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News & Events

Top executives from the Class of 1979 shared their thoughts about the economy with fellow Kellogg graduates during Reunion 2009. From left to right: William Ecker, Harry Kraemer, Thomas J. Toy and Steven J. Sherman.

From left to right: William Ecker, Harry Kraemer, Thomas J. Toy and Steven J. Sherman.

Words of wisdom

Now leaders in their fields, graduates from the Class of 1979 share their perspectives on the current economic crisis with fellow Kellogg alumni

By Jennifer Beck

5/13/2009 - Thirty years after graduating from the Kellogg School, members of the Class of 1979 have learned a thing or two about economic cycles.

They lived through the deep recession of the early 1980s and the economic rebound later in the decade. After surviving another downturn in the early 1990s, they went on to watch the technology-driven “New Economy” push the Dow to stratospheric heights — only to see it collapse a few years later.

Alumni Panel Discussion
At their Kellogg reunion earlier this month, four members of the Kellogg Class of 1979 took the opportunity to share their perspectives with their fellow alumni. The Global Economic Outlook panel included William Ecker, president and CEO of the Hartz Mountain Corporation; Harry Kraemer, executive partner at Madison Dearborn Partners; Steven J. Sherman, partner at KPMG Economic and Valuation Services and chair of the KPMG Global Valuations Committee; and Thomas J. Toy, co-founder and managing director of PacRim Venture Partners. The discussion was one of many educational events that took place during Reunion 2009, which boasted the largest alumni turnout ever.

During the May 2 panel discussion, the 1979 alums acknowledged the economic challenges that lie ahead — and expressed optimism about the future.

Kraemer, a healthcare and private equity expert, observed that “there is no easy way out” of the current economic malaise. Both the short and long term will be difficult, he said, and he expressed concern about attempts to “spend our way out of this.”

“That’s how we got into this, because we spent too much,” Kraemer said. But he predicted an eventual silver lining. “When we do get through this and we actually look back four or five years from now, I sincerely believe it will be for the better,” he said. Potential benefits could include a greater focus on family, values and global responsibility, he said.

Toy, a venture capital and entrepreneurship professional, reported witnessing a “dramatic downshift” in his industry. “That’s quite notable … because this is a leading indicator,” he said. He predicted that the U.S. economy would remain in the doldrums for several quarters, and then gradually revive. “I’m very optimistic about the U.S., but after another year or two of pain,” he said.

Ecker stressed the importance of planning carefully for the future. He observed that his firm saw a moderate reduction in demand over the last year. But raw commodity costs increased by 25 percent, while the availability of suppliers decreased.

As a result, Ecker said, the firm examined its portfolio to eliminate less profitable areas, and modified product activities. “Sometimes it takes a really good crisis to make us focus on the things we should have been doing all along,” he said.

Sherman, who has expertise with companies operating in global markets, believes that restructuring will play an important role both in helping U.S. companies move forward and in boosting employment. While he acknowledged challenges and uncertainty ahead, he also emphasized the potential for brighter days in the future.

“Once the strategic investors and once private equity firms believe that there’s a floor out there, I think there’s going to be tremendous opportunity for those that do have capital,” Sherman said.