Investing in Our Future

Rethinking Education

Online learning pioneer supports budding business leaders and data scientists


John “Jack” Larson, BS 73, in his company's video studio where online cooking classes are recorded

John “Jack” Larson, BS 73, believes in transforming higher education and has been in the field for over 40 years. In 1994 he founded Career Education Corporation to make learning accessible to everyone. He built it into one of the world’s largest providers of postsecondary education, with $2 billion in annual revenues. Today, Larson serves as executive chairman of Triumph Higher Education, a Chicago-area entity that owns the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, which offers both on-site and online degree programs for culinary arts entrepreneurs. Larson has also been an ardent supporter of Berkeley. Since 2008, he’s offered the Jack Larson Scholarship to undergrad and MBA students interested in entrepreneurship. Earlier this year, graduate students at the Berkeley School of Information were awarded The Jack Larson Data for Good Fellowship. Larson discussed his career and philanthropy with BerkeleyHaas.

What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

Larson: I’ve always understood that part of being an entrepreneur is shocking people a little bit. You push back and show people that maybe there’s another way. About six years ago I got the idea of teaching people not only culinary skills but also how to run a food business—and to put the program 100 percent online. At the time that was deemed kind of crazy, because how do you teach culinary online? The reality is that chefs in culinary schools don’t actually taste the food made by all the students. They judge if something’s too runny or well done by sight, which means it can be done online. To date, we have had 6,000 students from about 45 countries using the same techniques and recipes from Chef Auguste Escoffier that almost every chef in the world has learned. They get practical experience through a required externship. We also have career services and entrepreneurship in the programs.

What inspires you to give back to Berkeley?

Larson: I feel gratitude for the education that helped give me the self-confidence to succeed. I’ve spent my career making higher education accessible to underserved groups; I realize there are always financial needs at universities. I wanted to help change students’ lives and get to know them personally—and to help them understand the realities of being an entrepreneur. Larson scholars are always free to contact me, and I see them when I visit. For the I School, I am inspired by the students who want to be data scientists for the good of society. This is a way to improve the world.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Larson: You better fail fast and you better pivot in order to make your idea work. If something’s not working, stop. If you ask any CEO or anybody who is running a business, they’ll tell you that you’ve got to reinvent yourself frequently. It’s tough because it’s like you’re a snake coming out of your skin. Entrepreneurship is a humbling experience because passion alone isn’t enough. Surround yourself with a great team. —Interview with Krysten Crawford

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