This profile of Laure Katz (GEMBA ’16) originally appeared in Poets & Quants For Executives as part of the article, The Best and Brightest EMBAs of the Class of 2016.
Location: Native of California, currently living in Falls Church, Virginia
Family Members: I married Will Turner one month after the start of the GEMBA program and gained two wonderful children, Michael Turner (13), and Stella Turner (10)
Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Science in Earth systems, oceans track, Stanford University (2006): interdisciplinary study of Earth/ocean science, marine resource management, and environmental economics (graduated with distinction); Master of Science in Earth systems, Stanford (2007): specialization in marine ecology, marine policy, and the communication of marine science.
Where are you currently working?
As the Seascapes Director at Conservation International, I work directly with communities, governments, and investors to improve ocean management around the world. I serve as a technical adviser for conservation teams based in over 25 countries — places with extraordinary marine biodiversity and where people depend on the ocean for their food, livelihoods, and traditional culture. We work to implement large scale marine conservation initiatives that both protect critical marine ecosystems, like coral reefs and mangroves, while also benefiting those people who depend on them most.
Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles?
Previously, I spent many years working on HIV/AIDS prevention, stigma reduction, and patient care in both Africa and the U.S., an issue that has personal importance after the loss of a family member to the disease.
While not truly “extracurricular,” I have become deeply embedded in numerous communities around the world through my job, where I work to empower and train indigenous community groups and nonprofits. In particular, I am deeply committed to the mentorship of women conservationists and community activists and actively mentor women around the world.
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?
As an independent venture project, I was able to craft a business plan that compellingly articulated the value of permanently protecting the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia — the single greatest reservoir of marine species on the planet. It was immediately relevant for my work and has allowed me, with credibility, to fundraise successfully for the $38 million endowment fund the plan outlines. Rarely do conservationists articulate more than the intrinsic value of nature. Developing this business plan forced me to think about and attempt to quantify the value of nature for real people and in such a way that would resonate with business leaders.
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?
There is a place on this planet unlike any other — the Bird’s Head Seascape, in West Papua, Indonesia. It is a place with more marine life than anywhere else on Earth. It is a place where 75% of indigenous families depend on the ocean for their daily food, but where, due to poaching from outsiders who decimated their reefs and fisheries, the majority of these same families are hungry.
I spent the last eight years empowering indigenous communities to protect that place. And it is working. They have expanded protection to cover almost 14,000 square miles; they have reduced illegal poaching by 90%; fish have rebounded; and indigenous families have measurably more food to eat. It is their achievement, and the world’s benefit, but I will forever be proud for the role I played in supporting the communities of West Papua to protect the Bird’s Head Seascape.
Who is your favorite professor?
Andy Wicks masterfully taught "Business Ethics" in a profoundly thought-provoking, reflective, and yet entirely non-judgmental way. With Berlin and the history of the Nazis as our backdrop, we delved deeply into our responsibility as business leaders and as people to maintain our humanity in everything that we do.
Favorite MBA Courses?
"Business Ethics," "Decision Analysis," and "Strategic Thinking and Action."
Why did you choose this executive MBA program?
I was drawn to Darden for its exceptional teaching and for the ability to deeply engage with material through the case method. I was not disappointed. As someone who works all around the world with different cultures and languages, I chose the global program because I wanted to learn how to lead global organizations and how to bring out the best in geographically disperse and multicultural teams in order to have the greatest collective impact.
What did you enjoy most about business school?
The program was rich with experiential learning. From sitting in a symphony orchestra to learning to samba dance to bargaining in a Shanghai market, it was the learning that took place outside the classroom and all over the world during our global residencies (in Brazil, China, France, Germany, and India) that impacted me the most.
What was the hardest part of business school?
I didn’t come to business school with a traditional business background or professional track. I felt more comfortable meeting with indigenous Papuan leaders or Masai warriors than investment bankers. Ironically, despite traveling to more than 30 countries, business school placed me further outside of my comfort zone than anything had previously. I needed to learn a new language and set of cultural norms and I had to figure out the best way to bring my authentic self into what, at least at the start, felt like a foreign country. But as with all stretch situations, it was in these challenges that the most learning took place and I now feel fully confident that i could be a leader in both nonprofits and the private sector.
What is your best advice for juggling work, family, and education?
Family comes first, always. I got married less than a month after starting my program and through the marriage also gained two wonderful new children. I deeply believe in my work and I was studying for my EMBA so that I could be as impactful in that work as possible. Both of those are critically important and often vied for my time. But even so, neither were as important to me as starting off with my new family on the right foot. And so when tough choices needed to be made between eating dinner with my family or studying one extra hour, I chose my family. That’s not a choice I will ever regret.
What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program?
Be open to the experience, but know why you want to get an EMBA. The program is hard. Very hard. You need to really want it and be willing to work for it. Holding onto the reason you are there in the first place can be very helpful. At the same time, you need to be willing to let the experience unfold. You will gain things you never even knew you were looking for.
“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …”
I kept identifying problems in my field and saying to myself, if only I were in charge. I realized that if I wanted to help make some of the changes I thought were possible, I needed both the skills and the credibility to lead.
“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …”
Trying to save the planet, but with a far less open mind, and undoubtedly less success.
What are your long-term professional goals?
I am driven by impact. I want to effectively contribute to making positive change on this planet — saving our oceans, reducing poverty, empowering women and girls with education, ending HIV. There is not one single professional pathway for me do this, but I will continue to seek opportunities that allow me to be as impactful as possible.
Who would you most want to thank for your success?
This one is tough. I have a tremendous amount to gratitude for so many people who have helped me along the way. Outside of my family, I am most grateful to my first boss, Mark Erdmann. Despite being far younger and less experienced than all the other candidates, Mark hired me not for what I already knew, but for the potential he saw in me. He gave me the professional opportunity of a lifetime and mentored me through it. Every day I try and pay that gift forward by mentoring other young conservationists trying to find their path to impact.
Fun fact about yourself: There are few things I love more than swimming in a school of sharks.
Favorite book: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Favorite movie: The Princess Bride
Favorite musical performer: Mumford and Sons
Favorite television show: The West Wing
Favorite vacation spot: Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Hobbies? Exploring nature and new cultures; stepping out of my comfort zone.
What made Laure such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?
“Laure brings a very different non business perspective. Because she is with a nonprofit organization, as opposed to a for-profit business venture, she raises questions that poke gently at traditional wisdom and challenge her colleague’s assumptions. Her style invites her colleagues to consider a different set of ideas and find a balance between profit directives and sustainable development. In addition, she has a very strong set of values and beliefs that have inspired our students to see the world differently.
The most dramatic example was on a recent GEMBA trip to Berlin where we explored how Germany and the German people were dealing with the impact of World War II and the Third Reich. Laure moved the cohort with her honest sharing of the impact of our visit on her personally. She was direct, genuine and inspiring with her visceral reactions. As an experienced international traveler, she has shared her experiences and challenges of working in Indonesia. None of us could not be amazed by her stories and adventures.”
-- Associate Professor of Business Administration Lynn A. Isabella