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Success and fun should go together, no?

Aspinall found experience, range of coursework (and her lost hamster) at Tufts

Published: Thursday, October 5, 2006

Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 13:08

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Jeff Chen

Entrepreneur Aspinall didn't shrink from taking risks and learning from her mistakes.

Mara Aspinall (J '83) delivered a speech entitled "Having Fun While Finding Success" to a crowd of about 60 students and professors in Ballou Hall last night as this semester's Lyon and Bendheim lecturer.

Aspinall was an International Relations major who completed "the fewest amount of credits needed to complete the major" because she took classes in just about every subject offered.

Indeed, she thinks that "experiencing everything" is the most important part of college. This variety of experience gives a person a broad "foundation," which allows them to have fallback career choices if one should fail.

"You have to take risks so that you can learn from your mistakes," Aspinall said. "And having a strong foundation makes it easier to take those necessary risks."

After receiving her Masters of Business Administration from Harvard Business School, Aspinall broke into the job market as the first Director of Marketing for the well-respected Boston law firm Hale and Dorr. She said that only one of her coworkers approached her during her first few hours on the job, just to tell her that he didn't want her there.

Aspinall persevered despite this hostility, and after her first year at the firm was approached by one of her colleagues, who told her, "Congratulations, you've been here a year and I just won twenty dollars," she said.

Six years later, Aspinall had helped the firm to rise from the number six rated law firm in Boston to the first, and had 12 people working beneath her.

From her experiences at Hale and Dorr, Aspinall learned to "welcome diversity but not to get distracted from what really matters," she said.

She moved on from Hale and Dorr to a hemorrhaging, backsliding pharmaceuticals branch of the Cambridge-based biotechnology company Genzyme Corporation. She became the President of the firm after nine and a half weeks on the job simply because there was no one else to do it, she said.

Working at Genzyme Pharmaceuticals, she was "scared to let anyone go at night in case they didn't come back to work the next day," she said.

Nevertheless, she worked to make Genzyme Pharmaceuticals a $100 million company before becoming president of Genzyme's genetics branch, her current position.

Her most important lesson on her road to success? "Cheerleading is essential." Aspinall said. Today, all she had to do is hire the right people and step back, she said.

"I do the whole come in, talk, do a meet and greet, and leave. All I have to do is motivate the right people," she says.

Aspinall concluded by addressing the importance of "dedicating to more than just your job," and how she, in "true Tufts spirit," has donated money and time in the areas of cancer research and other community service projects.

When asked by the Daily about her fondest Tufts memory, Aspinall recalled looking for one of her two escaped hamsters in the then newly-built Hillsides dormitories, which was, happily, recovered.

"We were up - the entire dorm - from midnight until six in the morning," she said, laughing.

For those interested in entering the business world after graduation, it is important to have "hands-on" experiences, she said - hopefully not in quite as literal a sense as her "hands-on" hamster experience in Hillsides.

J.B. Lyon (A '85) and Tom Bendheim (A '85) were roommates at Tufts before deciding to start and a lecture series in which a prominent, successful Tufts alumnus lectures on campus each semester.

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