February 15, 2007

Cornell Grad Cashes In on Candy Business

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It is difficult to imagine an aspect of business that Alison Gerlach ’93 is not involved in; a lecturer, consultant and business owner, she is active in everything from consulting firms to her new candy company, Allie’s Edibles.

Though she graduated from Cornell an economics major and later continued her education at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Gerlach entered Cornell as a student of engineering.

“I was very advanced in mathematics when I entered college,” said Gerlach. “[But] it didn’t compel me.”

Her decision to pursue economics was not based on a particular love for the subject, but on an aversion to the large quantities of reading and writing that other departments assigned.

“I did not love writing at the time,” she said. “I did not want to have to read books and books and books … [Economics] made sense and I didn’t have to write long papers.”

Gerlach was also drawn to economics because, while fields such as law and medicine require an advanced degree, she could pursue business without much more than a bachelor’s degree.

Eventually, Gerlach discovered a passion for entrepreneurship. Working as a strategic managing consultant for Booz, Allen and Hamilton after graduation, she was intrigued by the problem solving aspect of business.

“I became interested in the puzzle of it all,” Gerlach said.

Fascinated by the ability of a small, basic business to become “a 5,000 piece puzzle,” Gerlach decided to continue on to graduate school with the goal of becoming a venture capitalist at a large Fortune 500 company. Today, Gerlach’s interests lie in business building.

“My passion is definitely in building businesses, and I definitely like to approach this passion from every angle,” said Gerlach.

Gerlach’s experience, though, is not limited to her own businesses; her work also includes consulting and teaching others how to optimize their companies.

“I love teaching, I love mentoring. I am still a very active Sloan Mentor … I have several ‘mentees’ that are seven, eight, nine years out of business school that I still mentor.”

In addition to one-on-one mentoring and consulting, Gerlach delivers lectures at sites across the country, including Cornell, where she visited last October.

Gerlach’s latest exploit is Allie’s Edibles, a company that manufactures sweet confections. Though Allie’s is not Gerlach’s first business, as an amateur cook “this is the first company I’ve ever had where I personally built a product.”

Gerlach describes her decision to begin Allie’s Edibles as a backlash against high-end chocolates that appear “too beautiful to eat.”

Rather, she strives to create candies that look “like you really meant to eat it.” For instance, Gerlach opts out of expensive and elaborate packaging for clear wrappers so “you only see what you’re buying.”

Her company was also a reaction to what Gerlach saw as excessively exotic chocolate flavors.

“I’m sort of a die hard classics person so I just wanted candies that were the true comfort flavors.”

In addition to creating mouth-watering sweets, Allie’s Edibles contributes to several charities. A recent promotion donates ten per cent of Valentine’s Day profits to Sports4Kids, a charity that works to bring athletic equipment and physical fitness programs to children across America. Allie’s Edibles has also partnered with schools and community centers, such as the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s Early Childhood Education Program, to create programs in which portions of sales are donated back to these educational institutions.

Gerlach often tells potential business builders that the optimal reason to create a company is to “create a long-term value in your company” — or, in other words, “be in it for the money.”

Though such phrases have drawn criticisms and accusations of self-righteousness during lectures, Gerlach’s goals of making money exceed aspirations of personal success and wealth.

“The most important thing for making money is to put it to really good use,” said Gerlach.

For Gerlach, good use means being able to donate her profits to charities and provide employees with health care benefits.

With such a successful and exciting career already behind her, Gerlach is yet to be exhausted by her work.

“I felt I haven’t reached my pinnacle yet. I’m still young. I still see myself rising.”

For more information on Entrepreneurship at Cornell, please visit www.eship.cornell.edu