment to bring about more energy efficiency. Eager to put his analysis into practice, Sant and a partner founded Applied Energy Services (later called The AES Corporation) in order to test their “least-cost energy” strategy, focusing on minimizing the cost and the environmental impact of energy services such as heat and light. By 1988, AES was the largest Independent Power Producer in the United States, leading them to expand internationally, buying and bringing efficiency to some previously nationalized power plants and utilities. In 1991, when AES went public, Sant and his wife, Vicki, launched The Summit Foundation and a related fund at DC’s Community Foundation to support issues they believe in, primarily empowerment of women and girls, ocean conservation, and sustainable cities. Organizations that have benefited from their involvement include numerous Washington-based nonprofits as well as health organizations in Mexico and Central America, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where 7 million visitors tour Sant Ocean Hall annually.
Read his award profile.
Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 80 open enrollment Executive Education programs and more than 60 custom programs. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who have shaped the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.