An Extraordinary Example of Collaboration Helps GE & Year Up Bridge the Opportunity Divide

March 7, 2017

I have had the great fortune to be a small part of the extraordinary success of Year Up over the past 16 years.  Year Up is the innovative workforce development organization started in 2001 by Gerald and Kate Chertavian that recruits, trains and places underserved inner city young adults in living wage careers with Fortune 500 companies and other leading enterprises.  Year Up started with 22 students in one Boston location and has grown to serving 3,700 young adults this year in 17 locations across the  country.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to play many roles at Year Up, including serving on the National Board for a decade.  My current role is working with a handful of large US companies: GE, Comcast, Liberty Mutual and IBM to identify and fulfill their needs for entry-level middle skill talent.

A few weeks ago, we were given the opportunity to share this video at a conference attended by 300 GE IT Leaders from around the world:

Click on this image to view the GE Year Up video

Even though I have been doing this for over 16 years – the video literally sent chills down my spine.  As I have often said, I am one of the luckiest men in the world and appreciate so much the opportunity to work with Year Up’s students and corporate partners every day.

Last weekend, I thought a lot about the series of events and extraordinary level of collaboration that led to the creation of this video and wanted to share them with you.

All roads lead back to David and Gerald

Year Up was started in 2000 by Founder & CEO Gerald Chertavian.  After graduating from Bowdoin, Gerald worked on Wall Street and spent every Saturday with his “Little Brother” David Heredia.  He quickly realized that David and many of his friends were smart, motivated and capable, but didn’t have the opportunity to realize their potential to end up in prosperous, meaningful, fulfilling careers.  After selling his successful internet company in 1999, Gerald dedicated himself to creating Year Up to provide the “David’s” of our country with the skills, experience and support they need to succeed.

Gerald Chertavian and David Heredia 1988

Our founding corporate partners

In addition to GE, Year Up has supplied talent to over 250 leading enterprises across the country. Without them, Year Up couldn’t exist.  Today, we benefit from a tremendous 16-year track record of providing real, tangible value to our corporate partners and can back that up with a 60 Minutes episode about Year Up that includes testimonials from Ken Chenault, the Chairman of American Express and Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase.  But in the beginning, Gerald and I were void of any hard evidence that our model would work. Luckily for us and the 16,000+ students we have served, a few visionary leaders took a chance on our model and hired the first Year Up interns.

They included:

  • Phyllis Yale – then Managing Partner for Bain & Company’s Boston office
  • David Kenney – then CEO of Digitas
  • David Andre – then CIO of Upromise
  • Brett Browchek – then COO of Putnam Investments

With the initial support of these leading companies, we were able to secure commitments from enough companies to place our first class of students in their internships.

Founding Corporate Sponsors

Our extraordinary Founding Class of students

Without the grit and determination of our students, Year Up would not have made it to its second anniversary, much less to 17 cities.  The success of our students – from class one through those on internships today – is the real reason Year Up has been so successful.  Our corporate partners continue to hire Year Up interns and graduates and refer us to their colleagues at other enterprises because they have found that we have become a valuable pipeline of talent.

Year Up’s Founding Class February 2001

Our partnership with GE Digital and the creation of the video

The genesis of the partnership with GE Digital began in 2013 when our consultant Ed Solomon introduced Year Up to Bill Ruh, the CEO of GE Digital.  With Bill’s support, Alex Nguyen and Raul Cardenas became the first Year Up students placed at GE Digital in San Ramon in January 2014. Both had successful internships at GE and were offered and accepted full time positions.  Alex currently works as a software developer at OSU’s Open Source Lab and Raul has been promoted several times at GE and currently works as an Application Operations Engineer.

After seeing the 60 Minutes episode about Year Up, GE CIO Jim Fowler discovered that GE Digital had hired several students and graduates.  When GE made the decision to move their headquarters from Fairfield Connecticut to Boston’s Seaport area, Jim asked CTO Adam Radisch to consider placing Year Up interns in their My Tech Lounge at the new office.  Modeled after Apple’s Genius Bar, GE’s My Tech Lounges are walk-up help desks in attractive lounge areas where employees can quickly get support for laptop, tablet, phone and other hardware and software problems.

Last June, Year Up Boston’s Business Development executive Randi Kinsella and I traveled to meet with Adam to explain our program and discuss the opportunity to pilot our students in a GE My Tech Lounge.  Amidst Yankees memorabilia and moving boxes being packed for his impending move, Adam gave us 30 minutes to explain Year Up’s model.  We had a full presentation, but quickly made the decision to share only one slide:

YU Circle of Support

Although he appeared supportive at the time, Adam later shared, “When I first heard about Year Up, I thought it was a second chance program for at risk kids, and probably not right for GE.  This slide changed my mind.  I decided to give a few students a chance in Boston, they knocked the ball out of the park and now I am Year Up’s executive champion at GE and want to help grow the program to as many divisions that need great entry level talent as we can.”

After returning to Boston, Randi and I met with Year Up Boston Executive Director Bob Dame and other Boston executives and worked with them to “match” the right students for an internship at GE’s new headquarters.  Adam had stressed the importance of strong interpersonal and communications skills when we met with him and our Boston team selected Angel, Cody and Ryan for this pilot program.  Guided by their incredibly supportive GE managers, Alex and Jesse, our three students were successful in their internship and all three received full time offers from GE.  At their graduation, Alex received the award for The Best New Supervisor and Angel was a featured graduation speaker.  From his remarks, I learned that Angel had originally turned down his acceptance to Year Up, but was contacted a week later by a staff member who convinced him to join the program.  If you listen to Angel’s speech, you will hear him give credit to his mom, his Year Up internship colleagues and the support of his GE managers for his success:

Click on the image to watch Angel's speech

During our November monthly update with Adam, I shared some of the internal communications our other partners have developed to highlight their partnership with Year Up and asked him for an introduction to a GE marketing executive.  Adam introduced me to Jen Sampson, IT Communications & Engagement Leader for GE Digital.

Jen agreed to meet with us on the 23rd of December at Year Up’s Chicago offices.  While most of the country was winding down for the holidays, Roberto Zeledon, Year Up’s Director of Marketing, Randi and I flew to Chicago to meet with Jen, where we were hosted by Executive Director Jack Crowe.  As part of a short presentation about Year Up and our partnership with GE, we shared this JPMorgan Chase video that features CIO and Year Up champion John Galante and several of our graduates who have been hired by the bank:

Click on the image to see the JP Morgan Chase video

This video was the brainchild of John and my Year Up colleague Betsy Goodell, who leads our partnership with JPMorgan Chase executives.

After a tour of Year Up Chicago led by two students, Jen returned to her office.  Then, acting at what I now referred to as “GE Speed,” she emailed me less than an hour later and invited us to produce a similar video about GE’s partnership with Year Up. If we were able to create a short video by January 16th, Jen had already received approval from CIO Jim Fowler to “premier” it a their upcoming IT Leaders meeting in Phoenix, where 300 GE executives would be in attendance.

Within hours of receiving Jen’s email, Roberto confirmed with Year Up’s Brand Manager Kim Wheeler that we could create a video over the next 3 weeks, despite most people being on holiday between Christmas and New Year’s.  Kim and Randi managed the entire production of the video. I was visiting GE Digital in San Ramon and our Bay Area site when Gerald, our students and their fantastic managers were filmed.

Jen and Jim were also kind enough to invite us to have a Year Up booth at their conference outside the room where they showed the video. During the conference, we made over 20 GE executive contacts and are following up on new opportunities with 5 GE Divisions who have not yet hired Year Up students or graduates.

After hearing Angel’s graduation speech, I reached out to Ari (the social work intern who convinced him to join Year Up) to thank her for that fateful phone call.  She emailed me back, “As one of Year Up’s Co-Founders and head of Boston Student Services Linda Swardwick Smith always says ‘it takes a village to do this work’, and I’m very grateful Year Up and GE teamed up to form that village for these men, and again I’m honored to have been a part of it.”

Her email inspired this article, as it clearly took the entrepreneurial actions of many people to create our GE Year Up Partnership video. My primary reason for writing this was to thank all of those who helped it become a reality.  The more I do this work, the more I realize our success is driven by:

  1. Our students and alumni who make the sacrifices to join Year Up and power through their life challenges to demonstrate their capabilities during internship and graduate from our program.
  2. Our staff and instructors that teach, support and help our students prepare for internship success.
  3. Our extraordinary corporate partners who create the opportunities for our students to succeed.

What I do is relatively easy – I just observe, package and communicate what happens, connect students with partners and make the occasional inappropriate “ask” of our partners like, “Can I bring three of my friends to your internal meeting of 300 senior execs in Phoenix?”

Thanks so much to Cody, Angel and Ryan, to Jim, Adam, Alex, Jesse and Jen and to everyone at GE, our other partners and our team at Year Up who contributed to the creation of the video.

Note to Starbucks CEO: Don’t use technology (or loyalty programs) to demotivate your employees

December 26, 2012

app and empty tip jar 4 color cropped

Summary: While the Starbucks App is cool and makes buying coffee and food quick and easy without dealing with cash, credit or debit cards, the company appears to have developed the app without fully considering the impact on their employees. The app doesn’t offer users the option to tip baristas when making a purchase.  Other mobile payment apps like LevelUp and even taxi cab credit card machines make tipping quick and easy for users.  The Starbucks Rewards program also concerns us as it rewards customers for paying for one item at a time, even when purchasing multiple items, which could lead to increased employee and customer frustration.

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Is the U.S. coalition loyalty’s Afghanistan? Overcoming the challenges of the U.S. market.

October 22, 2012

Afghanistan map with question mark.

Net: Coalition loyalty programs are among the most successful and fastest growing businesses created over the past 25 years, with flourishing coalition programs currently operating in many countries around the world. The one glaring exception – the U.S. market. Why? It certainly isn’t for lack of trying. Over $1 billion has been lost by companies and investors attempting to launch coalition loyalty programs in the U.S.


We believe the reasons no one has launched a successful U.S. coalition program are embedded in the five unique challenges of the U.S. market:


  1. Overcrowded loyalty space – the average U.S. household has joined 18.5 loyalty programs, but remains active in 8.
  2. Lack of nationwide or clearly defined regional businesses in major consumer spending categories – difficult to identify coalition partners with consistent presence across markets.
  3. Few unique rewards – lots of commodity-based, “me too” rewards.
  4. Rewards are expensive – economic value back has become only distinguishing feature; competitors continue to increase percent back to compete, raising overall costs.
  5. Lack of cooperation among U.S. companies – American companies have not historically “played well in the sandbox together” and few examples of long term coalition partnerships for anything exist in the U.S.

So what’s the solution – “cut and run”?  Not necessarily.  We believe there is a path to daylight to develop a coalition loyalty program in the challenging U.S. market. Doing so will require a breakthrough program model that not only incorporates the requisite 6 A’s of Coalition Loyalty Success, but contains the following  elements:


A. Truly breakthrough, motivating assets to cut through the current “clutter” of loyalty programs.
B. Better designed rewards inventory with a selection of rewards that appeal to consumers on both an emotional and rational basis.
C. Critical program elements and unique assets that cannot be duplicated by competitors.

D. A regional approach that makes sense in order to create a strong coalition of leading partners.

E. A technology platform that leverages the new user friendly opportunities for member engagement enabled by 21st century social, mobile and interactive digital media, and finally, most importantly

F. Bold, visionary, risk taking leaders who are willing to “play to win” instead of “playing not to lose” and will benefit most from being the first to champion the tremendous potential of  participating in a coalition loyalty program.
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The 6 A’s of Coalition Loyalty Success & The Virtuous Cycle of Profitability

March 21, 2011

The 6 A’s of Coalition Loyalty Success & the Virtuous Cycle of Profitability

Net: Over a billion dollars have been lost by companies and investors trying to create a profitable coalition loyalty program in the U.S. over the past 30 years. In recent discussions with Sir Keith Mills, who created the original AIR MILES shopping reward program and the first consumer focused coalition loyalty program in the UK, my former company The Loyalty Group in Canada, Nectar in the UK  and successful programs in The Netherlands, Spain and the UAE, we agreed there are six requisite elements of successful programs.  Rewards must be aspirational, attainable, and accessible to target consumers.  They must be sufficiently affordable to investors, program operators and the business partners who pay for the reward to enable a clear and attractive return on their investment.  The program must be designed and executed to collect actionable information on participating member’s behavior to both prove that the program is delivering an attractive ROI and to identify underperforming segments and new opportunities to use the program’s assets to increase the businesses’ profitability. Finally, participants must be aware of the program’s benefits.  They must be clearly and effectively marketed at launch and on an ongoing basis to create awareness and understanding of program value to potential and existing members and the businesses paying for the rewards.   If these “6 A” elements are present in the program’s design and effectively launched and enhanced through rollout and operation, the loyalty business generates an attractive virtuous cycle of profitability driven by the value created for all stakeholders.

The 6 A’s of Coalition Loyalty Success

6 A's Chart

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Collaboration Big Citizenship for Skateboarding in Brookline

February 3, 2011

Net: Realizing that our son had no dedicated places to skateboard in our town of Brookline, Massachusetts, my wife Patty organized a group of young skate boarders and parents, teachers, nonprofit and other leaders to advocate for the creation of safe places to skate in our community.  Although we have a lot of work to do and have only taken the first few steps in what will undoubtedly be a long journey, the collaborative efforts of our small but committed group, the over 100 friends who supported us online and the 60 young skaters and their parents who attended our presentation to the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission have successfully launched our campaign.

FBS LOGO VS 2 BLUE AND YELLOW

In his recently published book, my friend Alan Khazei – the social entrepreneur , Co-Founder of City Year and former candidate for the US Senate – makes the case for creating change through the collaborative efforts of public private partnerships, where citizen activists, business leaders and government agencies work together to address challenges and create new opportunities.  He refers to this model as Big Citizenship, advocating that the old models of relying too heavily on either big government or private industry are tired, ineffective and not appropriate for creating change in the 21st Century.

Big Citizenship CoverAlthough the concept of Big Citizenship is not intuitive to all, you clearly know it when you see it in action.  I had such an experience recently.  Realizing that our son had no place to skateboard in our town of Brookline, Massachusetts, my wife Patty organized a group of young skate boarders and  parents, teachers, nonprofit and other leaders to advocate for the creation of safe places to skate in our community.  Alan would see this as a clear example of the power of big citizenship, and I would agree. But I also see it as a compelling example of collaboration and, as we are beginning to increase our social and traditional media outreach, a great case study in how the internet can support and turbo-charge the efforts of a small but committed group.

None of this would have been possible without both Patty’s initiative and the phenomenal and strategic efforts of our friend Armin Bachman.  Armin is truly a Big Citizen.  (Last year I encouraged Alan to promote his book by starting a Big Citizen contest where people could nominate others for recognition; I had Armin in mind as a leading candidate.)  Armin is an entrepreneur; he is co-owner of Orchard Skateshop, by far the best skateboarding store in the Boston area.  He is a social entrepreneur, having founded the nonprofit Extension, to make skating more accessible in the greater Boston area.  Armin and

Armin and Myles the other owners of Orchard are big citizens in their community as well, giving 1% of their revenues to local nonprofits and helping new artists by hosting shows in the gallery above the shop.  He is also one very smart and connected dude, knowing leaders in the skateboarding space across the country and increasingly around the world, and very gifted at finding data related to developing safe places to skateboard.  (Full disclosure: Armin is also Myles skateboarding teacher.)

Other members of the original group included Nicco Berinstein, a Brookline High School 11th grader and avid skater; Eileen Amy, Nicco’s mother and a registered nurse; Michael McKittrick, a Brookline High School teacher and the faculty advisor to the school’s skateboarding club; John Wynne, a Cambridge businessman, skater, and a passionate skateboarding advocate; and our son Myles, an avid skater and the person who helped us see the need for safe places to skate in Brookline.

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