Business or Pleasure? These Alumni Choose Both.
Filmmaker Bradley “BJ” Levin ’03 has reached millions of viewers with his documentaries on HBO, MTV, National Geographic and other channels. Along the way he has collaborated with celebrities, met world leaders and won two Emmy Awards.
Like many Smith School alumni, Levin has a dream job. “It’s super important to follow your dreams and to follow your passions and love what you do,” he tells students every fall when he returns to campus as a guest speaker in the College Park Scholars program led by Smith professor Mark Wellman. “If those three things line up, you will do your best work because you will be involved 100 percent.”
That wasn’t always the case for Levin, who started his career as an investment banker in Charlotte, N.C., and then Philadelphia.
“I was told to stay within the lines,” Levin says. “I looked at the bosses who were around me — 10 or 15 years older — and realized they weren’t who I wanted to be like, and banking wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Levin assessed the risks and took action that led to his current position as Vice Media executive producer. “I literally left banking, moved to New York City and picked up a camera,” he says.
Part of the reason Levin’s second career has taken off, he says, is because of the skills he learned at Smith. “Talking in business terms helped me grow as a producer,” he says. “I had an edge because I could analyze quickly and work with budgets.”
The Smith experience has helped launch other dream careers. Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham ’70, Philadelphia Flyers founder Ed Snider ’55, and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank ’96 all got their starts at Smith.
So did presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, MBA ’80, who talks on the campaign trail about her journey from secretary to CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Seven other Smith alumni, including Levin, share their stories on the following pages.
A Storyteller at Heart
Levin has earned credibility as a producer, but his first gig started with a bluff in 2005. He had just quit his job with Wachovia after 18 months and listed himself on craigslist as a freelance filmmaker.
His first client wanted someone who could cover Fashion Week in New York using a camera called a “PD150.” Levin had no idea what that meant, but he agreed that he would be ready.
As soon as he left the Friday meeting, he rushed to a bookstore and then a camera shop to do research. “I sat there for the next 48 hours, reading camera magazines and playing with all of the equipment,” Levin says. “On Monday I showed up and filmed my first documentary.”
The final product got syndicated and rebroadcast on local channels all over the country, which gave Levin a boost. But he still had much to learn. “I put my head down for the next decade and really learned the craft from the bottom up,” he says.
Levin quickly realized that he needed more than technical knowledge. “It was more about how you interacted with people,” he says. “Some people spend their lives studying the camera, but for me I knew it was more about psychology and relationships and being intuitive and learning how to read a room really fast.”
Successes began pile up. Levin documented Howard Stern’s move from K-Rock to Sirius satellite radio in 2006. Then he worked on a BBC home renovation reality show. Then he landed at MTV, where he produced an Emmy Award-winning episode of “Made.”
Levin next moved to Bravo, where he became a “Project Runway” field director. “I was doing some heavy projects and my budgets kept getting bigger,” Levin says.
After stops at the Food Network, National Geographic and Discovery, Levin produced a feature documentary for HBO. “They were so happy with my work that they sent me around the world, and I did 20 films in 20 countries,” Levin says.
When HBO formed a partnership with Vice Media the next year, the New York-based startup hired Levin as executive producer/showrunner. His instructions from Vice Media co-founder Shane Smith were simple: “Let’s make this an Emmy Award-winning series.”
Levin’s team delivered in 2014 in its second season, winning an Emmy for “Outstanding Informational Series Or Special.” Since then Levin has continued to expand Vice on HBO. His guests in 2015 included President Barack Obama, who visited a federal prison with Levin’s team to discuss nonviolent drug offenders.
“I saw an opportunity to create stories that would resonate and make a difference in the world,” Levin says. “It’s important to love what you do, and I had a passion for storytelling ever since I was a young boy.”
Former journalist Tia Craddock, PTMBA ’13, did more than pack her bags when she attended the 2012 National Black MBA Conference in Indianapolis. Working with Smith School career coach Kasandra Gunter Robinson, Craddock practiced her pitch and interviewing skills. Then she reviewed her performances on video.
“Kasandra asked me almost impossible questions, just so I could be prepared for anything,” Craddock says. “So when I got to the conference, I was sharp.”
The preparation paid off. Craddock impressed recruiters from the Hershey Company, which led to her current assignment as Reese’s senior associate brand manager in Hershey, Pa.
The job comes with obvious perks. “Candy is everywhere,” Craddock says. “In every conference room, on every end table, in every kitchen — there’s always something new for me to fall in love with.”
Sweets are nice, but more important for Craddock is the way her employer gives back to the community through initiatives such as the Milton Hershey School. “The Hershey Company cares about people,” Craddock says.
Switching careers can be difficult, but Craddock says the Smith community helped smooth the transition. “Smith has an awesome group of career coaches,” she says. “And the alumni network is amazing.”
During most of her part-time program, Craddock kept her position as a news producer for the local ABC affiliate in Baltimore. The job required creativity and people skills — two of Craddock’s strengths that she wanted to leverage in any future assignment. But she also wanted more opportunity for data analysis.
She says brand management provides the right mix. “I loved journalism,” she says. “But I always thought marketing was very dynamic because it uses every part of your brain.”
Now Craddock manages diverse teams, tests new products and crunches data. She also travels to meet retailers, suppliers and customers. “Every day is different,” she says. “And that’s what I love.”
Called Up to the Big Leagues
Some people claw their way into the sports industry. Ted Towne, PTMBA ’08, received an invitation to work in Major League Baseball. “I happened to be at the right place at the right time,” says Towne, assistant general manager and vice president of finance for the Washington Nationals.
After working as a controller and assurance professional for nearly 10 years, Towne moved to Lerner Enterprises in 2006. Six months later, the real estate development firm bought the Nationals, a league-owned franchise looking for stability in Washington, D.C., after a rough exit from Montreal.
During the next season, while the team played at RFK Stadium, Towne continued to impress his new employer. “They asked if I would like to come over to the baseball side of the business,” he says.
The thrill of working in sports hit Towne on March 30, 2008, while he was still a part-time MBA student at the Smith School’s Shady Grove campus in Rockville, Md. That was the night the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves in the first game at the new Nationals Park.
When the lights went on, Towne says he looked around at the ESPN cameras and the 40,000 cheering fans and thought: “Wow! I had something to do with this. I’m a part of this.”
Between games, Towne draws upon his experience at Smith to help manage a global operation that includes talent scouts all over the world, an academy in the Dominican Republic, spring training facilities in Florida, and a minor league system that stretches from New York to Maryland.
“I use my MBA education every day,” Towne says. “So much of what I apply is what I’ve learned about leadership, finance, marketing and strategy — and all those core courses and electives that I had the opportunity to take.”
On the Fast Track
Villanova management professor Quinetta Roberson, PhD ’99, has always been fast. She won races as a University of Delaware sprinter. And later, during her Smith PhD years, she competed against undergraduates on the Terrapins intramural track team.
“It was my way of staying fit, as well as staying sane,” the Philadelphia native says. “Even today at Villanova, you can usually catch me on the track running wind sprints at some point during the week.”
Other fast activities include snowboarding, something Roberson picked up at Smith. She celebrated the completion of her PhD in similar fashion — by going skydiving. “I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” she says.
Roberson also has a quick mind. She skipped a couple of grades before high school and then finished undergraduate and MBA programs before turning 21. After an early start in banking, she opted for an academic career as a way of immersing herself in a learning environment.
“I love being in the library and being around students,” she says. “It gets your wheels turning. I feel like I’m always thinking, learning, getting smarter.”
She says that’s what she loves most about her job. “I get to read. I get to write. I get to teach and interact with students.”
She also gets to travel. Her first opportunity came at Smith, when professor Susan Taylor issued a challenge. “She told me that if I finished my dissertation one month early, she would take me with her to Italy,” Roberson says.
Since then she has visited more than 40 countries, including South Africa, where she returns every year to teach business basics to local entrepreneurs.
Although Villanova pays her bills, Roberson shows her Maryland pride when the two universities play each other in basketball. During the most recent matchup, Roberson wore a Wildcats hat and Terrapins sweatshirt. “Villanova has my head,” she explains. “But Maryland has my heart.”
Googler Stephanie Borgman ’05 wakes up every morning in paradise. She steps outside her door onto the beach in Sydney, Australia, where she works out in the sand and then goes for an ocean swim. “Sydney is a healthy and happy society,” she says. “It’s a beautiful place to live.”
Afterward she rides her scooter to work, where the fun really starts. As a people programs manager, Borgman gets to recruit and nurture the next generation of Google talent from New Zealand to Australia. Among other duties, she runs internship and scholarship programs designed to attract women and other underrepresented groups into engineering careers.
The key is finding people with “Googliness,” which Borgman describes as passion for innovation and teamwork. “We look for people who want to solve big problems,” she says. “At Google the solutions you develop might affect billions of people.”
Borgman also helps Smith students explore their career options when they travel to Sydney every January with professor Mark Wellman, who leads a program through the school's Office of Global Initiatives. Borgman sets up Google tours and finds speakers to meet with the U.S. visitors.
“I remember being in their shoes,” says Borgman, a New York native who studied in Australia for one semester during her Smith program. “You only get one chance to have your first international experience, and I want it to be memorable for these students.”
She says her study abroad program opened her mind to new possibilities outside the United States. After graduation she worked at UBS Investment Bank in London before moving to Google, where she has held previous positions in New York and Singapore.
“The Smith School of Business gave me the skills and experience I needed to achieve this dream job,” she says.
Giving advice is easy. Raj Sharma ’94 wanted to do something more as a management consultant in Washington, D.C., so he created his own dream job in his basement in 2003.
His company, Censeo Consulting Group, has scaled up since then into bigger locations — helping clients with social missions maximize their impact within the complex environments of public policy, philanthropy and education.
“We wanted to build a company that focused not only on growth, but also on positive impact and the difference we can make in the world,” he says.
Sharma’s focus on management for the social good reflects the values he learned growing up in India, where his middle-class family survived between the worlds of extreme poverty and wealth. “My grandfather was always generous and kind to people regardless of where they came from,” Sharma says. “That influenced me as a child.”
To have credibility with his clients, Sharma made sure his company reflected the same values. “My goal was never to start a consulting firm,” he says. “It was to build a role model firm that gave back.”
He started by looking inward at Censeo’s culture. “We’ve taken a lot of care to make sure we hire the right people,” he says. “And then we give them an environment to grow.” That focus on culture recently landed Censeo in Harvard Business Review.
A gut check came in the early years, when a major client started mistreating one of Sharma’s team members. The contract represented more than a quarter of Censeo’s revenue at the time, so ending the relationship would affect everyone.
“You don’t build anything without your team buying into your vision,” he says. Consensus came, and Censeo moved forward without the client. “We’ve never compromised our values,” Sharma says.
Other major clients — including federal agencies, social sector organizations and universities — have emerged to fill the gap. Sharma specializes in helping these partners drive meaningful change through Censeo and Public Spend Forum, another startup he launched in 2013.
“We want to have a disproportionate impact relative to our size,” he says. “The goal is real change.”
Finding Disney Magic
The Walt Disney Company says its theme parks are “where dreams come true.” For Darcy Accardi, PTMBA ’10, the slogan holds true for the multimedia conglomerate’s corporate offices, too. Accardi landed her dream job with Disney Imagineering in Glendale, Calif., in August 2015.
It was Disney’s corporate culture that captured Accardi’s imagination. “I’ve always been really interested in organizational culture and organizational development,” says the graduate of Smith’s part-time MBA program in Baltimore. “At Disney, there is a really high standard of excellence, and people are really committed to the company’s vision. You don’t see that in a lot of places.”
Accardi knew she wanted to work for Disney, but she didn’t know how to get her foot in the door. She had applied to positions through the company’s online portal, but those efforts proved fruitless.
Accardi had been working in higher education, with a brief stint in consulting. But she wouldn’t give up on her Disney dream. When she saw on the Smith School’s website that alumni had access to Smith career counselors, she reached out for help.
Accardi gushes about working with Erika Harrigan, assistant director of the Office of Career Services and a career consultant for part-time MBA students. Harrigan helped Accardi come up with a plan and stood by her as she enacted the strategy. With coaching from Harrigan, Accardi was able to use her network to get her résumé into the right hands.
“I think Smith does a good job of helping students and alums navigate that career exploration process,” Accardi says. “Once you know what you want, it makes it easier to focus.”
Less than six months after meeting Harrigan, Accardi accepted a position with Walt Disney Imagineering, the design and development arm of the company that creates the theme parks worldwide.
In her current assignment, she helps with resource planning and building a culture around training and development. Accardi was thrilled to move across the country to start her new adventure. “I feel so lucky,” she says. /DJ//CH/