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Alumna Hessan brings Tufts education to CEO’s chair

Published: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Updated: Tuesday, September 23, 2008 21:09

Diane Hessan (J '76) told students  last night that her Tufts education laid a strong foundation for her success as the president of a major company.

Hessan sought to inspire rising entrepreneurs during her lecture, speaking with nostalgia and an engaging sense of humor about her undergraduate experience and subsequent achievements at Communispace Corp., a social networking enterprise.

After she graduated from Tufts, Hessan wanted her company to mirror the excitement and innovation she had experienced as a student.

"I wanted the place to feel vibrant and energetic, like the buzz you feel on campus," Hessan said.

During her speech in Sophia Gordon Hall, Hessan displayed a love for her field. She said tasks that could be daunting become enjoyable for those who pursue what they love.

"If you major in what you love, it's not school, and in business, if you do what you love, it's not work," Hessan said.

Her optimistic view on life and labor impressed graduate student Jean Foo, who is studying music. "She's a role model, understanding life in a broader sense, not confined to just business. I really like the fact that she says we should follow our passion," Foo said.

Hessan emphasized the importance of staying positive and being open to unanticipated forms of inspiration. When running a business, "look for the serendipity," she said. "Sometimes in life, to get the right opportunity, you have to have your head up."

The president and chief executive officer of Communispace highlighted the importance of developing an intimate network of friends and associates. She jokingly suggested dropping the "J-word," saying that you never know what other Jumbos you might meet.

Communispace helps companies connect via online communities with knowledgeable consumers, who provide feedback and share insights on products.

"It's really fun for the members, and companies are hearing stuff they have never heard before," Hessan said.

Companies pay an estimated $300,000 annually for each online community that Communispace puts together.

Communispace allows consumers to play an active role in product campaigns and designs. United Airlines, a Communispace client, recently announced that due to budget constraints, it would no longer serve hot food on international flights.

This proposition evoked such furious responses from the company's online community that the airline quickly repealed its decision, Hessan said.

Communispace boasts a 93-percent rate of contract renewals and an ever-expanding base of clientele, Hessan said.

The audience included some aspiring CEOs, such as freshman Maggie Kullman.

"I really liked the speech," said Kullman, who plans to minor in entrepreneurial leadership.

Freshman Shelby Shultz said the lecture made her excited to be a Tufts student.        

"She makes me appreciate a Tufts education," Shultz said of Hessan.

The Alumni Association sponsored the speech, along with the Department of Entrepreneurial Leadership.

The talk was an installment of the Lyon and Bendheim Alumni Lecture Series.

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