the power of the Kellogg Alumni Network
reap the rewards of Kellogg network's expansive reach, combining
the power of their peers, and their MBA training, to launch
School study group partners, Diane Farrell and Wayne
Rothschild, both '02, often mused about launching a company.
But neither had serious intentions of making that a reality,
as each planned to return to their established fields of expertise
— technology for Farrell, engineering and product development
for Rothschild — after earning their MBAs.
a devastating automobile accident left Farrell on extended
leave from work, and she revisited the idea with Rothschild,
who had become a close friend and had actually followed his
dream and launched Neat-Oh! several months earlier. In fact,
he was just then putting together the team to take the company
not?' we said to each other, 'Let's go for it,'" Farrell
recalls the two Kellogg graduates telling each other as they
decided to form a partnership in 2005.
so they did, with the support of dozens of industry specialists
just a phone call away. The Kellogg network, the entrepreneurs
soon realized, would embrace them and give their new innovative
toy manufacturing and wholesaling company momentum to succeed.
down help from peers
endeavor represented a complete professional reversal for
I was with 20 years of technology experience, all of a sudden
in toys and household retail. No crossover — none,"
says Farrell of the venture, Northfield, Ill.-based Neat Oh!
International LLC. "So I started from scratch and I went
into the network and looked for alums at Wal-Mart and Sears,
and began researching what the start-up company needed to
sent out a general e-mail request to Kellogg alumni and was
overwhelmed with the response.
was tremendous. More than 50 percent responded, talking with
me over the phone, making connections for us or suggesting
strategy," says Farrell. "These were individuals
in vice presidential and higher-level executive roles. All
it took was my putting out the flag saying, 'Hi, I'm a Kellogg
alum, can you help me?'"
in part to the network's leverage, as well as the ambition,
knowledge and direction of its founders, Neat Oh! essentially
hit the ground running.
had national distribution within our first six months. We
were cited in Crain's for achieving that," Farrell
says. One of the company's flagship products, ZipBin,™
is a patent-pending line of collapsible, transportable, interactive
product distribution through large retailers was developed
through Kellogg School connections, Farrell says. Today, Neat
Oh! distributes throughout the United States and in Guatemala,
Canada, Spain, Italy, England, Mexico and the Philippines.
challenges of finding employees, partners and investors were
less daunting when the entrepreneurial pair garnered insights
from Kellogg alumni, they say.
percent of Neat Oh!'s employees were hired because of Kellogg
alumni connections or referrals. In addition to the experience
and insights of alumni peers, objectivity has proven valuable
to the partners.
had situations when I've just needed feedback from an impartial
person who had nothing to gain or lose, and finding that resource
through Kellogg has been an amazing thing," Rothschild
with Kelloggians in Tel Aviv and Hong Kong have been promising
too, now that Neat Oh! plans to expand its international operations.
entrepreneur, Seaphes Miller '04, was introduced to
the Kellogg network through conferences during his Kellogg
studies, as well as via his participation in the student-run
Black Management Association. After graduation, however, Miller
engaged the Kellogg alumni network more deeply and methodically,
in response to a request from his then-employer Procter &
Gamble. The company had asked him to establish off-shore engineering
to meet targeted cost constraints.
of doing broad research in India, I was able to narrow my
scope right away," Miller says. He reached out and alumni
linked him with their overseas contacts.
following year was critical for Miller, who founded an Ohio-based
engineering and IT consulting company, Hightech Integrated
Solutions LLC. He credits the motivation for that decision
to Kellogg Professor Steve
Rogers, director of the Larry
and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice.
Rogers encouraged his student to challenge his own thinking
and consider the larger contributions he could make to his
community through entrepreneurship. Again, Miller turned to
the Kellogg network, this time approaching both alumni and
his background in engineering, marketing and brand management
at P&G, Miller was eager to expand on his marketing expertise
when he launched his company. A valued resource to him has
been Professor Alice
Tybout, chair of the Kellogg Marketing
been very helpful and responsive to my bouncing ideas off
her, whether it's through calls or e-mails," says Miller.
"My expertise was in expanding consumer brands; Professor
Tybout helped me translate my experience to a services-based
notes that Kellogg faculty and administration have set the
foundation for the networking environment to flourish.
an address given by Dean
Dipak C. Jain early in his tenure as the school's top
leader, Farrell says the dean highlighted the power of networking,
an area she realized she could also develop.
Jain said a priority for him was to rebuild the Kellogg network
and redesign the school's communications for a broader outreach,"
Farrell says. "He emphasized the priority for everyone
to be connected [to each other and the school]."
that Neat Oh! is building on its initial achievements and
its founders are more confident with their endeavor, they're
enjoying making their own contributions to the well of resources
they have tapped through the Kellogg network. Farrell sometimes
receives technology-related inquiries from Kellogg contacts
and is happy to answer those, or to connect graduates to hiring
managers in the technology field.
and Farrell have mentored entrepreneurial student teams and
given lectures at Kellogg. The two-way dynamic is rewarding,
helps keep us current, academically. We enjoy returning to
taking part as a guest speaker, Miller has visited several
college campuses in the Midwest to motivate students considering
business as a profession. He adds to the network database
by providing contacts, making introductions for those seeking
connections to brands at P&G and also screening ideas
for budding entrepreneurs.
it fun and invigorating, Miller says his involvement in the
network has grown over the years.
was a little intimidating at first," he admits. "I
was afraid people would pull back as I reached out to them,
but I soon realized Kelloggians want to help and be helped."
Miller did have reservations about reaching out, his decision
to create a new company convinced him otherwise.
employment forces you to network in different circles,"
doing so has made an impact on his career that surpassed his
is gratified knowing he has already made a difference in the
lives of his 20 employees, something he couldn't have done
had he not ventured out on his own.
I founded Hightech Integrated, a similar firm was going out
of business," Miller explains. "I was able to acquire
those individuals who were about to lose their jobs and keep
them employed over the holidays."
his Kellogg studies, he always hoped to make the most of the
connections, he says, but he only counted on the business
training his MBA would provide for him as a better general
I decided to head into entrepreneurship and I tapped into
my colleagues, I realized there was no way I could have anticipated
how much the network would contribute to what I set out to
do," Miller says. "It's really changed my life."