Tag: leadership

Tanya Yatzeck and, at right, David Moons.

My first impression walking into the event “60 ideas in 60 minutes,” presented by alumni of Olin’s Executive MBA program on January 9, was that the six panelists mingling among the attendees were EMBA graduates.

That information was on the event invitation, but it didn’t hit home until I overheard them reminiscing about their classes and the fun that they’d had getting together in the years since graduation—just like me and my former classmates. The panelists were us.

Sixty ideas in one hour sounds daunting, but the simplicity of the format made it possible to absorb every single one of them. Each of the six panelists had 10 minutes to present their 10 ideas. Each had a theme, which kept the content fresh from speaker to speaker.

Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis, used his musical training as a theme, while Jennifer Labit, founder and CEO of Cotton Babies, emphasized her experience in entrepreneurship. Eric Benting, owner and operator of Chik-fil-A, shared his  insights about working with very young employees.

Attendees at the EMBA-sponsored “60 ideas in 60 minutes” event.

Don Halpin spoke of pivoting from a military career to medical innovation, and Ken Yamaguchi about straddling both corporate and university surgical responsibilities. Jan Alonzo, an attorney, provided a practical tool box of tips, including counting good days, blessings, helping others, and the legal and business necessities of becoming informed about the problem of sexual harassment.

While I was there, I was surprised and pleased to run into my classmate from EMBA 43, David Moons, president at his family’s business, Anji Mountain. I asked him why he attends Olin events.

“When you work in a small business, it’s very easy to get focused on just what you’re doing and ignore some of the external factors that are influencing your business,” he said. “WashU events provide me with the opportunity to stay in touch with what other companies are doing and, more importantly, how some global macro factors can be affecting my business and my people.”

I asked David to distill the 60 ideas into his top three:

1. Pull multiple levers. Find your idea and make sure all of your resources support it.

David: “We have a major initiative this year with some patented innovation. I’m cherry-picking different things that we’ll likely do to support that launch, but we’re now thinking more of, “Let’s just pull all the levers.” We don’t really know what’s going to work, and we might as well go full stop as opposed to limit our financial exposure, because we want to make sure this thing is a success.”

2. If you think you know what you’re doing, you’re likely in decline.

David: “That is something that will likely keep me up and still does keep me up on a nightly basis. I think that level of focus—on continuous improvement and not resting on your laurels—is about trying to drive your company and your vision and what you’re doing to improve. It’s something that’s critical. We can’t be successful if we don’t do that.”

3. Use mission to inspire people.

David: “When I think about mission inspiring people, it’s not just my people that I work with at Anji Mountain. It’s more about using our mission as a company to inspire our customers to get further engaged with our business. We compete in a hyper-competitive market. There are a lot of major players that are established. We need to continually find ways to differentiate, and using and leveraging our mission to better position ourselves with our customers is something we’re going to continue to focus on.”

David added, “I’m going to take probably the top 30 and bring it back to my company and my people, and hopefully they can get something out of it and it starts a bigger dialogue.”

I spied another EMBA classmate, Ken Franklin, running out of the event before it was over. I talked to him by phone later in the day.

“I’ve always felt that I have a moral compass guiding tough decisions, but I didn’t realize that it’s a skill,” he said. “At the end of the day, you want to do the right thing, be honest, have integrity, and build character. That’s what leaders do. My big takeaway—big ideas come from the heart.”

Read more about the event and find a list of all 60 ideas.

A high-performing team is the holy grail of leadership. But how do you build a strong team in practice? The beauty of Olin’s Executive MBA program is the abundance of opportunities to learn, apply, and practice team-building skills.

Executive MBA alumni Eric Willis and Ali Ahmadi, EMBA Academic Director Lee Konczak, and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Andrew Knight summarize some of the more salient lessons about team-building from the Executive MBA program and their professional lives:

A Shared Purpose

As part of the Leadership Residency, Lee Konczak, academic director of the Executive MBA Program and senior lecturer on organizational behavior and leadership development, administers a team development survey to measure how well the student teams function.

The assessment is Olin’s way “of defining for EMBA teams what a good team looks like,” Konczak said. “Teams do better when they have shared goals, plan ahead, and communicate. In some cases, it’s obvious when teams aren’t on the same page using this assessment.”

According to Konczak, commitment to a shared purpose and a willingness to plan are the two most important team-building takeaways for executives in the program.

Diversity of Perspectives and Experience

Eric Willis, EMBA 43, was a senior brand manager when he started the EMBA Program. He was promoted to a brand director during the program and is now director of marketing at Nestlé Purina Petcare. For him, the team-building aspect of the Executive MBA Program was an opportunity to practice skills he’d learned at Nestlé with a completely different and diverse group of professionals.

“One of the things I loved most about the EMBA program was that it was such a diverse group of people with different points of view and different backgrounds, all coming together in one place,” Willis said. “On your team, you’ve got to figure out how to leverage everyone’s strengths to achieve a common goal.”

At Nestlé Purina, Willis regularly brings groups of disparate team members together, including finance and product development participants, to agree on mission and vision. Some of the challenges include developing trust, addressing different sets of values, and communication.

“To me, building a strong team means getting diversity of thought. It means respecting people’s different points of view,” he said. “When I think of building a strong team, I think of empowering people to make decisions, and I think of leveraging what everybody brings to the table and trying to find a way to use everybody’s different perspectives to reach a common goal.”

An Environment of Trust and Respect

Entrepreneurship is an area in which building strong teams—and building them early—is critical. As an EMBA student, Ali Ahmadi, EMBA 44, leapt fully into entrepenreurship, co-founding drone 3D software startup “Strayos” (formerly AirZaar), with a fellow student. He knows firsthand how important it is that teams work well when the stakes are high and the rewards are not guaranteed.

“Early stage founders often don’t realize that the idea or product is not the only factor motivating the talent; it’s also the willingness to follow their leader into an environment where the odds are stacked against them in succeeding,” he says. “When you build a team that trusts and respects you as a leader, they will go through a wall of fire to reach the common goal but if the trust and respect are neglected, then very little can be done to salvage it,” he says.

Be Open to Feedback

Andrew Knight, associate professor of organizational behavior at Olin, finds that one of the biggest roadblocks for entrepreneurs is cultivating and developing a sense of shared ownership—“not in an equity sense,” Knight said, “but in terms of the feeling of ownership that the team members have over the venture. There is kind of an asymmetry in people’s investment in the project at the outset.”

Knight suggests leaders invite input from those joining the team, while at the same time creating boundaries: “Encourage new team members to make contributions and suggest changes to the venture, but pair that with clearly communicating where the entrepreneur is less willing to make changes.”

This clarity—inviting input within a mutually understood structure—“applies in almost any creative team where there is a need to get people feeling ownership—especially implementation and innovation,” Knight said.

The importance of this delicate balance is supported by recent research by Knight and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Markus Baer, who identified three behaviors of successful lead entrepeneurs in the earliest stages of a venture.

It’s hard to keep the sighing, heavy-eyed students of a night class engaged. But on this Tuesday evening, I sat in a buzzing room—with classmates swapping stories of stuffing and stitches from their first Build-A-Bear experience. Taking the podium to kick off our Women in Leadership class that night was Maxine Clark, philanthropist, serial entrepreneur, and the founder and former “Chief Executive Bear” of the Build-A-Bear Workshop retail company.

Over the next two hours, Maxine took our class through her career journey, explaining some of the personal and professional decisions that she made along the way. From leaving Payless to launch her own company, to leading projects supporting education and nonprofits in St. Louis, Maxine embraces change while staying true to her core values. I left class that night with a few favorite nuggets of wisdom to carry with me:

Be open to the teachers around you.

Maxine has a very apparent appreciation for the teachers in her life, and she recognizes that they come in all forms—whether a schoolteacher, supervisor, or child (Build-a-Bear’s core customer). In being open to learning from others, Maxine has found the strength to improve from mistakes, the drive to rise to challenges and surpass expectations, and even the inspiration to build new businesses.

Passions change. Keep up.

At the heart of Maxine’s story is an unshakeable faith and courage in following her passions. With several career pivots—becoming an entrepreneur and then entering the nonprofit space—she has maintained the self-awareness to recognize that her passions are malleable, yet always worth chasing. By embracing her passions at different stages of her career, Maxine continues to feel fulfilled in her work.

Live and lead with authenticity.

You can’t help but love Maxine’s unapologetic attitude. Her words are charged with a certain fearlessness and wrapped in sincerity. Maxine’s ventures speak to her values, and she makes no excuses for conducting business in a way that is authentic to who she is and the things which are personally important to her. As her talk came to a close, she signed off: “That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.”

Guest Blogger: Neelam Vyas, MBA ’18 & GSBA President

The ITEN Board of Directors has appointed Mary Louise Helbig the new Executive Director of the not-for-profit organization, effective immediately.

After an extensive search, the Board determined the strongest candidate was among ITEN’s group of experienced Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs).  Mary Louise has been deeply involved with ITEN since 2014 as an EIR, working hands-on with many entrepreneurs and in ITEN’s Corporate Innovation Program (CIP).   Many startups have benefitted from her guidance and intervention and Mary Louise also works closely with one of ITEN’s CIP partners.

Mary Louise Helbig, Olin MBA’94

“I am honored to take on this role at a very exciting time for ITEN,” stated Mary Louise.  “The needs of entrepreneurs have evolved, and we are developing more rigorous programs that support them through the commercialization process – from concept to market entry.  Additionally, building upon the success of CIP, we are committed to increasing opportunities for collaboration between our entrepreneur community and corporate partners to facilitate innovation.”

Mary Louise has over 25 years experience working in executive marketing, product development, and business development roles for start-ups and companies with high growth initiatives in the technology, financial health, and education sectors. She is the former President of Virtual Nerd, an EdTech startup that received national and industry awards for product design, and was CEO of HealthyMe, a Health Tech company.  She has also held executive management positions in major corporations, including strategic planning for American Express Incentive Services and redesigning the high speed internet installation program at Charter Communications.

“Our search turned up many excellent candidates, but at the end of the day we realized we had the strongest candidate already in our organization and someone very engaged with the St. Louis ecosystem,” said Jim Brasunas, ITEN Board member and Interim Executive Director.  “Mary Louise’s experience spans entrepreneurial and corporate executive leadership, and combined with her exceptional people skills, she is the ideal leader for ITEN.   We are excited to have her at the helm as we take the organization to the next level.”

The ITEN Board commends the staff, mentors and EIRs who have stepped up during the three-month interim period to keep the organization’s programs and venture development services operating effectively.   In particular the Board thanks Director, Entrepreneur Development Melissa Grizzle and Senior EIR Chuck Vallurupalli for outstanding service and unwavering commitment during this time.

About ITEN

As a major catalyst driving the St. Louis region’s startup ecosystem, ITEN (www.itenstl.org) accelerates innovation across the region through targeted programs for both corporations and scalable startups that employ technology as a core driver of business.  ITEN’s programs focus on rapid market analysis, product development, connections to talent, essential networking, and for startups, access to funding and customers.  The core of the organization’s value proposition is for entrepreneurs to work together to build a vibrant innovation ecosystem across the region.   ITEN’s sponsors include the Missouri Technology Corporation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Gateway to Innovation Conference (G2i), Bank of America, BDO, CEdge, Polsinelli, Greensfelder, and Wells Fargo Advisors.

Source:  ITEN News Release, ST. LOUIS, July 31, 2017

Alumni in the news

Artistic Director Kenny Leon and True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta, GA, and TCTC Board of Directors announce the hiring of Chandra Stephens-Albright, MBA’87, as their next managing director.

Ms. Stephens-Albright brings an incredible depth of collaborative leadership and a successful track record of innovative financial campaigning. She is known for her business acumen in bringing people together, connecting marketplace insights, executing priorities and growing technical capabilities.

Ms. Stephens-Albright comes to True Colors Theatre Company from C5 Georgia, where she served as Executive Director. C5 Georgia is a multi-dimensional youth development program whose mission is to inspire high-potential youth from risk-filled environments to pursue personal success and prepare them for leadership roles. There, Ms. Stephens-Albright lead efforts to achieve financial sustainability, raise community awareness, optimize operational effectiveness and increase alumni engagement.

Previously, Chandra Stephens-Albright led innovation efforts for Coca Cola Company. For over 20 years in this capacity she built a reputation for directing productive teams, tackling tough challenges, and leading strategic initiatives. Specifically, Ms. Stephens-Albright guided the development of Coca-Cola Freestyle® in brand name, user interface design and visual identity. Before joining Coca-Cola, she was a Product Manager at Clairol. Ms. Stephens-Albright’s career began at Bristol-Myers Squibb in the Bristol Myers International Group.

As a dynamic and seasoned leader Chandra Stephens-Albright models and inspires high levels of integrity, collaboration and transparency with colleagues, donors, corporate partners, community groups and leaders. Deeply passionate for her community, Ms. Stephens-Albright currently serves on several Boards of Directors including the Emory Alumni Board, Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and the Georgia Charter School Association.

Chandra Stephens-Albright is a member of the Leadership Atlanta Class of 2005. A native of Atlanta, Ms. Stephens-Albright holds a BA in Chemistry from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and an MBA from Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Source: True Colors Theatre Co. news release

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