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Life After B-School: 5 Very Different Stanford GSB Grads

Posted in Test Prep on April 22, 2011 by

Our Life After B-School series chronicles the career paths of a few MBAs from a variety of b-schools. In this installment, check out the career decisions of 5 Stanford grads.

The Grocer:

Joseph Coulombe, MBA ‘54
Okay, so Joseph Coulombe won’t actually bag your groceries for you — but he has changed many Americans’ experience and expectations around food shopping. Coulombe founded the popular Trader Joe’s chain of supermarkets in 1967 to appeal to the “overeducated and underpaid” demographic he saw emerging in the market. Coulombe’s careful evaluation of the marketplace worked, and over the years he led Trader Joe’s into other emerging niches like environmentalism and health-consciousness. As a recent grad of Stanford’s GSB, Coulombe exemplified the entrepreneurial spirit: he got his MBA in 1954, during a recession and at a time when the words “Stanford MBA” didn’t connote quite the level of prestige they do today. He worked for a drugstore chain and started a line of convenience stores for them as a test. When the drugstore chain ordered Coulombe to liquidate the markets, he bought them out instead — and Trader Joe’s was born.

The Venture Philanthropist:

Kim Smith, MBA ‘98
Smith is the Co-Founder and Senior Advisor of NewSchools Venture Fund, a non-profit venture philanthropy fund that invests in educational entrepreneurship projects. The fund seeks to fund projects that will benefit underserved children in the U.S., and invests in both for-profit and not-for-profit ventures. In the organization’s own words, “NewSchools is focused on transforming public education — particularly for low-income and minority children in urban communities, who need and deserve better schools.” Smith, inspired by the vibrant culture of venture capital in the technology sector, founded NewSchools Venture Fund in 1998 along with venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers.

The Astronaut:

Steven L. Smith, MBA ‘87
There are not many astronauts in the world — let alone astronauts with MBAs from Stanford GSB. Steven L. Smith, who has been on four space flights, has spent 49 hours and 25 minutes on spacewalks (that is, excursions outside a spacecraft in space), putting him on top 5 lists of spacewalk durations in America and the world. Smith started his career with NASA in 1989 and is currently the NASA International Space Station Program Liaison to the European Space Agency.

The Business Writer:

Tom Peters, MBA ‘72
Peters, like many b-school grads, spent a portion of his early career as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. After he left McKinsey to become an independent consultant in 1981, he authored 14 books focused on business management practices. His most well-known book is In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Most Successful Companies, (co-authored with Robert H. Waterman, Jr), which draws attention to 8 themes Peters and Waterman found to be present in successful organizations. In Search of Excellence enjoyed a great deal of popular success, though critics’ response to the book were mixed.

The Poet/Government Appointee:

Michael Dana Gioia, MBA ‘77
Gioia himself is proof that a business education can prepare a person for most any challenge: he has served as VP of Marketing at General Foods Corporation, a literary and poetry editor at various literary magazines, a visiting writer at Wesleyan University, the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and a full-time poet and critic. Gioia served as the Chairman of the NEA from 2003 – 2009 and maintains the view that the arts should be readily available to people everywhere; as he has said, “the arts are not a luxury.”