Out to see the world and take a new approachBy Rebecca Knight 2009-03-16
Though she would never say so, Linda Mason is a modern wonder woman.
A mother of three, Ms Mason has had a varied career as a relief worker, author, consultant, and entrepreneur – she is the co-founder of Bright Horizons, which operates more than 600 workplace childcare centres round the world.
She credits her professional success to the values instilled in her at the Yale School of Management. “There was a culture of risk-taking at SOM,” she says. “The tone there was that with energy, talent, and hard work, you could make anything happen.”
Ms Mason admits she was not a likely candidate for business school. She grew up in rural New York: her father was a doctor who made house calls, and her mother was the town mayor. After college – she majored in art history, and minored in piano at Cornell – she moved to Paris to study French. “Unlike kids today who are so directed after college, I wasn't,” she admits, laughing. “I was out to see the world.”
As a student at the Sorbonne, Ms Mason became interested in humanitarian work, but knew that finding a job in the field would be difficult without relevant qualifications. So she began looking into management programmes in the US.
Then, Yale's business school had only been in operation for a couple years. But she was drawn to its focus on the non-profit sector. Ms Mason remembers her years at SOM as, “stimulating and thought-provoking”. “It was a community of people with similar values,” she says.
She and fellow students had lengthy “conversations about doing things differently and better”. “We were interested in using business as a tool for good. There was nothing called corporate social responsibility at that point. But there was discussion about how companies needed to be more responsive to the needs of communities, more accountable to the environment. At that time, these were brand new ideas.”
Ms Mason graduated from Yale in 1980. Then, thousands of Cambodians were crossing the border into Thailand to seek asylum from Khmer Rouge, the communist ruling party. “I was very drawn to the crisis,” she says.
With the support of the SOM's dean at that time – William Donaldson, former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission – with two classmates she travelled to the region to research and write case studies for Yale. Care, the international relief organisation took them on as unpaid interns, and assigned Ms Mason to run a feeding programme for malnourished children in refugee camps along the Thai border.
Ms Mason put into practice what she learned at SOM, and ran her feeding programme like a business. She conducted a needs assessment to determine how big the programme ought to be. She carefully monitored the warehouse for problems. And when the programme was in operation, she weighed and measured children every day and kept vigilant track of illnesses.
“We needed to show donors that their money was well invested. Our return was a reduction in malnourished children,” she says.
Based on her experience, she and classmate Roger Brown – who later became Ms Mason's husband – wrote a book, Rice, Rivalry and Politics, which analysed the relief operation in Cambodia. They also developed a course for SOM on relief management.
Ms Mason returned to the US and took a job in New York working for Booz Allen Hamilton, the consultancy. “It was an enormous culture shock,” she says. “I would go into midtown Manhattan in a suit and heels, when I had been wearing jeans and sandals. I was doing more conceptual work, rather than working directly with people.”
Consulting was intellectually rewarding, but not as satisfying as working in the field. After a year and half, she needed a change. “I realised: I've made a lot of money, I've logged a lot of air miles, but have I made any real difference?”
So she and Mr Brown ventured to the Sudan as directors of Save the Children's emergency programme there. The programme served 400,000 famine and war victims. “That's the beauty of youth. We didn't spend any time thinking about whether we were qualified; we were idealistic. SOM had given us the courage.”
When she returned to the US the second time, she had no clear idea of what to do next. She and Mr Brown wanted to continue to work together, but to start something of their own.
“We didn't know what to do, but one thing we were sure of was that we didn't want to do something just because it would look good on our resumé. We wanted to something that would inspire us.”
It was the mid-1980s. There had been a rapid increase in the number of mothers of small children in the workplace. “It was the biggest sociological event of our lifetime. You couldn't help opening a newspaper without reading about the shortage of quality childcare. And most of the existing care was of poor to mediocre quality,” she says. “Unencumbered by knowledge or experience, we said: let's change the way our country looks at childcare.”
Their concept was this: to try to help corporate employers retain workers by offering on-site, high-quality childcare. Under this model, employers subsidised care, usually by providing space. The cost savings allowed Bright Horizons to pay higher wages and thus retain employees.
Ms Mason and Mr Brown spent two months researching and wrote up a business plan.
Because venture capital firms were looking to diversify out of high-tech and into services, they easily raised a first round of financing, worth $2m. Bright Horizons was launched in 1986
Companies, however, were not initially receptive, and it took five years before they made a profit.
Today, the business, which employs 18,000 people, has annual sales of $774m, growing at around 11 per cent a year.
The company went public in 1997, and in 2008 it was acquired by Bain Capital, the Boston-based private equity firm, for $1.3bn.
Ms Mason, who remains a non-executive chair of Bright Horizons, is also the author of The Working Mother's Guide to Life, a parenting advice book.
耶鲁管理学院的价值观作者：英国《金融时报》丽贝卡•奈特(Rebecca Knight) 2009-03-16
她把自己的事业成功归功于耶鲁大学管理学院（Yale School of Management）灌输给她的价值观。她表示：“耶鲁大学管理学院有一种冒险文化。那里的气氛是，凭借活力、才干和努力，你能够让一切变成现实。”
梅森承认，她不是报考商学院的合适人选。她在纽约乡村长大：父亲是一名出诊医生，母亲是一位镇长。大学毕业后——她在康奈尔大学(Cornell) 专攻艺术史，并副修了钢琴专业——她赴巴黎攻读法语。“与今天的年轻人不同，大学毕业后，我的方向性没有那么强，”她笑着承认道，“我出去是为了看看外面 的世界。”
在时任耶鲁大学管理学院院长威廉•唐纳森(William Donaldson)的支持下，她和两个同学赶赴那个地区，为耶鲁展开调查并撰写案例研究。唐纳森是美国证券交易委员会(Securities and Exchange Commission)前主席。国际救助组织Care把他们当作没有报酬的实习生，并委派梅森负责一项计划，为泰国边境难民营里营养不良的儿童提供食品。
她和同学罗杰•布朗(Roger Brown)——后来成为了梅森的丈夫——根据她的经历写了一本书，名为《米饭、竞争和政治》(Rice, Rivalry and Politics)，本书对柬埔寨的救助工作进行了分析。他们还为耶鲁大学管理学院开发了一门救助管理课程。
梅森重返美国后，供职于纽约咨询公司博思艾伦(Booz Allen Hamilton)。她说：“那是一种巨大的文化冲击。我会身着正装和高跟鞋走进曼哈顿市中心，而不是我过去穿着的牛仔裤和休闲鞋。我做的更多的是概念性工作，而不是直接与人接触。”
因此，她和布朗冒险去了苏丹，担任那里的救助儿童会 (Save the Children)紧急计划的负责人。该计划为40万名饥荒和战争受害者提供服务。“这就是年轻的好处。我们没有花时间考虑我们是否合格；我们充满了理想。耶鲁大学管理学院赋予了我们这种勇气。”
梅森现在仍担任Bright Horizons的非执行董事，同时她也是育儿图书《职业母亲生活指南》(The Working Mother's Guide to Life)的作者。