Alumni in Action
“To support teachers in changing the lives of our students, to build a school that a community can be proud of and know that over 2,000 students are getting better access to opportunities because of my work: This is the job I've always wanted.”
Richard Billings - 2006 Bay Area
Spotlight on Richard Billings
Rich began his career as an economic consultant, performing strategic analyses of regional energy markets. After consulting, he taught high school math and coached soccer in Washington, D.C.
Rich graduated from Haverford College with a degree in Mathematical Economics, where he was a Regional All-American in soccer and NCAA Postgraduate Scholar. He received an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Outside of the classroom, Rich served on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and is the Academic Co-chair for the 2006 Net Impact Conference. Rich Billings
CFO, Rocketship Education
Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellow, Bay Area
Fellowship Placement: Envision Schools
Education: MBA, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
High-Stakes Impact: From Advising Fortune 500 Companies to Transforming Thousands of Lives
Education Pioneers Alumnus and Northwestern MBA Richard Billings finds the path to his dream job as CFO for Rocketship Education
If you knew Rich Billings as a kid, you wouldn't be surprised that this math whiz and mathematical economics major wound up taking a course called "Schools in American Cities" as a junior at Haverford College. After all, growing up, Rich had once pinpointed his dream job as becoming a high school math teacher.
He thought the class would be interesting; he didn't expect it to change his life.
"It blew my mind," he said. "We studied the achievement gap in the United States, how demographics often determine access to opportunity, and dug into how the system for funding public schools perpetuates the cycle of poverty for disadvantaged students."
While Rich had always had an interest in community development and social justice, for the first time, he realized that education was the civil rights issue that would shape his professional career. He was hooked.
"I wanted to write my college thesis on public education reform," he said, "but as a math/economics major, it was hard to find the right angle. After endless conversations with my advisor, I decided to analyze how increasing investment in urban public education can transform the economic future of a region."
Despite his newfound passion, though, upon graduation Rich headed in a different direction.
"The traditional career path for my major was to go into consulting or investment banking," he said, "and I followed it. I knew that I would get back to education at some point, but I wanted to explore the corporate sector first."
Over the next three years, Rich served as an economic consultant for Charles River Associates and PA Consulting Group, where he performed economic and financial analyses for Fortune 500 energy company clients, and advised them on asset valuations and risk management strategies.
While he spent his days performing high-stakes economic work, at night, he devoted his time to another kind of important work: tutoring disadvantaged kids in Washington, DC.
"It started to become very clear what I really valued," he said. "The more time I spent tutoring, the more I knew I needed to change how I was spending my time."
After some soul searching, Rich made the decision to become a high school math teacher, his childhood dream. Standing in front of the blackboard, teaching pre-calculus and calculus, Rich was exactly where he thought he wanted to be.
Teaching was infused with all of the inherent benefits he'd expected, including connecting with kids and making a real impact on their lives, but Rich was disappointed to discover firsthand that the stereotypical challenges of the teaching profession were, in fact, hard realities.
"The structured professional development and support network that were critical to my success in consulting weren't there for me as a teacher," he said. "I couldn't see a clear career path, and had little sense of how resources were allocated or how decisions were made. Coming from a corporate environment, it seemed alien to me. And frustrations with teaching are even more prevalent in inner city schools, the very places we need the best teachers."
He also couldn't escape the realization that some of his best skills had been shelved.
"There were so many aspects of my background and experience that I struggled to bring into the classroom," he explained. "I knew I wanted to stay in education, but I wondered whether I could make a bigger impact by supporting teachers as an administrator."
Rich returned to school to pursue an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. He didn't yet know how he would find his place or path into education leadership, or even what opportunities existed. But then, he hadn't yet heard about Education Pioneers.
"Education Pioneers was a great discovery," he said. "The Graduate School Fellowship gave me the opportunity to transition into an impactful role, to interact with a high-performing peer group, to be exposed to 30 to 50 other education organizations, and to hear from industry experts and leaders."
During his summer Fellowship with Envision Schools, Rich revamped the organization's financial model into something that was usable, scalable and could drive strategic decisions. He saw the impact of his work almost immediately, when he helped the organization secure an $8 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at the end of his summer internship. After graduation, Rich returned to Envision Schools where he served as Director of Finance and Strategic Planning, and among other achievements, secured $2 million in working capital funding for the organization and managed the start up of Envision Schools Colorado.
Rich now serves as Chief Financial Officer for Rocketship Education, a national nonprofit elementary charter school network dedicated to closing the achievement gap. In this role, Rich runs the nonacademic functions of the organization, including operations, finance, legal and facilities, splitting his time between supporting Rocketship's five existing schools and leading the planning to open 30 more schools over the next five years. What's more, he is exactly where he wants to be.
"To support teachers in changing the lives of our students, to build a school that a community can be proud of and know that over 2,000 students are getting better access to opportunities because of my work: This is the job I've always wanted."
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