ROSSTALKS: Ross Alums Share the Biggest Risks That Led To Their Success


Connections between Ross alumni, students, and prospective students are being made in a special way in a new season of RossTalks that kicked off in New York and will extend all the way to Tokyo and Mumbai this year.

More than 250 Ross alumni and prospective students recently gathered in New York City to hear Equinox Executive Chairman and Managing Partner Harvey Spevak, BBA '87/MACC '87; BlueOrange Sustainable Capital founder Blair Miller, MBA '07'; and By Jordana CEO, Jordana Schrager, BA '16/MiB '16; in a panel conversation about entrepreneurship and activating your network. Scott DeRue, the Edward J. Frey Dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, served as the panel's moderator.

Taking Risks When Opportunity Knocks

One of the themes brought out in the discussion led by DeRue was being prepared to take risks when opportunities present themselves. For Spevak, it was deciding to invest in new businesses like SoulCycle in 2009 and 2010 when the financial calamity gripped the U.S. and most of the rest of the world.

He decided, along with Equinox’s other investment leads Stephen M. Ross and Jeff Blau, to expand.

“The fitness clubs experienced flat revenues and only a modest dip in profits during an economic meltdown, which told us that it was an excellent time to take advantage of cheap capital and real-estate leases to expand the brand and our business model.”

For Blair Miller, it was the opportunity to teach English in Korea.

“I think succeeding in starting your own business requires psychological courage that you have to work to develop like a muscle,” says Miller. “I went to teach in a region well outside of Seoul where there were very few Americans. I had no background in Korea or the language, and was on a plane a couple of months after first being confronted with the opportunity…I was terrified, but I grew and learned and it was incredibly valuable in developing that muscle.”

Before founding BlueOrange, Miller was vice president for the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy, philanthropist and founder of Wesray Capital Corporation, Ray Chambers. During her tenure, she led the office’s efforts to mobilize private sector capital and develop innovative financing models to address global health challenges. Specifically, she supported the development of two multimillion-dollar health focused funds with philanthropists in Nigeria and India.

Jordana Schrager began her business while still at the University of Michigan and at Ross, where she was a minor in business student and the beneficiary of a lot of mentoring and support from Ross faculty and alumni. She began as a one-person supply chain, hand-designing sneakers for eager buyers who wanted one-of-a-kind designs. She was the first recipient of a new seed-money grant from the Zell Lurie Institute. Since leaving Ross, Schrager has expanded and gotten her footwear into Bloomingdale’s and other outlets.

And Jordana is proof that the Michigan Ross network works hard for its students and alumni.

She is currently in talks with Spevak about distributing and marketing through Equinox’s channels. Asked by DeRue if she is enjoying her journey, she said, “When you combine your passion with work, it’s not really work at all.”

DeRue, in his second year leading Ross as dean, says the RossTalks series is a wonderful way for alumni and prospective students to mingle and network. There were more than 100 attendees who are considering coming to Ross as MBA students. “What better way for people going through the discernment process to see our amazing alumni network in action,” says DeRue.

There are several more RossTalks events scheduled in Chicago, San Francisco/Palo Alto, Washington D.C., Mumbai, Tokyo, and more. Stay tuned for announcements to be posted, and invitations to come by email.