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Entrepreneurship

How One Sloanie Is Bringing EMBA Students and Alumni Together

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Andy Pechacek, EMBA '12

Carl Dey, EMBA ’21, first heard of Andy Pechacek, EMBA ’12, thanks to a chance encounter with an old friend at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Seven years after they had worked together at Office Depot, he bumped into Chris Penny, EMBA ’17, while boarding the same flight to Dallas. Their conversation serendipitously turned to Broken Crayon, the nonprofit Penny was building with his MIT Sloan Executive MBA Program classmate Todd Huber, EMBA ’17, and their friend and mentor, Pechacek.

Broken Crayon wanted to empower the people of Ghana to overcome poverty by using the lessons in systems dynamics the three Sloanies had learned from the EMBA program. Yet they needed someone on the ground in West Africa, and it just so happened that Dey, a native of Ghana, used to organize regular mission trips there for his old Office Depot team.

Penny knew Dey was the right person at the right time, and with his endorsement, Broken Crayon invited him to join the board in Boston for an initial meeting in June of 2016. That is where Dey met Pechacek for the first time—and when his life was forever changed.

“He became like a father to me,” says Dey. “Andy is a blessing, and I am extremely grateful.”

Finding Community

Years earlier, Pechacek—an accountant and auditor by training—found himself thrust into the entrepreneurial spotlight rather suddenly. The Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, Texas, where he then served as CFO, had lost an overwhelming majority of its state funding overnight. As colleagues and their departments turned to him for help with marketing strategies, business models, and other unfamiliar subjects, Pechacek realized he had to act fast.

He enrolled in an MIT Sloan Executive Education strategic marketing course taught by NTU Professor of Marketing Duncan Simester, PhD ’03, hoping it would provide him with the entrepreneurial tools he needed to succeed. It did, but the class also offered him the far richer experience of joining a bustling community of innovators from industries recognizably similar to, and wildly different, from his own.

“We were discussing the kinds of businesses we were in, whether or not they were right for us, and why,” Pechacek recalls. “It was phenomenal.”

The class fostered the first of many connections that would gradually evolve into longstanding personal and business relationships. Like Simester, who agreed to consult with Region 4 after the course ended, and later encouraged his former student to apply to the then burgeoning EMBA program. When Pechacek’s application was accepted, he found himself presented with a remarkable opportunity—and a series of challenges.

“My wife and I were about to have three kids in college, then I got accepted to MIT Sloan. We had no idea how we were going to pay for it all,” he recalls. “I was working at a government agency at the time, and I wasn’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.”

To further complicate things, Pechacek quit his agency job partway through his EMBA to start The Cooperative Purchasing Network (TCPN) Management Group, which took over managing the governmental cooperative purchasing network he had developed at Region 4. Thankfully, these gambits paid off: Pechacek successfully covered the cost of both his and his children’s tuition and, after graduation, worked another four years at TCPN before it was acquired.

Founding Community

During this time he befriended Chris Penny, a young TCPN executive who had expressed interest in MIT Sloan. Realizing how impactful his own EMBA experience had been, Pechacek suggested that he apply to the program ahead of the company’s acquisition by Provista.

“I wouldn’t have done any of the things that I was inspired to do if it hadn’t been for MIT Sloan and its spirit of entrepreneurship. That ecosystem gets into your blood,” he says. “So I encouraged Chris to apply and he got accepted right before the acquisition. That was nice because it allowed us to include the payment of his tuition in our negotiations, and we were able to get that included in the final deal.”

Todd Huber, EMBA '17

Penny immediately met and befriended Todd Huber, a U.S. Navy veteran who came to MIT Sloan in search of the “next” thing. A “geek at heart,” Huber was excited to explore these possibilities at the school, and following a fortuitous introduction to Pechacek by Penny, he discovered just how empowering this community could be.

“If you give Andy a marker and put him in front of a whiteboard for a few hours, you will end up with a really compelling business strategy,” says Huber. “I’ve learned so much from him and the EMBA program about taking a step back and seeing the big picture. Andy is exceptional.”

As the two EMBA ’17 classmates grew closer, and as Pechacek routinely visited them on campus, the trio’s initial discussions eventually brewed into a series of fruitful collaborations. He and Penny relied on their work with TCPN to found Kinetic GPO, a cooperative purchasing network that assists governmental agencies in the Canadian public sector. Meanwhile, Huber’s military experience led to the defense-focused technology business Nahsai.

“Working with these guys put me in a position to learn more about industries that I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I was qualified to dabble in,” says Pechacek. “That’s been such a great benefit of the EMBA program. It has infinitely expanded my horizons.”

Giving Back

His time as a student, and later as a colleague and mentor to Penny and Huber, also inspired Pechacek to create a fellowship to support EMBA candidates who come from non-traditional working roles—including nonprofits and governmental agencies. Recent fellows like Monica Lee Foley, EMBA ’19, a longtime NASA flight controller and contract negotiator who currently serves as Johnson Space Center’s chief of staff.

“A support system like that is incredible. I was very honored to be selected, but I also knew that I would never be able to repay Andy for his kindness and his mentorship,” says Foley. “He makes me feel like I can fly.”

Monica Lee Foley, EMBA '19

Pechacek’s generosity doesn’t end there. As with Penny and Huber, he met with Foley and his other fellowship recipients during their time in the program, and still meets with many of them after graduation. As Foley explains: “He isn’t just writing a check and walking away. He’s invested in your success.”

Shortly after their first fateful meeting in Boston, Dey and Pechacek became close while working together at Broken Crayon. So much that Pechacek encouraged the former Office Depot executive to apply to the EMBA program.

“Do you know how many people where I come from get the chance that I am getting today?” he exclaims. “How many people can say their tuition was paid for by a stranger? It's uncommon.”

As thankful as everyone in Pechacek’s orbit at MIT Sloan and beyond is for his friendship and guidance, he is just as thankful for them. He is especially gratified with having the opportunity to echo teachers like Simester, who says he is “not at all surprised by Andy’s generosity to the Institute.”

“If you had asked me 10 years ago, I never would have guessed that I would be where I am today,” says Pechacek. “I never would have figured I would be in a position to help these folks.”