New Challenges

I have received many comments and questions since the annoucement was made public regarding my new position at Jacksonville University. I will not be moving into my my capacity until July 1st. But, I wanted to provide a few of the answers to the most common questions as to why after 11 years, I decided to leave Monmonth College:

What first attracted me to the Dean’s position at the Davis College of Business (DCOB)?

After 11 years working as a business faculty member, department chair, and college vice president, I was looking for a new challenge. The Dean’s position is a great opportunity for me to help grow the JU brand and expand the international reach of the DCOB.

Twenty years ago, the DCOB leadership developed an excellent Flex/Evening MBA program and attracted some of Jacksonville’s best and brightest aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs. The challenge in 2012 is to enhance the current program and attract  Jacksonville’s rising generation of managers and entrepreneurs and create linkages to international exchanges.

What do I mean by “attractive and relevant”?

That means adapting our program to the needs and aspirations of today’s business leaders. It is not enough to prepare students for their next job. We know what management consultants, current auditors, or loan officers do today. The challenge is to provide a program that is relevant enough to qualify for the next promotion and prepare the candidate for a lifetime of success. Today we use Google for searches and Microsoft Office for many business oriented tasks. What happens when the accounting software changes or the current tax code goes away? Who can adapt to these changes and make lemonade from the lemons?

We have to teach the best ways to utilize spreadsheets or manage investor expectations while preparing our graduates to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities unknown to all of us today. If you would have asked someone if Apple would be the dominant entertainment company ten years ago, everyone would have laughed. No one is laughing today. With i-phones, i-pads, Apple TV, and i-tunes representing a huge percentage of royalties to music artists, Apple is on the verge of becoming what Hollywood was in the 40’s and 50’s.

What is the expected ROI on a degree from the DCOB?

I am not sure yet. But I am confident they have provided a solid product. My job will be to make sure the perceived and real value of our degree grows. The most important factor is student success. But it is not easily measured. Another way to measure the quality of the business program is to look at the quality of the individual faculty and its curriculum. That is one concrete way any prospect can compare one business program to another.  It’s why accreditation matters. With the DCOB they maintain the highest accreditation with the Association of American Colleges & Schools of Business (AACSB).  AACSB is the gold standard in a business education. To obtain the accreditation, the school must meet stringent standards such as best practices in teaching, research, and career preparation. It is expensive to maintain a topflight program, JU has made that investment and University of Phoenix and other high profile business programs have not. Only 15% of American business programs are AACSB accredited. So JU is in an elite group.

Given the investment in time, effort, and tuition required to complete a Masters or even your undergraduate business degree, the return on investment (ROI) must be both immediate and long-lasting. Even with financial aid, that’s a $50-100,000 question that every prospect asks. It has to make sense. That requires a robust curriculum with faculty trainers that offer both depth and breadth. It’s one thing to obtain the skills that are immediately valuable for say an accounting graduate to begin conducting internal audits of financial performance, yet another to make value judgments in the area of business ethics. We can’t lose sight of the life-long dividends a quality business program provides. Events in the world can change our perspective. With business ethics I believe there are some absolutes, but the rules determine the outcomes.

The DCOB program must be compelling intellectually, socially (enjoyable and rewarding from the networking perspective), and provide a substantial return on investment. By substantial, I mean the ROI must be ten to twenty times the original investment. In terms of incremental dollars, it means that a graduate should expect to earn over one million dollars more than if they did not seek an MBA. For undergraduates it means at least $500,000 more than if they did not graduate from an equivalent business program

What makes being the Dean such a great challenge?

Business education is a mature product and with so many other evening and online programs there are few barriers in the way of any school starting a business program. It appears to happen every day. Despite the growing number of competitors, the Jacksonville University can become the best business program in the region if we can meet the challenge of continuous improvement and innovation. We need to get out into the business community and learn about the current problems and challenges. We must adapt our curriculum and coursework as necessary.

In business, change is necessary and we are running a business. It also requires a champion. My plan is support those champions that fight against the nay sayers—those that say we shouldn’t try or accept the status quo or mediocrity. There are many that will say change is not worth it. I do not want to change for change sake –but adapting to the demands of the market is a matter of survival. We can’t afford to simply focus on our traditional competitors in Central and Northern Florida or even those in the South East region. It’s an international market and we are just as likely to lose an international business student to University of South Carolina as Fudan University in Shanghai.

Why should we care?

In business, we need to have a great answer for the question, “why should I care?” and “how are you better than _____?” As Dean, I want to have a great answer for that question. Right now, all I could tell you is that the proper ingredients are in place. Prior leaders took bold steps by hiring excellent young faculty, while maintaining a quorum of the best senior faculty. Good examples of the outstanding young faculty are  Dr. Matrecia James in Management or the more senior leadership from Drs. “Mo” Sepehri in International Business and Bob Boylan in Finance & Accounting.These faculty have not only succeeded in driving student engagement and success, they have helped build a successful program. It is on that foundation that we succeed or fail. I plan to help the DCOB succeed while competing at higher levels not though possible.

Let’s look for those prospects and alumni friends that are as ambitious as we are—then we must convince them to join us in this goal.

Another goal is to enhance the reputation of the brand. The JU brand should translate to the “gold seal” of business confidence in our region and beyond. If the prospect is starting their second career or profession, or pursuing advanced study, it is a “given” to include the DCOB on their short list. But it is not enough to provide excellence and satisfaction in their pursuit of their degree. Competing programs can do the same thing. We must improve in and out of the classroom and delight and amaze our students.

I emphasize learning beyond the classroom because it fosters leadership skills, practical experience and social responsibility. A dedicated faculty and staff should provide “bridges” to these experiences.  In order to “win” more students and friends, we must be known for providing unparalleled personal and career guidance to our students, while engaging JU alumni and the community to support our students through scholarships, internships and career networking opportunities.

Ambition is the common denominator

While on campus I interviewed a number of JU students. I found it was ambition that drives the successful JU students. The common denominator was ambition to succeed, whether it was a music student or communication student. It was particularly acute with the MBA student I spoke with.

Their passion and smarts will propel them towards a rewarding career. Why? It is our desire as humans to do more than survive–we want to prosper and thrive. From my experience as an entrepreneur, it’s those aspirations that are the single greatest motivators towards success in a business program. Despite those yearnings to prosper and make a difference, graduates face some great barriers: high unemployment, taxes, commercial restraints by government, and limited time and capital. If it was easy to win at business, all business educators would be out of business.

As faculty we face challenges too. Publish in a leading journal, win a teaching award or grant. Obtain a consulting contract. Sometimes it feels as if success is just too difficult or beyond our grasp. Let me assure you that it is not. It is my goal to find more resources so that the DCOB faculty’s good work can be showcased. We can accomplish great work and bring honor to JU at the sametime.

Sales Compensation

At most successful companies, the top sales people are “well taken care off” from a compensation standpoint. Successful entrepreneurs  learn early on that great sales producers become the “goose that lays golden eggs” when properly incentive-“vized”. In my interactions with hundreds of companies over the last thirty years, I learned a few things about  the “DNA” that drives the best organization’s sales compensation philosophy. Organizational structure is certainly one aspect of success in sales, but there are many issues to consider. I have learned the most in my sales and business development career from what does not work.

Below are nine summary principles that produce excellent results:

1. As an entrepreneur you cannot ignore the sales function and your key sales people. Make it a daily priority to stay on top of who is selling and buying your product.

2. Salesmen amplify the best or the worst attributes of your company’s reputation. Hire with an eye on ambition, high aspirations, and drive rather than academic patina.

3. Logistics and sales are inextricably tied  (UPS or pizza delivery are good examples). Don’t think your logistical or customer support operations can be separated from your sales efforts. The best companies find a way to tie everything together to deliver a superior product on time.

4. If the key “rain-maker” is you, set a good example of consultative selling by taking the time to understand the customer’s need or problem rather than pushing your “canned product solution”

5. Subtle or major changes in your method of sales compensation have a profound impact on overall profitability.

6.. Try to practice open book accounting and transparency in your compensation practices

7. Levels of compensation are the salesperson’s method of keeping score and evaluating their own performance vi-a-vis everyone around them.

8. Keep your sales organization as “flat” as possible

9. Tie your compensation structure to your business fundamentals and “what really drives your business”

Undecided Majors

At Monmouth College, we admit 20-30% of students who are “undecided” about their major. We currently have more than 200 business majors who do not know what specific aspect of business they will focus on either. Frankly, I am not concerned despite the high cost of education that a student focuses on international business or entrepreneurism, my specialties, or finance and accounting. I am more concerned that colleges make it practically impossible to come to college undecided or change majors and graduate in four years. That is one of the biggest secrets in higher education today.

It is practically impossible to finish in four years unless you make a plan and stick to it religiously. That sounds good but in practice, but the college years are times of discovery and those revelations often change the path a students is pursuing. Great schools provide a general education platform that is flexible and broad. But the major area of study is where there is little to no flexibility. Specific sequencing can make it practically impossible to complete the undergraduate degree in four years. Examples are engineering, education, some “hard sciences”.

If prospects choose a quality college with excellent programs like those at Monmouth, and study topics that interest them, they will graduate on time. Their passion and smarts will propel them towards a rewarding career too. Why? It is our desire as humans to do more than survive–we want to prosper and thrive. Those aspirations are the most powerful motivators towards success in any business. Despite those yearnings to prosper and make a difference, graduates face some great barriers: high unemployment, taxes, commercial restraints by government, and limited time and capital. It is not easy to win at business.

Plus from research we discovered the average American is forced or elects to change jobs at least seven times over a 40 year career. That is why a broad based education lays the foundation for business success. Learning a little about a lot of things can pay off. That is the philosophy of the political economy and commerce department at Monmouth College.

Additionally, the pace of change in the global economy is rapid. The New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman said that “getting an education today is like training for the Olympics without knowing what sport you will end up competing in”. Undecided majors that learn from the best faculty and seek learning from the best books and theories will be able to translate that knowledge into problem solving capabilities and entrepreneurial success. I just met with a former student yesterday who is starting a sports marketing agency. He was not a marketing major. But he has smarts, passion, and drive on his side. I would not bet against him. Even undecided majors can be a big success, when the college or program remains flexible.