Philip Lonsdale — HEC 2016 — Program Manager at Manufacture: San Jose
“It feels like going a full circle, bringing back what I learned at HEC Paris and overseas to the Bay Area.”
You are Bay Area born and bred. You’ve worked at start-ups, in a food truck in a community garden, What drove you to apply for a master's at HEC, halfway across the globe?
I grew up in Oakland and went to school in San Francisco. When I was younger, I wanted to become a writer so I studied English Literature in undergrad. Unfortunately, it is very hard to make a living from writing so I started working as a cook. As one of my first jobs, I was indeed the manager of a very successful food truck, Nom Nom, that was serving Vietnamese street food. The food industry builds strong customer experience skills that I then used at Line2, a start-up that offers voice-over-the-Internet solutions. In the meantime, I started volunteering at the Far Out West Community Garden, in my neighborhood in the Sunset and I really got into it. This is how I got into sustainability and it really became my passion. I ended up living a split life, working at the office during the day but finding my work at the community garden at night and during weekends more exciting. So I quit my job to focus on it for a while and became president of the organization.
But the cost of living in San Francisco kept going up and I knew I could not afford to live in the city for much longer unless I stepped up in my career. This is why I started looking into going back to school for an MBA. I was looking for a program that would blend classic business education with the latest trends in sustainability, alternative finance, and social innovation. I investigated the US schools but the only program I could find that would synthesize all this was the MSC in Sustainability and Social Innovation offered by HEC. It was a long shot but I got in and was so excited to start studying.
How was your experience studying for this master's at HEC?
It was an absolutely fantastic experience on many levels. I thought I would go for 10 months and come back to San Francisco. I ended up being gone for 5 years, living in Europe and Africa, and getting married! And I finally came back because of another happy circumstance.
The master itself allowed me to meet, at a very early stage, the founders of Cycle Farms, a company that uses food waste to produce insect-based animal feed. I contributed to launching the business on 2 continents, in France and in Ghana. It was an incredible experience made possible by HEC Paris.
Studying at HEC Paris also set my life on a different trajectory on a more personal level: I met my now wife there! We met in the very last 6 weeks of school, at the Savoir-Relier Leadership certificate program in which we were both enrolled.
And we are back in the Bay Area because she is now studying at Stanford!
This is a fantastic story! How did it feel coming back home after 5 years away?
When I left for HEC in 2015, the city had already changed a lot. Tech buses had become a big thing — it was much less so when I moved to the Outer Sunset in 2012. The rents had gone up and up and up and neighborhoods like the Mission were unrecognizable.
Living abroad made me see things from a different angle and think more critically about the way we do things in the US and San Francisco. Maybe we don’t have it all figured out!
However, Covid19 has broken the always increasing trends in rents, traffic, and many other things and is giving us a chance to reassess, to imagine how we can do things differently. Now that most of us have felt vulnerability in the face of the virus, there is a big potential for change and addressing issues like homelessness differently. The Affordable Care Act and the Recovery Plan are great signs that we can move away from the classic capitalist economic theories to create more sustainable value for the community. Maybe we can end this obsession for GDP growth, that, as RFK brilliantly put in his 1968 speech “measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”.
What have you been up to since you’re back in the region?
I have recently started a new role that I am very excited about. I have joined Manufacture: San Jose, a non-profit in partnership with SF Made and the City of San Jose. We provide support and resiliency to manufacturing businesses in San Jose in the form of free services in sales and marketing, finance and accountancy, and hiring. We are connecting employers with a more diverse workforce. There are 13,000 manufacturing companies in San Jose that employ 50,000 people. At the heart of Silicon Valley, silicon is still very present. Some high-tech sensors, chips, and hardware are still made here. There is also an amazing landscape of artisanal food manufacturing such as breweries, distilleries, coffee roasters, or vertical farming. Manufacturing jobs are the most stable and highest-paid for people without a degree. It is a great way to get people up the social ladder into the middle class. I love this job that has a positive impact on the community, I love meeting so many passionate entrepreneurs and so many supportive service providers.
It feels like going a full circle, bringing back what I learned at HEC Paris and overseas to the Bay Area.
This is very inspiring! What would be your advice to our readers?
We are so lucky to have what we have here in the Bay Area. There is so much beauty and diversity. In the people who come from all over the world and in nature, that can give you on the same day the chance to see redwoods and beaches, deers and sea lions.
Never take it for granted, get out and see as much as you can and support local communities and businesses.
My personal favorite is a trip to Point Reyes for a picnic with local oysters from the Tomales Bay Oysters Company and cheese and soup from Cowgirl Creamery.
Also, come down to San Jose to discover the local beer scene at Hermitage Brewing Company or Narrative Fermentations and sample Californian whisky at 10th Street Distillery.