The Harvard Business School Club of Washington may have been founded in 1933, but it took a determined group of alums led by CEO and President Antonio Alves more than eight decades to come up with a winning formula of networking events and embassy mixers – capped by a grand gala – to coalesce its regionally based alumni into vigorous support of their local chapter.
This year’s second annual gala, held at the Four Seasons Georgetown, honored Atlantic Media Group’s Chairman and CEO David G. Bradley (MBA ’77) with its 2016 HBS Lifetime Achievement Award, and Carolyn Everson (MBA ’99), Facebook’s Vice President of Global Marketing Solutions, with its 2016 Alumni Achievement Award.
“Tonight’s honorees are exceptional examples of innovation and achievement, said gala emcee Barbara Harrison, the Emmy-winning NBC 4 anchor. “David Bradley’s remarkable ascent in the worlds of business, journalism AND technology are nationally recognized, and Carolyn Everson’s role at Facebook – another Harvard-generated world phenomenon – has created a global force of nature that is truly unparalleled.”
After cocktails, the lights flickered and dimmed as more than 350 high-profile guests streamed into the ballroom for an opening performance by world-renowned cellist Char Prescott. A native Washingtonian and a section cellist with the “President’s Own” Marine Corps Chamber Orchestra, Prescott played a vintage 1879 Praga cello on loan from the S&R Foundation.
Harrison saluted the HBS Club of DC for occupying “a unique position” in Washington’s “world-class business community” and for “strengthening relationships and effecting meaningful change.”
The gala gave pause for some of the city’s most prominent business people to reacquaint themselves with longtime friends and colleagues, as well as forge new relationships, and shone a bright light on a few of the Harvard community’s most outstanding members.
The HBS Club of DC was founded 83 years ago, a few years after the Great Depression, and today is the fourth largest HBS Club in the country, serving 4,500 HBS alumni in the region.
“This organization has a legacy of integrity and excellence as well as a special role here in Washington,” said outgoing HBS of DC President Antonio Alves, who shook up the chapter two years ago with a vigorously proactive agenda of embassy dinners, corporate sponsorships and its first two galas.
“As president of the Club I’m proud to report that we’ve managed to double our membership, significantly raise awareness of our work on a national level, engage corporate sponsors and expand our commitment to this city with our scholarship opportunities and other programs,” Alves said.
For the Brazilian-born Alves, whose mother flew in from Rio to attend, the biggest source of pride for him is the creation of a gala which few said could be done, and grew from nothing to a must-attend event in DC in just two years.
“Last year when we launched this event I saw it as a particularly useful way to leverage this very powerful brand – the Harvard Business School – and connect our members with the larger business community here in Washington,” he said, “as well as celebrate our many truly amazing and distinguished alumni.”
For Alves, pulling together from scratch a gala of such magnitude was an uphill climb, no different from the challenges and difficulties of starting a new business. “I’ll admit to several weeks of racking up some charges on my own credit card and taking Nyquil to get to sleep,” he ruefully admitted.
Cultivating ‘Transformational’ Non-Profit Leadership
This year’s Title Sponsor was Rosslyn-based CEB, a company started by Bradley in 1973 and which today is a publicly-traded company specializing in best practices and technology, with $1 billion in annual revenues and 4,000 employees.
“David not only endowed us with great business momentum and a nearly unlimited set of growth opportunities, he worked to shape a culture founded on a set of core values,” remarked CEB Chairman and CEO Tom Monahan, a Harvard alum and chair of the University’s Leadership Giving program. “As the company has grown and our businesses have changed, this may be his most permanent contribution to our success…Chief among these values is our collective spirit of generosity – both to each other, and to the more than 60 communities where we operate globally.”
“We know that David and Katherine are immensely proud of what we have accomplished, and equally proud of what our colleagues at the Advisory Board and Atlantic Media have done, but all three companies know that we will never be their first love – or even their second…Their first is – obviously – family. ..But an unquestioned second is their tireless commitment to equity and opportunity in the DC area, and worldwide.”
Monahan added that CEB “shares a passion for capacity building and leadership development in the social sector” with Harvard Business School and the HBS Club of DC.
“All three organizations do all we can to cultivate and promote strong leaders for social justice in our communities,” Monahan said, in awarding the HBS Club’s Nonprofit Leader Scholarships.
Each year, Harvard Business School holds a week-long course for non-profit leaders from around the world, its Strategic Perspectives in Non-profit Management program.
Participants call the experience “transformational,” as it allows the scholars to benefit from the HBS Strategic Perspectives in Non-profit Management (SPNM) course, an intensive six-day program designed to strengthen the capacity of non-profit CEOs and executive directors to lead their organizations more effectively.
This year’s recipients were Peg Hacskayklo, a social work professional who founded the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), which ensures access to safe housing for victims of domestic and sexual violence in Washington D.C. ,and Jacqueline DeCarlo, executive director of Manna Food Center in Montgomery County, whose mission is to end hunger by sharing food, educating neighbors and advocating for underserved communities.
“These leaders truly make a difference in the world,” Monahan said. “They represent the very best of the Washington, D.C. non-profit community.”
Facebook’s ‘Force of Nature’
As the first ever recipient of last year’s Alumni Achievement Award, HBS grad Glenn Youngkin, president and chief operating officer of The Carlyle Group, introduced this year’s award to Facebook’s Carolyn Everson.
“This is one of the highest forms of recognition given by the club to a graduate who has made a lasting impact on society through outstanding professional, voluntary or philanthropic accomplishments, while upholding the highest standards and values,” Youngkin said. “They represent the best in our alumni.”
Everson’s genius sales chops, honed in various advertising, marketing and business development roles at Walt Disney, MTV and Microsoft, caught the attention of Facebook Founder and Chairman Mark Zuckerberg, who hired her into the top selling position as VP of Global Marketing Solutions .
“At Facebook Carolyn has established herself as a peerless leader in the exciting world of marketing and global partnerships,” Youngkin said.
Everson has been widely credited with leading the social media giant to nearly $8 billion in revenues in 2013, to $18 billion and net income of $3.7 billion in 2015. She has been called “The Most Powerful Woman in Advertising” by Business Insider, and has consistently been named to the AdWeek 50, and currently serves on the boards of Hertz, Effie Worldwide and Donors Choose.
“What I find most telling about Carolyn is her commitment to her family and her community while balancing all of her professional demands,” Youngkin said. “I asked her recently — tell me about yourself -and rather than recite her CV (like so many are apt to do), she said, “First, I am a Mom. I have a wonderful husband, Doug, and two spectacular daughters, Taylor and Kennedy.”
Everson met her husband Doug at Harvard Business School and later, while working for Disney, whimsically chose to hold their wedding at Walt Disney World, “in a ceremony attended by Pluto and Mickey and Minnie Mouse,” Youngkin chuckled. These days the Eversons have a full house, caring for four rescue dogs, a rabbit and a frog, and as a family have spent time volunteering in their hometown and abroad for humanitarian causes in Kenya, Ecuador and India.
“Carolyn perfectly represents the best of Harvard Business School’s mission to advance leaders who make a difference in the world,” Youngkin said, as he introduced a Facebook-ready, humorous video of close friends and family saluting her achievements and ebullient personality. .
In accepting the award, Everson gave credit to others. “Harvard Business School does a really good job in teaching you how to be a good manager…But at the end of the day you have to have good people. I don’t think I realized quite the importance of that early enough in my career.”
She added: “I work for someone who is 32. Facebook wasn’t even born, not even an idea, when I was in business school. And that to me means that you have to be so intellectually curious that not only do you keep yourself intellectually motivated and inspired but that you surround yourself with new ideas and new thinking which pushes you forward.”
Everson also reflected on legacy: “Really think about the impact and the legacy you want to leave…A lot of people say they are going to start thinking about that 20 or 30 years into their career, but I think that you have to start thinking about that legacy stuff even as a child. I truly believe that every one of us has to make a difference.”
David Bradley’s ‘Extreme Talent’
When David Bradley entered Harvard Business School in 1977, he met fellow Washingtonian Robert Haft, and the two have maintained a personal friendship that has endured nearly four decades since graduating.
It was only appropriate then that Haft, a business entrepreneur like Bradley who now serves as chairman of both Morgan Noble and Imagine 13 Schools, presented his fellow HBS classmate with the club’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The crop of graduates from the class of 1977 was a good year,” Haft said. “It included the Chairwoman of Bain (a first), the CEO of General Motors and the CEO of Proctor and Gamble, cabinet officers, and at one point, the CEO of Tiffany,” Haft said. “Hidden in that great deck of cards was what David Bradley is so good at spotting…’extreme talent,’ and despite his penchant for humility, we recognize David Bradley as that ‘extreme talent.'”
Bradley’s achievements are now the stuff of legend. He started his first company, The Advisory Board, at the age of 26 in his mother’s Watergate apartment, equipped “only with a card table and a princess phone,” Haft chuckled.
These days, both the Advisory Board and its sister company, CEB, are public companies listed on the NASDAQ and New York Stock Exchange. After selling the companies in 2006, Bradley purchased and became chairman and CEO of Atlantic Media, which includes The Atlantic, Quarts, the National Journal and other media outlets.
“These companies contribute to the public discourse and matters of great importance that really can’t be measured,” Haft said. “And the philanthropic work he and his wife Katherine devote themselves to is too long a list to read here.”
But, Haft added, Bradley’s now well-documented efforts to free five journalists held by ISIS in Syria as well as his earlier efforts to free American hostages held in Libya reveal “the character of an extraordinary American civil servant.”
Bradley, Haft added, speak to both his mother and sister every day of the week, and has been married to “the talented and brilliant” Katherine Bradley for 30 years, “and is likely to be seen holding her hand tonight.”
Their three sons Spencer, Carter and Adam “willingly assemble around their kitchen table to discuss and debate,” Haft said, and all three are headed into business careers, with one son (Spencer) now attending Harvard Business School. “They are men destined for success,” Haft said.
“David is a collector, a collector of friends, a collector of ideas, and a collector of dreams,” Haft added. “Most especially your dreams and your ideas…I have to say one of the finest gifts in my life is his friendship.”
“His character is built to ‘carry the load’ in every family, every community, every church, every business and every interaction,” he added. “There are people who lead the way and carry the load…David is that man.”
In accepting the award, Bradley expressed his characteristic humility and thanked others. “I’m really appreciative of all of you,” he said. “And I’m so appreciative of the Harvard Business School, which were by far the richest and most joyous years in school.”
When Bradley applied to HBS from Swarthmore College in 1977, its deputy director of admissions was James Jay Foley, who told him, “If you have one spelling mistake in your essays, you will be declined here. “
“Swarthmore in the ‘70s was not really big on business, but they were very big on grammar,” he recalled. “So I want to thank the 15 to 30 people at Swarthmore College who proof read my essay to Harvard Business School. “
But, Bradley’s “highest privilege” in attending HBS was making “a best friend for life” in Bobby Haft, he said. “We’ve been friends for 39 years, and if you’ve not had a best friend for life, you’ve really missed an experience that is one of the treasures of my life. I’m deeply appreciative of Bobby Haft.”
Bradley also expressed appreciation to the colleagues of his former companies, and to Michael Finnegan, current president of Atlantic Media. “The real tribute is for all the great things these people did that got me here,” he said.
Final heartfelt words of appreciation were left for family and to Alves, who organized the tribute dinner. “Antonio, you’re a force of nature,” Bradley said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching your vertical ascent through life…You’re a force of nature.”
And to Katherine Spencer Bradley, his wife of 33 years. “I met her when I was 30 and she was 19 and working for the Advisory Board Company,” he recalled. “It was the Clinton scandal without the felony. I just fell head over heels for this girl.”
Final words were saved for his family. “My sister was a New York Times bestselling author for 20 years and was on NPR. I’ve known her since she was zero and I was 6, and she has been my most constant friend,” he said. “Then there’s my mother, who turns 95 soon, and is as formidable and exceptional as mothers present. I think it would be fair to say that having her here makes me the luckiest guy in the room.”
“But as my mother would say at this point, ‘Just say thank you and sit down.”’
Bradley did both.
The Media Landscape Dissected
For the evening’s final act, The Atlantic’s National Correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, led a lively panel discussion on lessons learned and Old Vs. New Media.
Goldberg , the recipient of numerous awards including the National Magazine Award for Reporting, the Daniel Pearl Prize for Reporting, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Prize for Best Investigative Reporting, was up to the task.
In convening the discussion, Goldberg asked what advice each might proffer for success in business.
“If you have a chance to sail with the wind, go with it,” Bradley offered.
“In my 20s, it was about learning; in my 30s it was about learning, and in my 40s it’s also been about learning,” Everson said. “I think the most fundamental thing about success in business is to have intellectual curiosity, and surround yourself with others who are also intellectually curious and see the possibilities out there.”
Goldberg pointed out how The Atlantic and Facebook represent two distinctly different places in the media pantheon: “Facebook is less than seven minutes old and now breaks news to billions. The Atlantic is so old that it endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President.”
“I think this is a good opportunity to break the news,” Bradley interrupted. “This year the Atlantic will be endorsing Abraham Lincoln.”
Goldberg then convened a lively discussion between Bradley and Everson on why content is still key, and how print publications such as The Atlantic have led to Facebook’s success as a platform “of ideas and relationships. “
“I’m deeply grateful of Facebook… I just want to spend some time telling you how much I love Facebook,” Bradley continued. “A decade ago, The Atlantic had 1.5 million print readers and 500,000 digital readers. Today we have 30 million digital readers per month, and half of them come from Facebook. Our ability to do good is 50 percent owed to Facebook, because 40-50 percent of our digital revenues are derivative of the fact that Facebook exists.”
With the media landscape changing so dramatically, and the industry under such deep pressure from the digital and mobile revolutions, the act of preserving and defending the idea of serious journalism in the cause of advancing democracy is under siege, Goldberg said.
“What needs to be preserved is the unique and special journalism, either special in voice or special reporting or argument, “ Bradley said. “And Facebook has a responsibility there. People I’ve known there have said, no, we really need good content for our readers and our business formula. They have been really good to that proposition. “
Everson said that Facebook has done its job, then.
“Thank you for that…That’s what we want to be for all content providers,” she said. “We have 1.6 billion people on our platform, and a billion people per day clicking in. And the billion people want the content that The Atlantic is producing and so many terrific journalists around the world are producing. Frankly, we need that content; behaviors have shifted so dramatically that consumers are spending 20-25 percent of their time with us, be it 50 minutes per day with us, or in some markets, higher. “
Everson’s goal is to ensure that Facebook is a platform “that is friendly, welcoming and enhances the reputations of these companies who need to monetize their content…That’s what we are: We are a partnership company. “
The pivot from desktop to mobile has been “a huge disruptor” in recent years, she added, and now the move to video and live streaming content could be as big a wave.
“My advice to David or any other content provider is that as much as we saw mobile as being a disruptor to our business over the past handful of years, we think that video is going to be even more disruptive to our business,” she said. “Every time we tried to project our mobile engagement and user growth, we underestimated it. And we’re doing nearly as worse on predicting the growth of video. It is incredible how fast it’s growing…So I would encourage all forms of journalism to explore the video format, using format like live video, which really bring authenticity into the user’s mobile device, the most personal device we have. “
If The Atlantic and Facebook “get it right together, we will not only reach the 25 million people who are consuming content on your platform, but we will open up and find more people who are like that who are very enthused and engaged and will want to consume that content….And start to get into people’s hands the most relevant newspapers that people have ever had, one that educates people and gives them a voice.”
In closing remarks, Alves announced that Behrad Mahdi of Censeo Consulting Group has been appointed the HBS Club’s new President. The club’s board named Alves as its new Chairman.
“None of our success over these past two years would have been possible if not for the courage, dedication and passion that Antonio Alves brought to this club,” Mahdi said. “On behalf of the Club’s officers you punished over the last two years and the Club’s 4,000 alumni, we would like to present you with the club’s first ever Outstanding Leadership Award for your visionary guidance and undaunted leadership.”
View more photos from the gala here.