Building a loved brand

Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks.The success of Brooks Running Company and their CEO Jim Weber is a classic underdog story, a come-from-behind victory that every sports enthusiast loves. When Weber joined Brooks in 2001—their fourth CEO in two years—the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Thanks to Weber’s tremendous leadership and insight, the company successfully rebooted, repositioning itself in the market, and has since experienced years of double-digit growth and industry recognition.

On March 5, as part of the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, Weber came to the Foster School of Business and recounted the story of how he turned his company around. “I feel like I have the best job in Seattle,” he said. Weber’s passion for building brands and businesses is matched by a passion for athletics, reflected in his previous professional experience, which includes positions such as chairman and CEO of Sims Sports and vice president of The Coleman Company.

After his arrival at Brooks, Weber explained, the company made a major shift in its market focus. It’s common knowledge that many athletic shoes are never used for athletics, which Weber refers to as “BBQ shoes.” According to Weber, roughly half of their sales were in this “family footwear” category when the company made the bold decision to focus on a niche market and double down on technical performance running shoes. At the time, it was considered heresy for a company like Brooks to focus on just one sport. Conventional wisdom stated that a table “needs more than one leg to stand on,” as Weber put it. Now, after years of growth as a result of this decision, Weber looks like a visionary.

Part of Brooks’ strategy is to compete in a different way, Weber explained. True, there is good old-fashioned product leadership, the years of research and development in biomechanics that leads to a superior product. But Brooks also competes using its corporate culture, e.g. the way it “celebrates the run,” and invests in the sport that supports its business.  Weber said the Brooks recipe for success is combining an incredibly serious technical product with a brand known for its unique, fun-loving energy. Corporate culture is instrumental to this success— “Run Happy” is much more than a tag line. “Our brand is positioned in a very welcoming way,” he said.

An important aspect of leadership is knowing how to pick your battles. Weber mentioned that it was impossible for Brooks to compete on the “visual technology” front, i.e. improvements that make the product pop off the shelf. “Nike will spend more on marketing by noon than we will in the whole year,” he said. Instead, Brooks focuses on “runability” and servicing as a niche expert. Every brand has a center of gravity, Weber explained. For Brooks it’s the trail and the specialty running stores that are at the heart of the running community. By focusing on those retailers and developing relationships with key influencers like coaches, leading athletes, and sports medicine practitioners, Brooks works to win the trust of its customers. “We create trust every time someone has a good experience with our product,” he said.

The lecture concluded with a Q&A session where students and faculty posed questions on topics like supply chain challenges and reactions to the barefoot running movement. On the subject of international expansion, Weber stated that his company is executing the same strategy, but still had much to learn. He explained that, thankfully, the brand ethos of “Run Happy” translates well across cultures and resonates with people around the globe.

Watch the full lecture below:

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It’s a good time to be a woman in business

Foster undergraduates Madeline Down and Natasha Tieu share their thoughts on the Second Annual Women’s Breakfast, which was organized by the Foster School’s EY Center for Undergraduate Career Advancement.

WomenBreakfastThe Second Annual Women’s Breakfast was a success. The attendance from both employers and students was impressive. Women from many companies attended, including Wells Fargo Bank, Deloitte, Concur Technologies, Grant Thornton, KPMG, EY, PwC, West Monroe Partners, Eddie Bauer, The Boeing Company and Liberty Mutual Insurance.

A highlight from the event was the keynote speech by Mary Knell, CEO of Wells Fargo, Washington and Western Canada. She spoke about the challenges and benefits of being a woman in business, and her experience at Wells Fargo and in other positions. Knell shared that there are many challenges related to family and work life, and the social expectation that women should not be the ‘bread-winner.’ However, society is changing and it is an extremely exciting time to be a woman in business. Knell is proof that all women are capable of having a successful career and a family at the same time. She definitely inspired me to keep working towards my goals, and not to let any adversity deter me from reaching them.

At the breakfast, it was amazing to see a room full of women, ranging from freshmen to professionals, getting together to discuss topics unique to women in business. You could feel the tremendous support we had for one another. As a woman in the business school, I look forward to attending next year and creating new contacts and connections within the professional world.

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 annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

805.5 volunteer hours

Guest post by Cynthia Chiou (BA 2014)

Foster Week of ServiceFoster Week of Service was a tremendous success, and we want to thank everyone within the community for making this possible. Because of your participation, we had a total of 805.5 volunteer hours dedicated to helping organizations across many different philanthropic causes.

Giving back to our community has always been an important aspect of the Foster School, and we hope to continue this event for years to come. Below are some highlights from a great week of service work. There were a wide range of events, surrounding causes such as environmental, health, education, diversity and global aid.

Alpha Kappa Psi Rho Chapter worked to raise money for cancer research and patient support. Their team was able to raise more than $9,000 in concession sales at the Alaska Airlines Arena, of which $900 will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

StartUp UW teamed up with Mercer Island High School to host an entrepreneurial challenge. Groups were given a $20 bill and went out to create their own ventures. After a week of hosting various fund-raising events, teams were able to raise $609, of which $549 will be donated to The Sophia Way.

Market Driven Investors worked with the Rainer Chamber of Commerce to procure items for their annual auction fundraising event. Students spent the week reaching out to potential donors and working directly with the chamber to strategize a successful procurement process.

Business Leaders in Healthcare worked with the Lifelong Aids Alliance on packet stuffing for the AIDS Action & Awareness (A3) Day.

Business Impact Group volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of Renton Skyway, working with students on their social venture project, Marketplace. They also spent time talking with students about college preparation and playing gym games.

The Montlake Consulting Group organized a Foster Community Street Clean with students through campus and the University District.

AIESEC and CISB hosted a raffle fundraiser for disaster relief to donate proceeds to the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.

Delta Sigma Pi and ALPFA co-hosted a dodgeball tournament to donate all proceeds to UNICEF for typhoon relief efforts.

The 2014 Foster Week of Service was generously sponsored by UPS and Target.

Sten Karlholm combines his passions for Swedish and sports

Guest post by Sten Karlholm, Foster senior and Certificate of International Studies in Business student

SwedenSportsInternBlogMy education seems to have taken the scenic tour, as my passion for traveling combined with my studies opened up opportunities and happily postponed my graduation. The journey all began while finishing my third year at UW, which I spent as an exchange student in Uppsala, Sweden as part of the Certificate of International Studies in Business Program (CISB). I had accomplished many of the requirements during this study abroad year, but there was one last challenge I was looking to complete during the summer: the International Business Practicum. It was mid-June and I had been applying and seeking out internships in Sweden for the past two months to no avail. As the long days of the Swedish summer began to come into full effect, there was a sense of anxiousness and uncertainty. I began preparing for the expectation of autumn quarter and flight back to Seattle. I had applied to one job on a whim, with the tag line “Passion for sports.” I had emphasized my passion for the game of basketball and my affinity with golf in my cover letter. After a telephone interview and my first ever sit down interview conducted in Swedish, I was offered a job as part of the opening team for a new Nike Factory Store in Stockholm.

I accepted this opportunity to further my proficiency of the Swedish language and master the fundamentals of Nike in the retail setting. I was dedicated to showing a high level of commitment on the job, tackling the unfamiliar terms of shoe specifics in Swedish while giving the best customer support. Recognition came my way as I took over further responsibilities like closing the store, accounting and submitting daily sales reports.

Nearly a year had gone by and it was time to continue my studies at the Michael G. Foster School of Business. This period away gave me the time to reflect on what I wanted to aim for within a future career, and influenced and ignited my passion for fashion and sports. With this goal in mind, it motivated me to keep looking for opportunities and ultimately led me to where I am today as the product management intern for Club and Balls within Nike Golf at the European Headquarters in Hilversum, The Netherlands.

Keeping up the pursuit of acquiring an international internship paid off as I have now spent seven months learning the ins and outs of Nike and the European marketplace. Every day I am conducting competitor analysis of the club and ball market for various regions and currencies in Europe. I’ve also been an integral part of updating pricing and catalogs for our recently released Covert 2.0 and upcoming RZN golf ball. I was even presented the chance to assist in the set up and lead the tear down at the Nordic Golf Trade show in Sweden due to my language proficiency. Not only was this a phenomenal experience as an intern, but as a result of my abilities I was selected to help out during our go-to-market sales meeting in Spain.

I had finally achieved the goal of receiving an international internship, but the experience is so much more than ticking a box for completion. The lessons learned and experience gained will be invaluable as I continue to pursue a career within international business. I am truly grateful for the opportunities that I’ve received and the support from my peers and colleagues along the way.

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.

Science & Technology Showcase highlights student innovations

Many students at the University of Washington are working on science and technology-based innovations that have potential for commercialization. The annual Science & Technology Showcase (co-hosted by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship and SEBA) is a tradeshow-like event where students have the opportunity to share these innovations with an audience of fellow scientists and engineers, as well as to business students interested in working on the marketability of new technologies.

STS participants also have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges—Seattle-area entrepreneurs and investors—who give awards to the most commercially viable ideas, along with prizes for categories like “Best Poster” and “Most Enthusiastic Pitch.”

Congratulations to this year’s award winners:

$1,000 Grand Prize: Flu Finder
The Flu Finder is an inexpensive, easy-to-use, rapid and accurate flu test that operates similarly to a home pregnancy test, providing a yes/no answer from a swab of the patient’s nose.

$500 Second-Place Prize: ElectroMetal Solutions
ElectroMetal Solutions has developed a new approach to plating metals onto surfaces using metal ions dissolved in water—a technology that may be of use to industrial manufacturers who require precise applications of high-cost metal materials (think gold).

$300 Third-Place Prize: Find Nano
FindNano has developed a rapid, simple, affordable and portable technology to assess the presence of nonparticles in liquid samples (e.g. blood, rivers), solid surfaces (e.g. soil, food), and textiles.

Best Poster: Terra Mizu
TerraMizu’s goal is to design an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective clay-pipe irrigation device for use in developing nations.

Most Innovative: Seahorse Robotic
In order to more accurately develop oceanographic  weather forecasting models there needs to be a higher density and quality of measurements supplied by observation platforms on the ocean’s surface. Seahorse Robotic oceanographic platform was created as part of an ongoing attempt to design energy-independent surface vehicles.

Most Enthusiasm: GO+OD
GO+OD is a process and program developed to encourage millenials—the most civic-minded age group—to “go + do good.”

Best Communicator: H2.O
H2.O is developing a patent-pending technology that uses water as a medium to convert ambient infared radiation energy into electricity.

Best Marketing Strategy: ElectroMetal Solutions
(see above)

Living your academia: marketing/management 445 class for undergraduates

Senior Ivette Aguilera reflects on her experience in the Marketing/Management 445 Class and Student Consulting Program.

Ivette Aguilera with Bill Low
Ivette Aguilera, BA 2014, with Bill Low, her Rotary Business Mentor at the Rotary Club of Seattle luncheon.

Throughout my time in Foster, I have lived through so many incredible experiences, including two study abroad opportunities to China and India, where I was able to see and experience major business practices that were very different when compared to the United States. I have also interned with PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the Big Four accounting firms worldwide, and this coming summer will be my third summer internship with them.

Growing up, I first wanted to be a doctor.  I pictured myself analyzing patients, checking their symptoms, figuring out the root of their problems, and of course finding their cure. After watching shows like Grey’s Anatomy, House, and other medical television shows I realized that the concept of helping others was fantastic, but the idea of having physical contact with my patients was not so much—yet I still wanted to become a doctor and that is when consulting became a true interest of mine. My patients would not be human beings, but companies; I would not be checking for common colds or flus but for holes in company’s’ operation systems and pitch marketing plans to execute. I would be the doctor for businesses, Dr. Aguilera; which I believe has a nice ring to it.

Unfortunately, after multiple conversations with consultants, I soon realized that in order to be a great consultant you really need experience. It isn’t something you can’t pick up from a book; it is a learning process.  The Consulting and Business Development Center offers students the Marketing/Management 445 class that is specifically designed to help students develop the essential business skills by having them be consultants for a real life company. It is an opportunity to get real hands-on exposure and live your academia, instead of just reading about it.

Through this process I have learned how to interact with my client, how to manage a successful meeting, and I have gotten to know the resources of the University of Washington both on and off campus. One of our most valued resources being the Rotary Mentor assigned to each group. My team has the privilege of having Bill Low as our mentor, and I actually would like to take this opportunity to thank Bill for his mentorship. Just last week we were preparing a survey for our client’s customers.  Our team thought our survey had well thought out questions, but when we showed it to Bill he opened our eyes to see that the questions were way too broad.  In order to understand the client’s problems we had to develop much more specific survey questions. Let’s just say that from now on our team is thinking a lot more about the specific details for EVERY assignment.

As I said before, this coming summer I’ll be an intern with PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Advisory Line of Service. At the end of the summer my performance review will determine if I get a full time offer starting January 2015. However, thanks to the Marketing/Management 445 class, I feel much more confident and prepared with what I am doing. What I’m learning this quarter will definitely give me a head start on my work this summer.

This class continues to challenge me in ways that significantly improve my consulting skills set. It has given me a chance to network with professionals who have passed down their wisdom, and more importantly it has allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them along the way. So thank you to the professors, the Consulting and Business Development Center, the mentors, and the Rotary Club of Seattle for allowing us, (the students) to make mistakes yet continue to learn from them.

- Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.