Category Archives: Leadership

Video: McKinstry CEO Dean Allen on recession-proof innovation

How do you recession-proof your company? McKinstry CEO Dean Allen talks about how his firm broke down the silo approach in the construction industry and grew to be a full-service mechanical and electrical engineering, design and construction firm.

By integrating services, they operated faster, cheaper and with fewer change orders, improving customer relations and growing through strategic planning and innovation instead of reactive project by project. His now nimble company retrofits buildings and builds new ones that are energy efficient, earning McKinstry sustainability accolades from President Obama.

A few years ago, Obama visited McKinstry and called them a model for the nation, also saying, “They’re retrofitting schools and office buildings to make them energy efficient, creating jobs, saving their customers money, reducing carbon emissions and helping end our dependency on Middle Eastern oil.”

Watch video highlights from a Dean Allen lecture.

Dean Allen 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.

MBA Challenge for Charity: game on

Music and mountains. Pursuits that quicken pulses around the Pacific Northwest. So, too, at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Check out this video of Foster’s MBA house band—Death Spiral—laying down a thumping soundtrack to images of the inaugural MBA team charity climb of Mount Rainier in 2011. Both efforts were conceived and driven by students in Foster’s Full-Time and Evening MBA Programs. And both were components of the school’s year-long campaign in the MBA Challenge for Charity (C4C).

C4C is the annual competition among nine west coast business schools to raise the most money and work the most volunteer hours for local service organizations. The Foster School has won the C4C “Golden Briefcase” seven of the past 11 years, raising over $1 million and volunteering more than 15,000 hours for Special Olympics Washington and the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County.

Last year’s Rainier push landed 11 MBA mountaineers on the summit of Washington’s highest peak. The climbers also raised $7,000 for C4C charities. The MBA band rocked the C4C competition weekend at Stanford University, part of a growing tradition of sonic boom at the Foster School.

Mountains and music are a go for 2012, too.

This year’s Mount Rainier climb is scheduled for August and training has already begun. Organizer Scott Heinz and first-year MBA Jack Hogin hope to guide as many as 24 MBAs up two different routes. And Death Spiral, led by Nick Wilson (bass) and Mike Warady (drums), is back and amped for another epic concert at Stanford in May (not to mention numerous events in the run-up).

The primary C4C fundraiser is Foster School’s annual MBA Challenge For Charity auction, which takes place on February 25 from 5:30-11 p.m. at the Seattle Sheraton. Mardi Gras is the theme. You get the picture—a good time for a good cause.

Rich Barton on successful entrepreneur traits

When Rich Barton, creator of Expedia, Zillow, Glassdoor and many other successful web companies, spoke at the University of Washington EntrepreneurWeek 2011, attendees closely listened for his secret. What was the thing that enabled him to be wildly successful across a range of seemingly unrelated businesses? He did not disappoint, although he didn’t give up his secrets easily.

Barton referred to himself as a revolutionary who “stormed the Bastille,” a pronouncement that might—from someone else—be laughable. According to Barton, in the ancien régime of business, industries were intrinsically unfair to consumers. They guard information and profit from this secrecy. In travel, flight schedules were the closely-held province of agents. Realtors used public record information, largely inaccessible to all but the most savvy buyers. Storming the protective Bastille, releasing information and leveling the playing field for consumers is Barton’s organizing principle for success.

The next metaphor Barton employed to detail the traits of successful entrepreneurs came from the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” The great entrepreneur/leader needs to have all the traits that the Mighty Oz bestowed upon Dorothy’s three companions in the movie:

  • Scarecrow was granted wisdom. The factory of the entrepreneur is the brain. Great entrepreneurs are smart, have insights and appreciate assets that are locked in the heads of smart people.
  • Cowardly lion was given courage. Entrepreneurs have the courage of their convictions, a capacity to think boldly and an ability to convey that belief.
  • Tin man received a heart (passion). Leaders believe in what they’re doing. The passionate entrepreneur will win hearts and minds.

Who knew? The talk was not all metaphor. Barton also offered a bit of advice to attendees who want to join start-ups: bring social marketing tools. Most start-ups don’t have money for marketing and these skills will be valued. In the old days, marketing on a shoestring budget was called guerilla marketing, which fits perfectly with Barton’s revolutionary metaphor.

Watch another lecture from serial entrepreneur Rich Barton. UW EntrepreneurWeek is an annual week-long event put on by the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

2011 minority business of the year awards

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

Each year the UW Foster School of Business recognizes exceptional performance by minority-owned businesses throughout Washington state. On December 8, seven businesses were honored. They hail from throughout Washington, and are owned by Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino Americans. They come from services, construction and sales. They are local, national and international.

They range from small to large. Some, like Sister Sky who produces natural bath products inspired by Native American herbal wisdom on the Spokane Indian Reservation, expects 2011 revenues to be $600,000. Others like Sam & Jenny of Bellevue is one of the largest waste paper exporters in the US, with anticipated 2011 revenues of over $70M, exporting 300,000MT of waste paper each year to South Korea and China.

The youngest company, Macnak Construction of Lakewood founded in 2007, has grown their revenues by 375% since it was founded—without borrowing any long term debt. They expect $6M in revenues in 2011. Indian Eyes, a Pasco business specializing in equipment logistics and construction management founded in 2005, expects $20M in revenues in 2011. Revel Consulting, a Kirkland-business management consulting firm founded in 2005, expects $26M in revenues this year. The Hughs Group of Tacoma, a logistics contract management company, anticipates sales of $8.1M. Everett-based Del Sol Auto Sales in operation since 2002 expects revenues of $5.5M this year.

“All seven businesses have proven that they have what it takes, even during this challenging economy, to survive and thrive,” says Michael Verchot, director of the Business and Economic Development at the UW Foster School. Since 1999, the Minority Business Awards program has given much-due recognition to high-performing, minority-owned businesses. Congratulations are due to:

  • Sam & Jenny (William D. Bradford Award)
  • Del Sol Auto Sales (NW Washington Award)
  • Revel Consulting (King County Award)
  • Hughes Group (SW Washington Award)
  • Sister Sky (NE Washington Award)
  • Indian Eyes (SE Washington Award)
  • Macnak Construction (Rising Star of the Year)

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

University of Washington celebrates state’s top minority businesses

The Business and Economic Development Center at the University of Washington Foster School of Business honored seven outstanding minority-owned companies from around the state at the 13th annual UW Minority Business of the Year Awards on December 8.
“Tonight’s award winners represent the incredible entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country great. They represent a wide variety of industries, operating locally, nationally and internationally,” said Michael Verchot, executive director of the Business and Economic Development Center. “Some have grown consistently through the economic downturn while others suffered short-term difficulties but have rebounded quickly. What unites them is the combination of a visionary leader who sees opportunities, a laser-like focus on meeting their customer needs, and their ability to build a strong management team.”

Foster School Dean Jim Jiambalvo wrote in a Puget Sound Business Journal article, “With job creation being top priority among both politicians and voters, I’m proud to say that the University of Washington Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center is doing its best to stimulate economic growth.”

Proceeds of the awards event fund minority-student scholarships and support minority-business development.

Sam & Jenny, Inc. | William D. Bradford Minority Business of the Year
Sam & Jenny is one of the largest waste-paper exporters in the United States. With offices in Bellevue and in Seoul, Korea they currently provide Korea with 80% of its recycled products. In 2010, their revenues exceeded $62 million.

Revel Consulting | King County Minority Business of the Year
With 2010 revenues of $25 million, Revel Consulting is a leading business management consulting firm based in Kirkland. For four consecutive years, it has been named one of the nation’s fastest growing companies by Inc. magazine and one of the Pacific Northwest Region’s Fastest Growing Private companies for the past three years by the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Del Sol Auto Sales | NW Washington Minority Business of the Year
Located in Everett and in operation since 1995, Del Sol Auto Sales specializes in buying, selling and repairing used vehicles for the general public. Their 2010 revenues were $6.5 million.

Sister Sky | NE Washington Minority Business of the Year
Sister Sky, on the Spokane Indian Reservation, manufactures and distributes natural bath and body care products inspired by Native American herbal wisdom. With 2010 revenues of $500,000 the company announced a new distribution partnership in the fall of 2011 that will enable it to distribute products to major national hotel chains beginning in 2012.

Hughes Group, LLC | SW Washington Minority Business of the Year
The Tacoma-based Hughes Group is a logistics contract management company that focuses on moving people and things from one location to the next, in any part of the world. They handle every step along the way, from planning to coordinating and managing the move. Their revenues for the 2010 fiscal year were $6.8 million, a 72% increase from 2009.

Indian Eyes, LLC | SE Washington Minority Business of the Year
100% women-owned Indian Eyes, LLC specializes in equipment logistics, employee resource and construction management services. Headquartered in Pasco, Indian Eyes also has offices in Colorado and Virginia. Its 2010 revenues increased by 78% over 2009 reaching $22 million.

Macnak Construction, LLC | Rising Star Award
Macnak Construction, a licensed general contractor since 2007, works on a variety of construction disciplines including new building and bridge construction and remediation primarily for Department of Transportation projects. Macnak has grown their revenues by 375% in the last three years.

Foster MBAs place 3rd in national ethical leadership competition

A team of MBA students from the University of Washington Foster School of Business took third prize at the fifth-annual MBA Case Competition in Ethical Leadership at Baylor University November 18.

The competition challenges MBAs to demonstrate ethical leadership in a practical business dilemma. This year’s case was based on a recent, real-world, ethics scandal. Teams were charged with creating a path for News Corporation to rebound from its phone-hacking mess and reemerge as an ethical leader in the media industry.

The Foster team of second-year MBAs Krister Fardig, Jeremiah Marks, Jesse Robbins and Henry Vogler recognized that no cosmetic fix would do the job. To address the root problem—an organizational issue with ethics—they recommended that News Corp directors implement what they called the “audit and continuous improvement of ethics (ACE) model.” This external and internal auditing process enables increased accountability, increased visibility and better performance when it comes to managing ethical behavior.

Robbins, a veteran of three case competitions as an undergrad at the Foster School and five in his first year of the Full-Time MBA Program, said that the team was well prepared by the program’s rigorous core curriculum. He also credited Foster’s business ethics professor Scott Reynolds, who armed the team with an ethical framework that helped them identify the solution that hit closest to the sweet spot where technology, strategy and ethics intersect positively.

The Foster MBAs competed with teams from Auburn University, Baylor University, Iowa State University, Pepperdine University, Texas A&M University, University of Florida, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota and University of Texas. Illinois and Florida took first and second places.

Video: CEO Dave Roberts on PopCap Games success and luck

To be successful in business, Dave Roberts says you have to be good, smart and lucky. You don’t expect to hear luck invoked as a key factor by the CEO of a company—PopCap Games—that was just sold for up to $1.3 billion. Classic CEO talking points include lingo such as “We were in the right place at the right time.” That kind of message implies that founders were in control of external events.

But Dave Roberts clearly said the “L” word—and for gamers everywhere, luck is a very powerful force. PopCap makes the blockbuster games Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies with a mix of creativity, business savvy and luck.

Capping the 2011 University of Washington Entrepreneur Week, Roberts shared PopCap Games’ growth timeline in the rapidly evolving landscape of social media and mobile devices. Watch highlights of his lecture.

Video: Michael Potts on a renewable energy future

Michael Potts, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, spoke to a group of University of Washington students in all fields – business, engineering, public affairs – about solutions for a renewable energy future.

He addresses energy efficiency, building efficiency, 21st century electric cars, trucks, planes – and gives success stories such as a recent project to retrofit and “green” the Empire State Building in New York City, which resulted in both money and energy savings.

Watch this 15-minute video of highlights from Potts’ lecture.

This lecture is part of the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge organized by the UW Foster School of Business.

Informed innovation: interview with Steve Tolton of Petrocard

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR


The Brogan Blog had a chance recently to chat with Steve Tolton, the CEO of PetroCard, a leading Pacific Northwest fuel and lubrication distributor. PetroCard, specializes in unattended stations that use a proprietary card lock technology to provide fuel to commercial customers that can be as large as Pepsico or as small as the one-truck plumber down the street.

And it may be one of the largest companies you’ve never heard of.

In 2010, PetroCard grossed over $900 million. PetroCard was ranked last year as the fifth largest privately held corporation in Washington State.  It is owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.  BBNC is owned by about 8,200 Eskimo, Indian and Aleut shareholders.

PetroCard started in 1997, when Steve Tolton, then the Chief Financial Officer of BBNC, was looking for promising investments.  He partnered with banker Tom Farr, who saw an opportunity to consolidate the fragmented card lock business, starting with the purchase of a small company called PetroCard.

Neither Steve or Tom knew much about petroleum.  But they knew a good business opportunity when they saw it.  In less than 15 years, PetroCard has gone from 25 million gallons to 300 million gallons of fuel sales per year and it has leveraged its base business into other compatible business ventures

Steve Tolton attributes PetroCard’s success to focus on its customer base..   Their regional customers include school fleets and taxis, as well as Waste Management vehicles.”

“We touch our customers a thousand times a day,” says Tolton.  “We stay abreast of trends so we can offer solutions to our customers before they have to ask for them.”  Innovation means knowing how to manage risk with great due diligence.

“It is rare to hit a complete home run,” says Tolton.  He noted, however that the “Clean N’ Green” fuel stations, PetroCard’s partnership with Waste Management, has come pretty close to a homerun—exceeding all  expectations.

“For the last two years, we’ve been operating commercial natural gas stations, because of the continued expansion in the area of compressed natural gas,” said Tolton.

Tolton has grown PetroCard, but  does not believe in growth for its own sake.  “We focus on our commercial customers fueling and lube solutions, even though we may see other opportunities,” he said.  “We’re better at taking a decent companies and helping make them better.” PetroCard’s venture into natural gas has been an entrepreneurial “home run,” built on a deep understanding of industry trends and changing customer needs, including the need for a cost-competitive product in an emerging market.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.