By Stephanie Stewart (Colorado 1988)
Lynda Baker Funke, National Committee President of AIESEC US 1985-1986, acknowledges that AIESEC has had a huge impact on the course of her career and her personal life. Though she studied international economics during college, as AIESEC Georgetown Local Committee President she certainly never imagined living for decades in Germany and the United Kingdom and pursuing a fascinating career managing international business projects all over the world.
As AIESEC US NCP, Lynda worked with successful local committees across the country to expand the existing base of high responsibility internships in functions such as market research and finance with companies like Microsoft and IBM. Their AIESEC US team realized a high internship count that was not surpassed for more than 20 years. Lynda explained that managing an organization that by its very nature, being student-run, reinvents itself every few years meant a huge learning curve to the job and creating management processes as issues and opportunities arose. One of her most vivid memories as US NCP occurred at the AIESEC International Presidents Meeting in the Ivory Coast, where they had to address the apartheid-era ban on South African students entering Sweden for International Congress. The AIESEC students worked with high-level government officials in both countries, even involving South African human rights campaigner Desmond Tutu, to find a way for the progressive students to attend. Lynda described it as an “extraordinary experience for people who are 22 years old."
After AIESEC US, Lynda took two unique AIESEC internships through the Venture Management Exchange (VME) program, which involved high responsibility work at some of Germany’s leading public and private sector venture capital institutions. The VME program incorporated a series of lectures and seminars involving students and employers, to develop the next layer of connectivity to the industry and the business environment in which the AIESECers worked. Remarkably, Lynda learned German in order to attend the Venture Management internships. These AIESEC internship experiences undoubtedly laid the ground work for her future European career.
Following an MBA at Harvard Business School, Lynda began working for the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Atlanta. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, McKinsey and the employer of Lynda’s German AIESEC alumnus husband, Ernst & Young, urgently needed qualified staff in Germany. So, in 1991, they moved there to support the huge volume of work involved in reunifying the country and expanding its business sector. “This was an exciting time in Europe -- made even more special for us by the connections to fellow AIESECers. My NCP colleague from Germany as well as a friend from AIESEC Colorado worked for the German Reunification Agency, and a couple of fellow VME participants were working at private firms that sought to invest in the former East Germany.”
In 1993, Phil Murphy, then the head of Goldman Sachs' newly-established German investment bank (currently the Governor of New Jersey), asked Lynda to join their rapidly expanding team in Frankfurt. As Lynda’s McKinsey clients were primarily in the financial services sector, she was excited to move into the management role at Goldman. She described the pace and volume of work in the booming German market as akin to “drinking from a fire hose” yet says that was partly what made it a very rewarding learning experience.
Until 2018, Lynda spent 12 years working for rapidly-growing Cerberus European Capital Advisors, joining as one of the first employees in London. Cerberus is a New York-headquartered private investment firm that specializes in distressed assets of all kinds. Internationally, the firm has become a leading investor in real estate-related portfolios, as financial institutions and governments have sought to manage and dispose of assets affected by the 2008 financial crisis. Lynda explained that investment opportunities in a new country market could drive starting up a local operation and all that entails – understanding regulations, business registrations, getting people and business processes in place. As Managing Director, this was her area of focus – establishment (generally rapidly) and then ongoing administrative management in numerous countries in areas of regulatory, financial, and tax compliance as well as human resources, information technology, procurement, and administrative functions. By 2018, Cerberus in Europe had scaled significantly in Europe, with nearly 170 employees in thirteen companies and multiple business lines.
Lynda says that her “AIESEC gene” relished the business-building opportunities with these firms. “It’s remarkable how skills learned early in AIESEC – like selling in unknown environments, building bridges between nationalities, pursuing solutions in the face of competing interests, creating order out of chaos – have proved to be an enormously useful basis for professional and personal life.”
Lynda is also interested in how governance and management are key factors to institutional success, particularly having seen the huge increase in demands on financial services firms post-2008 – while the growth in regulatory compliance is well-known, the ability to attract and retain the best of the millennial generation is also a challenge. As though international capital investments are not complex enough, the investor also needs to satisfy political concerns and government requirements to ensure that the investment is regarded as beneficial. “My current passion lies in how firms can minimize risks to achieving their goals through good governance and management of their people.”
Lynda serves as non-executive Deputy Chair of the Board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, working closely with Chairman David Furnish in what she describes as a very rewarding role of helping the organization integrate their successful US and UK strategies into a unified approach for global impact. “The Foundation believes that the UNAIDS goal of reducing transmission and eradicating AIDS worldwide by 2030 is achievable. Their existing strength of improving quality of life through diagnosis and better treatment makes the Elton John AIDS Foundation ideally placed to contribute to this mission.”
Lynda was a founding member of AIESEC Life and sat on the Board of Directors for five years until 2015. The opportunity to leverage technology to connect AIESECers and Alumni was the motivating factor for her support of the new organization. “Maintaining your AIESEC network was very challenging years ago. I have seen younger generations of AIESECers create more impact for themselves and for the world due to technological connectivity.” Lynda still feels that there is so much potential power in connecting alumni in the US and around the globe, bringing together people with common interests and skills to contribute to increased international understanding.
This fascinating international career was in part launched through Lynda’s association with AIESEC, her experiences as NCP and through her AIESEC internships. She also married an AIESECer and has 4 multi-lingual children. Her life is a testament to the opportunities that AIESEC can provide and the opportunities to make connections that enrich our lives.