Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Winter 2006Kellogg School of Management
In DepthIn BriefDepartmentsClass NotesClub NewsArchivesContactKellogg Homepage
Siebel Scholars named
Kellogg hosts national Net Impact Conference
Room to write
CEO Perspective Program reveals view from the summit

Kellogg summit reveals leadership keys

New asset management program a Kellogg priority
Central bankers convene for Kellogg workshop
Alumni Newsmakers
EMBA showcase touts advantages for women who pursue Kellogg degree
CMC 'Success Workshops' offer practical advice for interns
Cahill milestone
Birt named director
Guest speakers
Kellogg teams victorious in turnaround competition
Happy Birthday, Mr. Marketing!
In memoriam: Professor Emeritus Lawrence "Gene" Lavengood
Full engagement: the power of the Kellogg Alumni Network
Address Update
Alumni Home
Submit News
Internal Site
Northwestern University
Kellogg Search
  Kellogg Alumni Network
Full engagement: the power of the Kellogg Alumni Network

Alumni reap the rewards of Kellogg network's expansive reach, combining the power of their peers, and their MBA training, to launch successful ventures

By Romi Herron

As Kellogg 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.

Then, 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 forward.

"Why 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.

And 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.

Flagging down help from peers

The endeavor represented a complete professional reversal for Farrell.

"There 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 get customers."

She sent out a general e-mail request to Kellogg alumni and was overwhelmed with the response.

"It 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?'"

The network's returns

Thanks 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.

"We 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 play sets.

Key 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.

The challenges of finding employees, partners and investors were less daunting when the entrepreneurial pair garnered insights from Kellogg alumni, they say.

Eighty 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.

"I've 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 says.

Talks with Kelloggians in Tel Aviv and Hong Kong have been promising too, now that Neat Oh! plans to expand its international operations.

Another 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.

"Instead 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.

The 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 faculty.

With 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 Department.

"She's 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 marketing approach."

Farrell notes that Kellogg faculty and administration have set the foundation for the networking environment to flourish.

Recalling 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.

"Dean 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]."

Giving back

Now 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.

Rothschild and Farrell have mentored entrepreneurial student teams and given lectures at Kellogg. The two-way dynamic is rewarding, says Rothschild.

"It helps keep us current, academically. We enjoy returning to Kellogg."

Also 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.

Finding it fun and invigorating, Miller says his involvement in the network has grown over the years.

"It 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."

Beyond expectations

If Miller did have reservations about reaching out, his decision to create a new company convinced him otherwise.

"Self employment forces you to network in different circles," he says.

And doing so has made an impact on his career that surpassed his expectations.

Miller 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.

"When 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."

During 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 manager.

"When 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."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University