Erica Stone was a chef at the world-renowned Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley and had worked in documentary film. She had a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC Berkeley and a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. But that wasn’t enough. She wanted a professional career in the nonprofit sector – and she knew that to succeed, she would need the right skills.
Canadian-born Stone, who now lives in Berkeley with two giant dogs, a cat and her brother, applied to MBA programs. In her mid 30s at the time, Stone was accepted at the Harvard, Berkeley, and Stanford business schools.
She chose Berkeley, because of its reputation in nonprofit management. “If you want to effect change in the world you need to have a degree that people respect,” says Stone, now president of the non-profit American Himalayan Foundation (AHF). One of her most vivid memories of Haas, she says, is the excitement of signing up for David Aaker’s popular course on marketing. After his classes, late at night in cafes, she and other students would intently discuss ways of selling ice cream: “He talked about the world in a way that really opened up the mind.”
After she received her MBA, she worked as a consultant for two years, helping women write business plans for start-ups. Haas alum and advisory board member Richard (Dick) Blum (BS 58, MBA 59) found Stone when he founded AHF in 1991. The foundation, based in San Francisco, provides education, health services, and cultural and environmental preservation in the Himalayas, one of the world’s poorest places. It employs 11 people in total, at its head office and in Katmandu.
Richard Blum says it is Stone who has built AHF into a major player. “Erica has combined compassion with drive, foresight and good business skills. When she joined 10 years ago, we were involved in very few projects, and now the foundation has over 10,000 donors and projects throughout the Himalayas – Tibet and Nepal. If this were a Haas School course, she’d get a A+++,” he says.
The always-modest Stone, however, stresses that it is her Haas degree that gives her an edge in the non-profit world. “It gives you the concept of the margin,” says Stone, 51. “You understand money. You’re comfortable talking about it and raising it.”
She has also become used to mingling with the famous. The foundation’s directors include, in addition to Blum, the renowned climber Sir Edmund Hillary, former Vice President Walter Mondale, actress Sharon Stone – “We’re not related, but I love to tell people she’s my little sister!” – and Jon Krakauer, who wrote the best-seller “Into Thin Air,” about a disastrous Everest expedition, which was later turned into a 1997 movie. Stone concludes: “I have a job that I love and I wouldn’t have it if I didn’t have this MBA.”
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