All posts by UW Foster School of Business

Hungarian Ambassador Gyorgy Szapary visits the Foster School

Ambassador Szapary photoOn Friday, May 3rd, a group of Foster students and finance faculty members had the unique opportunity to meet with Ambassador Gyorgy Szapary, Hungarian Ambassador to the United States. An economist who worked for the International Monetary Fund and served as deputy governor of the National Bank of Hungary in his previous roles, Ambassador Szapary spoke on the topic of the European debt crisis.  He began by observing that the European debt crisis is really a triple crisis:  it started as a financial crisis, became a debt crisis, and is now a confidence and growth crisis.  The ambassador used the analogy of an iceberg:  the financial crisis was the part that was visible above the water, but many more problems were discovered under the water.

The European response to the crisis has been to impose fiscal discipline (austerity), although there is now a debate about whether to switch to more expansionary, growth-focused policies.  Ambassador Szapary reviewed the economic performance of European countries over the last five years and contrasted it with the US economy. In a wide-ranging question and answer session, the ambassador addressed questions about bank regulation, the prospects for Hungary adopting the euro, the availability of credit to Hungarian businesses, the effect of austerity policies on social cohesion, and the Hungarian constitution.

MBA study tour: reflections on Shanghai

Post by Jess Rush, Global Business Center Assistant Director of MBA Global Programs

IMG_6078 (2)Twenty three million. It’s hard to fathom the reality of that number. It is almost the population of the state of Texas. It is the population of the CITY of Shanghai, China. Nearly twenty five hundred square miles. It is both the area of the state of Delaware and the city of Shanghai. It’s daunting to think that this is just one city (and it’s not the biggest) in a country that is on the fast track to overtaking the US as the world’s biggest economy. Some studies indicate that we are less than twenty years from that happening. For the past twenty years, Shanghai has been growing, no, exploding. (Check out the photos here for some visual context: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/05/shanghai-can-the-fastest-growing-city-in-the-world-keep-it-up/257021/)

It is in Shanghai that the 2013 MBA Study Tour to China took off for a two week exploration of the culture and business of China. Shanghai provides a wonderful introduction to China. It eases one in with fairly clear skies and clean, safe streets. While it’s not as challenging as other cities, don’t be fooled. It’s still a real challenge to take a taxi to the Bund without it written in Mandarin. Just ask a few of us who tried!

While in Shanghai, the Study Tour visited a variety of companies including AGCO, Siemens Healthcare, SKF, Trina Solar and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. Two particularly interesting meetings were with an ex-pat, “C-level” recruiter who left Pittsburg for Shanghai when the US economy took its downturn and with a UW alumnus who created a tech start up and is developing new social networking applications for an increasingly connected Chinese youth.  The MBA students, faculty and staff were treated to a wide array of industries and approaches to doing business both in China and around the globe. We were also treated to a typical Chinese lunch meeting. Over plates and plates of delicious food and steaming cups of tea, we talked hiring tendencies, the importance of human resources in multinational companies and creating community while living abroad.

Part of my experience in Shanghai also included a visit to one of our exchange partner schools-the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance (SAIF). While it also involved being treated to an amazing lunch spread, it was more importantly and opportunity to connect with colleagues and learn more about each other’s programs. SAIF is a relatively new program in a beautiful new building and in a fantastic part of the city near Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Students interested in studying finance could really benefit from spending a term there.

I expected Shanghai to be an interesting learning experience. I did not expect to be so charmed by the city. From exploring Tianzifang and Xitiandi in the French Concession to an adventure under the river to Pudong and up the Oriental Pearl Tower to see the night lights, the city gripped me. Making our classroom the boardrooms, restaurants, streets and taxis of Shanghai expanded the minds and perspectives of students and faculty/staff alike. There is no experience that can substitute for taking one’s learning global, especially given the future of the world’s economy. In our lifetime, the US will be sharing the stage more and more. Our best prepared leaders will be able to sit at that lunch meeting and make deals while serving themselves with chopsticks.

Artie Buerk: the networker’s effect

Artie BuerkCatalyst of ventures and connector of people, Artie Buerk has financed the future of entrepreneurship at the University of Washington.

It began with a gift. An investment, really, in an idea that had yet to be so much as scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

In 1990, Artie Buerk (BA 1958) and his wife Sue (BA 1974) pledged $100,000 to support entrepreneurship at the UW Business School. The problem? There was no entrepreneurship to support. No center, no program, no business plan competition, not even a single class.

A vigorous catalyst of new ventures, Buerk insisted that this deficiency be addressed. Immediately.

“My whole life has revolved around startups and small businesses, the engines of the Northwest economy,” he says. “I felt the UW should have a program to educate future entrepreneurs.”

Buerk found a small cabal of faculty with similar leanings. Most prominent among them was Borje “Bud” Saxberg, then chair of the Department of Management, who had noted the region’s uptick in entrepreneurial activity. “The answer was there,” recalls Saxberg, “waiting for action.”

Artie equaled action. He helped Saxberg’s task force sketch the original Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and taught them how to raise the capital to launch it.

That was the seed. From it has grown a veritable dynamo of entrepreneurial education and activity, centered at the Foster School of Business but increasingly reaching across the University of Washington. Now that dynamo has been renamed the Arthur W. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, in honor of the Buerks’ recent $5.2 million gift to finance its future.

“Artie always says that there’s no shortage of ideas. But we need leaders who can take those ideas and turn them into something valuable,” says Jim Jiambalvo, dean of the Foster School. “With the Buerks’ support of our entrepreneurship center—the Buerk Center—we’ll create more entrepreneurial leaders, and we’ll extend our reach to discover those young people who don’t yet realize they have the entrepreneurial DNA.”

Startup

Buerk realized it early on. His first business was a Seattle Times paper route in his childhood neighborhood north of Matthews Beach.

He studied business at the UW, served as a supply officer on a destroyer in the US Navy, then earned an MBA at the Harvard Business School. Several years with big corporations convinced him that he was meant to build from the ground up.

One of Buerk’s first entrepreneurial challenges came, ironically, back at the UW. In 1968, he was hired to direct its fledgling alumni fund and development office. The bare-bones operation was raising a paltry $40,000 a year. “We were 25 years behind other public universities and 200 years behind the Ivy League Schools,” he says. “To me, it was a real opportunity.”

Buerk studied the field’s best practices, modernized the alumni database and department infrastructure, and increased the donor base exponentially—on his own and with a crackerjack staff. His early hires included Marilynn Dunn, the UW’s influential first vice-president of development, and Robb Weller, the legendary King of the Yell Squad, who could single-handedly light up a crowd of 70,000.

Buerk’s team of strivers got the private support flowing. By 1977, his operation was raising nearly $20 million a year (a legacy that has climbed to an annual $320 million today).

“It was entrepreneurial, something I had a real passion for,” Buerk says. “I’ve never had a job that was more fun.”

Back in business

Buerk’s expertise in raising money became a valuable asset. In the late ‘70s a couple of old friends, Chuck Barbo and Don Daniels, recruited him away to help finance their odd-lot portfolio of small businesses—among them Christmas tree farms, raw land, horse arenas, and a self-storage business.

As president—and an investor—Buerk convinced the founders to focus on the storage businesses, to be renamed Shurgard. And he helped Barbo and Daniels methodically build a nationwide brand, raising $750,000,000 for the expansion through a vast constellation of brokered deals.

Buerk spun off a successful records management company called Intermation and helped take Shurgard public in 1994 before moving on.

His investment had grown exponentially. And now the money was liquid.

So Buerk put it to new work. He founded the Seattle School Fund for Excellence (now the Alliance for Education). And, with a group of partners—“A who’s who of the Foster School’s Advisory Board”—he turned a 401K division of Washington Mutual into Northwestern Trust (acquired by Harris Trust).

In 1997, he co-founded the private equity firm of Buerk Craig Victor, now Montlake Capital. It was the heyday of the Internet boom, when capitol gushed toward anything with a .com suffix. But Buerk was a skeptic. He chose to invest in firms that demonstrated solid fundamentals—proven products/service, realistic projections, genuine leadership. Over the next decade-plus, he opened a new branch of legacy, molding growth companies and mentoring their leaders—from Door to Door Storage to Blue Dog Bakery, from HaloSource to SOG Knives.

People person

Whatever the business, Buerk’s true business has always been people. His vast personal network is legendary, and ever growing.

“Artie knows everyone, and everyone knows Artie,” says venture capitalist Neal Dempsey (BA 1964), a fellow founding champion of entrepreneurship at the UW.

It is, perhaps, because Buerk takes networking more personally than most. He had to. “My father died when I was 11, and it was just my mom and me,” he says. “If I was going to have a family, I knew I was going to have to build it out of friends and relationships.

“And that’s the way I look at it: not just a network, but my extended family.”

It’s a philosophy with a long-term perspective.

“Some people think of networking in terms of what they can get out of it,” says Kris Lindquist (MBA 2011), the director of strategic business development at Amazon.com who met Buerk through Foster’s MBA Mentorship Program. “But Artie gives twice as much as he takes. He pays it forward.”

He’s the consummate connector of people who show intelligence and initiative.

“If you want to know who to talk to in an industry or about a specific topic, Artie will typically know someone off the top of his head,” adds Sara Weaver (BA 1991, MBA 2001), a Buerk Center advisor who once worked at Buerk Craig Victor. “And he is very generous with his contacts and resources. He takes a real interest in helping people grow and succeed.”

“Building and maintaining relationships makes your life a lot more successful and valuable,” adds Buerk. “The greatest thing, to me, is to see the success of someone you’ve helped.”

Bow Down to Washington

Artie BuerkMost of Buerk’s connections seem to triangulate with the UW. He splits allegiances with the Harvard Business School (he’s been a dedicated class secretary for 50 years). “But my blood is purple and gold,” he confirms.

It’s a loyalty forged during busy, happy days as an undergrad. Bussing in to Roosevelt High School from Seattle’s northern frontier left little time for involvement. So Buerk resolved to engage in the life of the UW in every possible way. He studied business in the classroom, but learned to lead all over campus. Managing the Husky football and basketball teams. Training with Naval ROTC. Running the campaigns of the student body president and vice president. Serving as senior class officer, president of the Oval Club and member of Fir Tree.

Buerk was named “Outstanding Senior Man.”

He graduated, but never really left. After his decade as the UW’s first professional fundraiser, Buerk was a trustee of the UW Foundation and chair of the UW Development Fund. He taught personal finance through UW Extension for years. He’s a past president and board chair of the UW Alumni Association. He serves on the advisory boards of the Information School and the Foster School, having chaired the Foster board through the final years of the last capital campaign. He’s also mentored for years at Foster, and is on the board of the UW Angel Fund.

For these many decades of service—multiplied by the thousands he inspired to do the same—the UW honored Buerk with its 2007 Gates Volunteer Service Award.

The recipient claims he has got more than he’s given: “I’ve never had any association with the U that hasn’t been fun and successful,” Buerk says. “It’s hard to replicate that record in any other element of life.”

Center of attention

And few UW touchpoints have been as satisfying or successful as the mature, innovative center that has grown from Buerk’s somewhat speculative investment two decades ago.

To a brand building expert, “Buerk Center” has a nice ring to it. It certainly says something about the institution.

“There’s no one more deserving to have his name atop the center than Artie,” says Neal Dempsey, whose own name graces the building that houses it. “It’s a hugely meaningful gift, and a hugely meaningful name. Artie is the best there is.”

True to form, Buerk wants the center—already in the Entrepreneur top ten—to be the best there is. He applauds the work of director Connie Bourassa-Shaw and her staff to elevate the original vision to an incredible vibrancy of practical activity and education. And he hopes this new infusion of resources from the naming gift fuels the center’s ongoing expansion throughout the UW system.

“The UW brings 45,000 brilliant people to a 640-acre spot to work every day,” Buerk says. “Our job is to turn that brain power into businesses that will be good for their founders, good for the university, and good for the Northwest economy.

“If we can integrate entrepreneurship into the fabric of the University, engage all kinds of students and faculty in the process, get them thinking of great ideas as potential businesses, we will have something that’s very powerful.”

Power is what the Buerks have provided the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.

“A naming gift is the best endorsement,” says Bourassa-Shaw. “It’s an amazing vote of confidence. It says, I so believe in you that I’m proud to have my name associated with you for decades to come. It says, I’m betting money on your future. It says, I trust the center to do the right thing for students, for the UW, for Seattle. This is Artie’s legacy.”

The latest and greatest of many.

The 2013 International Business Club Summit- a student’s experience

Post by Vi Nguyen, CISB student

Vi Nguyen IBC

Thank you to the Global Business Center for giving me for the opportunity to attend the third annual International Business Club (IBC) Summit 2013 at the Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University. The IBC had prepared an intense two-day summit for the purpose of gathering international business clubs from across the U.S. to share their best practices and develop deeper global awareness. This experience was very inspirational in many ways.

Prior to the event, each student had to fill out an IES (Intercultural Effectiveness Scale) survey. The idea focused on the likelihood of your working effectively with people whose cultural backgrounds differs from yours. This survey related to one of the sessions that were hosted on the first day, which was an assessment debriefing by Dr. Larry Inks, Department of Management and Human Resources, Fisher College of Business, The OSU. Dr. Larry Inks explained the purpose of the IES and emphasized that this assessment allows for an individual to seek out growth opportunities, to grow and develop based on our results. The IES provided us with the information on areas where there is room for improvements and to consider. He further mentioned that our position as college students is the richest environment for global reach.

The next event was the best practices presentation where each club had to give a 10-minute presentation on their club’s best practices and why they think their club is doing a good job for its members. It was then followed by an international trivia/jeopardy quiz where the questions were based from the issues of The Economist magazine. Additional questions were from general awareness and knowledge on global issues, geography, politics, cultures, etc. To end the first night of the summit, we had dinner and the chance for students to network with each other. We also had the honor to have Kent Larsson, currently a retail marketing consultant for The Gordman Group. Mr. Larsson shared his senior positions in marketing, merchandising, and strategic planning during his 30 years in specialty and general merchandise retailing companies such as Big Lots. He also spoke about the challenges of working overseas and of course the rewards of it.

The second day was an intense simulation on making great global decision based on the topic “China in Africa: Savior or self-interest”. This simulation was created by the Foreign Policy Association that requires robust discussion and consensus building on international topic and was facilitated by Shannon McAfee, Columbus council on World Affairs (who is also from Washington). After reviewing the topic, each team was to debate their positions on elements of this topic and present their points of view to all the participants. To end the summit, we had a keynote speaker: Mr. Patrick Terrien, President and CEO, Columbus Council of World Affairs. We had the opportunity to hear Mr. Terriens biography and how he was exposed to globalization. He then led an informal discussion on the topic of The Business of Global Awareness.

Through this experience, I had the opportunity to learn compelling best practices from other clubs across the U.S., build global competitiveness through survey feedback, test my knowledge with Economist quiz, network with peers also interested in global careers, participate in Foreign Policy Association global simulation and gain a competitive edge by expanding global awareness.

 

Digital marketing with a global team- a conversation with Justin Calvo, CISB alum and CIBER advisory board member

Justin CalvoJustin Calvo is the Global Director of Digital Marketing at Avanade, a global Microsoft technology integrator. He is a 2002 alumnus of the Foster School and the Certificate of International Business Studies (CISB) program, and is a member of the Global Business Center’s CIBER advisory board.

Tell us about Avanade. How did you get your start?

Avanade is a global Microsoft technology integrator.  Standing on the shoulders of our parent companies, Microsoft and Accenture, Avanade delivers insight, expertise and innovation across all industries to realize business results. After spending two years at a Seattle venture capital fund, the opportunity to work for a young company with incredible vision and backing was an entrepreneur’s dream.  One of the things that attracted me to Avanade was the idea that the company was truly global on the day it opened its doors for business a few years earlier.  Being global has always been an important part of the culture at Avanade.

I’ve had many roles in my 10 years with the company – responsibilities for delivering projects, managing global customers, directing an industry team and currently incubating Avanade’s Digital Marketing business focusing on helping marketers drive business value by improving the customer experience.

What is it like to manage a global team? What are some challenges you’ve faced, and insights you’ve gained?

Managing and being part of a globally connected team is one of my favorite parts of working for Avanade. The opportunity to work across a diversity of customer business problems with dynamic global teams and leading innovations is a large part of what drives me each day.

One critical lesson I learned early on at Avanade was that global means much more than simply working across continents.  It’s about having the scale and depth of insight and expertise to address complex, multi-faceted business situations. This past winter I had the opportunity to travel to Asia to spend time with some of our customers’ marketing leaders.  Perhaps no one inside a business understands how to support global needs like marketers, who increasingly require greater scale and insights to reach dynamic consumers and markets.  Meeting these diverse needs and doing it at the speed of today’s consumer requires a global approach.  The Chinese and German marketplaces are two extreme examples where global skills are necessary to navigate a complex ecosystem country-specific marketing channels as in China’s case, or to ensure ongoing compliance with Germany’s strict consumer privacy laws.

How did your time at the Foster School influence your interests and career?

The Foster School of Business and the CISB program gave me a strong foundation and framework to address business challenges in a global context.  Learning about how the global economy operates was essential to understanding my role in it and planning out my career.  Spending time studying and working abroad reinforced my passion for global interactions.  One of the most rewarding surprises I hadn’t fully considered or appreciated during my time at UW were the connections I built with classmates and teachers.  My classmates have gone on to drive incredible impact in global business.  Staying connected with many of them has allowed me to see the global economy and my career path from various angles.

What is one thing that you would tell students about the world of global business?

In 2000, when Avanade was established as a global business and I was still preparing to join the workforce, most new companies viewed being global as a destination.  This has changed.  Today every business must act globally.  The emerging start-up must consider the scale at which their innovation will address problems and the Fortune 100 enterprise must take stock of whether they have the agility they require to keep pace with the dynamic markets they serve.

As long as companies remain transfixed on growth – global will be a requirement.  Use this time in the Foster School of Business to gain valuable knowledge about the underpinnings of the global economy, and also to consider the tools and connections you will require to address the complex, multifaceted challenges that lead to tomorrow’s global opportunities.

Focus on career services drives MBA placements, ranking

Interview with Naomi Sanchez, Assistant Dean, MBA Career Services

Q: In the recent U.S. News ranking of MBA Programs, Foster’s placement rate for 2012 graduates three months from graduation was higher than any other school in the top 25. Why did Foster do so well this past year?

Naomi SanchezNaomi Sanchez:  We started with great students. Beyond that, we had a very intentional program this year. We offered boot camps to prepare students for their interviews. We reached out to employers that had not been affiliated with Foster before and they began to recruit with our office. We brought on competencies that are necessary for the competitive work world, including people with background in corporate marketing, HR and finance. So we all have industry backgrounds that enable us to see what employers are looking for, and to make that very, very important match of students and graduates with corporations and companies – both large and small companies. It helps that we have a great mix in the Pacific Northwest of both entrepreneurial opportunities as well as the more traditional Fortune 100 companies. And, of course, we’re right next door to some technology giants, with Microsoft and Amazon in our back yard. Because Foster has such a great relationship with companies like these, we’re able to create networking opportunities that other students would not have.

Q: You’re an advocate for getting students focused on the search for internships and jobs early in the MBA program. Why is that important?

NS:  We face the same challenge that career professionals across the country face today: How fast can we prepare our students for the work world, knowing that our students are here because they are interested in career advancement? Once we focus on that, we have to look at what we do here in MBA Career Services as something that begins even before they enter the classroom. We are looking at touch-points prior to the start of classes in the fall. We’re going to be taking a “fast-start” approach to reaching newly-admitted students prior to September. If you think about it, the profile of the new employee is based on what they did prior to the MBA program and what they are able to talk about in January of their first year. Students literally have only a few months in which to prepare for that first interview, which could determine whether or not they are employed the following year. So we need to get a head start on working with students because of the competitive nature of MBA hiring today. It’s as simple as that.

Q: You’ve developed a system of working with students to help them effectively define their personal brand and market themselves to employers. Can you describe that system? Why has it been so effective?

NS:  What we did this year was a bit different. We made a concerted effort to get close to students. We instituted a peer advising program for second year students, who provide services and counseling to first-year students. For that to be effective, we had to understand what the second-year students were facing in terms of their career issues. We offered five grants to clubs to promote career services within their memberships. We also offered a professional development course that focused on recruiting, case interviewing and behavioral interviewing, business etiquette, business writing – all the essentials for a student being able to be successful in the recruiting process. We implemented a new software system that helps us to track every attendance of a student to any of our events. It allows us to note achievements, changes or challenges a student might have that our coaches can work with. I think that gets us into a different relationship with students, which helps us help them find the opportunities they’re seeking, because they often change over time. So there are a number of different initiatives I think have brought us closer to students.

Q: If I’m a prospective MBA student who is considering applying to Foster, what do I need to know about the career services offered at the school.

NS:  If you’re a prospective student, I think you’re coming in at a time when the leadership of the school has realized the importance of career development, and has put resources in this area, and has built a world-class team of people that cares about every individual student. We provide advising, training for the recruiting process, help with salary negotiations, and outreach to the best companies that hire MBAs today – globally — and we are there to make sure that every student has the optimum opportunity to find a great job. As a result, I have full confidence that every student is capable of finding a great job – not just any job – but a great job.

Driving Porsches, Chevys, and camels?

Amidst the Bentleys, Mercedes, Porsches and the real fancy cars in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, all may not be as well as it appears on the surface. We learned that a very large percentage of Emeriti’s doesn’t graduate high school and many are functionally illiterate. Yet, when they do leave school – most can and do apply for a government job and of course get it – being paid $90,000, while also receiving 60 days vacation a year, housing and car allowance, all utilities paid for and many other benefits including healthcare. So why learn! As one Emeriti entrepreneur told us, most Emiratis who want to be entrepreneurs, and they are few and far between, cannot compose an email or structure a sentence! On the other hand, there are Emeriti’s that you could compare to the best and brightest in the world. So as someone said, they have a ‘software’ problem not a ‘hardware’ problem that the government’s rulers have to address to sustain this amazing growth over the next 100 years, let alone 50. In this regard, a most telling saying we heard about the past and future in this region goes as follows: My grandfather drove a camel, my father drove a Chevy, I drive a Porsche and my son drives a Bentley, but likely his son will drive a camel….again.

$22,500 awarded to environmental/cleantech innovators

PolyDrop_forBlogOn April 4, twenty student teams from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest pitched their innovations at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge. Now in its fifth year, the UW EIC challenges students to develop prototypes that solve today’s biggest environmental problems. Teams address today’s energy, urban agriculture, recycling, built environment and water-related problems with novel solutions that have market potential. Each year, five teams are awarded prizes ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. Congratulations to this year’s winners:

$10,000 Grand Prize: PolyDrop (University of Washington)
PolyDrop manufactures additives that transform regular coatings (think paint) into conductive coatings that open up a world of opportunity for carbon fiber composites in transportation industries. The transportation industry is looking to move towards using light-weight carbon fiber materials to reduce fuel consumption and decrease carbon dioxide emissions. However, carbon fiber composites accumulate a static charge that will interfere with a vehicle’s sensitive electronics. PolyDrop solves this problem by providing a means to dissipate  static electricity with a viable conductive technology.

The $10,000 Grand Prize was sponsored by the UW Center for Commercialization.

$5,000 Second Place Prize: Pure Blue Technologies (University of Washington)PureBlue_forBlog
One barrel of extracted or spilled oil generate an average of seven barrels of contaminated water, or produced water. Produced water must be disinfected to meet EPA regulations, even if it is just going to be disposed. In the U.S. alone, 353 billion gallons of highly contaminated produced water are treated and disposed each year – that’s enough water to fill Lake Washington 4 1/2 times! Pure Blue Technologies has developed a unique water disinfection technology that is safer, smaller, and more cost-effective than existing solutions.

The $5,000 Second Place Prize was sponsored by Puget Sound Energy.

Three $2,500 Honorable Mention Awards

Sunscroll (Western Washington University)
Sunscroll is a solar charged LED light and USB charging station.

EcoMembrane (University of Washington)
EcoMembrane is developing a new technology for preventing scaling and fouling of desalination and wastewater treatment membranes using ultrasound.

Upcycle (University of Washington)
Upcycle has an enhanced version of a bio-briquette maker that transforms bio-waste into fuel for cook stoves.

Check it out!
The UW Environmental Innovation Challenge (and a few of these winning teams) were featured by:
Xconomy
Seattle PI
King 5’s Evening Magazine.

EveMagStill_EIC2013

Democratic versus authoritative leadership

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management. 

Personally, I believe in more inclusive, transparent and democratic leadership, even at Universities for God’s sake. However, when you witness what has been created in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there is something about tribal authoritative and authoritarian leadership that cannot be ignored.  Such leadership builds cities very quickly, efficiently and majestically…well, depending on your taste in architecture. Indeed, the parallels in the world that I could think of where similar leadership has had such positive impact are in places like Singapore and Chicago under the leadership of the Mayor Daley’s. When there is chaos to be controlled and a myriad of interests to be aligned, sometimes authoritarian coupled with authoritative leadership—if they know what they are doing, can be very effective. Yet, to sustain this model of society and leadership is tough, in that it oftentimes in the case of a Dubai or Abu Dhabi depends on the choice of the ‘right son’ or the ‘right brother’ in the succession plan.

Ken Denman: One step ahead of the innovation curve

The current Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership, Ken Denman (MBA 1986), talks about his passion for leading edge technology, adapting to business cultures abroad and computers that can detect emotions.

Ken DenmanYou’ve led at a string of successful tech companies. How have you navigated your course?

Well, I got my MBA from the Foster School in 1986, and I know I should probably have a more quantitative answer at the ready. But the truth of it is that I followed my passion. I wanted to be in on developing and launching technologies that would impact the way we work, live and play. I thought, “I need proximity to those kinds of businesses, that’s where the opportunity lies.” It’s built in to all the old adages: Why do people rob banks? That’s were money’s kept. Or, Go West young man! Essentially, all of these sayings are about aligning with opportunity.

Can you talk about some of the plans you have as Fritzky Chair?

Absolutely—I want to make the Foster School an even hotter bed of innovation than it already is. I organized a conference that focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. One of the sessions was called “Social 2018” and the presenter was Harvard Business Press author Nilofer Merchant—called “the female James Bond of innovation.” It’s a great example of my vision, which is to change the way we think about opportunity. We all know that the social era has changed the business landscape, and many of the old rules no longer apply. But the impacts are only starting to be realized. Corporate behemoths no longer have the advantage. Smaller, focused teams that are nimble and can conceive of an idea, make a plan and launch it from various points across the world, hold the edge.

The more exposure Foster students and faculty have to the different pieces of the innovation engine, the more prepared the upcoming generation of business leaders will be.

You seem pretty bullish on innovation—is there a downside of being on the cutting edge?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how the things I’ve been involved in for the past 15-20 years have created jobs, but also contributed to the loss of existing jobs. How do we create enough work in the US? We’re going to be deeply challenged in this regard—the political talk about bringing jobs back isn’t likely to work. The economics aren’t pragmatic, and the kinds of skills needed will be very different.

The need to reorient our economy and educational aspirations is paramount. We need more knowledge workers, yes, but we have to push certain kinds of vocational training. One kind of job is going away, but there are new jobs enabled by that very technology. For example, maybe we need fewer machinists now, but what about the programmers and technicians who enable the machines? We don’t need to push everyone toward college, but the newer paths aren’t as clearly defined.

You’re currently CEO of Machine Perception Technologies. Can you talk about what the company is working on?

MPT is a software-based company working to merge emotion detection and machine learning to take personal technology to a new level. Emotion recognition is a logical progression toward the enhancement of applications like online education, e-commerce, gaming and market research. The ability of a device to discern your mood—are you confused, frustrated, angry?—will improve your experience by adapting to where you are.

Think about the billions of dollars spent on market research. Empirical evidence shows that people don’t tell the truth. Not because they’re trying to “lie,” but because of social biases, internal confusion, difficulty articulating feelings, etc. Think about the ability of cognitive recognition systems to account for this!

The power of this space is that the team we have for machine learning is a bunch of behavioral and cognitive scientists who are intent on getting machines to learn across a wide range of demographics. If you believe in this definition of artificial intelligence, you can say this is no longer science fiction. We’re working on how to extend the necessary processing power into the cloud so it can work on mobile devices.

What do you think is next for you?

The way I’ll get to the next thing is by following this line of inquiry I’ve had about the concept of adjacencies—analyzing “where good ideas come from,” not incidentally, the title of Steven Johnson’s great book on the history of innovation. Great innovations often come from previous innovations applied in non-obvious directions. I’ve been applying this notion to the mobile space and some of the other areas in which I’ve played to see if I can see what’s next. It’s a process.

Right now, this role (Fritzky Chair) is helping me focus, evaluate new ideas, and test my strategy. I’ve got a group of students flying down to my company to deliver the final readout of a field study focused on market entry strategy and competitive analysis. The students are absolutely amazing. I expect I’ll learn as much or more from them as they do from me.

The Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership serves an academic year at Foster in an advisory role. This faculty position was specifically designed to put a distinguished business leader on campus to share their expertise with faculty and students.