In today’s competitive business climate, leaders need the ability to address the world’s most complex challenges, recognize new market opportunities, and quickly develop and commercialize innovative solutions. Leaders with these qualities have never been in higher demand. These eight Wisconsin School of Business alumni have already made an impact on their companies, their industries, and the world. Charting successful careers in international finance, retail technology, real estate, consumer packaged goods, insurance, and myriad startups, these Business Badgers are sure to influence their industries—and beyond—for years to come.
Photo by Bruce Fritz
Values and integrity are important to Kristina Winterfeldt, and that’s because she truly cares about people.
After earning her BBA in risk management and insurance and management and human resources, Winterfeldt went to work for Arthur J. Gallagher and Company in Itasca, Ill., named one of the most ethical companies in the world for the last four years in a row by the Ethisphere Institute.
“We are the only insurance broker on that list,” says Winterfeldt.
Winterfeldt has risen from account representative in 2002 to area president in Brookfield, Wis., at the global brokerage for commercial insurance and risk management solutions.
In her current leadership role, she strives to meet financial objectives, and supporting her team—and her relationships with her team members—brings her the most personal satisfaction.
“All of my greatest accomplishments come from helping people meet their goals, whether they are customers, employees, co-workers, fellow leaders, or the company as a whole,” she says. “The most challenging decisions you make as a leader are the ones that impact the lives of the people on your team differently, because sometimes the right decision for the group is not favorable for everyone in the group.”
Winterfeldt credits the WSB with giving her not only an education, but also life experiences that equipped her with the skills she needed to succeed. “The Wisconsin School of Business planted all the seeds for networking, teamwork, hard work, and having fun,” she says. “I have also learned that some things cannot simply be read about or told to you, they need to be experienced. I encourage people to get out of their comfort zone as often as possible.”
Corey Capasso figured out that he had what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur at an early age. He became an eBay PowerSeller of Nike shoes when he was just 16 years old.
Capasso graduated from the Wisconsin School of Business in 2009 with a double major in risk management and entrepreneurship—and a keen eye for unmet market needs. He invented flavored plastic during his freshman year and patented the product in 22 countries. Then he leveraged his intellectual property to found the startup MoGo Sport, which sells flavored mouth guards at major retailers across the country, including Costco and Walmart.
A trait of successful entrepreneurs is that they don't give up easily. After graduation, Capasso co-founded Spinback, a social commerce and analytics platform. At one point, despite its promising potential, the company was one week away from bankruptcy due to lack of funding, but Capasso dug in and kept the company moving forward. Five months later, Spinback was acquired by Buddy Media.
His most recent venture is Nomi, a New York City–based retail analytics platform for businesses’ brick-and-mortar presences that he co-founded in 2012.
“With our success in helping online businesses optimize sales and customer experience through analytics and insights, we were frustrated that these types of tools did not exist for offline businesses,” says Capasso. “We launched Nomi to extend these services to brick-andmortar businesses and digitize the physical world.”
In 2014, Nomi completed a merger with Brickstream Corporation, becoming the largest retail analytics company in the world.
“The unconventional entrepreneurship classes and campus community at the WSB really served as a catalyst for learning how to push the limits,” says Capasso. “This mindset helped me disrupt a trillion-dollar industry—retail—twice with technology. That's very rewarding.”
Photo by Nancy Borowick
Photo by Rick Marolt
Allen Sass knows mustard. After working at Kraft Foods and then earning his MBA in brand and product management, he joined Wisconsin Spice, a family-run business in Berlin, Wis., founded by his father. Sass serves as director of business development and vice president of operations for their firm, which manufactures mustard products for distribution around the globe.
Since Sass joined the company four years ago, Wisconsin Spice’s sales have more than doubled. Part of this is due to a 40 percent increase in international sales—growth so significant that Wisconsin Spice is a finalist for the 2015 Governor’s Export Achievement Award.
Sass is proud of the company’s employee-development initiatives. “Since we are a small niche company in a rural town, we need to develop our employees as best as possible,” says Sass. “We’ve established several unique employee-development programs to deepen the skills in our local talent pool. It’s exciting to see our investments in HR make it possible for us to promote employees from within the company.”
Sass believes that one of the most valuable aspects of his education at the Wisconsin School of Business has been the emphasis on strategy.
“It is critical that businesses, especially small businesses, focus their limited time, energy, and resources on projects that are aligned with their strategy,” says Sass. “My experience at the WSB helped instill this philosophy—establish a strategy and make sure that all aspects of the business are closely aligned to that strategy.”
— Allen Sass (B.S. ’05, MBA ’10)
Heather Holtsberg Smith is responsible for some of the innovative new products on your grocery list, including Quaker’s Real Medleys SuperGrains, Warm & Crunchy Granola, and Chewy Yogurt Granola Bars.
In 2010, after graduating with an MBA in brand and product management, Holtsberg Smith accepted a position with PepsiCo, parent company of Quaker Foods North America. She supported several Quaker products before being promoted to the Grains Division of PepsiCo's Global Nutrition Group in Chicago in 2013.
“Each innovation holds a special place in my heart,” she says. “Seeing a project start in consumer research, progress through testing, and then evolve to a live product on the shelves in a grocery store, is a pretty amazing experience!”
Holtsberg Smith, named one of Crain’s Chicago Business’s “40 under 40” in 2013, was recently promoted to senior marketing manager for the Fruit and Vegetable Division, where she is responsible for developing the next generation of functional nutrition juices for global markets.
To others, such a transition might seem daunting, but she was up for the challenge. “The opportunity to continue to grow and expand my learning is incredibly energizing,” she says.
She adds that the School prepared her well. “The brand management-specific courses, as well as the interaction with the superb board members, provided me the best foundation for a long and successful career in brand management,” she says.
Photo by Bruce Fritz
Photo by Nancy Borowick
In 2004, Tim Hotchandani was one of three Wisconsin BBA graduates to begin his investment banking career with a full-time job in New York City on Wall Street as an analyst with Thomas Weisel Partners. “An alumnus helped me get my foot in the door with an interview, which was the opportunity I needed to break into the industry,” he says.
A year later, Hotchandani, who earned a double major in finance and economics, accepted a position in Global Healthcare at Lehman Brothers. After a direct promotion from analyst to associate two years after that, he joined the Principal Origination Group.
Unfortunately, this group did not survive the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy during the Great Recession, which brought a promising career to an abrupt halt. Although this was an emotionally rough time, Hotchandani was undeterred. “We all had to pick ourselves up and get back in the game,” he says.
That’s just what he did. Hotchandani joined the Wall Street office of Deutsche Bank in New York City, where he is now a director in the Healthcare Corporate Finance Group, advising companies that specialize in life science tools and diagnostics and companies focused on medical aesthetics on merger and acquisition transactions, as well as raising debt and equity capital.
Hotchandani firmly believes in the solid education he received at the WSB, which is why he plays an active role in recruiting new graduates to his firm. “There is no better preparation for a career on Wall Street,” he says.
A co-founder of the WSB’s Investment Banking Club (IBC), Hotchandani stays deeply involved with the students in the organization, helping with everything from mentoring to preparing students as they begin their careers in finance. A thriving organization on campus, IBC helps students develop technical skills, prepare for interviews, and gain access to Wall Street firms hiring talent.
— Tim Hotchandani (BBA ’04)
Stephanie Tourand has an eye for beauty. Her passion for design and entrepreneurship drew her to the San Francisco area, where she became a founding member of Red Clay, an online platform connecting brands and independent product designers to manage the entire design process from idea generation to manufacturing.
After overseeing the brand management of Procter & Gamble’s Olay Regenerist from concept to shelf, Tourand put her experience to work creating a platform that Red Clay’s independent designers and vendors could use to deliver products with integrity. As the head of client service and design, she shaped the startup’s own brand, platform, and aesthetic.
Launching Red Clay with a team that included fellow WSB alumnus Kurt Kober (MBA ’07), head of business development, has been her most challenging and rewarding experience ever.
“However many hours you think you'll devote to a startup, triple it,” she advises. “Prepare yourself to be copywriter, salesperson, project manager, and mail room personnel. Failures and setbacks are a matter of when, not if. But with persistence, flexibility, humility, and creativity, you can redirect, reinvent, and recommit to your core business idea. The stakes are high, but it is also intensely personal and rewarding.”
The Wisconsin School of Business instilled in Tourand the value of a “nononsense approach”—a commitment to authenticity. “I learned sound business ideation and strategy backed up by a drive for results,” she says. “This Midwestern work ethic is highly valued in the Bay Area, as is a grounded approach to value creation.”
Now Tourand also consults privately with small businesses and service professionals looking for brand positioning, website creation, and customer acquisition. She plans to grow her consulting business, which gives startups a marketing springboard for success. She’s also interested in creating social media or online applications within the design space.
Tourand advises professionals to play to their strengths.
“Many times we devote our energy to improving our weaknesses or filling a blind spot,” she says. “Concentrating that same effort on the areas where you have real skill and expertise can propel you exponentially further.”
— Stephanie Tourand (MBA ’06)
Photo by Jim Newberry
Photo by Rick Marolt
Jonathan Reske is making the world a better place—more beautiful and more sustainable. After graduating with a Wisconsin MBA in real estate, Reske founded Fourcap Real Estate in Madison.
“My company is focused on urban sustainable development,” says Reske. “I have a passion for projects that add value or have that potential. I want my projects to make a city more attractive to investors who will start their businesses there and continue to invest in the area.”
Reske takes the time to consider how developments will impact his investors, potential tenants, the neighborhood, and the city.
An ideal example is a recent redevelopment project in the industrial area just east of the Capitol in Madison. Reske plans to repurpose a building into three restaurants around a 3,500 square foot courtyard and add office spaces on the second floor, employing the creative reuse of materials from the existing structure.
“We’ve taken a building with a great history and reused it in such a way that it will instantly contribute to downtown Madison for many years to come,” he adds.
Reske values both his MBA and the insights that came with his Business, Environment, and Social Responsibility (BESR) Certificate from the WSB.
“Being associated with one of the top real estate programs in the country carries some clout,” says Reske. “I studied business with an emphasis on sustainability, and met many entrepreneurs whose professional careers are guided by the same compass. There is no way that I would be where I am today without the business finance skills I learned at the WSB.”
Kyle Nel does more than what’s expected of him. He explores, pushes boundaries, and builds new things—like robots and holodecks. As executive director for Lowe's Innovation Labs in Mountain View, Calif., he works to develop technologies that drive meaningful changes in human behavior.
Nel first joined Lowe's to lead its International Marketing Insights Group. He was recruited because of his experience at Walmart's Global Insights Group and his fluency in Portuguese and Spanish.
His true passion, however, was always technology. “During my two-year stint in that role, I continued to build technology on my own time,” he says. “This work ultimately evolved into the creation of what is today Lowe's Innovation Labs.”
Nel founded the Labs in 2013 to explore how innovation can impact the future of Lowe’s business and discover uncommon partners to co-create new technologies.
“We build stuff that you wouldn’t expect Lowe’s to build with people you wouldn’t expect Lowe's to work with,” says Nel. “Most people would not expect Lowe’s to be working with a small robotics startup, but we did exactly that, partnering with Fellow Robots to build the OSHbot, an autonomous retail service robot currently operating in one of our stores in San Jose.”
Nel’s innovations, including the OSHbot and the Holoroom, an augmented reality home improvement design tool, were developed using science fiction prototyping. Analysts compile research and data for science fiction writers, who write stories about how technologies could work in the near future. Those stories are then turned into comic books, and presented to the executive team for development.
Nel, who was named one of Ad Age’s “40 Under 40” for 2015, believes the Wisconsin School of Business prepares its students to enter the world “armed and ready” to take on new challenges and opportunities.
“The in-class experience was wonderful, but the connections I made continue to be an important part of my network today,” says Nel. “Stay in touch, engage with alumni, and really nurture those relationships.”
Photo by Jim Newberry
works with multinational corporations on complicated CFO and CIO issues such as cost reduction and operations improvement ... Read More »
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founded Bikabout.com with her husband Kyle Ramey (MBA '07) to inspire two-wheeled tourism in North America's best biking cities ... Read More »