For many corporate leaders, career success - the byproduct of initiative and intellect - often has unlikely beginnings. For alumnus Jeffery Housenbold (BSBA ’91), president and CEO of Shutterfly.com, the path to the executive suite included a combination of tenacity, skill and timing. Growing up in a household where a college education challenged the family budget, Jeff persevered against the odds. When a friend’s father suggested he was smart enough to earn a scholarship, Housenbold applied to Carnegie Mellon - ranked then and now as a Top Ten business program - and was accepted into the undergrad business program, receiving the scholarship support he thought would have been a long shot. Today, he heads an online photo publishing giant that Wall Street analysts estimate will generate over $180 million in revenues during this fiscal year.
“Though I came from such humble beginnings, I knew there was nowhere to go but up,” says Housenbold. “College was that first crucial step up the ladder I wanted to climb. Carnegie Mellon’s approach to solving problems in an analytical fashion gave me a foundation for fact-based decision making I’ve used in every company I’ve worked.”
Juggling a double major in economics and business at Carnegie Mellon, Jeff earned 4.0 GPAs nearly every semester while working two jobs to help fund school expenses. After graduating with high honors and becoming an Andrew Carnegie Society Presidential Scholar from Carnegie Mellon, and then a Dean’s Fellow from Harvard Business School’s MBA Program, Jeff embarked on a fast-track career with technology companies.
Prior to joining Shutterfly, Housenbold was vice president of business development & Internet marketing at eBay, vice president & general manager at AltaVista, and the chief operating officer of Raging Bull, the award-winning community finance portal. He also served as vice president of corporate development at WinStar Communications and as manager and founder of Accenture’s Media & Entertainment Strategy Group.
“One of the smartest things I ever did was to embrace the Internet and foresee its impact on the future of business,” says Housenbold. “I was first exposed to it at Carnegie Mellon where we used its predecessor, the ARPANET, to communicate electronically in ways that few schools were doing at the time. The vision of every company I’ve worked for has been to use online technology to enable customers to take part in whatever process, service or product it offered.”
That theme of innovation is pervasive at Shutterfly, where customers upload, edit, print, and share their digital memories with friends and family. Shutterfly’s user-friendly technology platform and in-house manufacturing capabilities simplifies the popular use of self-created photo books, calendars, greeting cards, and gifts.
“In two-and-a-half years, we’ve grown Shutterfly from a $50 million company that was a distant second place, to a global market leader with innovative new products and services. We have more than tripled revenue and taken the company public,” says Housenbold. “Shutterfly competes against large players like Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Wal-Mart and Costco, yet we’re the market share leader and the only profitable company in our category.
"We’ve succeeded by focusing on what we’re good at, involving our customers in the business and going beyond their expectations to build and keep loyalty. We did that at eBay when we were just a tiny company competing against giants like Microsoft and Yahoo. We did it at Raging Bull competing against Yahoo. Like David against Goliath, the key is to emphasize your strengths and out-execute the competition.”
The father of three young boys and a self-described photography “pro-sumer”’ Jeffrey laughs, “My wife and I spent nearly $1,900 at Shutterfly on pictures of the kids the year before I joined the company. This job combines my passion for photography with my business skills in building great consumer brands.”
Asked about career advice for graduating college seniors, Jeff smiles. “First, to do what you love because it makes going to work every day a lot more fun. Second, persevere and stick with your dream no matter how hard it gets. And lastly, when opportunity knocks, never hesitate to open the door and embrace that next challenge.”