The Magic of a Moment
Tufts graduate Diane Hessan returns to campus as part of the Lyon & Bendheim Alumni Lecture series to discuss how she discovered her passion for business.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.19.08] If you ask Diane Hessan (J'76) how she came to be the CEO of a company that boasts more than 200 employees and services more than 300 top businesses and brands, she'll tell you that all it took was one moment in time.
The CEO of Communispace, a company that creates private online communities for businesses to engage with their customers, arrived at Tufts in the mid-1970s. She started her academic career as a double major in economics and English with plans of heading off to law school. That is until one moment changed everything.
"One day during the beginning of my junior year, one of my friends said 'Hey Diane, there is a really interesting panel tonight,'" Hessan recalls of the panel of business school grads. "So I went to this discussion and light bulbs just went off for me. There I was listening to a whole bunch of people who had interests that I had, and I literally had never really thought about getting an M.B.A. and what I would be able to do with it."
Hessan adds, "Very often you do what you do in life because there was a moment-there was a time when you met someone on a plane or you went to a panel or you saw someone at a party and all of a sudden it changes everything."
Hessan finished Tufts in three years and moved on to Harvard Business School, where she says she instantly felt "at home."
"Although there were many intimidating things about being in business school at such a young age, the whole experience reminded me of how much passion I had for business," Hessan says. "When I was little, my grandfather had a newsstand at a train station and all the grandchildren would go and they would all read the magazines and I would stand with my grandfather. He would put me up on a stool and I would work the cash register. I wanted to be in there counting the money and everyone else was coloring."
After earning her M.B.A. in 1977, Hessan went on to work for General Foods as a product manager in the Maxwell House division. She then moved on to a small management training company called the Forum Corporation, where she co-authored the book "Customer-Centered Growth: Five Strategies for Building Competitive Advantage."
"In 2000, in the middle of the Internet boom, I decided it was time for me to do my own thing," Hessan says. "So, with a group of other people, many of whom I worked with before and who I thought were just rock stars, we started Communispace. Listening to and engaging with customers was important to companies and the Internet was really going to change the way they did it."
Now, eight years later, Communispace has a 93 percent renewal rate, winning varying awards, including Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council's Best Social Media Company of the Year in 2007 and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce's Award for Business Excellence in 2006. Hessan herself has won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2008 and "Best Boss" from Winning Workplaces/Fortune Small Business in 2005.
Heading back to the Hill to give the Lyon & Bendheim Alumni Lecture on Sept. 22, an event that features "leaders who have repeatedly proven themselves and have tremendous achievements at the highest levels in their respective fields," Hessan hopes she can convince students to keep their eyes peeled at all times, searching for their moment.
"The big thing for me is, don't put your head down and spend all your time planning. Look up and see who is out there and who might have something interesting, because it will probably come from where you least expect it," Hessan says. "Tufts really opened my eyes to what was happening beyond Norristown, Pa., where I grew up.I got much more of a global perspective and it is there where I started learning what I was passionate about."
Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications