This column is the result of collaboration between the Alumni Office and the Office of Career Counseling. It is intended to show the breadth of opportunity available to Williams graduates beyond investment banking, consulting and graduate school. Each column will feature a different alumnus who has done something non-traditional after their time at Williams. Various students who are currently at Williams write the columns. Please send comments, suggestions, thoughts and possible candidates for the column to email@example.com.
The Road Less Traveled
Chuck Hirsch ’80
… Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Excerpt: The Road Not Taken
– Robert Frost –
Chuck Hirsch ’80 is Chairman and CEO of Hirsch & Co, LLC, based in Bellevue, Washington. Hirsch & Co. is a company that fosters relationships by assisting high-tech companies find partners and capital. He has served as both a full time employee of, or as a consultant to, Microsoft Corporation, Omron Corporation in Japan and IntelliHealth, a major online consumer health portal. He helped InterNAP Network Services Corporation prior to its recent Initial Public Offering, serves on the West Coast Advisory Board of Global Asset Management and is working closely with nearly a dozen early stage start-up companies.
From my conversations with him, I would describe him as a consummate relationship person. He has gotten to know a lot of interesting people in many different sectors of life. How did he meet them? In different venues and through lots of hard work over the years. With the benefit of hindsight, his path might seem logical. But he says it was not. He describes it like that cartoon we have all seen: the man reading a newspaper walks onto a construction site and is whisked about on the cranes and girders of the infrastructure of a skyscraper, seemingly oblivious to it all. He also equates the challenge of managing the many relationships he carefully tends to the plate spinners who used to be featured on the old Ed Sullivan show when he was a kid.
After Williams, Hirsch’s professional path began in both state and Federal government in New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. Next, he moved into the non-profit and philanthropic sectors and then relocated to the West Coast as he became involved in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. Currently, he is focused on the technology and investment sectors based in Seattle.
Williams was the only place Hirsch ever wanted to go to college, and, being accepted early decision, was the only place he ever applied. His main attraction to Williams was Professor James MacGregor Burns, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian and political scientist, who became his mentor and thesis advisor. He found even more reasons to love the school once he arrived and he is still very enthusiastic about it today. While at Williams, he was a co-founder of the Octet in 1977, its new formation after its early dissolution in the mid-50’s, a member of college council and an entrepreneur. For the tenth anniversary of the Williams celebration of being coeducational in 1979, he created and sold T-shirts commemorating the occasion: “A Decade of Men and Women Co-populating!”
As the end of his four years at Williams approached, Hirsch was unsure what direction he would pursue. While his parents seemed eager for him to go to law school, he wasn’t excited by the prospect. So he looked elsewhere. Politics and government seemed to beckon, offering the level of responsibility he wanted immediately. He became the first employee of Thomas H. Kean’s 1981 New Jersey Gubernatorial campaign. He says, “It matters a great deal whether you win or lose in government and politics: if you win, you are in government; if you lose, you remain in politics. Because Mr. Kean won, he found himself very much in government—as Director of Economic Development in New Jersey, his home state, at the age of 23, with 30 people working under him—most who had children his age.
After serving the Governor for three years, he applied for a White House Fellowship and President Ronald Reagan appointed him as a Fellow for 1984. He worked as a Special Assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, then Executive Assistant to the Secretary Colin Powell and Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, from 1984 to 1985.
Upon finishing his Fellowship year, he returned to the Northeast to serve as Executive Assistant to the Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, one of the most unique and powerful governmental institutions in the world. The Port Authority is responsible for the bridges, tunnels, airports, World Trade Center, the under-river transit system connecting New Jersey and New York, and ports in the New York/New Jersey region. He was responsible for relationships between the Chairman, Executive Director, the Board overseeing the Port Authority, and the governors of New York and New Jersey.
By 1988 Hirsch was 29 and ready for new challenges. He moved from government into the private sector, by way of private philanthropy. He had met many successful business people through his varied jobs and in 1988 he helped one of them, Ray Chambers, found the Amelior Foundation in Morristown, New Jersey. Through the Amelior Foundation, he was intimately involved in the creation of the Points of Light Foundation with President Bush, the One-to-One National Mentoring Partnership, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Always eager to be an agent of change, Hirsch moved to Los Angeles in the immediate wake of the riots in 1992. The first thing he did was set up an after school program in two South Central Middle Schools called Safe Havens. It was immediately successful, with more than 500 families attending within its first weeks. Safe Havens provided programs including English as a Second Language courses, computer skills classes, nutrition, exercise, tax preparation, etc. long after regular school hours. While in LA, he went on to be the first full time president and CEO of Michael Jackson’s Heal the World Foundation, incorporating the Safe Havens project and working around the world on behalf of children in need alongside many of the top people in the entertainment industry.
In 1995, Hirsch made his first foray into the private sector, joining a friend in founding Dare to Dream Intertainment. He and his friend, Jeff Jani, created the company around a technology that revolutionized interactive toys. In 1995, the company merged into Microsoft where Hirsch and Jani were in charge of the Microsoft product group that eventually created the BarneyÂ®, ArthurÂ®, D.W.Â®, and TeletubbiesÂ® Microsoft ActiMatesÂ® product lines. After shipping the first successful product, Hirsch left Microsoft to begin his newest venture.
Today Hirsch finds himself in the intensely interesting and very enviable occupation of connecting his many separate worlds through his new company, Hirsch & Co. He is currently operating in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors.
His life and the way he has reached it are certainly non-traditional. Graduate school, investment banks, and consulting firms had nothing to do with it. The traditional interviewing process for Advertising/PR firms and the like held little interest for him. So he set out to create his own path. He urges us to realize that it isn’t necessary to choose our path in life immediately upon leaving Williams. Often, many different paths can come together to form a coherent whole more interesting than one single focus.