Most boys dream of being professional baseball players. Stephen Westbrooks dreams of owning a baseball team. And not just any team — Westbrooks plans to own the St. Louis Cardinals.
The dream may sound grandiose, but Westbrooks’ self-confidence and affability make it easy to believe he can do anything he sets his mind to.
“I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” says Westbrooks, who will receive an MBA May 18. “I worked in the financial-services industry selling bonds and mutual funds for a while. But I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I wanted harder skills like finance and accounting — skills that could help me put together a business plan and attract startup capital.”
Westbrooks wasn’t sure what kind of venture he wanted to start — at least not prior to starting business school. Then, he came across an article on green building and sustainability that pointed him in the right direction.
“Building green is a capitalist endeavor,” Westbrooks says. “There are lots of ways where saving the environment can be quantified and turned into real dollars. I’m going to do it through real-estate development.”
Soon after starting at the John M. Olin School of Business, Westbrooks joined forces with classmate David Ramirez to found Natural Capital. The company’s first project is developing 15 energy-efficient, market-rate homes in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.
The plan has generated a good deal of excitement. The pair entered several business-plan competitions, making it to the finals of the Olin Cup Competition and winning the William James Foundation competition for socially responsible businesses.
The St. Louis native believes Natural Capital is about two years from having all the homes built and sold.
As with Westbrooks’ vision of owning the Cardinals, it’s difficult to imagine that Natural Capital won’t succeed.
“He takes care of business and does it right,” says classmate Malcolm Simpson. “He’s very results-oriented.”
Olin School of Business
Simpson says he admires the gumption it took to start Natural Capital, although prior to meeting Westbrooks, he hadn’t heard of green building or sustainable design. Now, he is sold on both the concept and the project.
Simpson notes that a huge helping of friendliness, compassion and humor enhances Westbrooks’ talent for business.
Those qualities became clear during a trip to China Westbrooks and Simpson took in spring 2006 as part of the “Global Management Studies” class.
“We often ate dinner at restaurants that served the food family-style, with all the dishes on a Lazy Susan in the center of the table,” Simpson recalls. “Steve would stick a chopstick into one of the dishes and spin the Lazy Susan. When the tray stopped spinning, whoever was closest to the chopsticks had to pay for dinner. It was a great way to bring people together and have a good time. He is always eager to make sure that everyone is involved.”
During his time at Olin, Westbrooks has not been shy about making the most of the school’s resources. In addition to entering the Olin Cup Competition, Westbrooks is active with the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, an organization that promotes diversity in business and business schools. He also is a member of the Regional Business Council.
These experiences provided Westbrooks with an extensive network of people and resources. Westbrooks says the classes he took and his involvement with the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies helped build his skills beyond expectations.
Still, if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s the importance of consulting with others.
“It’s scary to venture out on your own,” Westbrooks says. “I’ve spent most of my time here working on Natural Capital. A lot of my classmates are leaving town for nice jobs, but that’s not for me, not in the long run. I’m already reaping the rewards personally. I think it’s just a matter of time before I will also enjoy the financial rewards.”