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Diane Hessan receives Asper Award from IBS for outstanding entrepreneurship

By Ethan Berceli

Section: News, Top Stories

April 25, 2014

The International Business School (IBS) at Brandeis has recognized Diane Hessan for her outstanding entrepreneurship with the Asper Award for Global Entrepreneurship. Brandeis IBS Dean Magid presented her with the award on Thursday, April 3.

Len Asper ’86 established the Asper Center and the Global Entrepreneurship Award in 2004, bestowed annually to an “entrepreneur who achieves outstanding success in the global marketplace through creative marketing and business strategies.” Input from faculty at IBS and the Dean’s office is combined with research by the IBS Centers and Initiatives to create a list of candidates, also reviewed by Asper, in a thorough process that aims to present the award to the most qualified candidate.

IBS uses the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship to provide students with an understanding of tendencies and development of entrepreneurship throughout the world. By offering courses, events, internships, business plan competitions and meetings with global entrepreneurs, the Asper Center seeks to provide IBS students with comprehensive learning experiences to develop their transition into future business leaders.

Award winner Hessan was President and CEO of Communispace, a recently global company that she founded in 1999 before handing over the reins and becoming chairwoman in January of this year. Communispace creates and manages online communities to connect companies to their customers. It has over 250 clients including Kraft, Unilever and Hewlett-Packard. The company manages over 700 private online customer communities that have been most satisfactory in helping marketers generate consumer insights. Communispace’s resume includes riding out the dot-com bust and the more recent recession with double-digit margins and a client retention rate of 90 percent, and additionally, it has recently made the push to become global. Over the last several years, Hessan’s company has been named to the Honomichl Top 50 Market Research Companies, won the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Award for Business Excellence and was named one of Inc. 500’s fastest growing privately held companies.

Hessan, a summa cum laude graduate of Tufts University with an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, has focused her entire career on customers. She co-authored the best-selling book “Customer-Centered Growth: Five Strategies for Building Competitive Advantage” in 1996, and has been recognized many times for her entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation. Hessan won the 2005 Fortune Small Business Best Boss, won the 2009 Boston Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year Award and was named to the Boston Business Journal’s list of Power 50 Most Influential Bostonians. In addition to her work with Communispace, Hessan has contributed her efforts to many organizations such as The Business Innovation Factory, Horizons for Homeless Children and The Boston Philharmonic.

With her track record, the Centers and Initiatives at IBS said Hessan suitably fit the award’s conditions.

“The Asper Center is interested in celebrating the work and success of ‘serial entrepreneurs’ on a global scale. Diane’s work—from the development of Communispace; her leadership and vision in breaking new ground in the social media/marketing sphere—to the company going global (she recently sold the company) is in keeping with this criteria,” the department said.

As part of the student engagement part of the award, Hessan visited Brandeis to speak with students in Professor Grace Zimmerman’s (BUS, HS) “Branding Strategy” course.

Hessan accepted the award in front of colleagues, faculty and students. Her acceptance speech was filled with advice for the audience, advice that had been given to her and had been crucial, she felt, to her success. Hessan’s first piece of advice, from her mother, which was particularly well received by the assembled students, is that there is plenty of time.

“At CSpace, we have 300 employees who are in their 20s, and they are so worried about life and whether their careers are moving fast enough. My response: Life is long,” Hessan said.

Talking about the ups and downs of her career gave the audience a realistic perspective as well as entertaining them with personal anecdotes she included in her advice stories.

After speaking about serendipity, big dreams and remembering to help other people, Hessan reminded us that even someone with an illustrious career such as herself may find oneself doubting their own merit. Her last bit of advice, from the varsity football coach and her 12th grade history teacher at Norristown High School after receiving an award she felt she did not deserve, was to just enjoy the award.

“And so, as I stand up here tonight, there is that small voice in my head saying, really? Of all of the possible global entrepreneurs out there … and then I remember Mr. Petrino. I am honored to have been chosen, and I plan to enjoy this crystal thing,” Hessan said to conclude her acceptance.

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