This Q&A is the 18th in a series of profiles on my blog. What’s the criteria, you ask? I think you’re cool and want to ask you questions. Andrew was the very first person I interacted with when I showed up at Chelsea Piers to interview at a company called 2tor more than a year ago. The more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I’ve realized just how impressive he really is. In this Q&A, he shares with us the unique story of how he came to meet some of the world’s most powerful people, and the biggest drivers in his success.
As the short version of your story goes, when you were a child, you used to collect business cards. Then, when you got older, you requested sit-downs with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs. Take us back to the very beginning and explain how it all started, what that experience was like and how it led you to 2U.
When I was 9 years old, I went to work for my grandfather, Jack, who is the CEO of a small defense contractor in Connecticut. I asked a lot of questions, wanting to understand what everyone was doing. I then developed an interest in learning about other companies, so I began writing letters to the CEOs of the biggest companies I could think of (IBM, General Motors, Disney) and the responses I received back were overwhelming. I continued to write more and when I turned 14 years old, I began to ask these executives for face time to learn about their successes, management styles, schooling and more. Over the last several years, I have met over 300 executives from a diverse group of industries. The experiences I have had have been memorable and have taught me a lot about who I am and what I want to do in life.
One of the letters I wrote was to John Katzman, founder of The Princeton Review. At the time, I was a junior in high school taking an SAT prep course through his company in New Jersey. I had great success and improvement, and I wanted to tell him about it. I wrote John an email, we had lunch in NYC, and started a frequent dialogue about college, politics, leadership and entrepreneurship, among many other topics. I later interned for John at The Princeton Review in the summer of 2007, and the following summer he asked me to help him start 2tor (now 2U).
What surprised you most about your interactions with these leaders?
They are all regular people and grateful to meet with someone who was interested in learning from them without an ulterior motive.
What does a “typical” day look like for you?
I travel a lot. My responsibility at 2U is to develop relationships with great colleges and universities and bring them on as partners. My day typically starts early in the morning, getting a run in before work, and usually ends late.
In your role, you no doubt encounter skeptics of online education as a whole. 1) Are there fewer skeptics than there were, say, a year ago? 2) How do you help assuage their fears and apprehensions?
The skepticism has changed since we started 2U in 2008. Today, every great school is thinking about their approach to online education. 2U has a unique model. It is an entirely different conversation with a college or university when you talk about having high-quality asynchronous content paired with live classes and a robust learning platform, including the important social network. Online education is now more than just the for-profits. The notion of having an online program that is equal in every way to on-campus educational classroom instruction is now a reality because of the important work we are doing.
Anyone who knows you always says you know everyone. What tips do you have for someone who’d like to polish their interpersonal skills and build up their network?
Be genuine, that is very important. I love learning and I will ask a lot of questions. Do not be afraid to ask questions because many people are. I find that the more you talk and learn from other people, the better interpersonal skills you will have. Networks are important today. Everyone has a network, whether they realize it or not. Continuing to build that network is important. Surround yourself with people who you find interesting, honest, exciting and thoughtful.
What are you most passionate about?
My family and friends.
Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever met, and why?
My grandpa, Sol. He dropped out of high school during the Depression and worked many jobs to support his family. He also taught me how to win at Monopoly, when we played weekly, and to always save money.
What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am 24 years old.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
From my grandfather, Jack: “Don’t ever change.”
How can people connect with you, both personally and professionally?
Telephone is my favorite but email is always best (ahermalyn@2U.com).