John West.

John West, M.B.A. ’95, is the incoming president of the Harvard Alumni Association

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Making connections, building community

4 min read

Incoming HAA president aims to bolster relationships across the alumni community

John West, M.B.A. ’95, says teamwork, bridging differences, and consensus-building have shaped his approach to life — and will remain guiding principles when he begins his term as president of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA). As he prepares to step into the role on July 1, West plans to draw on his experience uniting people to strengthen the alumni community in this time of crisis and historic change.

Especially in turbulent moments like these, West said he believes it’s essential that all alumni feel included and welcome in the Harvard community. “The relationships we make across the HAA as we connect across our diverse experiences are phenomenal,” he said. “The alumni community is here to support you. If you need help, I guarantee your fellow alumni will be there.”

West’s vision for the year ahead is an extension of his commitment to “One Harvard,” bringing alumni from all of Harvard’s Schools together to play an even more catalyzing role in shaping a better world, as well as to connect, support, and learn from one another across perspectives. “This is needed more today than at any other point in our lifetimes,” he said.

West is no stranger to building inclusive communities, online and beyond. Eleven years ago, he launched Team Whistle, a digital media company that produces sports and entertainment content for young audiences focusing on core values such as teamwork, empathy, and giving back to others. West said one of his priorities as the HAA’s president for 2020‒2021 is to humanize digital approaches to connection and strengthen meaningful personal relationships among Harvard’s increasingly diverse alumni community — a focus that has taken on new urgency with the current unrest in the social, economic, and public health spheres.

Alice Hill and John West.
Current HAA President Alice Hill ’81, Ph.D. ’91, with John West, who assumes his role on July 1.

A self-described Army brat, West lived in several states before his family settled in Attleboro, Mass., after his father’s retirement from the military. Growing up, he was passionate about problem-solving and gravitated toward math, science, and athletics, finding focus and discipline as part of the crew team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After graduation, he worked at an environmental engineering firm to pay off his college debt before applying to Harvard Business School (HBS).

While at HBS, West took advantage of the opportunity to take classes across Harvard’s professional Schools, learning from classmates and faculty at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School to tackle problems from multiple viewpoints. “Walking across the bridge from Allston to Cambridge every day showed me the best of Harvard,” he said.

After graduating from HBS and successfully launching two companies, he decided to step back and focus on parenting his three children with his wife, Danielle, A.L.M. ’01: Jack, 15, Danny, 12, and Georgia, 9. Invigorated by the people he met from all over the world through the Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs Shared Interest Group (SIG), West was motivated to take on roles of increasing responsibility as a Harvard volunteer, including serving on the Memorial Church Advisory Board, the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, and the HAA Board of Directors.

In his role as president, West said he is committed to finding new ways to help alumni connect digitally — a goal that took on more urgency this spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the University’s traditional gatherings online. “Recent graduates have grown up in a world where social media is their platform. It changed who they are, how they relate to people, and how they build friendships,” said West. He said his goal is to help empower all alumni — across generations, backgrounds, and around the world — to use technology to enhance engagement.

“John’s warm and inclusive approach will really speak to Harvard alumni who are looking for ways to come together to serve their communities,” said Alice Hill ’81, Ph.D. ’91, who completes her term as HAA president this month.

West credits Hill, as well as past HAA presidents Margaret Wang ’09 and Susan Morris Novick ’85, with offering their time and advice to help prepare him for the position. “I’ve had the privilege of meeting incredible people who are passionate about Harvard,” said West. “I’m so grateful for their perspectives as we seek out new opportunities to build and support inclusive communities.”