Dean’s Blog

Business Roundtable Says it is Not all About Profits

Posted by Joseph M. Phillips on September 12, 2019 at 4:09 PM PDT

Recently the Business Roundtable introduced a revised statement on the purpose of corporations.  The Roundtable consists of nearly 200 CEOs from many of the major corporations in the US, including local companies such as Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft.  The statement marks a significant shift in thinking, since it says that corporations are not just about maximizing profits for shareholders, but should also factor in the interests of customers, employees, business partners, and the community.

The 1997 version of this statement first introduced the concept that business organizations should be all about maximizing returns for shareholders.  This is a view popularized by Milton Friedman beginning in 1960’s.  It’s a simple and thus alluring concept, made attractive by its measurability (profits).  The best interests of customers, employees, partners, and the community are harder to measure and sometimes “messy.”  It’s important to remember the focus on shareholder returns has not been around all that long, and while it became a conventional wisdom for many, it’s not necessarily a compelling view.

The Albers School has long advocated that a business should consider its multiple stakeholders and not single-mindedly pursue profit maximization.  The ultimate purpose of business is to meet human needs.  It does that in two ways.  First, to provide goods and services to customers and, second, to provide employment and opportunity to those involved in the enterprise.  Giving primacy to shareholders does not align with that.

It’s inspiring to see the Business Roundtable reverse its thinking and adopt a view that is more in keeping with common good.  Let’s see how these business leaders and their organizations go about making this new statement a reality.  In doing so, they will allow the business sector to play a more vital role in helping to solve the many challenges facing our society.

Return to Sansepolcro Celebrates 25 Years of Study Tours

Posted by Joseph M Phillips on September 12, 2019 at 9:09 AM PDT

The Albers School celebrated the 25th anniversary of Albers study tours with a return trip to the destination of the very first tour – the town of Sansepolcro, in the Tuscany region of Italy.  It was 1994, when a group of Albers faculty were promoting the 500th anniversary of the publication of the Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita, by Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli, the first instance of anything being written down about double entry bookkeeping, that the first study tour was organized by Albers faculty members.  The anniversary celebration was leveraged to take a group of students along and the rest is history, as they say!

As part of the 500th anniversary celebration, a statue of Pacioli was commissioned and installed in the Sansepolcro town square:

 

The 500th Anniversary celebration is another story in itself, which I am not qualified to recount.  Suffice it to say that a group of Albers professors created an event where there would not have been one and helped put Sansepolcro on the map.  They also helped the town understand more about its historical importance and native-son, Luca Pacioli. They also firmly established Pacioli as the founder of the accounting discipline.  That story does need to be retold, but by someone more knowledgeable than me!

Alumni group visiting a winery:

 

Among the faculty first organizing a study tour were Professor Bill Weis and retired Professor Dave Tinius.  They both were spotlighted in the 25th anniversary celebration and provided many historical insights to the group of over 30 who participated in this trip back to Tuscany.  The event took place over a five-day period – September 4-8.  It included tours of historical venues in the town of Sansepolcro, a visit to the town of Anghiari to visit the Busatti textile factory, inspections of local wineries, and Renaissance feasts and festivities.  All of this was expertly organized by Albers alumna and adjunct professor, Hartley McGrath.

Professor Bill Weis delivering one of his lectures during the 25th anniversary celebration:

 

I’ve heard about Sansepolcro for a long time, since the study tour to Sansepolcro took place on an annual basis from 1994 to 2010.  Some pundits described it as a “boondoggle” given the venue and accompanying food and wine, but what would they know?  It was interesting to go there myself and get to the bottom of it, and to be able to testify that everything is on the up and up when it comes to Sansepolcro.  The town would love for the Albers study tours to return.

Renaissance parade in the streets of Sansepolcro:

 

Professor Weis was struck by a few key changes since he last visited.  On the plus side, the city hall building has been reopened after being damaged by an earthquake.  It was an important location for the events celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Summa, and Professor Weis had feared it would never be repaired.  The Capuchin monastery where study tour students stayed had been closed down, but has now been reopened as a convent for five Benedictine nuns.  The Sansepolcro train station has been shuttered, the result of flood damage to the train line that was deemed too expensive to repair.  Instead, a bus service that parallels the train line has been developed.

Sansepolcro train station:

 

One of the highlights of the trip for everyone was the installation of the dean, along with adjunct faculty member and alum, Dr. Glenn Lux, into the highly secretive Luca Pacioli Society.  This took place in a rare public event, since the membership of the society is a closely guarded secret.  All we know about the society is that it was instrumental in pulling off the 500th anniversary celebration in 1994.  What is a mystery is what it has been up to since then.

Study tours continue today in the Albers School.  For example, this year study tours were offered to China, Guatemala, and the European Union (defined as Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany).  And we have not abandoned Italy completely, as Professor Weis leads a group to the Dolomites each year to deliver his popular courses in Emotional Intelligence.

View down toward Sansepolcro from the Montecasale Hermitage:

 

Study tours have proven to be a valuable educational experience for many Albers students over the years.  It’s important to pause and celebrate the role they plan in an Albers education!

25th IAJBS World Forum

Posted by Joseph Phillips on July 31, 2019 at 5:07 PM PDT

I recently attended the 25th Annual World Forum of the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools (IAJBS) hosted by Xavier University Bhubaneswar in Bhubaneswar, India.  Business schools from 15 different nations were represented at the meeting, which took place July 21 to 24.  Seattle U hosted this same meeting, the 24th, last summer. It is an important event for bringing together Jesuit business school faculty members and administrators from around the world to network and explore best practices and opportunities for collaboration.

The meeting began for me on July 21st with the IAJBS board meeting.  This conference marked the end of my term as President of IAJBS, after serving for two years.  I now move to Past President for – you guessed it – a two-year term!  In the last two years we have been able to move forward in a number of important ways – improved transparency around governance, navigating the transition of executive directors, and developing a new strategic plan are examples.

In the conference, I participated in a panel discussion on, “How to Make Business Schools Thrive,” which is not something I would claim any expertise in!  Who knows why they asked me! :}

Two of our faculty members, Ajay Abraham and Marinilka Kimbro, presented research papers on themes consistent with the conference theme, which was “Innovate and Flourish.”  I am happy they were there to represent Albers!

At the conference we introduced the New Paradigm for Jesuit Business Education initiative, which is being led by Fr. Michael Garanzini, SJ, Secretary of Higher Education for the Jesuits.  Inspired by the six priorities that were developed at the International Association of Jesuit Universities inaugural meeting one year ago, he has created a task force with members coming from around the globe, including myself, that will be working on this for the next year or two.  We broke conference participants into groups and asked for their feedback on five questions. The material we gathered will be used to develop the key elements of the new paradigm.  It’s not clear exactly what the new paradigm will look like, but its likely to include more emphasis on issues related to global warming, poverty, and economic inequality, consistent with recent pronouncements coming from the Vatican and the Jesuits themselves.

In addition to attending the conference, I also squeezed in a few touristy activities.  These included visiting the famous temples of Bhubaneswar, a trip to Taj Mahal (I was last there in 1997), and a visit to the lower house of the lndian Parliament, the Lok Sabha.  At the latter, we were treated to a lively debate on wetlands policy, and at one point the leaders of the ruling party walked out – but that did not stop the discussion!

Here is a picture of one of the temples:

 

Susan Weihrich Retires after Thirty Years

Posted by Joseph Phillips on June 15, 2019 at 1:06 PM PDT

After thirty years on the Albers faculty, Dr. Susan Weihrich is retiring.  Susan will be best known for what she most liked to do – teach her tax accounting courses.  Her students loved her and consistently reported that she somehow made tax fun and interesting.  She’ll also be known for how supportive she was of her students – very generous with her advice, time, and attention!

Susan was also a very supportive colleague, as many of our faculty and staff will attest.  And she liked to find a way to make things fun, which everyone always appreciates. 

Susan was a tremendous supporter of the Seattle U mission.  Much of this was done out of the Albers School, but she even served as President of the SU Faculty Senate at one point.  Within Albers, her most impactful service was first as Chair of the Department of Accounting and then as Associate Dean from 2008 to 2016. 

It was during this time that we worked most closely together, and Susan was very involved and very influential in just about anything that happened in Albers during that time.  She was an extremely hard worker and always interested in improving the way things worked in our school.  The downside for her was she had to put up with the dean at that time.  But she provided great advice to the dean, which prompted her to recently present him with this important reminder:

 

 

 

Which I would respond to by saying, “Gone, but not forgotten!”  Susan has left her mark on Albers and created an impressive legacy with all our alumni she has taught, mentored, and advised during the last three decades!

 

F5 CEO Says Be a Giving Leader

Posted by Joseph Phillips on June 15, 2019 at 12:06 PM PDT

 

François Locoh-Donou is President and Chief Executive Officer of F5 Networks, a Seattle based company which specializes in application services and delivery. He joined F5 in April 2017, bringing to the office nearly two decades of enterprise technology experience building a wide range of products, teams, and operations around the world.

Locoh-Donou participated in the Albers Executive Speaker Series on June 3rd, pursing the theme of, “Giving as a Leader.” He shared that the most successful and impactful leaders are “givers.” What does it mean to be “giving?” It means you are accessible, you give feedback, you listen, you answer questions, you help people identify their strengths, you help people gain confidence in themselves. It is a generosity that is people focused and takes your leadership to another level.

Early in one’s career, Locoh-Donou said, one is more in a “proving” stage, proving that you can get the job done, solve the issue at hand. The key is to move from “proving” to “giving,” and while this shift will accelerate your leadership and have high impact, it is not something we are normally trained to do.

Locoh-Donou noted that early in his career when he was working at Ciena, a network strategy and technology firm, he experienced self-doubt and thought that he was in over his head and not qualified for his new role. But he persisted and was gradually able to gain confidence based on the support of others. He stressed the importance of “getting people on your team,” by reaching out to others in the organization and winning them over with your sincerity and authenticity. He also noted that both successes and failures can build confidence, as achievements let you know you can get the work done, and failures can be learned from, including learning that you can survive a failure!

One theme he addressed was the flaws of “Management by Force,” which can occur within an organization or even throughout an entire nation, as might happen in a long-standing dictatorship. Management by Force does not work in the Knowledge Economy, Locoh-Donou observed. In the Knowledge Economy you need employees to show passion and commitment, and a top–down, authoritarian culture will not achieve that. Leaders need to lead with giving in order to create an environment that builds commitment. Locoh-Donou observed that he views F5 employees as volunteers. They have many employment options and he needs to create a culture where they choose F5!

He told an interesting story of how he became a cashew farmer in Togo, where he grew up. As a boy, he always wanted to be a chicken farmer. He did not end up pursuing that, but after college he reconnected with a childhood friend who had studied agriculture and poultry farming. They decided to start a large chicken farm in Togo, and were successful in doing that, but the farm only employed 30 people and they wanted to create something that would be more employment intensive and have more impact on the community. So they searched for an alternative, and found that cashew farms were being created in the nearby country of Benin. They decided to pursue cashew farming in Togo, and now they are employing 600 people in an enterprise that exports 400 tons of cashew kernels to the US and Europe annually. 

He shared a story to illustrate how they are having the economic impact they hoped for – the cashew factory workers work on Saturdays, and in the local region Saturday was the day reserved for wedding ceremonies. Initially, this was not an issue, for the women preferred to be working (80% of employees are women). As time went on, however, the women were experiencing an improved standard of living, and able to afford more stylish clothing, clothing that they wanted to wear at celebrations such as weddings. The result was the women successfully lobbied to move the wedding day to Sundays, when they did not have to work and could attend the ceremonies!

As you might expect, Locoh-Donou was asked about the lack of diversity and inclusion in the technology industry that he works in. He replied that a major reason is that the sector has not put emphasis on diversity and inclusion. There was not much attention paid to creating access or fostering an inclusive environment. So, one thing they are doing is to support organizations creating access to STEM, increasing the pipeline as it were. A second is to create an inclusive culture, which they have been working to achieve at F5. He said you have to be clear about what is acceptable behavior in the work place and what is not, and you can make progress very quickly once that is clear. It may require making some hard decisions when expected norms are not followed, but such moves will accelerate the culture change you are hoping for. He said a key for creating inclusion is to have a desire to learn about the experience of people who are not like you. Understanding the adversity experienced by others will allow you to support others, and you will never be a giving leader if you do not gain that understanding.

François Locoh-Donou was a hit with our audience! Students were inspired by his personal journey and by his outline of the Giving Leader. It was a privilege to host him on our campus!

  

Joseph Phillips has served as Dean of the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University since 2001. The school serves approximately 1000 undergraduate and 600 graduate students. Albers is distinguished by its focus on student success, commitment to ethics and social responsibility, pursuit of academic excellence, strong ties with the Seattle business community, and emphasis on preparing values-driven leaders committed to contributing to the Common Good.

Symetra CEO Addresses Change Management and Female Leadership

Posted by Joseph M. Phillips on April 11, 2019 at 8:04 AM PDT

 

Symetra president and CEO Margaret Meister recently participated in the Albers Executive Speaker Series, sharing her wisdom on change management and being a female business leader.  Meister leads a company with nearly $50 billion in assets, two million customers and 1,700 employees.

Meister joined Symetra as an actuarial student in 1988, rising through the organization to become chief actuary in 2004, chief financial officer in 2006, and president and CEO in 2018.   As CFO, she played a principal role in Symetra’s initial public offering in 2010, as well as its successful acquisition by Sumitomo Life in 2016. In 2015, she received the Puget Sound Business Journal’s CFO of the Year Leadership Award. Most recently, the Journal recognized her as one of the 2018 Women of Influence.

One of the first questions she responded to was were their important moments in her career that prepared her for the CEO role, or got her thinking in that direction, since being a numbers person does not always open up that path.  She responded that to do accounting or actuarial work really well, it cannot be just about the numbers, but one must also understand what the numbers mean in the business.  She always made sure she understood that, making sure to get out and learn the business by talking with others.  That orientation opened up opportunities and her career trajectory.  Meister also talked about the need to be ambitious, to let people know that you wanted new opportunities, that you were willing to take risks, and that you were not afraid to “get out over your skis.”

The conventional wisdom is that millennials don’t commit to an employer, and move from one to the next.  Would they be better off if they invested in an organization and stayed with one employer, as she had done?  That depends, Meister said.  It depends on whether you find the work intellectually interesting, if you like the people you work with, and you like the culture of the organization.  If not, you need to be moving on to something that is a better match.

Meister described her leadership style as someone willing to get down in the dirt and do whatever it takes to get things done.  She wants to make sure that she understands everyone’s role in a successful outcome so she can show appropriate appreciation for their work.  She’s out to inspire people, but also give people plenty of room to chart the path.  She does not want to micromanage, and she noted several times the need to, “council in private, support in public,” when it came time for identifying opportunities for improvement. :}

Whether it is technology or insurance, there are plenty of male-dominated industries in our economy.  This leads to challenges for women leaders in those sectors, Meister noted, starting with having enough other women to share notes with.  Additionally, women leaders are always going to be compared to male leaders, yet women are likely to lead differently.  She also mentioned that women are more likely to be given a leadership opportunity in a tough situation, and less likely to inherit a role in a healthy organization.   Women should also be themselves, and not pretend to be something else.  And she mentioned a frustration noted by many other women, namely that in a meeting they will throw out an idea, it won’t go anywhere, a male will throw out the same idea later in the meeting, and it will be anointed as a breakthrough strategy.  Don’t let that happen without calling it out, she advised, maybe publicly or later in private depending on the situation.

Meister noted that convenience was becoming a more compelling product characteristic for consumers (just think about Amazon if you don’t believe that), yet insurance company products are cumbersome, partly due to regulatory issues.  So, one of the things she is thinking about a lot these days is how can they bring convenience to their insurance products.  She’s not so much worried about Amazon encroaching on their market, since their asset management function is very difficult and serves as a barrier to entry, but it does look like a situation at risk of disruption by someone at some point!

Since Symetra is now owned by Sumitomo Life, a Japanese life insurance company, she was asked how that is different.  Meister said that what was not different was the core values and competencies of Symetra and its parent firm.  She also noted that the Japanese are very detail-oriented and precise.  They want to see smaller margins for error.

We all know there are not enough women leading major business organizations in our economy, but Margaret Meister is one of them, and her visit to our campus was a great opportunity for our students, especially our female students! 

 

Holland America President Counsels Students

Posted by Joseph M. Phillips on February 21, 2019 at 10:02 AM PST

On February 19th, Orlando Ashford, President of Holland America Line (HAL), visited campus for the Albers Executive Speaker Series.  His theme was,The Power of Authenticity in Leadership,” and he used the occasion to share some key insights from a book he is working on.

Ashford was appointed president of HAL in 2014, and while he had a wealth of experience in human resources, he had never been on a cruise ship before.   That changed five days after he started the job, when he took his first cruise! As president, he leads the award-winning cruise line's fleet of 15 ships carrying approximately 850,000 guests annually to all seven continents.

Prior to joining HAL, Ashford was president of the Talent Business Segment for Mercer, the global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement and investments. Previous to Mercer, he had high level HR responsibilities at Marsh & McLennan, Coca-Cola Company, and Motorola.

Ashford was named to Black Enterprise’s 2017 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America and was also named to Savoy Magazine’s list of “Top 100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America.”   Last month, he was recognized with a 2019 Executive Excellence Award by Seattle Business Magazine.

The first concept that Ashford shared was that one needs a Personal Board of Directors.  These are people who have served as mentors and provided trusted advice.  He said that his mother was the chair of his board – sounds like a board appointment that many of us should make!

Second, he said there should be a clear line between the work you do and its impact on the business.  If that is not clear, change your job or what you do in your job to make sure it is.

Third, work beyond the scope of your job.  Don’t be afraid to go beyond your job description.  Be proactive and take things off the plate of your boss.  That is a way to prepare for promotion and a more influential role in the organization.

Meetings are a platform to demonstrate competence.  Many people view meetings as something to endure and not look forward to.  Ashford said to see them as an opportunity to prove your capabilities to others.

Fifth, rely on the collective intelligence.  Tap into the genius of the group.  A group will always outperform the individual, and a diverse group will outperform a homogeneous group.  This is a theme he returned to several times during the talk.  He told a story of inheriting a very hierarchical culture at HAL, which can be traced to strong ties with the Navy.  When a 22-year company veteran briefed him on a particular issue early in his tenure, he had to push the employee for a recommendation, saying, “I’ve been here for two weeks and you have been doing this for 22 years.  You have more insight on this than I do!” 

Sixth, be an authentic leader and show up as your true self.  People need to see you as being open, honest, and genuine.  Moreover, a leader should work to create an environment where everyone feels they can be their true selves. This will lead to higher functioning organization and ultimately make you more successful.

In the Q&A that followed, Ashford said that the crew is the “secret sauce” of HAL.  They are highly trained with the goal being to make every passenger (all 850,000!) believe that it is all about that passenger!  Since there are 17,000 employees working on the ships, this is an epic challenge, and it only makes sense to have someone with a deep HR background captaining the ship!

Cantu Brothers Continuously Reinvent Redapt

Posted by Joseph M. Phillips on January 22, 2019 at 9:01 AM PST

 

David and Rick Cantu, co-founders of Redapt, visited the Albers Executive Speaker Series on January 15th.  Redapt is a cloud and big data service provider that the Cantu's founded 22 years ago, which has grown to $2 billion in revenues.

This was the first brother act in the 17 years of the speaker series, and they explained how they have continued to re-invent the company as the technology needs of customers change.  What started out as refurbishing and reselling computers, moved to be a solution provider of integrated services, adding engineering, security, access to the cloud, and most recently artificial intelligence and machine learning.  This continuous reinvention comes from listening to customers about what their needs are, then finding a way to respond.

They attribute their ability to scale the business to the Northwest's knack for focusing on the customer experience.  They cite examples such as Costco Wholesale, Nordstrom, and Starbucks that influenced them to listen to the customer and respond to requests for new services.

Company culture is another important ingredient to their success.  Beginning with a "no jerks" rule, they work hard to foster collaboration and teamwork, and a "we are all in this together" attitude.  They also want to see curiosity in their workforce.  You can't identify customer needs if you don't ask questions.

As a tech company, both admitted that finding the right people is difficult, and they have begun to set up several locations outside of the Seattle area to recruit tech savvy workers.  One key that aids their search for talent is the company culture.  It is one that has appeal to many workers.

As entrepreneurs, they note that a key to entrepreneurship is the ability to tolerate risk.  David said that in his case, when they were bootstrapping the business, it helped that he was living in his mom's basement and felt that he did not have much to lose!  He was not mortgaging his home or putting a family at financial risk!  Entrepreneurs also need imagination.  They need a vision to go out and execute.  The first attempt at execution may not work, but they must be ready to adapt and move in a different direction.

As brothers, one naturally wonders how well they get along (don't brothers always fight?).  The key is to trust the expertise of the other, they said.  David is the Chief Operating Officer, Rick the CEO.  They've divided up the territory to play to their strengths.  And when they do disagree, they know they would "rather be family and brothers than right!"

Is this super successful company an acquisition target?  Absolutely, but there are two big hurdles to overcome.  First, they value being in charge of their own destiny, and they believe they owe it to the other employees to maintain the culture.  They won't ask their employees to work for someone they do not want to work for!

David and Rick Cantu, co-founders of Redapt, visited the Albers Executive Speaker Series on January 15th.  Redapt is a cloud and big data service provider that the Cantu's founded 22 years ago, which has grown to $2 billion in revenues.

This was the first brother act in the 17 years of the speaker series, and they explained how they have continued to re-invent the company as the technology needs of customers change.  What started out as refurbishing and reselling computers, moved to be a solution provider of integrated services, adding engineering, security, access to the cloud, and most recently artificial intelligence and machine learning.  This continuous reinvention comes from listening to customers about what their needs are, then finding a way to respond.

They attribute their ability to scale the business to the Northwest's knack for focusing on the customer experience.  They cite examples such as Costco Wholesale, Nordstrom, and Starbucks that influenced them to listen to the customer and respond to requests for new services.

Company culture is another important ingredient to their success.  Beginning with a "no jerks" rule, they work hard to foster collaboration and teamwork, and a "we are all in this together" attitude.  They also want to see curiosity in their workforce.  You can't identify customer needs if you don't ask questions.

As a tech company, both admitted that finding the right people is difficult, and they have begun to set up several locations outside of the Seattle area to recruit tech savvy workers.  One key that aids their search for talent is the company culture.  It is one that has appeal to many workers.

As entrepreneurs, they note that a key to entrepreneurship is the ability to tolerate risk.  David said that in his case, when they were bootstrapping the business, it helped that he was living in his mom's basement and felt that he did not have much to lose!  He was not mortgaging his home or putting a family at financial risk!  Entrepreneurs also need imagination.  They need a vision to go out and execute.  The first attempt at execution may not work, but they must be ready to adapt and move in a different direction.

As brothers, one naturally wonders how well they get along (don't brothers always fight?).  The key is to trust the expertise of the other, they said.  David is the Chief Operating Officer, Rick the CEO.  They've divided up the territory to play to their strengths.  And when they do disagree, they know they would "rather be family and brothers than right!"

Is this super successful company an acquisition target?  Absolutely, but there are two big hurdles to overcome.  First, they value being in charge of their own destiny, and they believe they owe it to the other employees to maintain the culture.  They won't ask their employees to work for someone they do not want to work for!

This was another great opportunity for out students to hear from two successful business leaders who are also brothers. Fostering a collaborative culture and listening to the customer have allowed them to succeed in the highly disruptive tech environment, and there is more to come from Redapt!

 

Albers Recognizes New Endowed Professor and Chair Holders

Posted by Joseph Phillips on November 20, 2018 at 11:11 AM PST


On November 16th the Albers School held a ceremony to recognize our new endowed professors and chairs for 2018-19.  Endowed chairs and professorships are a particularly important resource for a business school to have.  They are a valuable tool for attracting and retaining outstanding faculty.   If Seattle University and the Albers School are to attain our aspirations for academic excellence, we can only do so with a strong portfolio of endowed chairs and professorships.

We have the good fortune to have five endowed Chairs – the Frank Shrontz Chair in Professional Ethics, the Lawrence Johnson Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, the Khalil Dibee Endowed Chair in Finance, the Thomas Gleed Chair in Business Administration, and the Robert O’Brien Chair in Business.

We also have five professorships.  They include the Robert Bosanko Endowed Professorship in International Economics and Finance, the David E. Tinius Professorship in Accounting, and the three Albers Professorships named after George, Eva, and Genevieve Albers.

The Albers family was a generous supporter of Seattle University, and to honor that support our school was named the Albers School in the early 1970’s.  In 2001, we received a generous endowment gift from the estate of Genevieve Albers which among other things created the Albers Professorships. It was George Albers who founded a successful food processing business that was sold to Carnation, and then bought by Nestle.  The Albers brand was sold by Nestle to Continental Mills, a Seattle based firm that uses the brand today for corn meal and grits.

At our ceremony, we installed Professor Matt Isaac as the sixth holder of the Genevieve Albers Professorship.  The professorship is a three-year appointment awarded for excellence in teaching, research, and service.

Matt joined our faculty in 2011 and teaches principles of marketing, sales management, brand management, marketing strategy, and even Consumption and Happiness to undergrad and grad students.  His research focuses on consumer judgement and decision-making.  He has published in the top journals of his field, including the Journal of Consumer Research, the Journal of Marketing Research, and the Journal of Marketing – all among the Top Four academic journals in marketing – as well as the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Retailing, and Journal of Advertising Research.  His work has been featured in the popular press, ranging from the New York Times to Fast Company to Forbes and many others.

We also installed Professor Claus Portner as the 17th holder of the Robert D. O’Brien Endowed Chair in Business.  The O’Brien Chair is a two-year appointment that rotates among our full-time faculty.  The appointment is made on the basis of the recipients record in teaching, research, and service, as well as a proposal on how to best use the resources of the endowed chair.

Robert O’Brien served on SU’s Board of Regents from 1963 to 1971 and on the Board of Trustees from 1971 to 1999.  He is given major credit for helping SU through the financial difficulties it experienced in the 1970’s.  He had a lengthy career at Kenworth Motor Truck from 1943 to 1958 and then Paccar beginning in 1958, retiring as Chairman in 1978.

Claus joined our faculty in 2011 and teaches courses in quantitative methods, microeconomics, and development economics.  His research interests include household and population economics, development, and labor economics.  His publications have appeared in such leading journals as the Review of Economics and Statistics, Demography, the Journal of Development Economics, and Economic Development and Cultural Change.  He has also worked as a consultant with the World Bank on development and population issues.

In service, Claus has served on CAPCOM, is on the Office of Sponsored Research Advisory Board, and on Department Faculty Search Committees.

Congratulations to Professors Isaac and Portner on their appointments to these endowed positions!

McKinstry CEO Urges Bucking Conventional Wisdoms

Posted by Joseph M. Phillips on November 2, 2018 at 1:11 PM PDT

 

 

Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, joined the Albers Executive Speaker Series on November 2nd to discuss how McKinstry has had success as a purpose-driven firm bucking some conventional wisdoms along the way.  Under Allen’s leadership, McKinstry has evolved from a mechanical contractor into a comprehensive design, build, operate, and maintain (DBOM) enterprise with more than $500 million in annual revenues and nearly 2,700 employees.

“Building on Unconventional Wisdoms” was the theme of the talk and Allen got right to sharing them.  The first was that a positive financial outcome was not a goal, but a consequence of what they do well.  The aim is to take care of employees, add value for customers, contribute to the community and be a business with a purpose.  If you can do all that, you will be profitable.

Second, instead of avoiding risk and shifting it to parties that are the least qualified to manage it, they embrace it as a DBOM business.  They don’t subcontract things out.  They try to do it all and do it well.  There are many risks in building and maintaining a facility.  Their promise is to take care of all of them.

According to Allen, in construction industry they were told to stick to construction.  Servicing is a very different business, so stay out of it and stick with what you know.  But Allen noted that in building a facility you learn so much about it, and so it only makes sense to leverage that knowledge in the service business.  The result is they have 10,000 buildings with preventive maintenance contracts.

A fourth conventional wisdom they have rejected is the idea that in any successful business you need high achieving, entrepreneurial employees who need to be handsomely rewarded.  Yet that runs counter to their focus on building a culture of teamwork and collaboration, so they don’t do that.

Another belief is that you need to be a non-union shop in order to be successful in construction.  But McKinstry likes trade unions because the unions will supply the well-trained tradespeople they need when they need them, and McKinstry will know these workers are well paid, have health insurance, have retirement plans, etc…. which goes with their philosophy of taking care of employees.

Allen also thinks their contrarian view about technology has served them well.  The conventional wisdom is to not be on the bleeding edge and jump on the latest technology.  But based on what they have learned from important clients such as Microsoft, they want to be an early adopter.

In the question and answer period, Allen was asked about making the right decision under uncertainty.  How do you figure out whether to launch a new business line, etc….?  He takes a portfolio approach.  Some things that you are doing are low risk and serve as a base line (for preserving company jobs, for example), while others are higher risk.  The lower risk activities serve as a backstop from which to think about doing higher risk initiatives.

Another question was around fostering innovation.  He responded that innovation is more likely to occur in an enterprise where people feel they are making a difference.  It is in that environment that they can feel brave, direct that passion, and sell their idea internally on the basis of the firm’s values.  Purpose-based businesses are likely to foster innovation, in other words.

When asked what career advice he might offer to students, Allen quipped, “Come work with me at McKinstry!”  He then added that students should keep in mind that life is a journey, and they need to find something that is purposeful.  In finding that purpose, there may be moments when one needs to be “mercenary” (do something without a lot of purpose) in order get you to where you ultimately want to be.

When asked what advice he would give to a smaller firm in the construction industry, he noted that it does not get any better than this, and in construction today, “even the blind squirrels are finding nuts.”  Everyone thinks they are really smart now, but what happens when the demand for your services is cut by a third?   Figure out now which customers you have your strongest ties with, and be laser focused on serving those customers well, even if they are not your most profitable customers.  You need to retain these customers through thick and thin, because if you look for new customers in a downturn, you will not find them.  Of course, that is not just good advice for the construction industry!

Dean Allen has some great insights for our students.  He is a smart, inspirational leader who is committed to advancing the Common Good!   He is a great role model for our students!