Dean’s Blog

Lend Your Leg

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on April 5, 2013 at 11:04 AM PDT

On April 4th, Albers students organized Seattle University's participation in International Mine Action Day, which commemorated the 14th anniversary of the International Land Mine Treaty.  Since its initiation, 165 nations have signed the treaty and 36 have not, including the US.  The theme of the day was "Lend Your Leg for a Mine Free World."

The day included a gathering of over 150 students, faculty, and staff in the PACCAR Atrium for a picture of symbolic support for land mine victims - everyone rolling up their right pant leg to "Lend a Leg."  

This was followed by a showing of the film, "The Eyes of Thailand".  The film focuses on two elephant land mine survivors.

Our campus participation in International Mine Action Day was inspired by the visit of Tun Channareth to our campus nearly two years ago.  Channareth received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to ban landmines, and was here to receive an honorary degree from the university.

The students did a marvelous job of organizing the event.  Nine Albers student organizations collaborated with nine student organizations from other parts of campus.  In doing so, they showed that collaborating with others can lead to a more successful result!  Kudos to them!




Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on March 28, 2013 at 10:03 PM PDT

The week of spring break, March 25 to 29, I made a trip to visit Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) in Shanghai.  For several years, we have had a 3+2 program with SISU in which their students do an undergraduate business program for three years at SISU and come to SU for two years to complete our Master of Professional Accounting (MPAC) degree.    The student ends up with an SISU undergraduate degree and SU's MPAC degree. 


Each year, we go to interview and meet with the interested SISU students.  Since SISU is focused on language training, we find the English language skills of the students to be very strong, but we still want to test that out by meeting with them.  This year there are four SISU students in our MPAC program.


SISU was founded in 1949 as the Shanghai Russian College!  It is one of the Chinese schools included in the government's Project 211, which means it is one of the more prestigious universities in China.  It has about 7000 undergraduate students, 3000 graduate students, and 4000 international students!    It has 37 different undergraduate programs, 33 master's programs, and 12 PhD. Programs.  There are actually two business schools, the College of International Finance and Commerce and the College of International Business.  We currently work with the former but would certainly be happy to collaborate with both!


For the past several years, Bruce Koch, chair of our Department of Accounting, has gone to Shanghai to do the interviews.  In the process, Bruce has become a rock star at SUSI, known for his enthusiasm, sense of humor, fondness for spicy food, and love of cold temperatures.  That is a tough act to follow.


SISU has two campuses, one in the city (Hongkou) and one out in the suburbs (Songjiang).  In 2008, David Reid and I visited the Hongkou campus and our visit led to the creation of the 3+2 program.  The undergraduate business program is at the Songjiang campus, so I had to travel out there to meet with the students, visiting that location for the first time.  The campuses are night and day.  The Hongkou is small and contained like the SU campus, but the buildings are packed more tightly and generally taller.  The Songjiang campus is spread out with stately buildings and wide grassy lawns, what you would associate with a large Midwestern university campus!  The Hongkou campus is in a noisy, traffic filled neighborhood.  Songjiang is in a quiet district of wide boulevards and manicured landscaping.  It is about 60-90 minutes by car between the two campuses, depending on traffic.


First, I spoke to about 40 SISU students about the MPAC program and our new Bridge MBA program.  Some SISU students may be interested in the latter.  Then, I interviewed 16 students who were interested in the MPAC program to test their English skills and their interest in accounting.  Of course, it was very interesting to talk to these students and learn about their lives and aspirations as well as their interest in SU!  The interviews took place over two days, and in addition to our conversation I also gave them a short essay to write so we would know something about their writing skills.


After the interviews, in consultation with SISU staff, we ranked the students for purposes of awarding several partial scholarships we offer to SISU students.  It was a difficult process since there were so many talented students, but we finally came up with a list we were happy with.


Throughout the process, SISU was a very gracious host.  If the shoe were on the other foot, I doubt that we would do as good a job of hosting them to our campus!  In particular, Ms. Xiaolin Yan, who serves as Foreign Affairs Secretary for the college, was always there to get me where I needed to go, answer questions, and do anything else needed.  Thank you, Xiaolin!


During my visit to SISU, I also talked to several campus officials about strengthening the ties between SU and SISU, which they are anxious to see happen.  Suggestions include a student exchange program, hosting visiting faculty at the two institutions, and creating a 3+2 program around the Bridge MBA.


During the visit I also visited with our alum, Diane Jurgens, who earned her MBA at SU and serves as Managing Director for Shanghai OnStar, a joint venture between GM and the Shanghai Automotive Industrial Company.  It was fascinating to meet her and learn about her accomplishments, as it goes without saying that she is one of the few American women leading an automotive business unit in China or elsewhere, for that matter.  I hope we will be able to get her to speak on campus over the next year or so!


I am now sitting in the Tokyo airport on my way back to Seattle.  I did not notice much different about Shanghai in 2013 compared to what I saw in 2008.  If you have been to Shanghai, you know it an impressive city with its miles and miles of high rise buildings and high rise freeways.  All this has been created in just a few decades.  It is interesting to see, but once you see it, it is not something you go out of your way to see again.  That means that both this trip and my next trip to Shanghai will be about visiting SISU, maybe to begin collaboration with their College of International Business! :}


March Madness

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on March 27, 2013 at 5:03 PM PDT

March Madness is upon us, and by that I mean the NCAA Division I basketball playoffs.  I travelled to Salt Lake City to watch men's second and third round action, which I try to do each year.  What can be better than watching six D1 games live over three days while spending the rest of the time watching games on TV??  Not all six games are exciting contests, but this year, four of the six were. 

That included Wichita State grinding out a win over Pitt, Southern nearly upsetting Gonzaga, Harvard upsetting New Mexico, and the Shockers of WSU bouncing Gonzaga in the third round.  Not a bad regional, and it far exceeded my expectations looking at the lineup going in.  That just shows you one more time that you never know with college hoops.

Salt Lake City was not the only place for upsets.  My alma mater, LaSalle, found a way to make it to the Sweet 16 as a play-in team, having not been to the tournament since 1992.  On the other hand, my other alma mater, Notre Dame, was upset in the first round.   And my team for 19 years, Creighton, won a close second round victory, only to fall to Duke in the third round.  Thus far, my affiliated institutions have a record of 4-2!  One of these days, maybe the SU men's team can make it to the dance.  The SU women nearly did this year, and they will be right in the thick of it next year, I am sure!

Speaking of women's hoops, they are in the middle of their tournament, as well.  Normally, it is equally exciting, but this year is there any chance that someone can beat Baylor?  It just does not seem likely, which makes it less intriguing.  That is the interesting thing about the men's side this year - it seems like so many teams have a legitimate shot at the title.

The Albers March Madness pool is back - I am so glad Madhu Rao has ramped it back up!  There is a lot of abuse unleashed every time the results are updated, and I get more than my fair share.  But that is OK, as it would be unseemly for the Dean to win.  It is important to have a respectable finish, however!  That Harvard win busted my bracket some, by the way!

I have been going to Regionals since 1998, when Creighton qualified for the Big Dance for the first time under Dana Altman, and played in Orlando.  It was there that Creighton upset Louisville in the first round.  A few changes I have noticed since then is that (1) TV coverage of games is so much more available,  (2) tickets are easier to get and there are more and more empty seats, and (3) the commemorative t-shirts are so much easier to buy - they always used to run out of  them.  (1) and (2)  are no doubt related.

There is one thing that sometimes becomes a problem, and that is fans (and announcers) sometimes forget how YOUNG these players are.  That goes a long way in explaining a missed layup or free throw at a critical point, losing one's temper and drawing a technical foul, or making a bad decision on an impossible angle shot or pass.  Then, sometimes an occasional fan will think it is humorous to get on a player like one would witness at a pro game - not very funny at all.  That is the advantage of working in higher education every day - you know how young the players are!

I know that there are many critics of March Madness, saying that it exploits the students and makes millions of dollars for others.  On the first point, a scholarship athlete is getting over $50k in benefits assuming he or she is making progress toward a degree, and that does not factor in what a degree will do for lifetime earnings (on average).  Plus, you know those students just love the experience of being in the tournament! 

On the second point, that is no doubt true, but schools are negotiating more favorable contracts with networks and more of that can be used to pay the costs of athletics (including the other sports for men and women!).  Plus, schools reap intangible benefits from the exposure in terms of alumni relations and boosting the brand of the school - just check with Florida Gulf Coast on that!


Gail Yates

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on February 26, 2013 at 8:02 AM PST

Gail Yates served as Senior Development Officer for the Albers School from 2004 until she retired in January.  To recognize Gail's excellent service to Albers and the university, we recently held a dinner in her honor.  Those in attendance spoke in glowing terms about Gail's work at SU.  In addition to being a consummate professional, Gail was a great teammate, always willing to pitch in and help out where needed, even when the activity did not relate to her role.  She never said, "That is not my problem."


During her time here, Gail probably had to deal with me more than she had to work with anyone else on campus.  That means she is a survivor - she put up with me all those years! :}   One thing that probably helped was our common enthusiasm for athletics, particularly college basketball.  Naturally, we were very supportive of Seattle U. returning to Division I athletics, and I don't have to ask her to know that she is VERY excited about the women's basketball team leading the WAC!


An important thing to be able to say when you leave is, "I left the place a much better place than I found it."  That is definitely the case for Gail.  One example would be our alumni relations and the Albers Alumni Board.  Under Gail's watch, the alumni relations of the school have definitely improved and the Alumni Board has strengthened.  Alumni events such as the Crab Feed and the Golf Tournament are much stronger today than they were.  In recent years, Gail has been working with Rob Bourke to make that happen, but she has definitely had an impact.


One of Gail's most important contributions was her work on the SU Capital Campaign - "For the Difference We Make" - which went from 2003 to 2009.  While the campaign was underway when Gail arrived, she definitely was instrumental in the success of the Albers School.  Our key projects were to create an endowment for graduate student scholarships, the Tinius Professorship in Accounting, and endowments for our entrepreneurship and business ethics centers.  The success of those projects is definitely paying off today, and is part of the legacy that Gail is leaving at SU.  The graduate scholarships have proven to be critical in the last few years as our graduate students have faced increasing financial pressure and declining employer support.  The Tinius Professorship has been instrumental in attracting and retaining outstanding faculty to our highly ranked accounting program.  The endowments for entrepreneurship and business ethics are providing significant levels of support to our widely admired Center for Business Ethics and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center.


Of course, Gail's success in garnering resources for the Albers School goes well beyond the capital campaign.  Other notable achievements include the PMI China Engagement Initiative, scholarships to fund student study abroad, and corporate support for the Summer Business Institute, not to mention my favorite, the Dean's Fund! :}


Attendees at the dinner remarked on Gail's passion - her passion for fund raising and her passion for the university (you can add women's basketball to that).  They also pointed to her generosity with her time, talent, and her own giving.  When people experienced an illness or some other setback, Gail was always there to support them.  One person remarked that Gail did it without giving it much thought, that it was simply the thing to do, not realizing what a positive impact it had and that it was not the way everyone responded.


Although Gail was in fundraising, which does not usually have much direct contact with students, Gail had a profound impact on a number of students during her time here.  She hired them as administrative assistants and trained and mentored them to do their work at the highest level.  This ended up being an important part of their education at SU, making Gail a professor with impact!


While Gail has retired, she really hasn't.  It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows her that she is continuing to work part-time on special projects for Mary Kay McFadden, VP for University Advancement.  This includes leading the search process to find a new development officer for the College of Science and Engineering and helping to orient new University Advancement staff.


Gail Yates is leaving, but she will not be forgotten.  She will be remembered for her professionalism, for her willingness to pitch in and support her colleagues in Albers as well as University Advancement, and for her enthusiastic support of the mission of Albers and SU.  She will have the satisfaction of knowing she has left an impressive legacy at the Albers School.



John McAdam

Posted by Liz Wick on February 8, 2013 at 5:02 PM PST

John McAdam, President and CEO of F5 Networks, was featured in the Albers Executive Speaker Series on February 7th. F5 is one of the fastest growing tech companies in the world, an application delivery provider whose products most of us use but don't realize!


McAdam has served as President and CEO of F5 Networks since 2000. He took the company through the turbulent post-dot-com era, positioning it to grow from annual revenue of $108 million to more than $1.3 billion today. He has overseen numerous successful acquisitions, guiding F5 into new markets that enhance the company's Application Delivery Networking solution offerings. Under his leadership, F5 was added to the S&P 500, and Fortune Magazine named F5 to its 2011 and 2012 lists of 100 Fastest Growing Companies worldwide.


When McAdam took over F5, their main offering was around load balancing and most of their customers were dot-com companies. Starting in 2004, they were able to offer traffic management systems and successfully target Fortune 500 firms. Making that bet was one that worked for F5! Through the years they have been able to expand their services to other areas such as data security. The rise of mobile data and the movement to the cloud have expanded their market considerably.


In discussing the success of F5, McAdam emphasized the importance of culture, noting that employees need to be respected and respectful of one another. Other aspects of the F5 culture include innovation, integrity, metric-driven, and global mindset.


Regarding the latter, most of F5's business is outside the US, and customers are requiring the same product. There is little difference in what they sell across markets, but the size of transactions is much bigger in North America.


When it comes to his leadership style, McAdam said the most important thing is that people trust you. People at F5 clearly trust McAdam, and his humble persona definitely helps with that. Also critical, he said, is to surround yourself with good people - exactly what you would expect a leader with humility to say!


McAdam had other important insights to share with the audience. One was that he is a great believer in paranoia when it comes to business - "only the paranoid survive," he said! It's clear that he will never let F5 get complacent.


He also noted that a successful CEO must have a supportive board of directors. If he had not had that at F5, particularly when he first arrived, he would no doubt have left long ago.


Technology is changing our lives and our society in ways we don't yet fully understand. With the rise of mobile devices and the cloud, F5 is right in the middle of many of these changes. McAdam noted there are significant growth opportunities for F5, and growth is necessary for F5 to remain an independent company. His visit to campus was an excellent opportunity to hear about some of the key trends in the tech industry, but also about successful leadership in a rapidly changing environment.

The Cost of Higher Education

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on February 7, 2013 at 8:02 AM PST

Seattle University Magazine asked me to write an article on changes taking place in higher education.  It was published in the Winter, 2013 edition under the title, "The Cost of Higher Education."  If you have not read the magazine, the article is printed below.  I even received some nice emails from alumni on the article!


Compared to other sectors of our economy, higher education has not changed that much.  How we do things is not all that different now than it was thirty years ago when I started my career in higher education.  We have continuously refined and improved upon what we do, but the basic framework has persisted.  That seems like it is about to change. 


Two forces are coming together to force our hand.  One is the continuing improvement in technology that facilitates on-line instruction.  On-line instruction is not new.  It has been around for several decades, but what is different is that it is getting better.


The second force is the high cost of higher education, whether it is private or public.  Private universities have been consistently raising tuition faster than the rate of inflation.  That is not sustainable.  Public higher education, perhaps underpriced at one time, has increased sharply in cost due to financial pressures experienced by state governments.  This story is familiar to every family trying to send their children off to college.


Clayton Christensen, a management professor at Harvard, has made a name for himself with his research on "Disruptive Innovation," a model he uses to explain why companies at the top of many sectors have found themselves all the sudden struggling to survive.   Whether it is explaining the demise of Blockbuster, Kodak, Digital, or Borders, each was the victim of a disruptive innovation.  Sometimes it is the development of a new technology or process.  Sometimes it is the development of a new product that overtakes an existing product. 


Christensen has finally applied his insights to his own industry, higher education, which is presented in his co-authored book, The Innovative University.  Christensen argues that universities will need to re-engineer themselves to assure on-going relevance.


Across our programs in the Albers School, we expect these trends to appear in different ways.  Perhaps the slowest to be impacted is our undergraduate business degree, which by its nature has a strong formative character to it.  Where we think it is showing up first is in our MBA program.  Our program is strong and highly rated, but tuition and fees are high for the average student.  And while we have always prided ourselves on the flexibility of our program and the ability to accommodate working professionals, it still takes a lot of time and requires many visits to campus.  Overlaying all of that is a steady drumbeat of commentaries critical of the value of the MBA.  Of course, we don't agree with that, but that talk is on the street.


To keep our program relevant, we need to reign in the financial cost and increase accessibility.  That means identifying what is really needed in an MBA and delivering that in an even more convenient format.  We need to design different ways for students to complete prerequisites, cut some of the coursework, and move to "hybrid" models of teaching, where lectures seldom take place when classes meet.  Instead, lectures are reviewed by students outside of class and class time is used for higher order activities.  To the extent that students (and employers, perhaps) question the value of the MBA, they may have more interest in certificate programs.


There is no way to know for certain how "Disruptive Innovation" will impact higher education, but it would be foolish to assume it will not.  New developments are taking place very quickly and we must stay alert and ready to respond.

Steve Davis

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on January 30, 2013 at 12:01 PM PST

Steve Davis, CEO of PATH, was the latest speaker in the Albers Executive Speaker Series on January 15th.  The theme of his presentation was, "Innovation for Social Good," a topic he is well positioned to address.  His address explored the importance of cross-sector partnerships (business, non-profit, and government) in fostering innovation to solve societal problems.


Davis has taken an interesting path to get to PATH.  Most recently he was at McKinsey as global director of social innovation, focusing on cross-sector work in global health and development.  Prior to that he was CEO of Corbis, the digital media firm, and also served as interim CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute.  He has also served on the boards of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Global Partnerships, and the Council of Foreign Relations.


To illustrate his point about innovation and the importance of cross-sector partnerships, Davis gave the example of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, which PATH has been working on with the Gates Foundation, WHO, and others.  It began in 2001 and eventually achieved the breakthroughs needed to be at the point today where over 112 million people have been vaccinated.  One of the guiding principles of the project was that the price of a dose needed to be kept under 50 cents.


To achieve that price point required significant innovation.  Ultimately, it meant PATH was working with a Dutch technology firm, an Indian manufacturer, African political leaders, and many others.  Key lessons learned from this and other innovative ventures include:


1. You need to be clear about what you want to do.

2. Partnerships are critical to success.

3. You need to think of innovation globally.  It does not just happen in the US.

4. It takes leadership to make it happen and it is hard work.


Davis said there has been a notable shift in where innovation happens and where power sits in global health and development.  In-country capabilities have improved and countries are taking more ownership of the process.  In particular, the process has become much less patriarchal and much less dominated by global powers such as the US.


When asked what advice he would give to students wanting to work in the global development field, he said:


1. Trust your instincts.

2. Be comfortable taking risks.

3. Develop a specific skill.  Organizations do not hire many generalists.


As someone who has gone back and forth between the for-profit and non-profit organizations, Davis was asked to reflect on differences between the two sectors.  He noted they had more similarities than differences and we need to "bust some myths" that non-profits are inefficient and business is greedy.  Business can be inefficient and on-profits can be greedy.  He also thought that non-profits are harder to manage since there are fewer financial tools and metrics are harder to come by.


There was a large turnout for the event, with over 250 in attendance.  It was clear that students from across campus were present, not just business students.  It's an indication that Davis' message was well received and many are eager to learn more about the power of cross-sector collaboration.




Bridge MBA

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on December 13, 2012 at 4:12 PM PST

The Bridge MBA is the newest program in the Albers School and will welcome its first class in September, 2013.  The program is targeted at recent college graduates who lack significant work experience and who do not have an undergraduate degree in business.  It is designed to prepare these students for a solid entry into the job market and, ultimately, a leadership role in their industry.


The Bridge MBA is a full-time, one year program.  Students will take 12 credits a quarter for four quarters over a 12 month period.  There are many curricular and co-curricular activities designed to make up for the lack of work experience.  For example, students are required to do a consulting project, take on an internship, participate in the Albers Mentor Program, and attend Albers Speaker Series events.  These are "nice to have" activities in our other graduate programs, but they are not required in those programs.  Similarly, this is a full-time cohort program, whereas most of our other graduate programs are flexible part-time programs giving students many options in terms of when to begin and how fast to proceed.



We are very excited about the Bridge MBA.  It will address a real need in the current marketplace as many recent college graduates struggle to enter the labor market and begin their professional career.  We get to design an integrated curriculum from scratch.  Courses will fit together and reinforce each other much better than happens in traditional programs.  Finally, it is a graduate program with many co-curricular requirements integrated into the student experience.  This is something new for us, because historically we have focused on courses to meet program learning goals.


If anyone can deliver a quality fast-track and intense program like this, it is Seattle University.  We are very student focused, and the Bridge MBA will require a lot of support for the students in the program.  The Albers Placement Center is highly regarded by employers and will be able to identify internships for the students, and jobs upon graduation.  The Albers Mentor Program has been up and running for over two decades, so we know this is a fantastic opportunity for the students in the program.  Through the Projects Center, we have a strong track record of successful work with businesses on student consulting projects.  The Albers Executive Speaker Series has a ten year record of bringing top business leaders to campus.  In other words, we are well positioned to deliver on the distinguishing features of the program.


I am very proud of how our faculty and staff were able to move the program from concept to reality.  A group of faculty and staff began work on this project in July.  Working over the summer (when faculty do not normally work on committees!), they were able to design a program proposal for the full Albers faculty to consider at the beginning of the fall quarter.  Responding to feedback, the task force fine tuned the program design, which was formally approved by the faculty in mid-October.  We then took it to Seattle University's Academic Assembly for its approval in early November.  Finally, the Seattle University Board of Trustees gave formal approval to the new degree program at its meeting on November 29th.


To design and gain approval for a new degree program in less than five months is moving really, really fast!  Only at Seattle University can something like this happen!  It takes a lot of collegiality and campus wide support to do something like this! :}


We will start marketing the Bridge MBA in January, but already we are receiving a number of inquiries as word spreads about the new program.  That is very exciting.


When we first announced the program, students in our existing MBA program, which we are now branding as the Professional MBA program, wondered what this meant for their program.  For example, some were concerned that it somehow undercut the value of their degree.


First of all, it is important to understand there are many versions of an MBA degree and a number of schools have as many as six or seven different MBA degrees.  Even locally, schools have a variety of MBA degrees.  For example, the main campus at the University of Washington has a Full-time MBA, a Part-time MBA, and a Technology MBA.  They are all legitimate MBA degrees and one does not detract from the other.  Like us, they also offer an Executive MBA degree, which is yet another version of an MBA. 


What most distinguishes them is the audience they are designed for, and this is definitely true for our Bridge MBA and Professional MBA.  The Bridge MBA is designed for students lacking work experience.  The Professional MBA is designed for students who have significant work experience.  We know from past experience that those two groups should not be mixed, because students with work experience have a strong desire to learn from other students with professional experience.  They do not like students in the classroom who do not "bring something to the table" for class discussions.


Over the years, we have always been clear about the need for students to have work experience in order to enter our Professional MBA program.  Still, we would always have a number of students applying to the program who lacked that experience, and we, of course, would deny them admission to the program.  Now, we have a program for those students, and seeing all those applications over the years is one reason we are optimistic about the prospects for this program.


The required co-curricular activities for the Bridge MBA are an important distinguishing feature when comparing the program to the Professional MBA.  The Professional MBA relies much more on classes (and credit hours) to achieve outcomes.  The Bridge MBA relies much less on credit hours, instead supplementing classroom activity with co-curricular requirements.  In fact, we are now reviewing the Professional MBA to determine how it needs to be restructured to remain up-to-date and relevant in the market.  For example, it could come back with fewer required credit hours and new co-curricular requirements, borrowing to some extent from the Bridge MBA.


We are excited about the opportunity to offer the Bridge MBA.  We think it will prove to be a very good program for a number of students.  We look forward to welcoming a strong cohort in Fall, 2013.  In the meantime, if you know of anyone who is interested in learning more about the program, have them contact Jeff Millard at




Mary Carpenter

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on November 29, 2012 at 9:11 AM PST

Mary Carpenter, who had been serving as Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs, retired from Seattle University on October 31st.  Mary first joined Seattle University in 1988, first working in the Dean's Office and then transitioning to graduate programs.  To recognize nearly 25 years of outstanding service to the university and Albers, we hosted a dinner in Mary's honor on November 26th.


Fr. Steve Sundborg was able to attend and presented Mary with the "Honored Retiree" Award from the university.  The award is presented to exceptional staff upon their retirement from the university, and Mary is certainly deserving of the award (which includes privileges such as SU email, library access, and Connolly Center access).  Fr. Steve recalled that when he first started as President, they wanted to have a staff representative on the SU Executive Committee.  Mary filled that roll for two terms, which says something about the respect people have for Mary.  There was never any doubt that she would ably represent staff and not be afraid to speak up!


I first met Mary before I arrived at SU in 2001.  Jebnet is a group of Jesuit business graduate program directors that meets twice each year, and Mary was representing SU while I was representing Creighton.  Mary was well established with the group and one of the key leaders by the time I started attending meetings in 1997.  She welcomed me aboard and showed me the ropes.  When I applied for the dean's job at SU, I was happy to see that Mary was on the search committee.  Of course, I don't know what that did for me, and have never wanted to ask! :}


I have always been impressed with Mary's attention to the needs of students.  "Students First!" could have been her personal tag line.  Her dedication to students no doubt rubbed off on other Albers faculty and staff over the years.  Mary was also always one to pitch in and help with any project that we happened to be working on.  You could always count on her to be a team player.  Of course, you would also get her opinion on how the project needed to be done, whether it corresponded with your own or not!


A number of faculty and staff stood up to share their favorite memories of Mary.  Several faculty spoke of her invaluable assistance in helping them in their role overseeing one of our graduate degree programs.  Several staff mentioned some personal difficulties they had experienced and how Mary had been so supportive of them at a critical time.


Mary got to tell a few stories, as well.  One was that former Albers dean Jerry Viscione used to call her "The Flasher," because she was always leaving budget documents in plain sight on her desk!


Great universities are built by the efforts of people like Mary Carpenter.  Thank you, Mary, for everything you have done for SU and its students!  You have created quite a legacy!








Tom Marra

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on November 21, 2012 at 5:11 PM PST

Tom Marra, President and CEO of Symetra, was our latest speaker in the Albers Executive Speaker Series, visiting on November 19th.  Symetra is headquartered in Bellevue and provides employee benefit, annuity, and life insurance products.  Marra has served as CEO since 2010.  He has more than 30 years of experience in the insurance industry, beginning his career at The Hartford Group, which he left after serving as president and chief operating officer.


Marra explained the origin of Symetra, which at one time was the life insurance division of Safeco Insurance.  Safeco sold the division to White Mountain Insurance Holdings in 2004, which included other investors such as Berkshire Hathaway.  The current ownership structure is 20% White Mountain, 20% Berkshire Hathaway, and 60% publicly traded.


The title of Marra's talk was, "Respect the Cash Cow."  To explain that, he shared a simple tool that he uses to make good decisions about different business units in a company, what he called the "Boston Matrix."  On one axis is the growth prospects for the business - high or low??  On the other axis is market share - high or low??  A business can be classified into one of four quadrants: high growth and market share("Stars"), high growth and low market share (??s), low growth and high market share ("Cash Cows"), and low growth and low market share ("Dogs").



Cash Cow


The goal should be to become a "Cash Cow" for the business.  "Stars" may not be sustainable.  Competition will be attracted into the market and profitability will be challenged.  Or, they may become cash cows.  A Question Mark (??) is unproven but has potential.  The problem is it is not making money, it is burning cash.  The Cash Cow may help fund the Question Mark, but you don't want to do that for too long.  A "Dog" is losing money, but can prove hard to get rid of.  It may have been the first line of business and so people want to hold on to it for too long.


When asked about the "Fiscal Cliff," he noted that their business tracks with the economy.  They do well when family income is rising.  Symetra wants to see a strong economy.  He is hopeful that a bi-partisan effort will succeed in avoiding the Fiscal Cliff.  He noted that higher personal income taxes should help Symetra's tax saving product line.


Marra also explained how the low interest rate environment created by the Federal Reserve is a drag on their performance.  The low rates depress the performance of Symetra's investment portfolio and ultimately force them to raise insurance rates.


When asked for one piece of advice he wished he had received upon entering the job market after college, he said he wished someone had told him that he had more control over his career progress than he realized.  He noted that if you network and find a mentor, it can help you take charge of your career and make moves that you didn't realize you could make.  Another plug for the Mentor Program and networking!


One panelist asked Marra if it was problematic to be an insurance company headquartered in a town known for technology.  He said the problem had more to do with Seattle not being an insurance town, because it will be more difficult to network with others in your industry, and networking is very important.  If you are in Hartford, which is such a hub of insurance activity, you can network at your children's soccer game because there are sure to be half a dozen other parents working in the industry.  Not going to happen in Seattle.  As a result, he tells his employees to get out and join industry groups, attend conferences, and visit customers more frequently.  Another challenge is you are not as near the customer.  The Northwest does not have the same population density that other parts of the nation have.  It means longer, more time consuming trips to see the customer.


When asked about the comment by previous speaker Jim Sinegal, former CEO of Costco Wholesale and now Executive in Residence for Albers, that culture is the most important thing about an organization, he said he could not agree more.  He described the Symetra culture as one of teamwork, mutual support, and respect.  People support each other.  Leadership is necessary to provide direction, but everyone is important and valued.  It is important to remember the competition is out there, not in the organization!


It was another great opportunity for our students to hear from a respected business leader, in this case one representing the insurance industry, Tom Marra from Symetra.