Private liberal arts college Vassar College was founded in 1861 by its namesake, Matthew Vassar. Considered one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, Vassar has a notoriously selective admissions process… something that’s clearly paying off, at least if the success-rate of its graduates is anything to go by. Its roll-call of former students include First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, Oscar -winning musician Mark Ronson, Beastie Boy Mike D, and actress Jane Fonda. In addition to these famous names are scores upon scores of CEO’s, presidents, CFO’s, entrepreneurs and tech wizards. To find out which of Vassar College’s graduates have proved the most business-savvy, let’s look at the rundown of its top 20 most notable alumni in business.
1. Yu Liu
Since receiving his bachelor’s degree from Vassar College in 2008, Chinese entrepreneur Yu (or Eric) Liu has taken great strides in the tech world. In 2011, he created 365Fanuyi, a crowdsourcing platform that quickly established itself as a leader of online language services in Asia. Until it was bought out by Alibaba in 2015, the platform was run by Orsus Xelent Technologies Inc, a software development company founded by Liu in 2005. Since the acquisition of 365Fanuy, Liu has served as the head of Alibaba’s language business unit, as well as special advisor to Mobike, the world’s largest bicycle operator.
2. Katia Beauchamp
After majoring in math and economics at Vassar College, Katia Beauchamp capitalized on her interest in cosmetics by founding Birchbox, a monthly subscription service offering a personalized mix of fragrance, makeup, hair and skin care samples. Since it shipped its first box in 2010, Birchbox has grown into an international concern, serving the US, United Kingdom, France, Spain and Belgium, as well as attracting a new type of clientele with its new range of grooming and lifestyle products for men.
3. Scott Kaufmann
Since achieving his A.B. in English from Vassar College and his MBA in Marketing from New York University’ Stern School of Business, Scott Kaufmann has enjoyed numerous notable roles at media companies such as Benton & Bowles, Newsweek, Time Warner, CompuServe, Clickover, eCoverage, Zinio and Geeknet. Today, Kaufman serves as the chairman and CEO of the advertising holding company, MDC Partners, along with chairman of the board for ChooseEnergy.com and Lotame. His success in business has earned him multiple plaudits over the years, including a place in Advertising Age’s rundown of the top 100 marketers in the country in 1992.
4. Elisa Strauss
Strauss graduated from Vassar College in 1998 with a degree in Studio Art. While working as a textile designer at Polo Ralph Lauren, Strauss took a course in pastry making at the Institute of Culinary Education. After graduating with a degree in baking and pastry arts, Strauss decided to turn her back on the fashion industry (although not before making the cake for Ralph Lauren’s 60th birthday, which she baked in the shape of his beloved Bugatti sports car) to set up Confetti Cakes, an exclusive New York bakery that specializes in bespoke celebration cakes. Strauss has since built up quite the celebrity following and has fast become one of Food Network’s most popular faces.
5. Lee Zalben
After graduating from Vassar College in 1995, Lee Zalben worked briefly in advertising and publishing before moving into food production. In December 1998, Zalben decided to build on his lifelong passion for peanut butter by creating his own line of the stuff- the result was Peanut Butter & Co, a peanut butter brand that produces, distributes and sells 10 “all- natural” flavors of peanut butter made from peanuts grown exclusively by US farmers. The business (and its products) has seen remarkable success since its inception, receiving positive write- ups from the likes of Men’s Health, operating a successful (albeit short-lived) sandwich shop in Greenwich Village, New York, and reaching a wider audience via its sponsorship of the Team TWENTY12 women’s pro cycling team.
6. Jon Fisher
Former student of Vassar College Jon Fisher has a resume that includes the title of entrepreneur (achieved through the founding of companies such as Crowd Optic (an augmented reality technology company), Autoreach, NetClerk Inc (one of the first SaaS companies), and authentication specialist Bharosa (which in 2007 was sold to Oracle Corporation for an estimated $50 million); author (his book Strategic Entrepreneurship achieved such popularity that it’s now required reading for the MBA programs at schools such as the University of California, Berkeley); investor; speaker; and inventor. Fisher is also a noted philanthropist, serving as a trustee of both the Nueva School in California and the Pacific Vascular Research Foundation in San Francisco.
7. Elizabeth Murdoch
Australian born Elizabeth Murdoch graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Vassar Collage in 1992. After working for several years at FX Networks (a cable television unit owned by her father, media mogul Rupert Murdoch), Murdoch branched out on her own, founding TV production company, Shine Group, in 2001. Murdoch served as non-executive chairperson of the firm until 2015, when Shine merged with 21st Century Fox’s Endemel and Core Media.
8. Catherine Fake
American businesswoman and entrepreneur Catherine Fake graduated with a degree in English from Vassar College in 1991. Her experience of learning about website design as a student would see Fake launch her first company, Ludicorp, in 2002. The company’s first offering, the online role-playing game, Game Neverending, failed to take off, but that didn’t deter Fake from moving on with her next project, Flickr. The product proved remarkably successful; after becoming one of the leading photosharing websites in the world, Flikr was sold to Yahoo in 2005 for a reported $30 million. Fake’s subsequent success in the tech industry has won her worldwide recognition and several awards, including the 2018 Visionary Award from the Silicon Valley Forum.
9. Ian Gerard
Vassar College graduate Ian Gerard has enjoyed remarkable success in business since leaving his studies behind. His first project was Gen Art, a production company that specialized in producing events for fashion designers, visual artists and film-makers. In addition to his activities with Gen Art, Gerard has seen success with lifestyle consultancy firm, Syndicate-5, music and fashion program, “Sound Waves”, and IVY- The Social University, at which he currently serves as chief partner officer.
10. Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn
After graduating from Vassar College, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn moved into arts, first as a curator with the New York University of Fine Arts, later as a partner of the Artemis Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, and most recently as owner of Salon 94, the celebrated chain of New York galleries. In addition to her activities with Salon 94, Rohatyn sits on the boards of White Columns (New York’s oldest non-profit art space) and the Art Dealer's Association of Art. In 2014, Rohatyn’s contributions to the industry earned her a place on Artnet’s list of the top 25 most important women in the art world.
11. Ken Levine
After studying drama at Vassar College, Ken Levine was hired as a game designer by Looking Glass Studios. After spending several years with the company, Levine moved on in 1997 to found his own company, Irrational Games (later to be renamed ghost Ghost Story Games). Since its inception, the company has created such successful games as the Bioshock series (which has sold over 25 million units since its launch), Freedom Force and Thief: The Dark Project. Levine’s success in the industry has been recognized with the Golden Joystick "Lifetime Achievement Award" along with the title of 1UP Network's Person of the Year in 2007.
12. Υannis Vardinoyannis
Greek businessman Υannis Vardinoyannis graduated from Vassar College with a degree in Economics. After serving briefly with the Hellenic Navy, Vardinoyannis entered his family’s business, a group of companies with interests in everything from banking and shipping, to petroleum and hotels, to real estate and media. While working for the business, Vardinoyannis has also assumed ownership of football club Panathinaikos FC, founded the Greek Super League (the highest professional football league in Greece) and taken on the Executive Vice Chairman position at petroleum company, Motor Oil Hellas.
13. Phil Griffin
After graduating with a degree in English from Vassar College, Phil Griffin took a job at the newly created CNN. Griffin served several years at the network as a writer, producer and editor before moving to NBC in 1983. After working on shows such as USA Today: The Television Show, NBC Nightly and The Today Show, Griffin left the network for MSNBC, serving as head of prime-time programming before ascending to the position of senior vice president of NBC News in 2005, and president of the network in 2008.
14. Ken Kaess
After graduating from Vassar College in 1976, Ken Kaess took his first job at Doyle Dane Bernbach (later to be renamed DDB). After serving with the company for several years, Kaess left to join Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor as vice president. He subsequently joined multimedia company, New World Entertainment, where, among other projects, he was responsible for overseeing the hugely successful (and Emmy award winning) Muppet Babies. In 1999, Kaess was appointed worldwide president of the corporation; 2 years later, he achieved the ultimate position of CEO. After a lengthy battle with cancer, Kaess died at his Connecticut home in 2006 at the age of 51.
15. Paula Williams Madison
Since graduating from Vassar College, Paula Williams Madison has carved out a hugely respected career as a journalist, author, businessperson and executive. After establishing real investment firm Williams Holdings, Madison acquired a majority share in the lifestyle and culture network, The Africa Channel, along with full ownership of the Los Angles Sparks (which she would later sell to Magic Johnson in 2014). In 2005, Madison’s successes in the field of business would see her named as one of the 75 Most Powerful African Americans In Corporate America by Black Enterprise Group, and as one of their Outstanding 50 African Americans in Business in 2014.
16. Geraldine Laybourne
Media and technology entrepreneur Geraldine Laybourne earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from Vassar College in 1969. After graduating, Laybourne’s first significant role was as program manager at Nickelodeon. Under her leadership, the network transformed from a tiny enterprise of 5 employees to a multi-billion-dollar business- an achievement she managed by turning the network into the first of its kind to sell children-targeted advertising space. Since leaving the network, Laybourne has seen phenomenal success with the Disney Network and Oxygen Media, the cable and internet programming company she founded in 1998 alongside Oprah Winfrey and Carsey-Werner Productions.
17. Martha Rivers Ingram
Billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist Martha Robinson Rivers Ingram graduated from Vassar College with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1957. After graduating, Ingram took on a position at radio and television station WCSC-AM/FM and WCSC-TV. In 1995, Ingram ascended to the position of chairperson and CEO of manufacturing company, Ingram Industries, after the death of her husband, E. Bronson Ingram. In addition to her activities with Ingram, the businesswoman has written three books and co-founded the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, a concert hall in downtown Nashville.
18. Louise Seaman Bechtel
Louise Seaman Bechtel graduated from Vassar College in 1915, and subsequently build a very successful (and lucrative) career in publishing. Her first significant role after graduation was as editor of the newly created children’s department at MacMillan Publisher’s, a role that saw her become the first person to head a children’s department at an American Publishing House. During her tenure at MacMillian, Bechtel oversaw the expansion of the department to include more than 600 new books – an unprecedented achievement for that period.
19. Lurita Doan
Although best known for her political activities, Lurita Doan has also seen remarkable success in business: after serving with Unisys as a technician for 4 years, Doan left to found New Technology Management Inc (a provider of border surveillance equipment) in 1990. By 2002, the company was pulling in $29 million dollars in revenue. In addition to her business interests, Doan is a regular contributor to “The Arena” at Politico.com and to Biggovernment.com.
20. James B. Rosenwald III
James B. Rosenwald III received his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Vassar College in 1980, before obtaining his M.B.A from the Graduate School of Business at New York University in 1984. Since graduating, Rosenwald has carved out a successful career in banking, serving at various companies including Sterling Grace & C, Soros Fund Management, Rosenwald, Roditi & Company Ltd and Dalton Investments, the investment group founded by Rosenwald in 1999. In addition to his business activities, Rosenwald has served as an adjunct professor of Global Value: Investing Theory and Practice at the Stern School of Business at New York University since 2012.
Written by Garrett Parker
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