Category Archives: Alumni

PhD alumnus wins Poets&Quants teaching award

Greg FisherGreg Fisher (PhD 2012) recently made Poets&Quants “Top 40 Under 40” list. The list recognizes the rising stars in academia who represent elite schools from around the world. To determine who should receive this award, Poets&Quants asked business school officials, faculty, students and alumni for their top picks.

Fisher, who received a PhD in entrepreneurship and strategy from the Foster School in 2012, is now an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Suresh Kotha, professor of management at the Foster School and Fisher’s PhD advisor, said, “In addition to being a great teacher and researcher, he was one of those really focused PhD students who knew what he wanted. Rarely do you see a PhD student who is so focused and knows what he wants from his PhD program in such a short period of time.” Fisher was also one of the few PhD students at the Foster School to receive an invitation to teach in the Executive MBA Program—positions typically reserved for senior faculty.

In response to winning the award, Fisher said, “It was nice to receive recognition for teaching because you often don’t know if you’re having an impact.” He also said he was honored to be part of the cohort of professionals who also received the award.

When teaching, Fisher brings the content to life. For example, at Foster he taught the business case about HomeGrocer, one of the first online grocery delivery services. In addition to analyzing the case, Fisher invited Terry Drayton, co-founder of HomeGrocer, to his class to talk about the rise and fall of the company. At the Kelley School, he teaches a business case about a bowling alley that goes through a turnaround. To make the case more memorable, Fisher teaches the class at a bowling alley. It’s experiences such as these that Fisher hopes provide a deeper, more impactful learning experience for his students.

Fisher also made the point that becoming a teacher who has impact doesn’t happen overnight. He said, “I’ve been teaching since 2005 and am always looking for ways to improve.” According to Fisher, the five years he spent at Foster as a PhD student served as an apprenticeship. He had the opportunity to see many excellent teachers in action, and would spend time figuring out what they were great at and how to emulate that in his classroom. He also said his time at Foster gave him the confidence and insights necessary to be able to experiment in the classroom.

According to Poets&Quants, “A few common characteristics cut through the whole group: Most, if not all, of the top profs leverage their youthful energy and Generation Y knowledge to create an engaging classroom environment. They naturally build genuine and meaningful relationships with their students, and they pursue another profession or serious hobby on the side.” Fisher’s serious hobby is running. He has run 45 marathons, 16 ultra-marathons and completed three Ironman Triathlons. As for upcoming races, he’s running a marathon in May and doing a triathlon this summer.

Learn more about Greg Fisher and the other “Top 40 Under 40” professors.

When the path isn’t always clear: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene on leadership

“A key part of leading is deciding. Deciding with imperfect data. Deciding when there isn’t always a path that’s clear.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene says she came to this particularly astute conclusion while working as a youth football referee. Like her positions at Microsoft and Drugstore.com (she served as vice-president) it provided her with two essential lessons; 1) the importance of decision making when there are still unknowns and 2) a leader must always provide a vision and a path forward.  Further qualifying this belief, the congresswoman stated, “With any organization, people are most effective when they have that vision going forward and they know where they’re heading and they know why they’re heading in that direction.”

A Foster MBA Alum, Congresswoman DelBene says she was inspired to run for Congress during her time at Global Partnerships, a micro-finance non-profit that provides loans to small business owners in Latin America and the Caribbean. After her first run for Congress in 2010 (in which she was unsuccessful) she was appointed by then governor Christine Gregoire to serve as the Director of Washington state’s Department of Treasury. In 2012, she successfully ran for a congressional seat in the newly drawn 1st district. Sitting on the House Judiciary and House Agriculture Committees, DelBene now deals with issues such as copyright laws, biotechnology and more.

Using terminology such as ROI (return on investment), the congresswoman routinely uses her business experience when approaching policy-making. Pointing to the seemingly unending federal budget debate, DelBene believes that too many of her colleagues are plagued by short-term thinking. She argues that Congress should approach budgeting concerns like successful CEOS, focusing on investment and long-term strategy. She points to the indelible benefits and returns from federal programs that invest in early learning, unemployment insurance, research and infrastructure as examples.

During her time at the podium, the congresswoman also stressed the importance of being good stewards of policy and citizen engagement, urging audience members to work in conjunction with business and community leaders to pressure Congress in to action.

Watch some highlights below:

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the monthly Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

You’re in charge–now what?

EMBA Panel
Left to right: EMBA student Christy Bermensolo and alums Vetri Vellore, Kevin Conroy, and René Ancinas shared insights at the Forum on Leadership and the Executive MBA.

Three Foster Executive MBA alumni and one current student, all of whom are CEOs at mid-career, shared their experiences on the challenges and rewards of leadership with an attentive audience of students, prospective students and alumni on January 29.

The four came to their leadership roles in different ways. Kevin Conroy (EMBA 2004), president and founder of Blue Rooster, has been self-employed since 1990 and has started several companies. René Ancinas (EMBA 2009), president and CEO at Port Blakely Companies, and Christy Bermensolo (EMBA 2015), CEO at Engineered Software, Inc., assumed leadership of family-owned companies fairly recently–Christy just last year. Vetri Vellore (EMBA 2006), CEO and co-founder at Chronus Corporation, started his company in 2007 after a successful 14-year career at Microsoft.

René and Christy found getting comfortable in the leadership role especially challenging. Both said the advice and guidance they received from mentors inside and outside their organizations, including EMBA classmates, had been tremendously helpful. They both quickly realized their responsibilities required the ability to manage change. For René, the challenge was growth–unusual for a family business, he said. For Christy, it was the need to adopt a style of management different from her parents’ intensely hands-on approach.

All the panelists said finding mentors who offer sound advice and counsel was a key priority, no matter how long they had been in the lead. Kevin spoke about his recent experience recruiting a board of directors, and how much he had learned in the process of preparing to take his business to the next level. René looked to his board, experienced staff members and colleagues in the Young Presidents Organization. Velore sought out executives who he considered 3-5 years ahead of him in their development.

Christy offered some insight into the reason all these leaders had chosen to enroll in Foster’s Executive MBA Program. Preparing to assume her new role, Christy–an engineer by training and analytical by nature–developed a spreadsheet listing expertise that she figured she would need in order to handle the CEO job effectively. She quickly realized her list closely matched the curriculum of the Executive MBA Program. That made one of her first big decisions an easy one.

Undergrads meet alumni at networking night

The Foster Alumni Relations team hosted a networking night as a way for alumni and current undergraduates to connect. Twenty-five alumni and 100 students attended. The event allowed young alumni to contribute to the Foster community by connecting with students and sharing their stories, while also building their professional network with other Foster alumni. As for the students, Zak Sheerazi, Assistant Director of Career Development at the Foster School, said, “This event gives them better insight into different careers as they move forward from Foster. But the ultimate goal is to connect current students with past student in order to help them navigate the transition from academics to the world of work. And potentially down the road have a mentor.”

Check out our photo blog of the event below.

Undergrads meet alumni at networking night

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Hit the ground running

Hayden Krall (BA 2013) is the youngest salesman at Barrier Audi in Bellevue. He’s also one of the best, consistently exceeding his sales goal by several vehicles. Under the title of brand specialist, Hayden is in charge of new sales for Audi, which means his job consists mostly of face to face interaction and building relationships with his clientele, most of whom are a generation or two older. When asked if the age difference between himself and his clients is a hindrance, Hayden takes it in stride saying, “It’s about using what you learn. I feel prepared.”

When it was time to pick an academic focus, Hayden was drawn to what he refers as the “tangible” outcomes of the Sales Program. “Getting placed at a job, as a junior [in college], that’s all you want.” When asked about his success, Hayden points to his professors and time spent role-playing in the Sales Program, stating, “[in sales] you hit the ground running.”

Although, he’s already achieved so much as a brand specialist, Hayden’s goal is to one day start his own business. For prospective sales students, Hayden advises them to “Take it seriously [and] have fun.” He also notes the prestige that comes with completion of the Sales Program, stating “Employers look at you and can tell that you’re ahead.”

Find out more about the Sales Program at the Foster School of Business here.

On breaking the mould

Guest post by Robert Mercer-Nairne (MBA 1971 and PhD 1989)
Dr. Mercer-Nairne actively seeks “to define how human organization forms and evolves as an expression of evolution as a whole.” His work can be found in novels like The Letter Writer, set in Bellevue, WA, to more recently in regular contributions to the Huffington PostMercer-Nairne currently resides back home in Scotland where he continues to grow beyond his original focus on organization theory.

Dr. Robert Mercer-NairneProbably the greatest challenge facing the developed world is growth. This is not least because we are unclear what the word means. We have various statistical definitions, such as the augmentation of our gross domestic product—essentially the level of our economic interactions with one another—but our gut instincts tell us that such measures may not address the quality of growth. One example of that is our increasing awareness that the lifestyles we enjoy today may be adversely affecting what our environment will be tomorrow. The post-war notion that we can look forward to a better future for ourselves and our children has become decidedly tarnished.

Probably the greatest challenge facing the academic profession right now is how to escape from its own departmental rigidities so that the challenges facing the human world can be looked at afresh. Are these problems connected? I think so. The expression Breaking the Mould refers to doing something differently, after it has been done in the same way for a long time. In the scientific world, the physicist Thomas Kuhn called these mould-breakings ‘paradigm shifts’. Because of their fundamental nature, they inevitably upset a lot of careers laboriously built upon the old way of seeing things. Consequently their heralds, like the three kings, are invariably dismissed as being weirdoes, troublemakers or just plain delusional.

In most walks of life, the line between maverick and idiot is narrow. Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff is a buffoon whose comic utterances often embody a wisdom which would be unpalatable to the status quo without humor. In his short story The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hans Christian Anderson uses the innocence of a child to puncture the crowd’s acceptance of the emperor’s sartorial magnificence (two swindlers make him an ‘invisible suit’ that can be ‘seen’ only by the worthy and naturally his sycophantic subjects see it even though there is nothing there). Philosophers occasionally debate whether the sane are insane and the insane sane. And even the scientific quest for objective reality can be subverted by the context within which a scientific question is phrased.

My own area of interest – the nature of structure in the evolutionary process—spans every discipline imaginable qualifying me for the accolade insane idiot, although I would prefer maverick. What I am fairly certain of, however, is that while we need the mould—without structure we have nothing – we must pay far more attention than we do to the process whereby moulds are broken and new moulds are formed. And unless you believe in a deterministic universe (and I certainly don’t) space must be left for the creative impulse to work—in politics, in business, in academe.

In the twentieth century we allowed ourselves to be led seriously astray by the false assumption that there was such a thing as inevitable social progress which overrode any moral notion of individual right or wrong. Structure always and everywhere is a function of context. In the conscious, human world, that context is shaped by our values. Start there and growth suddenly becomes limitless and sacred cows (or sacred moulds) less sacred.

First ascent

Eddie Bauer CEO Michael Egeck is guiding the legendary Seattle outdoor-clothing retailer back to the summit

Michael EgeckOn June 5, 2012, outdoor-clothing company Eddie Bauer named Michael Egeck (MBA 1983) as president and CEO. In the press release, Egeck is noted as a “highly respected industry leader” with “a proven track record of building leading apparel and outdoor brands.” It might seem a strange career path for a guy who accepted a position with Rainier Bank after graduating with his MBA, until you learn he never showed up for his first day on the job.

The weekend before he was supposed to start at the bank, Egeck attended a party hosted by Richard Lentz and Steve Ritchey who had recently launched Union Bay Sportswear. “They were so passionate about what they were doing that they talked me into going to work for them,” says Egeck. “One of the things they said, and I still find it to be true, is ‘there’s a certain thrill in making stuff.’ To see somebody in your jacket, your shoes—making real, tangible consumer products is very gratifying.”

Making stuff

The thrill in making stuff led Egeck on a leadership trajectory that has included oversight of some of world’s most recognizable brands, including 7 For All Mankind, The North Face, Vans, True Religion and Columbia Sportswear. But the thought of leading Eddie Bauer was never too far out of sight.

“In 1992, I wanted to work here. I could see them going off track. I applied for a position and didn’t get it. Then I went to work for Columbia Sportswear. In 2006, I tried to purchase Eddie Bauer with some investors and was turned down again,” says Egeck. A couple of years later, the company filed for bankruptcy and was purchased by Golden Gate Capital. They approached Egeck, then CEO of Hurley International, with the offer. “I wasn’t looking, but I have a long history with this brand. And, I felt I was 0-for-2, so to get the opportunity to finally work with it, I couldn’t resist.”

Bauer from birth

Egeck was born and raised in Seattle. His grandfather, father, and great uncles were all Seattle firefighters and outdoorsmen, and so is his brother. Eddie Bauer was a brand with which he grew up.

“I remember my first Eddie Bauer Skyliner jacket. It was a hand-me-down from my dad. I wore it all the way through college,” says Egeck, smiling. “I also slept in an Eddie Bauer sleeping bag when I lived in a houseboat on Lake Union during college because it had no heat.”

Having accepted the job, Egeck conducted brand research with current and lapsed customers and with people who had never purchased from Eddie Bauer. The results were the same. All viewed it as an authentic, Northwest, outdoor company, something Egeck says the company had veered away from.

Outdoor focus

When asked early on what his turn-around strategy would be, Egeck says it was an easy answer. “I said, ‘We don’t have any choice. We have one strategy available to us. The consumer is giving us one path to walk down and we’re just going to go down it while executing on the highest level possible.’”

That path has included an overhaul of messaging and design, and a concentrated effort to produce cutting-edge new products, all while being consistently and passionately outdoor-focused.

A look at their Facebook page or a glance in a store window is reflective of that spirit. So are the recent product awards and accolades coming from sources like Field & Stream, Men’s Journal and Outside.

When asked about his first year with Eddie Bauer, Egeck is measured. “One of the members of the board was remarking about all of the things going well (profit will more than double this year). I told him that inside the company we say it’s ‘directionally correct.’ We’ve got a long way to go and lots of things to work on, but we’re headed the right way, and we will reach our goals.”

No surprise, that direction has included a reintroduction of the classic Skyliner jacket.

The world is her oyster

Thao Hong

Thao Hong has made a grand life and living in service of global economic development

Barely a decade out of school, Thao Hong (BA 2001) has made enviable progress on a world-class bucket list.

Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Check. Study pastry in Paris. Check. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Check. Learn to Tango in Buenos Aires. Check.

Call it a perk of her itinerant years in the US Foreign Service—the job, itself, a significant item on Hong’s life to-do list.

“I always wanted to work in diplomacy,” she says. “Not only to engage in political discussions, but also to build the cultural and economic ties that support peace around the world—and preempt situations like the one my parents found themselves in.”

That was the War in Vietnam, from which they were displaced for years before finding their way to the US. Without money, connections or a word of English, they made careers in social work and built a decent life for their two daughters in Federal Way.

In Thao, they inspired a profound sense of mission.

Shooting at the moon

Hong came to believe that diplomacy and international trade represented the most direct path to prosperity and peace. If an international posting with the State Department was her “shoot-at-the-moon” goal, she bet that studies in finance and international business at the Foster School would be a suitable preparation.

They were. After getting her start working at Nordstrom and Expeditors International, she landed a job in the Foreign Service and entered its economic track.

Hong trained in Washington, DC, and then served in Taipei, Taiwan, and Shanghai, China. Her first role was in consular work, but she quickly advanced to representing US interests in trade negotiations with government officials and business leaders in the areas of currency, banking, transportation and textiles.

Experiential learning

Hong—who speaks fluent English, Vietnamese, and Mandarin, and basic French and Japanese—relished the immersive experiences. “That exposure has made me appreciate how important it is to understand the context of foreign cultures,” she says. “The world is not so US-centric any longer. And trade is a vibrant force that pulses with or without us. I still believe it’s what facilitates peace around the world.”

The job also has been her ticket to see that world. “In the Foreign Service you end up with a network of friends who have sweet places to live across the globe,” she says. “If you can get there, you can enjoy them like a local, almost.”

After Shanghai, Hong completed the Advanced Economic Studies Program at the Foreign Service Institute, capped by an externship with the Boeing Company. When Boeing offered to retain her, she decided it was time to come home.

A new mission

Hong found an excellent fit in Boeing, America’s largest exporter whose fastest growing markets are international. “We live in an increasingly interconnected world,” she says. “And it’s wonderful to be a part of this great company that helped facilitate international travel, trade and diplomacy. We’re philosophically aligned.”

Hong began as director of international strategy, leading a team of functional experts to chart the enterprise global strategy of Boeing Commercial Airlines, Boeing Defense Space & Security, and Engineering Operations and Technology.

Now she is being groomed to lead the next generation of Boeing sales, and learning the aerospace industry from the wheels on up.

“Boeing is a genuine American icon,” Hong says. “I see why people are so proud and get so emotional about the company and its products. It’s contagious.”

Travel tips

Though her scope is global, Hong is tied to the Foster School, mentoring students as they work toward a Certificate of International Studies in Business and dream of their own role in the global economy.

Her advice?

Make home out of wherever you are. Check your ego and learn from the people you meet. Learn the local language. And have a curious mind. “That’s how you find yourself on Kilimanjaro or the Inca Trail or cooking in Paris,” Hong says. “I was curious and wanted to try it out.”