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Waste Management CEO Jim Fish

CORPORATE AWARD

James Fish Jr.
President and CEO
Waste Management

“Great companies today are focused not just on their financials but also on the question, what purpose beyond shareholders are we serving?”

After James Fish Jr., ’98, had worked at Houston-based environmental services company Waste Management for four years in pricing and finance roles, he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to continue with the company. His father-in-law, a pipe fitter, gave him some advice that changed his life. “He said, ‘If you really want to understand the business, ask to move into field operations,’” Fish recalled.

He took the advice and was transferred to Boston, where he attended early-morning meetings with truck drivers and recycling workers, gaining insight about the details of their jobs. “It helped me learn that there are 50,000 people here, and I am not the most important one,” he said.

Fish remembered the importance of that lesson when COVID-19 hit the United States in March 2020. He quickly reassured hourly workers that they would continue to be paid no matter how long the pandemic lasted. Then he leveraged Booth’s alumni network to help his office employees transition to working from home. He reached out to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, ’97, who helped him get thousands of Microsoft Surface tablets shipped to Waste Management’s headquarters in Houston in just a few days.

Fish strives to make Waste Management a “people-first” company. The same spirit inspired him to choose Chicago Booth for his MBA. “I am a big fan of Milton Friedman and his book Free to Choose (1980), and I think of myself as a compassionate capitalist,” he said. “To me, the University of Chicago best defines that.”

Shruti Gandhi of Array Ventures

YOUNG ALUMNI AWARD

Shruti Gandhi
Founder and Managing Partner
Array Ventures

“My ability to stay ahead of tech trends is a result of my curiosity and ability to continuously learn. At Booth I spent time learning skills that I still use every day.”

When Shruti Gandhi, ’12, meets with startup founders seeking backing from Array Ventures, her San Francisco–based venture capital firm, she looks for founders who she can learn from. “In every meeting, I want to offer one thing they can benefit from,” she said, “and learn one thing I wouldn’t have learned elsewhere.”

The drive to round out her technical background with business skills led Gandhi to Booth after she earned computer-science degrees at Marist College and Columbia University. As an MBA student, she initially thought that starting a VC fund was for someone later in their career, but she was encouraged by faculty such as Ellen Rudnick, ’73, senior advisor and adjunct professor for entrepreneurship; Steve Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance and the Kessenich E. P. Faculty Director at the Polsky Center; and Mark Tebbe, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship. Now she is closing her third fund with support from the Booth community.

At Booth Gandhi served as chair of the student-led Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Group, organizing visits by alumni speakers to campus. “Many of those people are now investors in my venture fund,” she said. “This ability to build long-term relationships is the power of our close-knit alumni network.”

Array Ventures invests in early-stage startups using data, A.I., and machine learning to help guide them to their next stage of business. That means Gandhi is constantly looking for potential—and she reminds Booth students that they have a lot to offer.

“As a student, you sometimes think you have nothing to offer to experts with many years of experience,” she said. “But you can stand out with your time, curiosity, and hustle.”

Luis Miranda Chairman and Cofounder Indian School of Public Policy

PUBLIC SERVICE AWARD

Luis Miranda
Chairman and Cofounder
Indian School of Public Policy

“When people come to me with a business idea and say it’s going to make a billion dollars, I immediately tune out. What I want to know is, how is this going to make people’s lives better?”

Luis Miranda, ’89, likes to compare himself to Forrest Gump, the movie character played by Tom Hanks who unwittingly influences significant events in history. “I’ve been lucky that people have given me opportunities that led to this fascinating journey,” he said.

At the same time Miranda had his own internal compass: the need to find purpose in his work. He hadn’t planned to return to India after studying at Booth, but he agreed to a job offer from Citibank to develop foreign-exchange products. Though he said he was initially the lowest-paid person in his graduating class, the creativity of the work excited him. He went on to start HDFC Bank and IDFC Private Equity, two companies that thrived as the Indian economy began opening up to global investment.

In 2010 Miranda left finance to focus, along with his wife, Fiona, on capacity building in nonprofits. Today, he is chairman of the Centre for Civil Society, a free-market think tank based in New Delhi, and CORO, a fellowship program for grassroots leaders. He also is the chairman and cofounder of the Indian School of Public Policy, which opened in 2019, and which has a partnership with the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. He is a trustee for the University of Chicago Trust in India and a member of the advisory council for the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation.

Miranda’s emphasis on giving back was instilled by his parents. “When my dad died, the things his friends said about him were not that he made a lot of money—he didn’t—but the fact that he touched the lives of people,” he said. “When I die, that’s what I would like people to say about me, that I’ve touched their lives in a meaningful manner.”

Jake Crampton

ENTREPRENEURIAL AWARD

Jake Crampton
Founder and CEO
MedSpeed

“We’re the opposite of an overnight success. It took a long time to get here.”

As a student in professor James E. Schrager’s New Venture Strategy course, Jake Crampton, ’98, sat down with his team of classmates to brainstorm proposals for their final project. Each person pitched five ideas. From that meeting, they chose the one that would become MedSpeed, a logistics company that provides same-day transportation services to the health-care industry.

Their proposal went on to win first prize in the second year of the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, prompting Crampton to change his postgraduation plans and run the company. Two decades later, Elmhurst, Illinois-based MedSpeed operates in 29 US states, transporting laboratory specimens, pharmaceuticals, radiology images, and much more, and has nearly 3,000 employees.

The class and competition taught Crampton the importance of dispassionately evaluating a business plan. Once you commit, though, he said, you need to go after it with all your effort: “If you have that surety of feeling, like you’re pursuing something that really makes sense, you’re prepared to not be dissuaded easily.”

That sense of purpose helped Crampton persist through some of MedSpeed’s toughest times, including losing a customer that accounted for 70 percent of its revenue shortly after landing a major round of funding. What helped his team persevere was a sense of mission that has also carried the company through the COVID-19 pandemic. Said Crampton: “In my mind, this is really an award to the company. We’ve had a lot of people, for a long time, be incredibly dedicated to not just building this business, but pursuing our mission of delivering health to our communities.”

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