The Aspen Seven You think radical change is daunting? Not to these folks. They're all pros at making it happen--or profiting from it.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – JACQUELINE NOVOGRATZ INVESTING IN THE THIRD WORLD'S POOR
Last spring in Delhi, Jacqueline Novogratz was visiting IDE-India, a not-for-profit outfit that sells low-cost pumps to farmers to irrigate their land. Amitabha Sadangi, the head of the organization, had a problem: Some of his donors were wary of funding the project because IDE was aiming to earn a profit on the pumps--raising suspicion that its intentions were more capitalistic than philanthropic. But this was exactly the kind of opportunity Novogratz looks for. She told him, "If you're going to scale this to reach millions, not thousands, you need to build a focused company. We'll help you do that."
Irrepressible and charming, Novogratz, 43, plays a distinctive role among entrepreneurs working to help the world's poor. Acumen Fund, which she founded in 2001 after leaving the Rockefeller Foundation, is a not-for-profit group (but not a charity) that is supported by investors (not donors). The investors, including investment banker Herb Allen III, former Senator Bill Bradley, Cisco Systems, and Goldman Sachs, want a good "social return" on their capital. Novogratz sticks to delivering critical services in three categories--health, water, and housing--in South Asia and Africa. "We do that by investing in for-profit or nonprofit entities," she explains. "We prefer investing equity and making loans because it delivers the best results. But if we have to give grants, we do. Whatever works."
Acumen, which has raised more than $20 million to date, does seem to work. In Tanzania, it loaned $325,000 (at 6% interest) to an African maker of antimalarial bed nets called A to Z. (Malaria killed an estimated three million people worldwide last year.) Novogratz and her team persuaded Exxon Mobil not only to donate resin (a byproduct of petroleum production) used in the insecticide-treated nets but also to try distributing them through its gas stations. "In Africa, distribution is everything," Novogratz says. Since Acumen began supporting the program last fall, A to Z has produced 110,000 nets.
Other Acumen projects include low-cost hearing aids in India and the first home-mortgage program in Pakistan. Novogratz believes that mortgages in developing countries can help make the world safer. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, an Acumen investor, noted at a recent Acumen conference, "People who are part of a system don't want to blow up the system." --Patricia Sellers
CAMERON SINCLAIR DESIGNING MUCH MORE THAN BUILDINGS
In 1997, while Cameron Sinclair's classmates at London's Bartlett School of Architecture focused on becoming the next Frank Gehry, he was thinking about social issues. He dropped out of school, moved to New York City, and went on to launch Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit group that aims to create design solutions for humanitarian problems like natural disasters, disease, and homelessness. With the thinnest of budgets (he gets 90% of his funding from individual contributions averaging $25), Sinclair, 30, has created a remarkable 10,000-person-strong network of followers, from Frank Gehry himself (who sits on Sinclair's board) to Meetup.com groups in more than 180 cities from Cairo to College Station, Texas.
Sinclair's accomplishments include holding an international design competition to create temporary homes for war refugees in Kosovo and sending architects to help rebuild earthquake-ravaged Bam, Iran. But his most ambitious project is building mobile HIV/AIDS clinics for underserved regions in Africa. The competition he launched for the clinics attracted 531 design teams from 51 countries. "That's 25% more than the World Trade Center contest attracted," Sinclair points out.
The proposed solutions ranged from the practical (a clinic-in-a-shipping-container made out of metal and plastic) to the bizarre (a grow-your-own clinic made of kenaf, a cotton-like crop found in Africa). Sinclair assembled a jury of top designers who chose four finalists; he is now working to put their models into production, if he can find enough funding. He has every reason to hurry. "In Kenya we said [to an official], 'We want to build one clinic,'" says Sinclair, "and the official said, 'We need 400.'"
Sinclair seems to thrive on such urgent demands. "I could wait 20 years, work as an architect, and then win a contest to build a memorial to the millions who've died of AIDS," he says. "Or I can do something now." --Julie Schlosser
WANG CHAOYONG BRINGING VENTURE CAPITAL TO CHINA
The resume is hardly what you'd expect for a top venture capitalist. During China's Cultural Revolution, when Wang Chaoyong was just a year old, his parents were packed off to a labor camp. Raised by a peasant family in a remote village in Hubei province, he wasn't reunited with his real family until he was 13. In 1984 he became a member of the very first class at Beijing's Tsinghua Business School. The primary text was Das Kapital. The school's dean picked Wang to come to the U.S. to earn an MBA at Rutgers. He arrived with just $50, the maximum amount in hard currency he could get from the Chinese government. "It was barely enough for cab fare from the airport to the Chinese consulate," Wang recalls.
Since then Wang, 39, has been at the vanguard of China's fast-changing financial system. In the mid-1990s he opened Morgan Stanley's first office in Beijing; later he was among the first Chinese investment bankers to set up shop on his own. He's now CEO and founding partner of China Equity Investment, one of China's leading homegrown venture capital funds. CEI has invested in ten Chinese companies, mostly in tech and telecom, and manages a number of funds with investors from Europe, Singapore, and South Korea; it has about $120 million in assets under management.
China received only about $990 million in new venture investments last year, according to Zero2IPO, a Beijing research firm--a fraction of totals in Japan or South Korea and, says Wang, far below potential. Hindrances include rampant corruption and laws that don't allow for the limited-partnership structure favored by venture capital firms in the U.S. In practice, it's often impossible for foreign entities to invest directly in Chinese startups. And it's even harder to find an exit. China generally bars small and medium-sized Chinese firms from its domestic stock exchanges, making it difficult for venture investors to cash in with an IPO.
Wang argues that China Equity can work around many, if not all, of these headaches. "For institutional investors, we're the ideal combination," he says. "We have Chinese roots but an international structure." China Equity also offers investment banking services, and advises dozens of Chinese companies on fundraising, asset management, and mergers and acquisitions. Wang's long-term goal? "To be the Carlyle Group of China." --Clay Chandler
DIANA FARRELL SPEAKING OUT ON OUTSOURCING
Lou Dobbs was not very nice to Diana Farrell when she appeared on his CNN show last year. Farrell, director of the McKinsey Global Institute, a nonprofit think tank attached to the consulting firm, had published a study on the economic impact of outsourcing U.S. service jobs to other countries. She began by describing the institute's basic finding: "The integration of the developed and developing worlds into a richer global economy represents a win-win situation for both sides." But she didn't get much further. Dobbs, a vociferous opponent of what's come to be called offshoring, repeatedly interrupted her, rolled his eyes, and suggested she was a paid lackey for greedy companies seeking to enrich themselves at America's expense.
But Farrell, 39, is no cold-hearted apologist for the destruction of American jobs. She argues that keeping global trade dynamic is precisely what will continue to create jobs and keep the U.S. economy healthy. "The economics are very solid on why trade is good, and that's true on [offshoring] too," she says. But she also acknowledges that many workers are hurt in the process. Her articles and speeches frequently stress how much America needs to change its health-care, insurance, education, and job-training programs to soften the blow.
A prim mother of two whose words tumble out in rapid-fire sentences, Farrell (who has a Harvard MBA) did stints as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and a consultant at McKinsey before taking charge of the institute in 2001. It works at arm's length from McKinsey's consultants, publishing research that aims to help business leaders and policymakers understand the opportunities and perils of global economic integration.
For the study that set Dobbs off, Farrell and co-author Vivek Agrawal calculated what happens to every dollar formerly spent on a business process in the U.S. that is now being done in India. By taking into account a host of factors, including indirect benefits such as U.S. jobs created with the capital saved, they reckon $1.13 in benefit for every dollar outsourced. What causes many people to reject these numbers, says Farrell, is that they don't believe better jobs are likely to continue emerging to replace lower-wage work as it moves overseas. She does.
One caveat: The U.S. must not put in place legislation that inhibits the natural evolution of markets. As long as it doesn't, she's confident the process will work as it always has. "Offshoring represents an opportunity for India and other poor countries to get real improvements in their wealth levels and in the process help the U.S. and other developed countries achieve more innovation," she says, with passion. That's the win-win Dobbs wouldn't let her explain. "This isn't something you are for or against," she adds, "any more than you can be for or against the weather." --David Kirkpatrick
STAMPP CORBIN RECYCLING ELECTRONIC WASTE
When ChevronTexaco recently bought 50,000 new computers and printers, the company had a problem: What to do with the outdated equipment that was being replaced? It turned to Stampp Corbin. A 43-year-old Harvard MBA, Corbin is the creator of RetroBox, a fast-growing $10-million-a-year business that whisks away electronic waste--printers, servers, cables, even Palm Pilots and BlackBerries--for giants like PeopleSoft, Starbucks, and Nordstrom. "The concept is simple," says Corbin. "The execution is not."
Launched in 1997, Corbin's company picks up the gear, trucks it to a warehouse in Columbus, strips it of all information and programming, then refurbishes and resells over the Internet those products that still have a useful life. It disassembles and recycles those that do not. Companies pay about $35 for each product they no longer want; RetroBox rebates a portion of the proceeds from those that are sold. "Our goal is to have every client break even or make money," Corbin says. (See what's for sale at www.RetroBox.com.)
An affable Chicago native from a working-class family, Corbin graduated from one of the nation's first inner-city magnet schools and majored in economics at Stanford. While he was at an IT consulting firm in Columbus, a client asked for help disposing of its old computers. That gave Corbin the idea for RetroBox. The company is now attracting a raft of imitators, but Corbin isn't worried. "Handling e-waste is not the core competency of any organization--except mine," he says. --Marc Gunther
DORON WEBER TEACHING SCIENCE THROUGH ENTERTAINMENT
Imagine having a $10 million pool of money that replenishes itself every year. Your job? To spend it for the advancement of science. That doesn't require sitting ad nauseam through pitches on the virtues of nanotech or wandering through biophysics labs. At least, that's what Doron Weber decided when he took a program director job at New York City's Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 1995. Weber, whose charge is to use Sloan-funded grants to trumpet the virtues of science and technology throughout society, took an unprecedented approach. Rather than commissioning surveys on quantum physics or supporting academic journals, he chose entertainment as his medium--TV, plays, books, movies. He spends his time reading scripts, writing checks for up-and-coming moviemakers, and hosting roundtables on the role of science in Hollywood with the likes of Tom Hanks.
"People are very curious about science, but sometimes it is just off-putting or seems too technical," says Weber, a 49-year-old New Yorker with a master's degree in English literature from Oxford (he was a Rhodes scholar) and a degree in humanities from the Sorbonne. After a stint as head of communications for New York City's Rockefeller University, he began working for the $1.3 billion foundation launched in 1934 by the late Alfred P. Sloan Jr., General Motor's legendary CEO.
Weber has backed works like Proof, the Tony Award--and Pulitzer Prize--winning play that will hit the big screen this winter as a Miramax film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, and the works of bestselling authors Jared Diamond and Richard Preston. He's currently working with Doubleday on what he hopes will be a series of bestselling biographies of innovators. And he is beginning to fund Internet projects such as Project Rebirth, which documents the rebuilding of ground zero and will go live a few days before Sept. 11.
Weber is barraged with supplicants, but "no Sloan grant or prize is ever awarded to a book, play, or screenplay that I haven't personally read word for word," he says. He's optimistic that two current Sloan-backed screenplays will have mass appeal. One is The Broken Code, based on the discovery of the double helix. (Ismail Merchant has signed on to executive-produce the movie.) The other is a yet-to-be-made film about Hedy Lamarr, the 1930s starlet who in World War II invented frequency hopping, a patented military technology that is found in many of today's wireless networks. "Think of the part," says Weber. "The most gorgeous, sexy woman of your day, and you are also brilliant." Such movies, he is convinced, whet the public's appetite for science: "While sometimes audiences want a mindless two hours, sometimes they want more food for thought."
IAN BREMMER PEERING INTO THE POLITICAL FUTURE
In February 2003, the Bush administration invited Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer to give a speech on America's oil strategy toward Russia. He arrived to find government wonks buzzing over the possibility of working with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the billionaire founder of Yukos, Russia's largest oil company. Slightly dismayed, the poly-sci-professor-turned-consultant told them what he had been telling his clients for weeks: President Vladimir Putin would probably move to squash the oligarch within months, a political risk that wasn't priced into the financial markets. Sure enough, last October Putin threw Khodorkovsky in jail for tax avoidance. Shares of Yukos have since fallen 80%, and ripple effects helped send the price of oil to record highs. "Everyone thought I was wrong," says Bremmer. "But our firm was right."
It's that knack for making timely--and correct--predictions that has enabled the former academic wunderkind to build a thriving business advising everyone from CEOs to hedge fund managers on the financial implications of a shifting political landscape. Six years after starting the company alone out of an office at the World Policy Institute, Bremmer, 34, heads a staff of 40 salespeople and analysts in New York as well as 480 full-and part-time researchers in 65 countries. His roughly 140 clients include Exxon Mobil, Morgan Stanley, and hedge fund Caxton.
Bremmer has made a habit of quick success--and of overcoming obstacles. At age 4 he lost his father to cancer; his mother raised him alone in the projects of Boston. Skipping several grades, he started high school at 11 and got a scholarship to Tulane University at 15. There Bremmer talked a political science professor into taking him on a school trip to the Soviet Union. It was 1986, and Mikhail Gorbachev had just come into power. "I found myself learning a lot of things I hadn't read in the papers," says Bremmer. "That got me excited."
At 24 Bremmer had his Ph.D. from Stanford--and a book he had put together on the Soviet republics a couple of years before was already a standard textbook. At 25 he became the youngest national fellow ever at the Hoover Institution. "You have this gorgeous office, and you're having cookies and coffee with Ed Meese and Ed Teller," says Bremmer. "It's a great thing if you're 50 or 60. But if you're 25, you want to change the world."
His plan for effecting that change was to move to New York City and look for a way to integrate his political science experience with the financial markets. The only problem was that he had absolutely no training in economics. Undaunted, Bremmer began using his resume to get meetings with executives and offer his services. "I knew that I knew a lot of stuff, but I did not pretend to know how it was relevant. I asked them to tell me." His Eurasia Group managed to bring in over half a million dollars in revenue in its first year; now it's well into eight figures.
Today, not surprisingly, Bremmer sees plenty of instability in the world outside the former Soviet Union. He's worried about chaos in Iraq but even more concerned about deteriorating conditions in Saudi Arabia--a population explosion, a crumbling education system--because of the potential economic impact. Then there's North Korea. Bremmer, who says he is politically neutral, is warning clients that if President Bush is reelected, there is a good chance he will impose a quarantine on the dictatorship, escalating the conflict and prompting a surprise nuclear test by the North Koreans. That could send markets tumbling in South Korea, Japan, and even China, says Bremmer, "because the risk isn't priced in." Something to remember: He's often right. --Brian O'Keefe