Thriving in Business and in Nature

USD Alumna Michelle Moore '85 (BA) in Maui


Entrepreneur-turned-horticulturalist Michele Moore ’85 (BA) knows what it takes to build a flourishing enterprise — both in business and in nature.

After graduating from the USD School of Business with a bachelor’s degree in accountancy, Moore went to work for what is now the global audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG. But a leap of faith found her running one of the world’s leading optimal software organizations as CFO — a venture she embarked upon with her husband and Zemax co-founder, Dr. Ken Moore.

“It took us a little while before we were comfortable leaving our jobs,” she recalls. “I don’t remember which one of us did it first, but we each transitioned to part-time and eventually made the leap.”

Michele, a trained accountant, and Ken, an innovator of optical software design, are the perfect balance of conservative and unconventional approaches, which makes for a thriving, sustainable business. The two started Zemax out of their home, and the rest is history.

“It amazes me that it was just the two of us, barely able to afford an ad in a trade magazine, and now there are employees worldwide,” she says. “It has grown way beyond us.”

In 2011, the Moore’s sold Zemax to a private equity firm. Ken is still involved, but Michele has taken her entrepreneurial ambitions to new heights — the Upcountry region of Maui, in fact, where she is growing protea. She is also part of a horticulture partnership program between the University of Hawaii and Oregon State University. It turns out the challenges are not unlike those faced in business.

“Believe it or not, farming is harder in a lot of ways because there are so many variables that are out of your control,” she says. “The business background is actually really helpful in trying to figure out what makes sense to grow in terms of cost and market demand.”

Splitting her time between Seattle, Maui and, a few times a year, San Diego, Moore has remained connected to her alma mater through various initiatives. In addition to serving on USD’s School of Business Advisory Board and as vice chair of the school’s Leading Change campaign, she and her husband established an endowed scholarship at the USD School of Business as a way to pay forward the generous scholarship she herself received as an undergrad.

“I didn’t think I would be able to go to USD,” she recalls. “It was because of that scholarship and work study I was offered that I was able to go there. It wouldn’t have been in reach for me if not for those factors.”

Moore keeps connected with fellow USD alumni in Hawaii. Last summer, alumni groups hosted events on Maui and Oahu.

“There was a lot of excitement around those events, especially in Maui, because we’ve never had an alumni get-together there,” she laughed. “There aren’t a lot of us, but each year that goes by, there are more and more.”

Whether she’s doing business with optical engineers or navigating the intricacies of Mother Nature, Moore attributes her passion for social and international entrepreneurship to the honest, socially responsible business practices she acquired at USD.

“To this day, the USD School of Business continues to be a school that focuses on doing the right thing,” she says. “Not just in the monetary aspects of running a company, but also being a socially responsible businessperson. It’s doing the right thing that makes you proud of your work — whether that means paying employees a fair wage or treating customers well. And I think that was really ingrained in me at USD.” — Renata Ramirez


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