Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Spring 2003Kellogg School of Management
In DepthIn BriefFaculty NewsClass NotesClub NewsArchivesContactKellogg Homepage
From the Dean
Faculty News
Faculty Vita
Research: Anne Gron, Management & Strategy
Alumni Profile: Tiscia Eicher ’89
Alumni Profile: Steve Baker ’90
Alumni Profile: Mariann Kurtz ’92
Address Update
Alumni Home
Submit News
Internal Site
Northwestern University
Kellogg Search
Mariann Kurtz
Kurtz, fourth from right, with several of her international colleagues, has worked in some of the world's more dangerous business environments.

Alumni Profile: Mariann Kurtz '92

No boundaries
For Mariann Kurtz '92 business is a battleground

Mariann Kurtz listened raptly to the war stories shared by her classmates at her 10-year Kellogg reunion last May.

Most of her peers had remained stateside since graduation, and few had emerged unscathed from the 1990s. Kurtz heard tales of boom and bust, fortunes won and lost. "I felt lucky to have escaped some of the things that my classmates had been through," she says.

Her classmates likely would have said the same thing about her.

For the past 11 years, Kurtz has lived and worked in some of the world's most volatile hotspots, including the Balkans, Central Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe. She has conducted business under the drone of NATO warplanes, evacuated staff as an anti-U.S. mob threatened to decimate an office in Bosnia, and sweated over the safety of staffers moving through war-torn regions.

It's just part of the job for Kurtz, a 1992 Kellogg School graduate and privatization expert who is passionate about helping improve the business environment in transitional economies. "It's been a real privilege to have been a part of the vast transition that's happening in these areas," she says.

Kurtz has been a critical link in that transition. For the past three years she has managed SEED, a technical program in Sarajevo aiding small- and medium-sized firms in the Western Balkans. She meets regularly with government officials, makes presentations about the importance of small businesses and reviews business plans from entrepreneurs seeking to expand or launch new ventures.

"It's about the transfer of capital and knowledge," she says. "These are obviously very bright, capable people, but they have lived under a system where they didn't experience the things they would have in a market-based society."

Kurtz's adventures began in the summer of 1991, when she "fell in love" with business development in transitional economies during her Kellogg summer internship in Poland. As an intern for a small privatization firm, she spent three months traveling the country on "rickety, smoky local trains, visiting local factories and trying to figure out what to do with them."

Kurtz returned to Poland after graduation and spent the next several years working for KPMG and then PricewaterhouseCoopers. Privatization, training and corporate governance work took her to Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Pakistan before she joined SEED in 2000.

At SEED, Kurtz draws inspiration from her staff, most of whom are lifelong residents of the former Yugoslavia but who have rejected the ethnic hatred that fueled the region's conflicts during the 1990s.

"That's what makes my coming to work every day so special — these people," Kurtz says. "Most of them lived somewhere else during the war, but they've returned because this is their country, because their families live here and because they believe in the future. There is a lot of power in that."

That spirit inspired Kurtz to remain in Sarajevo during the Kosovo crisis in 1999 and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Though the times were anxious, Kurtz says she never felt personally threatened.

"It's all a matter of figuring out the rules of the game," she says. "You realize that when people celebrate, they fire guns in the air. You don't go outside when that's happening. If it's not paved, you don't walk on it. There are mines everywhere."

Kurtz may need to unlearn some of those rules as she moves to a new but familiar place: Washington, D.C. She will remain with the International Finance Corp., which manages SEED, and will continue working to develop small businesses in high-risk areas around the globe.

It is the logical next step in a career that has known no boundaries. "In this position, I won't be geographically limited," she says. "To have the whole world open up is really gratifying."

— Rebecca Lindell

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University