Going to the Ends of the Earth for Environmental Sustainability


By Amy Biemiller

Alumnus Tetsuya O’Hara organizes MBA Chile Excursion and More

The Graziadio School of Business and Management is distinguished by alumni who actively demonstrate their school pride. But there is one alumnus willing to go to the end of the Earth to prove his.

Tetsuya O’Hara, EMBA71, MBA ’08, director of advanced research and development for Patagonia Inc., will lead a group of full-time MBA students in the Environmental Entrepreneurship Development (EED) course to Patagonia, Chile, this December. “I want to inspire MBA students through Patagonia’s sustainable business practice of duality: run a successful business by doing the right things for the planet,” he says.

Patagonia Inc. is a company based in Ventura, CA, that specializes in outdoor clothing and gear and is known for its environmental activism.

The trip is part of the new eco-entrepreneurship Certificate in Socially Environmentally and Ethically Responsible (SEER) Business Practice program for second-year the Full-time MBA students. “I am extremely excited about the EED course because it integrates sustainability, real world application, globalization and service into a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for our students,” says Dean Linda A. Livingstone.

Known as land’s end, Patagonia, Chile, is home to Patagonia National Park, where course participants will engage in lectures, case studies and environmental stewardship field work as part of the global business program designed to develop skills in environmentally sustainable business practice.

Course objectives include understanding the environmental consequences of business activities and human action; learning about business models that embrace social, environmental, ethical and economical responsibility; and acquiring an appreciation for values-centered leadership and responsible business practice in action.

“During the session in Chile, we intend to lead students to understand the spirit of environmental entrepreneurship and stewardship – most especially how to think about doing the least harm to the environment while making the best possible product,” says O’Hara.

The SEER certification is geared to prepare business leaders to integrate an eco-systems approach with economic viability and product/service excellence. This integration is less of a business concept and more of an expected part of commerce, since business owners, investors and customers demand that sustainability be part of economic success, explains O’Hara.

He would know.

O’Hara is an expert in combining stewardship with innovation. Prior to his work at Patagonia Inc., he developed sailcloth technologies for the America’s Cup and a polyester-laminated fabric for NASA’s environmental balloon. Since joining Patagonia Inc. in 2003, he has been responsible for conceptualizing new technologies and developing environmentally friendly materials to make the company’s clothing and gear.

He and his team have developed and brought to market new performance fabrics like wool that wicks away moisture while insulating, polyester with natural odor control, and a stretchier, stronger and more comfortable wetsuit material – all successful initiatives he ascribes to collaboration.

“One of the most important things I learned at Pepperdine is how to create a collaborative environment,” he says. “In order to develop new business concepts, products or materials, it is imperative to demonstrate patience. It is also important that research, communication and negotiation happen within teams and between teams. This is especially true at Patagonia, where we launch new products twice a year, but only take one year in the development phase.”

O’Hara lives this collaborative spirit as well, demonstrating it in his service to the School in a number of ways. He not only developed the Environmental Entrepreneurship program, but teaches EMBAs and mentors students at Pepperdine, finding a positive synergy between teaching and learning. “Teaching helps me learn more and develop great concrete ideas for business,” he says.

“Tetsuya is an exceptional mentor for our students because he is passionate about his work, can share that with the students and help them understand how important it is to love what you do,” says Livingstone. “He also works for an exceptional company that has been extremely generous in partnering with us to enhance the learning experience for our students.”

In addition to teaching and mentoring, O’Hara also serves on the Board of Visitors, providing advice and counsel on the direction of the school and its programs. “Participation of alumni like Tetsuya is critical to our success as a school. They bring a perspective that is informed by their experience as students, their experience from their professional lives and their desire to help the school continue to develop in quality and reputation,” says Livingstone.

After completing his EMBA, O’Hara recognized that the collaboration he benefited from as a student was instrumental in inspiring his work. Not willing to give up that source of stimulation, he initiated the EMBA Advanced Development Program (EADP), a grassroots organization of about 40 alumni who have committed to lifelong learning and who gather twice each year for inspirational idea-sharing.

“I want this program to inspire the members to think critically, share openly and put into practice unconventional ideas to solve problems,” he says.

The EADP picks up where the executive program leaves off, uniting professionals in interactive discussions and intellectual pursuit, explains Mark Ross,EMBA ’73.

“EADP represents a continuation of the most valuable part of the executive program and helps remind us to think of the larger, strategic picture,” he says. “By participating in the EADP, I continue learning about business from an academic angle. It reminds me to keep learning beyond the immediate needs of work and keeps the network we have created growing and strengthened.”

O’Hara’s love of lifelong learning makes him an important and inspiring model for students and graduates, Livingstone says. “He is a great example to our students of how they can continue to be involved in the school and with their fellow alumni after graduation,” she says.

While that praise is appreciated, O’Hara is almost embarrassed by it. For him, devoting time and thoughtful creativity in service to the School is a natural and enthusiastic outpouring. “Pepperdine provided me a life-changing experience. I want to give back in order that others can also benefit,” he says.

Amy Biemiller is a freelance writer for the LightStream Group and based in Pennsylvania.

Going to the Ends of the Earth for Environmental Sustainability
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