December 2015 | 

Knowledge for Impact: Do Well, Then Do Good

Knowledge for Impact: Do Well, Then Do Good

It was the middle of a night in 2009 — at the very end of Wharton’s five-week Advanced Management Program — when Olivier Bottrie turned a brief nightmare into the foundation of his life’s dream.

Bottrie, a leading executive at the New York-based cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, had fallen asleep for only about a half-hour when he bolted upright in a bit of a panic at 1 a.m. — suddenly remembering one last homework assignment for the Wharton program. He was supposed to write a mock Fortune magazine profile of himself, set 15 years in the future — spelling out his accomplishments and how he’d reached his cherished goals. Barely awake, Bottrie wrote quickly.

“So I spoke of my career, of course brilliant, I can imagine,” recalls Bottrie speaking in a rich French accent and laughing heartily, “and after two-and-a-half pages of job and profession and career, I started something else.”  He wrote that in 2011, which was then two years away, he would launch a foundation called The Brain Train, attract funding from billionaire Bill Gates, open its first school in Haiti (his wife’s native country) in 2013, and educate 150,000 students worldwide by 2025.

Six years later, spurred on by the tragedy of Haiti’s deadly 2010 earthquake, Bottrie is farther along in a key part of that dream than he could possibly have imagined on that sleepless night. It was in October of 2011 when he and his philanthropic partners opened the doors to Lycée Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable, a non-profit school in Saint Marc, an isolated community with a high rate of poverty and few education options.

“The concept that we push away, every time it’s mentioned to us, is the concept of, ‘good enough for Haiti,’” said Bottrie, who is 53 and came to the United States from his native France 20 years ago. Instead, Bottrie and his philanthropic organization, Hand in Hand for Haiti, have strived to make the school — which now has just over 300 students — on par with an elite private education in New York or Paris, with classes in English and French, highly trained teachers, and free health care with two meals a day for its underprivileged charges.

Bottrie’s calling is a unique twist on what can emerge from Wharton’s Advanced Management Program (AMP), a highly-selective, immersive five-week program for leading mid-career executives seeking to amplify their management skills and tackle new challenges, both in the workplace and beyond.

David Heckman, the senior director of global partnerships at Wharton Executive Education, said the social entrepreneur component is part of what makes the program truly special. Working in small groups with leaders from other industries and other nations, the participants hone their skills in solving complex social or environmental problems, Heckman said, and also re-connect with goals that have gotten misplaced in the daily corporate stampede.

Wharton management professor Ian MacMillan, co-author of The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook, says Bottrie was “pretty damned unusual” both in his focus on education and his commitment to social enterprise after returning to the corporate world. MacMillan, who worked with Bottrie in AMP and has stayed in touch, explains, “We’re trying to get into the back of their mind that there may be a way to solve a social problem using business skills instead of charity, to create a solution that is self-sufficient rather than dependent.”