Foster Students Hold Class at Tableau Software

Foster is located in the heart of Seattle, a short bus ride from many of the world’s most innovative companies. If you’re a Foster MBA student looking to grab coffee with an Amazon financial analyst or a Zillow project manager, you won’t have to travel very far.

But it also opens many opportunities for greater learning inside the classroom. Management 550: CEO & Board Governance is an elective that benefits from Foster’s location. The class, as it name implies, centers around executive leadership and the nuances of board governance. Should a board have a dual CEO/Chairman, or should the role be split? How should a board deal with activist investors? How do the operations of nonprofit boards differ from those of public companies? These are some of the questions the class considers.

About half the time we spend in the classroom consists of guest speakers, most of whom are legends within their respective fields. The course itself is co-taught by Neal Dempsey — the general managing partner of Bay Partners, a venture capital firm that’s returned over $2.5 billion to investors — and Neil McReynolds, a former executive that’s served on over 60 boards in a wide variety of industries. Speakers this quarter have included Phyllis Campbell (Chairman, Pacific Northwest JP Morgan Chase), Chet Kapoor (Vice President, Google Cloud), and Chris Peterson (head coach of the University of Washington Huskies football team).


Tableau’s management fields questions from Foster students.

Most of these speakers have made the trek to PACCAR Hall, coming into the classroom to field questions directly from students. But during one special session, the class was held off campus. In April, we traveled to Tableau Software’s headquarters in Fremont, a Seattle neighborhood only about 10 minutes away from Foster’s campus.

Once there, we heard from Damon Fletcher, Tableau’s interim CFO; Keenan Conder, Tableau’s General Counsel; and Matt Nelson, Tableau VP and Corporate Controller. Over the course of nearly two hours, they discussed the makeup and regular operations of the data visualization company’s board.

Tableau’s board is notable in that three of its 10 seats are held by the company’s co-founders, who collectively control the majority of shareholder votes. During their presentation, the Tableau executives discussed the unique challenges the board faces and answered questions from students.


Foster students Jenny Nowierski (left) and Harsha Vardhan (right) stand outside PACCAR Hall with Neal Dempsey (left) and Neil McReynolds (right).

As a graduating second year, it was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had as a Foster student. Certainly, it was a unique opportunity I could’ve only had in Seattle.