Tag: George and Carol Bauer Leadership Center

Business owners trying to keep the lights on likely place “instilling culture” among their lower priorities (that is, if it makes the “priority list” at all). Articulating the values of a company often comes second to growing the business—but largely, that is a false choice. Identifying which values to build your company upon is an integral part of determining the company’s mission, goals, and overall strategy.

An upcoming panel discussion, “The Value of Values for Founders and Entrepreneurs,” explores the challenges businesses face when articulating their values. I asked Stuart Bunderson, George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance and co-director of the Bauer Leadership Center, and the panel’s moderator, Cliff Holekamp, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship and director of the entrepreneurship platform, to shed light on why crafting values and a strong culture is critical to success.

Why is it important to articulate core values in the early stages of a venture?

Holekamp: While in the early stage, young ventures are evolving and still figuring out who they’re going to be when they grow up. It’s at this formative time when a leader has the most impact on instilling the values that will become part of company culture for years to come. If you aren’t purposeful about the values and culture of your early-stage venture, then you’ll end up with a later-stage venture whose values and culture are accidental.

Bunderson: In the earliest stages of a new business, every decision can set a precedent and become a statement on what the organization values and aspires to become. Those decisions should therefore be made with a clear sense of the values that founders would like their organization to embody.

What challenges do founders face in articulating and instilling these values?

Holekamp: Perhaps the biggest challenge is to remain authentic to yourself and to your business. There are lots of positive values in this world, but as a founder you need to emphasize those that are true to who you are. As a leader, you are influencing your business and its constituents with every unintended word and action. If you choose a company culture that is an honest extension of your own best self, then it will be much easier, and more likely, that your business will be consistently infused with those values.

Bunderson: Pressures to chase funding or make near-term performance goals can lead founders to compromise on values. When founders cling to their core values in spite of those pressures, those values become part of the organization’s fabric.

What role do entrepreneurial values play in family firms that may not be the case in corporate firms?

Bunderson: Family firms may explicitly pursue values that corporations would not, values related to things like promoting the family’s good name and broader impact, providing learning opportunities for family members, or encouraging family members’ self-reliance.

Why should founders prioritize values and culture?

Holekamp: Both employees and customers want to be a part of something that is greater than a mere transaction of money for goods or services. A company that honestly conveys values offers something more than those that don’t.

Bunderson: Founders should prioritize values for two reasons. Core values that are woven into the fabric of the company can be a key source of competitive advantage that is not easily replicated. But perhaps just as importantly, if not more importantly, many founders want to create a company that stands for something besides just profitability.

What do you hope business leaders take away from the upcoming panel discussion?

Holekamp: Entrepreneurs and small business owners have the special opportunity to leverage their own personal values as a strategic advantage in business—a competitive advantage that their corporate rivals should envy. My hope is that more entrepreneurs recognize this, and leverage it to their own business and personal advantage.

Bunderson: A reminder of why values should be top of mind as they work to create a new venture.

Register today for “The Value of Values for Founders and Entrepreneurs.” There is no cost to attend, but registration is required.

About Stuart Bunderson & Cliff Holekamp

Professor Bunderson is the co-director of the Bauer Leadership Center and the George and Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics and Governance. He is also an honorary professor with the faculty of economics and business at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. He holds a PhD degree in Strategic Management and Organization from the University of Minnesota and BS and MS degrees from Brigham Young University. His award-winning research on issues of leadership and meaningful work has been published in leading management journals.


Cliff Holekamp grew up in Los Angeles and worked as an account executive for IBM in Nashville before coming to Olin, first as a student. After developing the concept in Olin’s entrepreneurship program, he founded a chain of healthcare centers which he later sold to a private equity group. Prof. Holekamp was the founding director of the Entrepreneurship Platform, was the co-founder and architect of the social entrepreneurship programs at Olin and at the Brown School of Social Work, and has launched several new entrepreneurship courses including programs in Hungary and Israel. In addition to teaching, he is a co-founder and general partner at Cultivation Capital, an early stage venture capital firm.

How do you provide focus to a 100-year-old company?  Diane Sullivan set out to answer that question in 2011 when she was named CEO of Caleres, a global footwear company with a diverse portfolio of brands.

Diane Sullivan, CEO, President, and Chairman, Caleres

Diane Sullivan, CEO, President, and Chairman, Caleres

Having been named President in 2004 and COO in 2006, Sullivan was already a seasoned executive within the footwear industry. With this experience, she successfully led Caleres (formerly Brown Shoe) through a name – and identity – change that was symbolic of the company’s shift under her leadership.

We were honored to have Diane Sullivan share her leadership experience with the Defining Moments class.

As a kid, Diane grew up “earning it every day,” a mentality that still serves her well.  As CEO, this manifests itself in a leader who does not shy away from hard work and who also has a willingness to ask questions and to listen.

Diane’s curiosity has been vital to Caleres’ sustained success in the fast-paced shoe industry. With the explosive growth of e-commerce, especially mobile purchasing, a dynamic leader who understands how to deliver the product in light of shifting consumer behavior is of paramount importance.

In order to achieve success in this industry, Diane also recognizes the importance of collaboration with all stakeholders. Firmly believing that, it is perhaps not surprising that such a collaborative approach has coincided with Caleres reporting very strong performance across several metrics during her tenure as CEO.

The biggest takeaways I have learned from Diane is valuing teamwork, having curiosity, and growing through adversity can help you be successful.

Guest Blogger: Danny Henry, MBA’17


Mike Matheny was a speaker at Olin’s “Defining Moments: Lessons in Leadership and Character from the Top” course. 

“Leadership and high-level achievements go hand-in-hand,” began Mike Matheny during his presentation at Olin’s Defining Moments course in January. Mike is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, a role he’s held since 2012. Mike was a professional baseball player, playing as catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, and the San Francisco Giants before hanging up his gloves in 2006. After his stint as a professional catcher, he became involved in youth sports, coaching Little League, publishing a book on youth sports, as well as starting a non-profit, the Catch Twenty-Two Foundation, before following the infamous Tony La Russa in becoming the Cardinal’s manager. Mike has won numerous awards and accolades, both as a player and as a coach. He is a four-time winner of the Gold Glove award as well as the youngest and most winning manager in recent history.

Mike Matheny is a high-performer, having achieved the pinnacle of baseball by playing in the Major Leagues. It’s not his position, but his performance that Mike says makes him to be a leader—and he believes that high performers are leaders because others want to follow them. Mike shared with us five attributes that separate the highest performers from the rest. He believes that living a lifestyle of learning, having the discipline and focus to do the right thing, being inherently tough with grit, having positive energy, and selflessness are the hallmarks of high-performing leaders. Matheny goes further to say that showing up with energy and enthusiasm are non-negotiable for any leader, quoting his mentor, Willie McGee: “Some people light up a room when they enter, some when they leave.”

Guest blogger: Tony Nuber is a 2017 MBA Candidate in the Full-time MBA Program at Olin Business School. 

“Systems don’t win, players do.” “Adversity is an opportunity for heroism.” “What it takes to win is simple, it’s not easy.”

If you had asked me which Defining Moments speaker would present his or her leadership philosophy through quotes from former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Lewis, my first guess would not have been Major Brands CEO Sue McCollum. But Sue McCollum brought her true self to the Defining Moments classroom, and Sue’s true self is a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan.

Sue McCollum holds two advanced degrees, an MBA from American University and a JD from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a force in the St. Louis community, sitting on countless boards, including Forest Park Forever, the Contemporary Art Museum, and the Regional Business Council. She is the mother of two accomplished young men.

But what specifically brought Sue to our Defining Moments classroom in February was Sue’s role as Chair and CEO of Missouri-based Major Brands. Sue is the only female CEO of a national wholesale liquor distributor posting more than $500 million in yearly revenue, and her story of how she came to hold that position is humbling and inspirational.

Major Brands CEO Sue McCollum visits Olin's Defining Moments course in Feb. 2017.

Major Brands CEO Sue McCollum presents to Olin’s Defining Moments course.

In 2010, McCollum was living in St. Louis, starting her first year of law school and raising two sons with her husband Todd Epsten, then-CEO of Major Brands, a company that had been in his family for three generations. But when Todd passed away after a short and unexpected illness, McCollum took over as the company’s CEO. Shortly after, several of Major Brands’ biggest customers attempted to break their contracts with the company, the legality of which was questionable.

At this point, McCollum had to make a decision: should she fight and lose the lawsuits, fight and win the lawsuits, or give up? McCollum decided to fight, and stressed the importance of decisiveness in leadership. There was no turning back; she had made a commitment not only to herself, but also to Todd’s legacy, to her employees, and to the community. To flinch or back down would not only guarantee a loss, but also would be a betrayal of the trust and belief that these various stakeholders had in her.

This recognition of the importance of relationships in leadership was a theme McCollum echoed throughout her speech. She pinpointed Major Brands employees as the key to the company’s success, noting that strong communication and common values were essential to keeping spirits high during the court trials.

McCollum also credited clarity of purpose and “embracing your inner badass” for her success, encouraging listeners to push forward toward the things they are afraid of, and reminding the audience to embrace discomfort, because those are the moments that change you. McCollum zeroed in on the power of adversity to help people grow, and mentioned how she challenges herself to not shy away from these types of situations, because there is always some good that comes of them. The idea that the hardest situations we face are also those that most deeply shape our character resonated strongly with me.

As McCollum finished relaying her remarkable story to the class, we were all left promising ourselves that we would face our own defining moments with the same integrity, grace, and courage as McCollum.

Written by Cassie Galante for the Bauer Leadership Center

As a child, Orvin Kimbrough never thought he would end up where he is now. As President and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis, he manages the efforts to better people’s lives in the Greater St. Louis area—and it is no easy task. Considering the changing market, large number of social programs, government funding cuts for social services, and increasing demand of clients, there are many considerations. Despite these challenges, Kimbrough has served as President and CEO for three years, and seems to have everything under control–although, his life certainly didn’t start out that way.

Kimbrough was young when he was put into the State of Missouri foster care system following the death of his mother. He grew up in the system and, at 18, was launched into the world. Although he scored a 15 on the ACT (19 was considered average at the time), he decided to apply to college. He didn’t have sufficient funds to apply to more than one school, and the one school he applied to did not accept his application. But through persistence, Kimbrough tested out of the required summer math class and was accepted to the University of Missouri. He struggled through and graduated, but faced personal challenges, including his younger brother being shot eight times and left paralyzed. Although it was a blow, Kimbrough’s persistence gave him the courage to continue working toward his goals.

Kimbrough meets with students in the Defining Moments course.

Kimbrough meets with students in the Defining Moments course.

Kimbrough says that in his first job at JeffVanderLou Initiative, he found his passion, and at his second job, Faith Beyond Walls, he found his voice. Through his focus and courage, he is where he is today, as President and CEO at one of the region’s largest privately-financed charities. His humility and authenticity were apparent in his message to the class. He spoke of how as a student struggling to enter higher education, he would come and sit on WashU’s campus because it “made him feel smart.”

The greatest takeaway that we can learn from Kimbrough would be the importance of finding our voice and not being ashamed of our past. Kimbrough says that he still struggles with worthiness, thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t even be in his current role. But he encouraged students to not be ashamed of their story and background. He has found his passion, and uses his voice to mobilize and inspire an army of people to care about his cause. As he said, “I’m here because I want to be here.” As a man who has faced challenges and adversity throughout his life, his story truly inspires us to find our passion and work for it, for great things will come to those who have enough hope to imagine a different future.

Guest Blogger: Joslyn Bunderson on behalf of the Bauer Leadership Center

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