Student Spotlight: Jeff Kushner


Scan 141080001 photo (21) photo (23) photo (22) photo (20)What did you do before you came to the Kennedy School?

I have taken a rather indirect path to the Kennedy School. Unlike many of my more focused classmates, I spent my youth “playing.” Not much of that story would be appropriate for a family publication like the Citizen! While many of you are aware of the fact that I spent the majority of my life in finance, I am actually embarking upon my fourth or fifth career.

I spent four years in the restaurant business, working for McOpCo – the operating arm of McDonalds – where I managed a number of restaurants. I think that was the best possible preparation for my work in finance. Hungry, angry customers are not entirely dissimilar to hungry, angry investors. They’re just hungry in a different way.

After that I did a stint in Executive Search, where I learned about discrimination first-hand. You can’t imagine the things that were said to me about who firms wouldn’t hire and why. I hope that things have improved since, but I’m not so sure.

Friends always ask if the picture of me on the Albany (New York) taxi license is real. Yes, it is. I drove a cab there for two years. We were in the midst of a recession and a degree in history didn›t get you through many doors. «A Cab Driver’s Diary» will be my first book!

Finally, I ended up as a temporary hire at Merrill Lynch’s Equity Capital Markets desk. I had no idea what they did or who they were. The job seem fast-paced, exciting, and very interesting. I got hired a month later, and my career in finance began. I spent four years at Merrill, then moved to ING where I diversified my skills as an operations manager, a business manager, and a project manager.

I went to Columbia University for my MBA and when I finished ING moved me o trading Credit Derivatives, which was the hot product at the time. Then in 2003 I met someone who was launching a hedge fund called BlueMountain.

I joined the fund and spent the next eight and a half years there as a partner. It was exciting, challenging, interesting, and all-encompassing. In those eight years, we grew from seven employees to 150 and I served in a number of roles. I saw the world and spent the last four years running our business in Europe. Living outside the US was fantastic in every way. More Americans should try it.

I retired from finance at age 50, and we chose to move from London to Boston, though I had never lived here. A year later, I joined this amazing group here at HKS.

Would you highlight for us two accomplishments at BlueMountain Capital of which you are most proud?

1) Being part of a business from the time it was just an idea on paper to the time that it was a leading asset manager is an incredible experience. I was able to learn and influence the growth of the business at the same time.

2) When I arrived in London our business was struggling. Three weeks later, Lehman filed for bankruptcy and all hell broke loose. In those days I often used the metaphor that the building was on fire. Thankfully, we survived and a year later we had our best year ever.

Also, I’m very proud to say that most of the team we assembled at BlueMoutain is still there and happy.

Why did you leave finance?

There were many reasons but two still stand out. As time went on, I realized that I was missing my family. I have an amazing wife and two incredible daughters, and I was missing from their lives. I was missing my kids’ childhoods. There were too many days that I didn’t see them at all. It had to change.

Also, I felt that many things about finance were great, but service to other people wasn’t one of them. I wanted to do something that helped others. Working in a hedge fund didn’t allow me to do that. I used to joke that my biggest fear was that my tombstone would read, “He was a great hedge fund guy.” I tried to laugh about that, but it still scared me.

As I passed 50 years old, the twin desires of family and service led me to retire from finance.

We understand you love great food. So do we! How have you been able to sustain this love while in Boston?

Food, wine, and travel are among the great joys in life. I have been spoiled by living most of my life in New York and London. Here in Boston, I have spent the past year dragging my classmates to as many restaurants as possible. Everyone thought my “foodies” program was a way to introduce restaurants to my classmates. Actually it was my excuse to go out and find them! “Foodies” was also a fantastic way to get to know most of my classmates outside of the class room.

What are your favorite places?

To live and work, London. It is the greatest combination of history, culture, travel accessibility, and food in the world. It is also the greatest aggregation of intellectual capital anywhere. The diversity is incredible.

To live, Barcelona. Beautiful weather. Beautiful architecture. Beautiful people. Beautiful food. I will live there some day.

To kick back, Cape Cod. There’s nothing better than early morning bike ride followed by breakfast on the porch before a short walk to the beach.

What is Social Innovation Investing? 

Social Innovation Investing is investing for both a financial return plus a social return. I’m involved with a venture called Root Cause which, along with similar organizations, seek new, innovative solutions to a wide range of social issues.

It’s not just about the money. Of course, we do provide grants to social innovators, but we also assist them with capacity-building and help them craft their pitches to larger investors. Social Innovation Investing is sustainable investing: at some point, there will be a revenue stream that allows the organization to break free of perpetual fund-raising.

If you were graduating from HKS tomorrow, what is the best memory you’d take away? 

Well, that’s not an easy one. I guess I have to say the varied experiences and perspectives of my classmates. Learning about the thought processes of people from completely different experiences than me is not only a great memory but the most important tool I have gained at HKS.

What one item is essential to your everyday life and why? 

Too obvious. My family. They are the center of everything for me and I want it to stay that way.

What are you looking forward to most after you graduate in May?

In the short term, lots of travel. We haven’t done much in the past year so now we will spend about 4 of the next 8 weeks away. I look forward to refreshing my understanding of my own country by spending most of that time in the United States.

Long term, I am looking forward to a role on a team that helps solve or mitigate one or more of the many problems caused by inequality. Oh, and I hope to see as many of you HKSers as I can.

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