Class Notes: Undergraduate Alumni

Alum’s Spicy Startup Catches the Oprah Effect

Brian Ballan BS’04 is bringing all of his varied experience to A&B American Style (abamerican.com), the hot sauce company he cofounded in 2011, and people are taking notice. The brand’s focus on flavor (not just mouth-searing heat) has gained traction with retailers—and caught the attention of media mogul Oprah Winfrey herself, who included the company’s three-sauce multipack on her 2015 Favorite Things list.

“The last couple of months were crazy. I’m still catching up on sleep now,” Ballan said in an interview in January.

After getting his degree in management systems, Ballan spent several years in the financial world. At Citigroup, he spent four years on the strategy team and was part of the group tasked with addressing the fallout from the recession: “It was a once-in-a- lifetime, hopefully, chance to be at the epicenter of a major financial crisis.”

But while working there, he noticed certain habits in his colleagues.

“There were some who cared about what they ate, but most were eating garbage all the time—and for no reason,” he said. “That struck a chord with me: food should be more considered than it is.”

So Ballan took action. Five days after leaving his position at Citigroup in 2010, he started as a line cook at New York City hot spot Buddakan.

“I didn’t know anything about the food industry except as someone who ate food,” he admitted. “I went from being an avid home cook to cooking at one of the busiest restaurants in the world. It was an overwhelming experience.”

And after a year on the line, he joined forces with a childhood friend who had been making hot sauces at home.

“After I tasted one—and I was a cook at this point with a more educated palate—I was really impressed. It tasted like fresh chili peppers in a way that I don’t think anything else on the market did,” he said.

The two formed A&B in 2011. In 2012, Ballan returned to Columbia and earned an MBA at the Business School in 2013. “I can’t stay away from Columbia. I love it there,” he joked.

By early 2014, the duo had made their way into New York–area retailers, including Fairway and Whole Foods, and had a thriving e-commerce business.

Getting the nod in Oprah’s fabled end-of-the-year list last year was great for business, Ballan said. “We did as much sales in the last two months as we had done in the rest of the year up to that point—and it was also a vote of confidence.” Building on it, in 2016, the brand will launch new products that follow the same principles of high-flavor and high-quality ingredients.

“Now we have very substantial external validation that we can make high-quality products,” Ballan remarked. “The kind you can trust to be the best.”

—by Jennifer Ernst Beaudry

1945
Class Correspondent:
Gloria Reinish
reinish@fdu.edu

1951
Class Correspondent:
Ted Borri
tjb63@columbia.edu

1953
Class Correspondent:
Don Ross
dross52@optonline.net

1955
Class Correspondent:
Leo Cirino
lcirino3333@gmail.com

1956
Class Correspondent:
Lou Hemmerdinger
LHemmer@aol.com

Lou Hemmerdinger writes, “It was a beautiful day when we held the annual Florida Luncheon of the Columbia Class of ’56 at Prime Catch in Boynton Beach, FL. Everyone had a great time meeting old friends and enjoying the food and views of the Intracoastal waterway. We were fortunate to have Lindy Gallagher ’82BUS, president of the Alumni Association of the Palm Beaches, and Dr. Jerry Spunberg ’73CC, ARC Chair for Broward and Palm Beach Counties, speak to us about the admissions rates to the College and Engineering (7%), and describe some of the activities we can participate in as members of the Palm Beach Alumni Association.

Additionally, we spoke of our 60th Reunion in June and the activities planned for the event. But above all, the luncheon provided everyone a chance to relive the Columbia experience with old friends!”

Harold Reisman PhD’65GSAS writes, “In 2015, my wife, Miriam, and I celebrated our 80th birthdays and our 55th wedding anniversary. In January, our first great-grandchild was born in Los Angeles. A boy! In June, we attended the Bar Mitzvah of one of our three sabra grandsons in Israel. We returned to Israel in November for our granddaughter’s beautiful wedding and then flew back to California for our San Diego grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. In early December, we flew to Cape Town, South Africa, where we joined a three-day safari at Lentaba Camp, followed by a cruise stopping in Namibia before crossing the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro. After so many happy events, it was good to return home to Carlsbad, CA, on December 24 to prepare for the start of a new year with more celebrations to come.”

1959
Class Correspondent:
Betsey Altman
bmeca@comcast.net

1961
Class Correspondent:
Doug Kendall
dkjr@roadrunner.com

1962
Class Correspondent:
Marshal (Mickey) Greenblatt
mg840@columbia.edu

1962
Class Correspondents:
Chuck Cole
ccole6250@att.net
Mark Herman
mnh18@columbia.edu

Stephen Rosen MS'64 writes, “Thirty-four years after founding AKRF Inc. and growing the company into a 300-person environmental, planning, and engineering company with offices in four states, I have decided to slow down and split my time between Singer Island, FL, and Westport, CT. I will continue working for AKRF, but only part time.”

1964
Class Correspondent:
Tom Magnani
tm421@columbia.edu

1966
50th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Jack Reilly at jr2813@columbia.edu or 212-851-0734.

1969
Class Correspondent:
Ron Mangione
Ronaldm@archeng.com

1971
45th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Jack Reilly at jr2813@columbia.edu or 212-851-0734.

Daniel K. Moy ’73, MS’75

1973
Michael Best is chief engineer of Taylor Freres & CIE, which served as financial and technical advisor to Generadora Electrica San Rafael, a 30 MW hydroelectric project in Mexico recognized as Latin America Energy Deal of the Year by Infrastructure Investor.

Daniel K. Moy MS’75 writes, “After 42 successful years post–Columbia Engineering working in both the private and public sectors, I have retired and embarked onto the next phase of my life. I graduated in 1973 with a BS in Operations Research and in 1975 with an MS also in OR.”

1975
Billie Tekel Elias writes, “I recently accomplished something I always talked about doing: I published my first book. It’s an homage to my late mother, the most colorful and upbeat person I ever knew. I’m already at work on my next project, a book about my dad, who was (before he died last year at age 94) one of the last people alive to have worked on the Manhattan Project.”

Denise Alevy '76

1976
40th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Star Sawyer at ss3858@columbia.edu or 212-851-2402.

1976
Denise Alevy writes, “My love of travel has led me to become a travel consultant. I am a member of Virtuoso, the by-invitation-only group of elite travel advisors. I have combined the skills I learned at Columbia with my passion for travel. Through my personal relationships in the travel industry I am able to deliver the highest level of service. I draw upon my experience of traveling to over 120 countries. My inside access to hotels, cruises, and tours allows me to take care of my clients’ details so they can focus on the enjoyment of traveling. You can reach me at contactdenise@me.com.”

1978
Class Correspondents:
Larry Chung
lpc34@columbia.edu
Peter Luccarelli
peter.luccarelli@pliplaw.com

1979
Class Correspondent:
Stewart Levy
srlevy@att.net

Alan Reznik writes, “We are finally settled in our home in Milford, and my medical practice merged with three other groups. The larger group has over 40 MDs and I have been elected chief medical officer. At the same time, invention remains my side hobby, with six patents and counting. My latest is on Internet search and represents a shift in search conceptually to help restore serendipity. Life is busy. Elizabeth has continued to work with our dog Sophie doing dog therapy at the Foundation School. She is a founding member of “Food for Kids.” The program provides food for those elementary students already in meal programs who don’t have enough to eat on the weekends and come to school hungry on Mondays. Both are extremely rewarding and worthwhile endeavors. This year Sophie was invited to graduation as an Honorary member of the graduating class. Our kids are now young adults in the real world. Sam has a PhD in organic chemistry from Columbia and works for BMS; Michele works for Gramercy Tech in NYC; and Jane, after graduating UPenn two years ago, has decided to apply to medical school. Exciting times for everyone!”

1981
35th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Star Sawyer at ss3858@ columbia.edu or 212-851-2402.

Class Correspondent:
James Reda
jfreda@jfreda.com

1982
Class Correspondent:
Dan Libby
kdl26@columbia.edu

Following a 33-year career, Jim Reinish retired from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where he had served in several executive positions including, most recently, manager of the agency’s Central Automotive Division. In that position, he received national recognition for his efforts to increase the environmental sustainability of the agency’s multibillion dollar automotive fleet. In retirement Jim has provided consulting services, as director of business development, to the ACF Group, which uses compressed natural gas platforms and offers fleet vehicle conversions and fabrications in addition to advisory services, vehicle maintenance, and fuel management. He also continues to provide tutoring services for standardized tests including the SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. Jim and his wife, Lisa, relocated to Rochester, NY, to be close to their daughter, Ariel BS’10, who, following her recent graduation from the University of Rochester Medical School, as well as her marriage, is a pediatric resident at U of R’s Strong Memorial Hospital. Jim and Lisa’s son, Daniel, is a high school teacher in Virginia. Their youngest daughter, Shelby, passed away on June 20, 2014, following complications from brain surgery. Jim and Lisa have established a memorial in her name at the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge on the grounds of the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, MD. The Safra Lodge provides no-cost accommodations to families of patients receiving care at the NIH Clinical Center. The Family Lodge is designed to foster much-needed rest and relaxation. The Family Lodge is located within walking distance to the NIH Clinical Center, where patients are treated for rare forms of cancer and many other medical conditions. Jim and Lisa stayed at the lodge during Shelby’s surgeries. Members of the Columbia community who are interested in making a donation to the memorial should contact Jim at jim@reinish.net.

1985
Paul Chiu ’94BUS and Laiyan Wong are happy to announce that their son William will be starting Columbia College in the fall of 2016.

1986
30th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Star Sawyer at ss3858@columbia.edu or 212-851-2402.

1987
Rick Penza has taken a position as advisory software engineer at IBM.

1988
Class Correspondents:
Caryn Frick
carynfrick@gmail.com
David Shofi
david.shofi@yahoo.com

Shawn Kolitch '89, MS'90

1989
Class Correspondent:
Shreosee Roy
Shre.roy@att.net

Shawn Kolitch MS'90 made national news in January for orchestrating a rare temporary restraining order and seizure effort at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Acting on behalf of client Future Motion, Inc., he brought a patent enforcement action in Nevada federal district court against Changzhou First International Trading Co., Ltd., which was exhibiting a “Surfing Electric Scooter,” accused of violating patents on Future Motion’s ONEWHEEL selfbalancing electric vehicle. The products resemble a skateboard with one large wheel in the center, using built-in sensors to measure orientation information to move according to how a rider leans. Shawn led two U.S. marshals onto the floor of CES to carry out the court’s seizure order, attracting much interest at the high-profile tech gathering.

1990
Class Correspondent:
Laura Cordani Christopher
zchristophers@gmail.com

1991
25th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Star Sawyer at ss3858@columbia.edu or 212-851-2402.

Class Correspondent:
Radhi Majmudar
radhi@majmudar.org

1992
Class Correspondent:
Janneth Ignacio Marcelo
jannethmarcelo@gmail.com

1993
Class Correspondent:
Herbert Kreyszig
Hek7000@gmail.com

1994
Robert Salazar
writes, “I was recently promoted to Sr. Engineering Manager, responsible for the Airframe and Mechanical Systems Engineering Department at AeroVironment Inc. in Simi Valley, CA. I am looking forward to advancing technologies and products for the ever-expanding commercial and military Unmanned Air Vehicle markets.”

1996
20th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Star Sawyer at ss3858@columbia.edu or 212-851-2402.

Class Correspondent:
Enrico Marini Fichera
em75@columbia.edu

Noha El-Ghobashy MS’00 has been appointed executive director of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation. A mechanical engineer with two decades of experience across the corporate, academic, and nonprofit sectors, she will lead an organization that annually devotes nearly $2 million in program support including university scholarships, K-12 STEM initiatives, and other programs aimed at benefiting the global engineering profession. An advocate for engineers to power social change, Noha has spearheaded collaborations around the world to sustainably help underserved populations. Recently selected as one of New York Business Journal’s Women of Influence, she is the founding president of Engineering for Change, LLC, a global alliance of 15 organizations providing cutting-edge technology solutions to communities in need.

2000
Class Correspondent:
Daisy Chow
daisy@caa.columbia.edu

2001
15th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Beth Manchester at em2702@columbia.edu or 212-854-4472.

Class Correspondent:
Catherine Marcinkevage
marcinkevage@gmail.com

2002
Class Correspondent:
John Morris
jpm53@columbia.edu

Sara Kim '02 and Stephen Muench '02 welcomed their child, Emily.

Stephen Muench and Sara Kim welcomed their second child, Emily, on October 2, 2015, in NYC. Stephen works for Murex and Sara is an endodontist.

2003
Class Correspondent:
Amar Doshi
abd19@columbia.edu

Vincent Piau, his wife, Constance ’02BC, and big brother Adam welcomed baby girl Emmeline Avery Piau on August 12, 2015.

Emmeline Avery Piau, daughter of Vincent Piau ’03 and wife, Constance’02BC

2004
Class Correspondent:
Eric Rhee
eric.rhee@gmail.com

Eric Rhee writes, “Hello everyone from the Class of 2004! This set of updates is exciting, especially since our basketball team has a 5–1 record in the Ivy League!

This set of updates is also special because it’s the baby edition! My wife and I are so in love with our daughter, Madeleine, who was born this past November. In October, Jeanny Yang and her husband had a baby boy named Benjamin. Last but not least, Jay Mung and his wife had their second child, Emilia, in January. Also, double congrats to Jay, who was recently recruited to lead an awesome team of biomedical engineers at Apple. By the next issue, we’ll be sure to have a couple more birth announcements and hopefully some more career updates!”

Eric Rhee ’04 and his wife welcomed Madeleine.

2005
Class Correspondent:
Devang Doshi
devang.doshi@gmail.com

Devang Doshi writes, “It is always enjoyable to reflect back on our Columbia careers, but we are now doing it with amplified hindsight bias, as our alumni relationship is entering its second decade!

I recently got an update from fellow classmate Katy Briggs, who just cofounded a structural engineering company in the San Francisco Bay Area called BASE Design Inc. Kudos to Katy for pursuing her dream of design, and forming a company that focuses on retrofitting existing buildings in such a cultured city. To those of you in the Bay Area that are looking to connect, please reach out to her! Separately I caught up with Girish Gupta, who is currently moving across the country to his dream job at Khan Academy in Mountain View, CA. Girish was previously working at Amplify, where he led the company’s social learning products and created an open crowdsourcing platform for educational video. At Khan Academy, he will be leading content strategy.

Innovation from our class is not limited to the West Coast! Fellow classmate Surag Mungekar, along with a few friends, has created a powerful new educational tool for companies, called Grovo. The company focuses on employing microlearning to help companies educate their workforce, and ultimately, close the digital skills gap. Late last year, I ran into fellow classmate Hiram Lucena, who recently moved to the DC metro area. Hiram, who recently celebrated his 5-year anniversary with wife, Veronica, is an entrepreneur that works in financial and leadership coaching with Transamerica/World Financial Group. He is focused on the underserved community, empowering them to take control of their finances. He is searching for leaders who share a similar drive and compassion to join his mission.

Babies, babies, babies! In the past year, a number of fellow alumni have increased the legacy pool for future Columbia students. Gratefully, my wife and I too have joined their ranks! Congratulations to the families of fellow classmates Michael Thole, Amil Mody, Girish Gupta, Shantanu Jani, and Linnea Goodman!”

Florida SEAS/CC Class of ‘56 luncheon: Standing (from left): Doris Eskenazi, Lee and Gene Seidler, Lisa and Mike Spett, Dina and Gershon Vincow, Fran and Stan Manne, Dan Link, Anita and Louis Hemmerdinger, Judy and Maurice Klein, Jackie and Don Roth; seated (from left): Leila Kazimir, Murray Eskenazi, Don Kazimir, George and Barbara Burton, Margo and Bob Siroty, Ed Botwinick.

2006
10th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Jack Reilly at jr2813@columbia.edu or 212-851-0734.

Class Correspondent:
Nick Jennings
nfj2003@caa.columbia.edu

2007
Class Correspondent:
Tamsin Davies
tamsin.davies@gmail.com

2008
Class Correspondent:
Amy Lin
seas2008.engineeringnews@gmail.com

2010
Class Correspondent:
Heather Lee
meheatherlee@gmail.com

Chelsey Roebuck was named one of Forbes’ elite “30 Under 30” leaders transforming education for his work as cofounder of Emerging Leaders in Technology and Engineering (ELiTE), a youth development organization promoting diversity in STEM fields. ELiTE connects young thinkers’ access to programs for hands-on problem solving.

2011
5th REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Beth Manchester at em2702@columbia.edu or 212-854-4472.

Class Correspondent:
Justin Merced
jmm2238@columbia.edu

2012
Class Correspondents:
Rebecca Frauzem
rfrauzem@sbcglobal.net
Hannah Cui
hannah.cui@gmail.com

2013
Class Correspondent:
Mary Byers
mbyers2202@gmail.com

2014
Class Correspondent:
Victoria Nneji
vcn2101@columbia.edu

Akshay Shah, a business analyst at McKinsey & Company, is among the inaugural group of Schwarzman Scholars, 111 “future leaders of the world” who will pursue a master’s degree at Tsinghua University thanks to a new scholarship program sponsored by Stephen A. Schwarzman, chair and cofounder of the Blackstone Group. Akshay was among 3,000 applicants from 135 countries to vie for the opportunity to attend Tsinghua’s new Schwarzman College in Beijing for an all-expenses-paid, one-year course of study and cultural exchange leading to a master’s degree from one of China’s most prestigious institutions. As an electrical engineering major at SEAS, Akshay conducted research in Professor Harish Krishnaswamy’s Columbia high-Speed and Mm-wave IC (CoSMIC) Lab. The native of Bangalore, India, was class president for the Class of 2014, served as a Columbia University Senator, and helped lead TEDxColumbiaEngineering.

2015
1st REUNION

To take an active role in your Class Reunion activities, please contact Beth Manchester at em2702@columbia.edu or 212-854-4472.