Tag: Executive MBA

Ivani, cofounded by EMBA

Justin McKinney, EMBA 45, reports that the company he cofounded, Ivani, has earned a featured spot with a global business partner at the Consumer Electronics Show, which starts today in Las Vegas.

Ivani, which develops technology that links smart devices, allowing them to detect whether people are in the room, will be a featured partner at the booth sponsored by French company Legrand, along with Marriott and Samsung. McKinney reports that he’ll be presenting Ivani’s “network presence sensing” technology and Ivani’s partnership with Legrand, the largest wiring device company in the world.

We caught up with McKinney for a quick Q&A before he headed for Las Vegas.

The news of the moment is Ivani’s featured spot at the Legrand booth at CES. What does that mean to attendees, to our readers—and to Ivani.com?

Legrand is the leader in occupancy sensing technology on a global scale. It speaks volumes that Legrand leadership believes in Ivani’s network presence sensing technology and sees this as a human sensing platform where their users can benefit from and grow with the technology.

To date, there have been few impactful advancements in the “internet of things” (technology that links everyday devices, home appliances, wearable devices, etc., to the internet). One of the primary discussions in IoT right now revolves around autonomous buildings or buildings that respond to people rather than the opposite.

This is where Ivani’s network presence sensing (NPS) changes things. NPS technology is a set of custom firmware and software packages which turns groups of wirelessly connected IoT devices like Legrand’s smart switches and outlets into advanced occupancy sensing systems without adding to or changing their hardware. Along with Ivani’s partners like Legrand, the data NPS provides can enable autonomous lighting, advanced physical security, optimized HVAC, proximity marketing and more.

What exactly does it mean to be an “occupancy sensing system”?

For the first time, occupancy sensing will be a software solution rather than a solution limited to a traditional hardware sensor, which will enable new business models like occupancy as a service. This allows the user to experience new functionalities over time through over-the-air updates.

For instance, a homeowner who has a group of NPS-enabled smart switches and outlets in their home could, with a simple update, enable motion sensing without having to add new hardware. A month later, another update could allow that homeowner to experience presence sensing (a valuable sensing capability currently not yet available on the market).

Beyond this, NPS holds the promise of counting and locating people all through software updates. These new functionalities would elevate their lighting experience, save them money on their energy bills and insurance, make their home more secure, and more.

Ivani’s partners could simply place a button in their app to activate these updates, allowing their customers to add functionality to their existing devices. This means customers can activate the functionality they want, and Ivani and its partners can share in the revenue generated by those activations.

Something else this news speaks to is the level of tech coming out of the greater St. Louis area. There is a myth that disruptive tech only comes from the coasts. Along with many other extraordinary tech companies in the area, we are hopefully changing this stereotype.

How does the company affect the everyday lives of its customers?

Ivani provides the world with innovative solutions to foster everyday sustainability. As a technology and intellectual property development company, Ivani focuses on providing our partners with cost-effective market-leading solutions to human presence detection for IoT applications. Along with my fellow co-founders, we started the company in 2014 and went through two important pivots that set us on the path we’re on now. We’ve been focused on our current technology—network presence sensing—since 2015, and we haven’t looked back.

Being a startup, we all wear many hats. The Ivani cofounders together determine strategy. As COO, I’m generally responsible for the company’s budget, marketing, business development, and overall operations. That said, I do nothing by myself and lean heavily on my co-founders and the Ivani team.

Using analytics and machine learning, Ivani turns groups of wirelessly communicating IoT products like smart switches, outlets, and lamps into advanced occupancy sensing systems without adding to or changing the hardware.

Why is NPS technology so significant? Don’t we already have things like motion detectors?

As the number of IoT devices grows exponentially, we see NPS becoming a standard because of its cost-effectiveness and the impact it can have on so many people’s lives at home, work, and in public spaces.

Occupancy data is key to making IoT devices smart. They need to sense people to respond to people. While this seems simple, it is often overlooked by many manufacturers of these products. With NPS technology, many of these devices can become truly smart, saving energy and significantly improving their user experience.

How did the name “Ivani” come about?

This is a fun story. One of our cofounders loves creative word games. After playing around with the word innovation, he came up with something we all loved as a name. Remove the words “no” and “not” from “Innovation,” shift a couple letters and voila! IVANI!

In what ways did your WashU Executive MBA influence your path toward cofounding the company?

Among other things, I was inspired by my fellow cofounders to step up my game to go for my Executive MBA at WashU. The EMBA experience has been invaluable for both myself and Ivani. It has influenced my decision making in all areas of the company, like strategy, marketing, operations, negotiations, and leadership—just to name a few. Additionally, the contacts I made during my time at WashU, both fellow students and faculty, have been very helpful with key advice when needed.

Pictured above: Ivani, cofounded by EMBA ’16 graduate Justin McKinney (inset), develops technology that can detect human presence by linking internet-connected smart devices.

Leadership. Self care. Hiring learners. Being grateful. These themes threaded throughout the “60 ideas in 60 minutes” presented by alumni of Olin’s Executive MBA program this morning. We live-tweeted the event and tried to capture all 60 ideas from the six executives, who included (and are pictured above in order):

  • Jan Alonzo, EMBA ’09, a member of the board of directors, executive committee member and treasurer for the Association of Corporate Counsel.
  • Eric Benting, EMBA ’10, owner/operator, Chick-fil-A.
  • Gene Dobbs Bradford, EMBA ’08, president and CEO, Jazz St. Louis.
  • Don Halpin, EMBA ’16, healthcare systems and sociotech innovation engineer, Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center.
  • Jennifer Labit, founder and CEO, Cotton Babies (please accept our apologies for the occasional typo in her name as we tweeted too quickly below!).
  • Ken Yamaguchi, executive vice president, chief medical officer, Centene Corporation.

Review the tweets below, but here’s the list of tips.


  1. Begin each day with gratitude.
  2. Top 10 days: Keep a list and revisit it from time to time.
  3. Make a list of things you have accomplished and are the most proud of from last year.
  4. Learn about the problem of harassment and make changes to protect yourself and your business.
  5. Set goals for the year, just for you.
  6. Do the most important thing first each day.
  7. Help others, just because it is the right thing to do.
  8. Stay current and relevant in this quickly changing world.
  9. Work on your network when you don’t need anything.
  10. Be a leader and pass along some of these ideas to your team and others you care about.


  1. Reduce complexity. Focus efforts and efficiencies by getting rid of difficult things.
  2. Employer brand: What is it? Tell stories. Best way to attract talent.
  3. Guerilla recruit. In a tight market, find what you really want. Identify where they are.
  4. Tour of duty. Be realistic about opportunity. What does commitment to work here really mean?
  5. Where do we win? Find when and where you are at your best and dig deep to understand why.
  6. Pour into one more: Find one more person you can grow in 2018.
  7. Not keeping pace: Where or when is business not growing at the same rate as the rest?
  8. Pull multiple levers. Find an idea and ensure all spends and resources support it.
  9. Relationship power in the workplace. Those with strong personal relationships are happier and more productive.
  10. Keep your mind, body, and soul healthy.


  1. When you think you know what you are doing, you are likely on the decline.
  2. Don’t let critics or fans lead you astray.
  3. Practice, practice, practice.
  4. Never compromise your art.
  5. Learn to accept help.
  6. Conflict is hard, but necessary.
  7. Listen
  8. Keep going if you make a mistake.
  9. Have your own voice.
  10. Have fun.


  1. Smile. It’s a force multiplier.
  2. Flatten the sine curve. Don’t let task maintenance get away from you. Pick your No. 1’s.
  3. Tell stories.
  4. Be passionate.
  5. Learn by walking around — at 2 a.m.
  6. Trust but verify (and tell people you are doing this).
  7. Know your boss’s boss’s schedule.
  8. Admin assistants are a force of nature. Work on the key influencers.
  9. Practice everything (and then 37 consecutive miracles happen).
  10. Character is everything.


  1. Build your community.
  2. Avoid perfection paralysis.
  3. Run toward the mountains.
  4. Practice hearing.
  5. Know your people.
  6. Practice different.
  7. Babies at work.
  8. Be the bridge.
  9. Do what you love.
  10. Change everything.


  1. Personal characteristics are more important than personal performance.
  2. Character comes from a balance of warmth and strength.
  3. If you want to understand a person’s character, give them power.
  4. When it comes to adversity, be managers, not victims.
  5. Develop a personal mission statement.
  6. Use mission to inspire people.
  7. Embrace challenges, but be prepared first.
  8. To lead an initiative, socialize a vision.
  9. Constructively challenge people to inspire performance.
  10. Measure a team by passion and loyalty.

Scroll down to review our tweets and pick up the tips from our six executives:

Watch a recording of the event below.

Transitioning from the military into a civilian business career means learning how to adapt your passion and apply existing skills in a new way, according to three Olin Executive MBA graduates who highlighted their own transition in a recent piece published by U.S. Veterans Magazine.

“In the military, you’re always looking for ways to become more efficient to provide the highest level of service to your country,” said Don Halpin, who served in the US Air Force for 20 years before earning his EMBA in 2016 and becoming healthcare systems engineer at Jump Trading Simulation & Education Center in Peoria.

“In healthcare, it’s a similar situation,” he said. “I love that I’m able to aid in bettering the lives of our patients, and the EMBA played a large part in that.”

Eric Maddox, who served in the US Army as an interrogator, found he could make connections between his experience and his business savvy now as a motivational and keynote speaker who tailors his talks to his audience, reflecting business trends he mastered in the classroom.

“I quickly realized how my experience in the intel world and war zone can directly apply to businesses and private organizations,” said Maddox, a 2016 EMBA alumnus.

“The EMBA program provided the perfect forum to tie together and finish off the leadership, strategic thinking, and management skills I developed through my years of experience in the military,” said Harry Schmidt, a 20-plus-year veteran of the US Air Force and Air Force Academy who is now president and CEO of Passavant Area Hospital in Springfield, Illinois. He also earned his degree in 2016.

Read the full story in U.S. Veterans Magazine online.


Congratulations to four members of the Olin community—including a current Executive MBA student—selected as up and coming leaders in the St. Louis Business Journal’s annual 40 Under 40 Awards. More than 500 nominations were submitted for the awards this year.

Here are awardees with strong ties to Olin:

Shannon Bagley, EMBA 2015

Vice President at Centene

Ryan Moss, BSBA 2001

Project Director at McCarthy

Jared Ogden, EMBA

Founder and CEO of Triumph Systems

Adam Tenzer, MBA 2007

Vice President at Mastercard

When I received an email offering a “Coaching Opportunity” for Executive MBAs to participate in Olin’s Intensive Case Experience (ICE) Competition, part of the full-time MBA required course Critical Thinking and Impactful Communications, I read it and let it slide. The commitment was several hours on a weekend in December—a busy month for everyone.

But when I received a second email on “Giving Tuesday” requesting volunteers, I sucked it up and offered up my Saturday.

It was the most satisfying volunteer experience I have ever had.

To begin with, Patrick Moreton, Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, provided the volunteer EMBAs with an abstract of the student assignment, considerable context around the problem at hand, as well as the expectations of the volunteer coaches. The one-hour session was reminiscent of EMBA lectures, including an explanation of the case and the challenge to the students: “Suggest opportunities to disrupt Monsanto’s business using NLP (Natural Language Processing) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) in marketing and customer strategy.” I mean, how cool is that?

Monsanto and Amazon had presented the context of the problem and potential solutions to the student teams, and the teams were now in the process of preparing competitive presentations. Amazon and Monsanto offered office hours during the weekend to answer questions from the teams. The winning team would have the opportunity to present their idea to Monsanto.

Happy to hear that the full day commitment had been whittled down to four hours, the EMBAs each had an assigned conference room and three student teams scheduled to show up for one hour apiece.

During the prep, Moreton emphasized the importance of not providing answers, but asking the right questions.

  • Be the boss, but not the kind that tells people what to do

  • Resist your impulse to answer the question because you know it

  • Make sure everyone is heard

As I listened to each of the teams I worked with, I was surprised how little I needed to know about the specific topic to assist them with honing their ideas. Each team came in with ideas that, after one hour of work, were further developed and more refined. You can’t ask for more than that from a volunteer experience.

Patrick Moreton, Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, prepped volunteers on how to coach MBA ICE teams. 

I asked Moreton after my coaching sessions why he extended the opportunity to EMBAs. “We do a fair amount of work with peer coaching, but it’s difficult for a peer to give the same level of feedback as someone who has more experience. The trick is to get people with more experience who understand that they’re not there to answer the questions, they’re there to help develop the people,” he said.

In addition, MBA students are interested in networking with EMBAs. Unlike opportunities for coffee or an Olin-sponsored cocktail party, coaching gives MBA students and EMBA alumni opportunities to connect on a different level. “From my perspective, people make relationships when they work together and when you have a shared purpose to really come together as a team. This is not just to give them the name of an EMBA to have coffee with, it’s a chance for them to demonstrate the value of being in that person’s network,” he said.

A fellow EMBA 43 alum, David Jackson, also volunteered as a coach. I asked him why he did it.

“For the same reason you still see Lou Brock and retired Cardinals baseball players hanging around the clubhouse. While I was not anywhere close to as good of a student as Brock was a baseball player, I enjoy engaging with and helping develop business students in the same way he still helps develop world-class athletes. Moreover, coaching is the best way to refine my leadership skills and learn new ideas and tricks from the students,” he said.

What I found satisfying was the realization that my Executive MBA degree, and my years of business experience, are truly valuable to young professionals. It isn’t necessary to know the details—I have a framework of expertise that applied to business problems of all kinds is an asset and can help others learn and grow. This is a gift I wish every EMBA could receive.

On November 30, four Executive MBA alumni and students—all leading Chief Financial Officers representing a variety of industries—gathered to discuss the challenges and ever-changing roles of CFOs.

Rebecca Boyer, of KellyMitchell Group, Charles Kim, of Commerce BancShares Inc., and Jim McCool, of Bunzl Distribution Co., discussed the influence, evolution, and expansion of the CFO role in a roundtable moderated by EMBA student Laura Carel, Manager of Complience at Emerson Automation Solutions.

Over the past decade, the role of CFO has extended well beyond the key functions of financial reporting, forecasting, auditing, and structure. CFOs are often the voice of the company within investor relations and communications to the board, as well as leaders of key strategic and operations initiatives. Despite the rapid rise of the CFO, studies show that less than 15% of CEOs moved into their role from CFO.

Jim, Rebecca, and Chuck each shared how their respective companies are shaping the role of CFO to meet today’s demands. They discussed ways they continue to evolve as professionals, including the development of soft skills, to prepare themselves for the next step. All three agreed that having a strong operations background (rather than purely financial) was a huge asset, providing a deep understanding of the business. Rebecca also emphasized the importance of strong communication skills in the role of CFO.

The next Olin roundtable event, a discussion on the role of operations executives, will take place on January 17, 2018. Check out Olin’s upcoming events for more.

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