Commencement Speaker Paul Holland ('82) Leading the Charge for Sustainable Business and Technology


Growing up in Baltimore, visiting the White House was an easy proposition for Paul Holland ('82) – just an hour's drive down the well-traveled Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

But being selected as a representative of the entire CleanTech industry to deliver an address there alongside President Barack Obama, that took a few more stops in between.

Holland, who graduated from JMU in 1982 with majors in public administration and political science and a business minor, is helping steer one of the nation's leading venture capital firms, Foundation Capital. In the process he's leading the charge for investment in sustainable and clean technologies.

"In today's environment, sustainability and green building and things like the smart grid and all the things associated with CleanTech are very exciting areas," said Holland, who will deliver the commencement address to graduating seniors and their guests at JMU May 9. "Those are the areas that are likely to produce outsize rewards, for both business and the environment."

But just like the new ventures he now helps get off the ground, carving out a path wasn't easy for Holland. Out of high school, he decided to attend JMU after one visit.

"I was walking around, 17 years old, and I just thought 'This is the place for me,'" Holland said. "I fell in love with the school really from the first visit."

While at JMU, he was a member of the Sigma Nu Fraternity, played intramural sports and served as the inaugural president of the Public Administration Society. During summers, he toiled away with some of his fellow classmates in construction jobs, working at Dukes Grill and even joining the crew of a commercial fishing boat.

"I think my worldview while I was at JMU was pretty much restricted to the mid-Atlantic. But afterward, I felt very prepared." he said. "When I look at college, I think it really represents two opportunities for maturation. One is an academic maturation, and I think JMU did a very good job there. The second, which I believe is actually more important, is social maturation, the notion of being able to go there and grow as a person. I thought JMU represented an incredible opportunity for that."

After graduating in the midst of recession and a sinking job market, Holland enrolled in a graduate foreign affairs program at the University of Virginia. From there, he went on to work and study in California, earning an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley.

Stops at some of the world's leading tech firms, including Stanford Research International, Pure Software and Kana Communications helped lead him to where he is now. But he still thinks of JMU as the foundation for his success.

"I'm really fortunate now. Here at my firm, I'm the only non-Ivy League or Stanford graduate. It's a very elite-education environment that I work in," Holland said. "But I brag to everyone about some of the things JMU is doing."

As pleased as Holland was with his own JMU experience, he said he envies the opportunities available to current students. Holland maintains a position on the JMU College of Business Advisory Committee, through which he leads study missions for current business students to visit JMU alumni at companies including Apple, Google and

He also cited JMU's entrepreneurship and sustainability programs as areas where the university has become an early leader in providing cutting-edge opportunities for students.

"Just in general, since the time I've been there, JMU across the board has continued to ratchet its reputation up. Organizations and systems can go up, they can go down or they can go sideways, and JMU's gone up," Holland said. "It's a more valuable degree than it was at the time I graduated, and when I graduated, it was more valuable than it was 10 years before that."

His own career path informs the advice he has for this generation's graduates.

"I would say if I had one priority, it would be to encourage more of what I would call 'outliers' among the graduates of JMU," Holland said. "What I think is inherent in a place like JMU are people who've got the interest, the aptitude and the ability to do something that's one or two standard deviations above the norm and to do something like create new companies, new businesses, even new industries. I'd like to see more JMU grads take those paths, some of the roads less traveled."

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Published: Friday, April 3, 2009

Last Updated: Monday, September 30, 2019

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