Category Archives: Leadership

Men in cheaply made gorilla suits: How Avvo used the internet to disrupt the legal business

Mark BrittonDuring his introduction at the November Leaders to Legends Breakfast Series, Dean Jiambalvo jokingly referred to Mark Britton as having “the most dangerous job in the world.” Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo, a lawyer rating and legal Q&A forum website founded in 2006.

A lawyer with the firm Preston Gates & Ellis, Britton began working with major area clients like Microsoft and its then budding travel spinoff, Expedia. After experiencing what he dubbed the “meteoric growth” of Expedia while serving as their executive vice president of Worldwide Corporate Affairs, Britton decided the travel associated with the position was too much and moved to Italy with his family to teach finance for his undergrad alma matter, Gonzaga. Interestingly, he found that even though he was no longer practicing law, friends and family were still calling him for legal advice. It made him wonder, “Why are all of these smart people lost when it comes to the legal system?” At that time, Britton notes, there was no “Expedia like resource where people could go to get their questions answered.” Thus, Avvo–short for avoocato, the Italian word for lawyer–was born.

Like EBay, Amazon and TripAdvisor, Avvo is rooted in an internet culture where the “expectation has been built where you can converse with your friends [online] about a product and rate it.” And with the advent of Google, Britton adds, we have become accustomed to asking for, receiving and discussing information with zero cost to the consumer. A practice Avvo continues, providing their rating system and Q&A forum to customers for free.

Besides ratings and forums, Avvo provides advertising for lawyers. During his presentation, Britton referred to the “yellow page mode” of advertising. He found that even as recently as nine years ago, lawyers were spending $1 billion dollars in outdated phone book advertising. And to add insult to injury, the advertisements themselves were not good. To the amusement of the audience, Britton included some of the worst offenders, including ads that featured scantily-clad women, men in cheaply made gorilla suits and tricked out cars straight from a ‘Pimp my Ride’ rerun. Jokes aside, Avvo definitely hasn’t gone without controversy.

Towards the end of the lecture, Britton touched on some of the challenges Avvo has faced, including a lawsuit filed against Britton and Avvo a mere nine days after the company launch. Although it was later thrown out, the suit, paired with a year-long stagnation in online traffic and negative press, took a toll on the young CEO. However, Britton believes that the uphill battles built mental fortitude, stating, “The risk of failure, when you’re trying to cut something out of nothing, is approximate.” He also reiterated the importance of self-assurance and steadfastness, saying, “You need to believe and that’s the key. You have to be obsessed with something.”

Avvo currently has six million monthly visits, 160,000 lawyers listed, 10,000 advertisers and 117 employees. When asked about Avvo’s future, Britton stated, “We have a company trying to buy us but we’re not spending a lot time thinking about it…we know we can double our business.”

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

Investing in life

Gary Furukawa (BA 1981) is the chief investment officer for Freestone Capital Management, a wealth management firm. Recently, he spoke at the Foster School about his career path, gave an overview of the financial markets and shared his personal insights on a range of topics, including what Freestone looks for in potential employees, books to help you develop your own investing framework and more.

Furukawa started his career with Deloitte & Touche in Seattle as a Certified Public Accountant. In 1982, he joined Smith Barney as a financial consultant, eventually rising to senior vice president. In 1999, he founded Freestone. He has been a highly successful investor along the way, investing in a wide variety of asset classes: distressed real estate (1980s and again after 2008 crisis), private equity (early 1990s) and thrift conversions (1988-present). He was also an original angel investor in Amazon.com and aQuantive.

Top insights from Furukawa’s talk:

  • Most useful courses he took at the University of Washington: English/writing courses, sociology and psychology courses and behavioral finance courses. Furukawa said, “Learning about the flaws in the way you think is very powerful and will help you make better decisions.”
  • Your life = the sum of your decisions.
  • Through your education, you should try different things until you find something you really like. It should be something you have the potential to be good at.
  • Self-knowledge, obtained through reading, thinking and life, is the most important knowledge. Learning really starts after you graduate from college.
  • Wealth is primarily created three ways (in the U.S.): owning a business or owning stock in a successful business, owning real estate for a long time or inheriting money.
  • Your pay check funds your lifestyle, but in order to build wealth you have to save and invest your money.

Watch video highlights, which include his ideal employee traits, investment lessons, recommended reading and life insights.

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

Pivoting for success: a CEO panel on adapting for growth

DempseyPanelWhen most people hear the word “pivot” they imagine the agile, effortless movement of an experienced athlete. But, for CEOs like Chet Kapoor, Christopher Cabrera, and Joe Ruck, pivoting in the business world–making sharp turns in strategy to capitalize on new opportunities–is anything but effortless.

On Thursday, November 21, in a room packed with students and faculty, a panel of three CEOs discussed their theories and hands-on experience in adapting their businesses for growth. The event was moderated by Professor Charles Hill and hosted by Neal Dempsey–the Foster School’s visiting 2013-2014 Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership–who brought the three Silicon Valley CEOs to Dempsey Hall.

The discussion began with each CEO describing how they knew when the time was right to “pivot”–i.e., redefine and reconfigure their business–and how they managed to enact such drastic change. Afterwards, the floor was opened for audience questions. Prompted by students, the CEOs launched into a discussion on the difficulties of managing both internal and external buyin. Cabrera emphasized the need for decisive action: “You’re the CEO; you’re on the ground; you have to make the decisions.” Kapoor mentioned transparency as an effective method of earning internal and external trust, and Ruck underscored the importance of having a core team of true believers.

The three CEOs combined brought over a half-century of experience to bear in the discussion. Kapoor, CEO of Apigee, has spent more than 20 years in leadership positions in innovative software and hardware companies. Cabrera, founder, president and CEO of Xactly, is a seasoned executive with more than two decades of successful senior management experience at both early-stage and public companies. Ruck, President and CEO of BoardVantage, held marketing and executive positions at several software companies prior to leading his company from being a startup to its current position as a technology leader.

Over the course of the evening, Cabrera, Kapoor, and Ruck discussed topics such as how to foster a culture of open dissent, how to react when pivoting goes awry, and what the life of a CEO is truly like. They offered a diverse array of strategies and opinions; however, on the subject of the challenge of maintaining a competitive advantage, the three CEOs professed similar beliefs in maintaining momentum by being open to new opportunities. “You don’t win a race by looking back. You win by looking ahead,” Kapoor said.

Forty chances

buffettHoward G. Buffett and his son Howard W. Buffett spoke at the Foster School on November 5 about their recently published book, Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World. The talk was moderated by Linda Nageotte, president and CEO of Food Lifeline. The premise of the book and the talk was that farmers typically have 40 crop seasons during their lives. Howard G. Buffett remarked that’s a short, finite period of time and there are no do overs. Therefore you need to focus and have a sense of urgency and be willing to take risks.

Howard G. Buffett is the son of investor and philanthropist, Warren Buffett, and he received $3 billion from his father in 2006 for his foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to assist the one billion people on earth who lack access to food. The foundation focuses its efforts primarily on food security, water security and conflict mitigation. During the talk, Buffett made the point that food is more powerful than money in many parts in the world. He said, “You can use food to avoid conflict, but hunger causes conflict and conflict causes hunger.”

In addition to being a farmer and philanthropist, Buffett is also a photographer. In addition to Forty Chances, each member of the audience received a book which featured photographs Buffett took while traveling the world. He explained that photography is a way for him to document and prove what he sees. He also mentioned the importance seeing the problems he was trying to solve in person. He emphasized it’s important to show up. He said in order to understand something you have to feel it, smell it, see it and experience it. He said for him, there is no other way to gain that level of understanding.

Leadership Team: aiding students advance their professional careers

Guest post by Charissa Chin, Vice President of the Leadership Team

Each quarter, the Leadership Team (a student organization that partners with the Consulting & Business Development Center) offers a Flagship Consulting Program, where students provide consulting services to local businesses. During these seven-week projects, students work in teams and receive guidance from professional advisors from Ernst & Young.  This spring, our students gathered research and developed recommendations for The Seafair Foundation, Sealaska Corporation, and The Skin Firm.

The Seafair Foundation, which is part of the organization that hosts Seattle’s Seafair Festival, focuses on charitable services through its scholarship programs and community outreach. The student team’s goal was to expand brand recognition for the Foundation and other programs in their portfolio. Besides providing recommendations on how to increase membership for Seafair’s Ambassador Program, the student team also created an event, Inspire Seattle, which projects to attract more than 500 participating high-school students.

Sealaska Corporation, a $275 million dollar Alaska Native Corporation, with subsidiary operations in various industries, tasked their student team with researching potential markets where Sealaska could gain market share and increase profits, while still maintaining their company’s core organizational values. The team identified various industries such as athletic apparel, green retrofitting, deconstruction, and niche recycling as attractive markets where the company could potentially flourish.

The Skin Firm is a Seattle-based company that offers high-quality skin care products and services. The primary objective for their student team was to develop a marketing strategy to grow their customer base by 4% monthly. In order to reach this goal and increase overall revenue, the team recommended strategies to strengthen the firm’s local advertising, social media campaign, and service packaging.

Our consulting students came away feeling extremely accomplished as they learned how to apply their classroom knowledge in real-world business situations and helped small business owners become more successful.  Students gained insight into what consulting is and had the opportunity to expand their network with Ernst & Young professionals. Through the Flagship Consulting Program, students improved their analyzing, problem-solving, time-management, and teamwork skills.

Personally, I was most excited to see how this experience has helped our students grow and ultimately advance their professional careers.  In fact, this experience has already helped several Flagship members acquire various internships and job offers.  As Vice President of the Leadership Team, I’ve had the pleasure of managing these projects for three consecutive quarters.  It was not only rewarding, but allowed me to grow personally.  Learning how to manage 17 students this quarter has helped me develop my organizational, decision-making, and leadership skills.  It’s a wonderful program and I encourage every student at the UW Foster School of Business to join!

Neal Dempsey’s advice for the class of 2013

The Foster School of Business was honored to have Neal Dempsey (BA 1964) speak at the undergraduate commencement ceremony this year. Dempsey is managing general partner at Bay Partners, focusing on enterprise software applications. Over the past 19 years he has guided more than two dozen start-ups to obtain highly successful outcomes—either through an IPO or by acquisition. He recently made Forbes’ 2013 Midas List of top tech investors. In 2012 he had three companies go public and three others get acquired.

Dempsey gave an animated and insightful send off to the class of 2013. His three secrets for success in the real world: accept failure, embrace change and give back. Below is an excerpt from his blog and video of his speech. Congratulations to the class of 2013!

Re-posted from Dempsey’s blog:

I had the honor of being asked to give the commencement address for the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business undergraduate class this month. As many of you know, the University of Washington is my alma mater and near and dear to my heart. It was a real treat. To prepare for the speech, I spent some time with about 25 of this year’s graduating class. I wanted to know their hopes, dreams, and worries for what’s ahead. After all, these are some difficult times for new college graduates. I must say I was surprised and impressed with the caliber of these students. Most have jobs and all are prepared and ambitious. I expect to see great things from this group of students in the future.

This is not your ordinary commencement speech, so get ready for more than a few surprises. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed giving it. Congratulations to the class of 2013!

See more from the Foster School’s graduation ceremonies.

Giving back: BEDC alumna Stacy Nagata

StacyNagataStacy Nagata was one of the first participants in the Student Consulting Program (SCP) and experienced the start of what has become the BEDC’s signature program. As an undergraduate in the business school in 1999, Stacy had been president of the University Management Consulting Association and competed in a number of case competitions. She knew she wanted to go into consulting but didn’t have any experience. Participating in the Student Consulting Program (then known as the Business Assistance Program) gave her the real-world experience she needed to land her first consulting job at LEK.

From the start, Stacy felt that she was ahead of her colleagues: She had practical knowledge, tactical abilities and could see the big picture, skills she had learned through the Student Consulting Program.

Stacy also knew that the Internet was going to dramatically change business. She became fascinated with companies such as RealNetworks and Amazon that were just taking off when she graduated college in 1999. The power of technology in media and business became her passion and eventually led her to jobs in the entertainment industry, including West Coast Integration lead for the NBC Universal merger.

Key to her work at NBC/Universal was the question- how does technology impact the entertainment industry? Stacy worked to make content available digitally, helping launch the website Hulu, which involved creating an entirely new business model.  Helping shape the future of entertainment was exciting, but Stacy decided that she missed Seattle and knew that a move back to her hometown would give her the chance to give back to the community.

Stacy returned to Seattle in 2012 to work for Xbox. Her new role will be to take interactive gaming to the next level, and as a former gamer, she thinks she’s up to the challenge.  She also began to support several organizations that helped jumpstart her career.  She is a board member of the Seafair Foundation, where she served as an ambassador in High School. She’s also serving as an Alumni Mentor for the BEDC’s Student Consulting Program, helping the next-generation of business leaders.

Through mentoring student teams Stacy has realized that she can make a big difference in students’ lives. And she learns from the students, noting that they have a much higher level of sophistication than students of 14 years ago.  She has some advice for them too: “Just because you are young doesn’t mean you don’t have great ideas”.

And she is proud to see how much Foster has grown in 14 years. Programs such as SCP enable students to have experiential education and greatly enhance the classroom learning. “That’s the magic of Foster,” says Stacy. “There just isn’t enough time in the day for the many opportunities available.”

Organizational leadership

Bruce Avolio, executive director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, led a discussion on organizational leadership on April 24, 2013 at the UW Foster School of Business. Panelists were Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, Phyllis Campbell and Brad Tilden.

LTG Robert Brown was commissioned into the Infantry in May of 1981 after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1986, LTG Brown completed the Armor Officer Advanced Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky and then attended graduate school at the University of Virginia, where he earned a master’s degree in education. Throughout his career he has held a variety of leadership positions, including Commander, 1st Brigade (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), 25th Infantry Division; Chief of Staff, US Army Europe and Seventh Army; and Commanding General, U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence. LTG Brown transitioned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord on July 3, 2012, where he serves as Commanding General, I Corps.

Phyllis Campbell is the chairman, Pacific Northwest for JPMorgan Chase & Co. She is the firm’s senior executive in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, representing JPMorgan Chase at the most senior level to clients. In her role, she manged JP Morgan Chase’s operations during a tumultuous time. She joined Chase shortly after it acquired Washington Mutual during the banking crisis. Previously, Campbell was the president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation, the largest community foundation in Washington. She has also served as President & CEO of U.S. Bank of Washington. She holds an MBA from the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program.

Brad Tilden is president and CEO of Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. As CEO he leads the nation’s seventh-largest airline, with 9,600 employees, 60 destinations and 117 aircraft. Additionally, he oversees regional carrier Horizon Air and its 3,200 employees and 48 aircraft serving 39 cities. Previously, Tilden served as Alaska Airlines’ president. Before joining Alaska, he spent eight years with the accounting firm Price Waterhouse in its offices in Seattle and Melbourne, Australia. He holds an MBA from the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program.

The panel discussion was incredibly interesting and insightful. They covered a wide range of topics, including leadership obstacles, women in leadership positions, managing risk and more. Watch video highlights from the lecture.

Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, Phyllis Campbell and Brad Tilden were Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

South Carolina Huskies

Not only are LaJuan Davis and her brothers Dwayne and Ricardo Ellison the next generation of leaders JBE Incorporated, they are also proud graduates of the University of Washington’s Minority Business Executive Program (MBEP) – which is saying something considering that they hadn’t really heard about the UW or this program 18 months ago. Following their graduation from MBEP last June, they each took back lessons they learned and they saw an immediate impact.

LaJuan, the company’s treasurer, took back three key lessons: That for small businesses “sometimes it’s important to sacrifice growth to insure liquidity,” empowering employees to make decisions is key to enabling the executive team to focus on the future, and that while you can’t always measure the impact of marketing expenditures these investments are key to long-term growth.

LaJuan Davis and her brothers Dwayne and Ricardo Ellison, graduates of the University of Washington’s Minority Business Executive Program (MBEP) .Ricardo, one of the company’s Vice Presidents, reflects on how he’s become a better leader because of what he learned at MBEP: “senior executives don’t need to be a part of every decision,” he says. He also noted that rather than focusing most of the company’s top talent on solving today’s problems, they are now “spreading talent around so they can focus on today and the future.”

Dwayne, another Vice President, says the program changed how he views the entire company. He’s become more acutely aware of the power of branding the company in moving the company forward. He’s learned that as a senior leader of the company he needs to “work on the business rather than work in the business,” and through this he’s able to empower others to make decisions.

These three siblings are confident that what they learned at MBEP will have a long-lasting impact on their company, but they’re also proud that, in part because of how they’ve changed their leadership of the business, JBE set a record last year by crossing the $40 million revenue threshold for the first time. They’ve also begun to directly manufacture products in addition to the assembly and supply chain management services they’d previously offered.

LaJuan, Ricardo, and Dwayne had the opportunity to attend MBEP because of their relationship with The Boeing Company. JBEP was founded to provide services to the automotive, paper, and textile industries. They began to court Boeing as a customer in 2008, and when Boeing selected Charleston as the site for final assembly of the 787 Dreamliner, the relationship took off. Last year Boeing invited JBE to be in their mentor-protégé program, which led to the offer to attend MBEP. While JBE was looking at similar programs offered on the east coast, when they learned about the Foster School’s year-around work to grow minority-owned businesses through the BEDC, they decided to accept Boeing’s offer.

To learn more about the 2013 MBEP, please join us at a Sampler and Information Session on Thursday, May 16 from 7:45 to 9:00 a.m.

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.