Business on a global scale opens the door to extraordinary careers
By Ronna Kelly
Ah, summer. Often a time to travel to a faraway land and experience new people and cultures. But for some alumni, such experiences are day-to-day life as their business educations have led to careers in far-flung locales thousands of miles from Berkeley. As business has taken on a more global scale, global business careers, in turn, have taken on increasingly varied forms. Here we share the stories of four alumni and one student who together highlight the diverse paths that global careers can take. Two alumni built successful businesses in their home countries of Poland and Indonesia through courage and persistence that led them first to Berkeley-Haas. Two other alumni live in the Bay Area but have gained insights into other cultures from jobs that have taken them around the globe to such countries as Kenya and the Philippines. And one student created a transformative train tour throughout his native India before coming to Haas. From their experiences crisscrossing the globe, all five have come to understand and appreciate the valuable personal and career growth that comes from visiting other lands.
From Roughneck to CEO
BS 80, MBA 81
CEO, Supreme Energy
Supreme Energy CEO Supramu Santosa with Mount Kerinci, the highest volcano in Indonesia, in the background.
Supramu Santosa began his career on an oil rig in the Indian Ocean, working as a “roughneck,” or laborer, after high school before setting his sights on UC Berkeley’s business school.
“Berkeley was very famous. Several ministers had gone there and became the architects of the Indonesian economy in the 1960s,” says Santosa, referring to a group of Indonesian economists who became known as the “Berkeley Mafia.”
After working on the oil rig for seven years, Santosa applied to Berkeley and was accepted. “How could it be so easy?” he recalls wondering.
It wasn’t. When he arrived in California with $7,500 in savings, he discovered he had been accepted to a small private city college in Berkeley. Undaunted, he took evening classes at UC Extension and UC San Francisco before being accepted into UC Berkeley. He paid his own way by working at Indian restaurants and took as many as 24 units a semester to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Santosa then returned to Indonesia and worked for several oil companies in everything from human resources and finance to strategic planning and operations. He was senior vice president at Gulf Indonesia Resources when he left in 2002 and went on to create two companies: Star Energy, which acquired an oil field considered too small by large international companies, and his latest venture, Supreme Energy, which is focused on geothermal power.
“There were huge neglected and underdeveloped geothermal resources,” Santosa explains. “Oil prices were increasing, Indonesia oil production was decreasing, and the government was spending a lot of money on oil subsidies.”
While some environmentalists and locals have raised concerns about geothermal drilling harming the environment, geothermal power is widely viewed as renewable clean energy because it emits almost no greenhouse gases. Indonesia has the greatest geothermal resources in the world, Santosa notes, yet many areas in the country suffer blackouts and brownouts.
Santosa spent four years and millions of his own dollars to acquire three geothermal fields and conduct geological studies. He negotiated a 30-year deal to sell geothermal-generated electricity to the government-owned utility and attracted three international investors: France’s GDF Suez and Japan’s Sumitomo and Marubeni.
The hurdles are still immense: about $2.4 billion in capital expenses and long timelines. Supreme’s first of three fields will not begin generating energy until 2016.
“It was long and very stressful,” concedes Santosa. “If I didn’t have determination and passion, I could not have gone this far. But I knew Indonesia needs a huge amount of energy to support its fast-growing economy, and renewable energy is the answer.”
Champion of Breakfasts and Cable TV
Co-Chairman, Multimedia Polska
Multimedia Polska Co-Chairman Tomek Ulatowski has built businesses in his native Poland and has a second home in Paris (pictured here).
When Tomek Ulatowski risked his life walking off a Polish Merchant Marine ship in 1969, he never envisioned returning to his homeland to build both a successful career for himself and a stronger economy for his country—through corn flakes and cable TV.
Ulatowski grew up in Poland when traveling outside the country was forbidden by communism. So he became an officer in the Polish Merchant Marine to see the world. “My pay was 10 U.S. cents per day in foreign currency when I was abroad, so it was not easy money,” he says.
Meanwhile, communism was becoming more oppressive and Poland was involved in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. “This was just too much for me to really accept,” Ulatowski says, “and I decided to find a way to skip town.”
The opportunity came in November 1969, when he walked off his ship in Montreal. He made his way to New York and landed a job as a security guard at the United Nations. While seeing friends on the West Coast, he visited Stanford and Berkeley to explore MBA programs. Berkeley’s Dean Dick Holton told Ulatowski he could take four summer business classes and if he did well apply to the business school.
After earning his Berkeley MBA, Ulatowski landed a job in Bank of America’s project financing group, a small team involved in complicated projects in Chile, Mexico, and New Guinea. Then he moved to Crocker Bank and was quickly promoted to senior vice president, investment banking. In 1986, he set up his own investing banking company with minority investments from Bechtel and Dutch bank ABN AMRO.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Ulatowski’s gaze turned homeward. He began investing in companies in Poland and in 1996 sold his firm to ABN AMRO to focus exclusively on building businesses in Poland.
“It was so tragic to see the development and prosperity of Western Europe and how backward Eastern Europe was kept by the Soviet system,” he says.
As the Polish government began to privatize industry, Ulatowski and some partners bought a corn flake factory from the state and introduced the concept of cold cereal for breakfast to the Polish market with a national television campaign. “The company took off incredibly and continues to be in business. Nestlé eventually bought it from us,” Ulatowski says.
After other successful investments, Ulatowskiand his partner bought a little cable company named Multimedia Polska in 1999. Through 100 subsequent acquisitions and organic growth, they have built it into the second-largest cable company in Poland, operating in 2,500 cities with some 5,000 employees.
In recognition of his Polish roots and the importance of Berkeley in his life, Ulatowski has granted one full MBA scholarship to a Polish student at Haas willing to go back to Poland after graduation.
In addition to his Berkeley MBA, Ulatowski credits his U.S. business experience, international mindset, and knowledge about Poland for his success. “My investing in Poland was very successful because I have a deeper connection with the country and the culture.”
But, he adds, “The world is becoming a fusion of countries, languages, experiences. Absorbing the influences of different parts of the world is absolutely crucial to successfully functioning on a world scale.”
Out in the Field with Accenture
Recruiting Manager, Accenture
Caroline Lee of Accenture trains for a triathlon while working in the Philippines.
Imagine hiring 60,000 employees around the world—every year. That’s a challenge that Caroline Lee helps Accenture tackle as a member of the company’s global recruiting team. Lee travels to such countries as Mexico, France, and Russia to improve recruiting for offices scaling up very quickly.
“I work with offices that are doubling their hiring,” she says. “I’ll sit down with their recruiting leads and ask questions like, ‘Where are you getting your people? How quickly are you getting candidates through the process?’ Then I evaluate what’s going on and make recommendations.”
Lee’s longest trip overseas was five weeks in 2012 in the Philippines, where Accenture’s outsourcing arm was doubling the number of its call center employees. Outside of work, Lee jumped at the opportunity to gain a unique glimpse into Filipino life from the seat of her bicycle. Training for a triathlon, she brought her bicycle on the trip and joined a local cycling group.
“I would get out of Manila onto the side streets and back roads. It was a culture lesson, riding among the buses and jitneys, seeing the villagers on the streets, watching out for stray dogs,” she says. “I’d hear some sound and wonder what it was, and then it would dawn on me that it’s a pig being slaughtered. Every now and then there would be a goat tied to a tree. I learned that’s where the goat is supposed to eat.”
For someone as fiercely independent as Lee, having a driver who chauffeured her around for work as well as her bicycle rides was a major cultural difference that she found particularly challenging.
“Because the weather was so warm, we would meet for our bike ride at 6 a.m. So my driver would need to pick me up at 5:15. And, if I went on a four-hour ride, he was sitting around waiting for me to finish,” she says. “I’m not used to asking people to help me out at these odd hours.”
On top of that, Lee then learned her driver had to sleep at his company’s office the night before her rides because he commuted more than an hour away. “Wow, I felt bad,” she says. “But my local colleagues would tell me that this is the culture and expectation. If I don’t use his services, it would be an insult.”
At the end of her stay, Lee felt better when the driver said he’d like to work for her again because she did more interesting things than shopping and eating out.
Lee worked at Accenture in the 1990s and returned from eBay in 2006 when a recruiting role opened up. “I was really happy at eBay, but Accenture sold me on the international flavor of the job,” she says. “I think it’s interesting to learn about new cultures. I like seeing different things, learning the history of different places, and getting an appreciation of how people do things differently somewhere else.”
Off the Beaten Track
MS 93 (EECS), MBA 01
GeoEx CEO Jean-Paul Tennant at the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya with his sons, James and Xavier.
Jean-Paul Tennant talked his way into his dream job—CEO of an international adventure travel company—after working as a Navy submarine officer, a Goldman Sachs bond trader, and a math teacher at an Oakland public high school.
Tennant took his first trip across the world to his father’s Indian Ocean home country of Mauritius when he was just 7 years old. Bitten by the travel bug, he joined the Navy after college to see more of the world, becoming an officer on a submarine at the end of the Cold War.
Tennant arrived at Haas following stints on the Treasuries trading desk at Goldman Sachs and teaching math at an Oakland high school—“The hardest job I ever had,” he says. During his final semester at Haas, a stunning travel catalog on his in-laws’ coffee table caught his eye.
The book was created by GeoEx (previously called Geographic Expeditions), a San Francisco company that specializes in high-end custom and group adventure travel. Since its founding in 1981, GeoEx has racked up 30 travel firsts, including the first guided crossing of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s traverse of South Georgia and the first trek to the world’s highest unclimbed mountain, Bhutan’s Gangkhar Puensum.
After a summer internship at a dot-com startup, Tennant found himself looking to work for a more established organization—a small company with a healthy opportunity to grow, a history, clients, revenues, and profits. He also wanted to join an organization with ideals similar to his own. Intrigued by GeoEx, Tennant contacted the company and managed to convince the president that he needed a CFO.
Tennant started at GeoEx the week before the September 11 terrorist attacks. “One of my first tasks was to forecast our cash position in the wake of September 11,” Tennant recalls. He immediately drew on the financial modeling class taught by Lecturer Sarah Tasker.
Dean Rich Lyon’s international finance course, particularly the segment on hedging, also proved invaluable. For example, suppose a GeoEx client books a trip to India departing in a year. The client’s price is in dollars, but most of GeoEx’s downstream costs are in rupees. The company buys forward contracts to offset the exchange rate risk.
“You’ve locked in the price of the foreign currency that you’re going to need to buy on payment date,” Tennant explains. “It takes uncertainty off the table.”
Tennant, who became CEO in 2011, also has helped the company of 50 employees navigate the more recent recession, which had a big impact on demand for discretionary international travel, and a shift toward digital marketing. Sales this year are expected to reach $27 million, up from $11 million in 2001, when Tennant joined GeoEx.
One of the many things that has kept Tennant at GeoEx is witnessing the positive effect travel has on clients. “Travel can be such a mind-opening experience,” Tennant says, surrounded by Asian tapestries and wood-carved African figures in the company’s San Francisco Presidio offices. “It is not uncommon for our clients to come back describing their trip as a life-changer. It is very satisfying.”
A Passage Through India
Co-Founder, Jagriti Yatra,
Journey of Awakening
Swapnil Dixit on a train tour in India that he co-founded.
Swapnil Dixit spent three days sitting in his small, windowless bedroom in India pondering his future before getting it on track.
In 2006, Dixit, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, was 24 and working as a statistician—“a number cruncher”—when he reached this crossroads. Though he filled a notebook with ideas ranging from going to film school to starting a shop, a friend reminded him that he had been talking about creating a train journey for young people. And so Dixit decided to revisit that dream.
He took his inspiration from a transcontinental train trip that marked India’s 50 years of independence back in 1997. Since then, mobile, technology, and outsourcing had taken off in India and young people (two-thirds of the country’s population is under 35) had developed a greater confidence and belief in themselves, Dixit notes.
The idea: Gather these young people on a train—a sort of university on wheels—to meet social and business entrepreneurs around the country. He left his job Oct. 31, 2007, and with three co-founders spent the next nine months toiling to raise money to no avail. Finally, their break came in August when Indian conglomerate Tata became a partner.
Dixit and his team outfitted 18 cars with cybercafés, bathrooms, and a P.A. system to carry 450 young people 8,000 kilometers for two weeks. Called Jagriti Yatra, Journey of Awakening, the inaugural two-week trip left the station in December 2008, with passengers meeting a new entrepreneur almost every day. In the last five years, more than 150 startups have emerged out from the program. Every year, more than 15,000 young people register and more than 4,000 are evaluated to fill the train’s 450 seats. “Anyone who goes on the train comes back transformed,” Dixit says.
That goes for Dixit, too. He was at the southern tip of India enjoying a majestic view of the Arabian Sea while talking about MBAs with Aaron Schwartz, MBA 10, then a student at Haas and a facilitator on the train. “You MBAs, don’t tell me why it’s not possible. Tell me how to do it,” Dixit recalls saying.
Schwartz said not all MBAs are alike and urged Dixit to check out Berkeley-Haas. When Dixit visited the school’s website, he was surprised to find the Defining Principles resonated with him. “They touched me at a place where other schools didn’t.”
Now on the advisory board as the train rolls without him during his time at Haas, Dixit has hardly forgotten his home country. He is currently developing an online learning platform to allow teachers around the world to provide high-quality lessons to students in remote locations. His inspiration comes from Gandhi, who said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”