Environmental Dynamism and the Imperative of—Perhaps Counter-Intuitive—Adaptation: Prof. Mike Connell and “Keeping the Doors Open” at the Monmouth Country Club

Last Thursday marked the annual guest-speaker appearance of my co-teacher of the class; Professor Mike Connell. His focus was on how environmental change can cause entrepreneurs and other managers to have to take drastic measures to merely survive. The context of his lively interactive discussion with students was his entrepreneurial-like co-management of the Monmouth Country Club; specifically, as he put it, to “keep the doors open” at the once thriving establishment that has fallen on hard times in recent years.

Probably most enlightening and unique in this presentation was the focus on how, in hard times, one must creatively find ways to significantly cut costs but still provide at least the most desired of services to enough customers to keep the business running (at times when “the logical thing to do” to many would seem to be put more money into getting more clients). This is something that any entrepreneur can potentially be faced with due to environmental change.

I now turn things over to class blogger Collin Glas for more on Prof. Connell and “keeping the doors open” at the Monmouth Country Club.

Prof. Gabel


Our speaker in class on Thursday was Professor Mike Connell and talked about the Monmouth Country Club. Professor Connell has been with the County Club of Monmouth for around twenty years. In twelve of those years he served on the board and for ten years he was the president of the country club.

During Thursday’s class period, Connell explained to the class about traditional and untraditional Country Clubs. Also, he talked about the operations of the country club despite the dying industry.

The first thing that was talked about in class was the culture of a country club. Country Clubs in the 1950’s and 60’s were a big deal for society and people who could afford being a member of the country club. These country clubs were a thriving industry because people would build their lives around the country club. Country Clubs, at the time, where social centers for people including golf, tennis, restaurants, or even a gathering area for people.

The country club experience may differ depending on where the country club is at and what kind of club that it is. Country clubs may range anywhere from a very low entry fee to anywhere in the six figures just to join the club. However, some clubs may require a recommendation to just be considered to get into the country club. Also, at these country clubs there are minimums that a member must pay and do at the country clubs. For example, Prof. Connell explained that at some clubs, the member must spend a minimum amount on food and will be charged that amount regardless of whether or not they actually ordered or ate the food.

Also, we talked about the differences behind a traditional and an untraditional country club. Traditional country clubs require an entry fee, monthly and annual dues, and sometimes may have assessments if the country club needs updates or renovations. Monmouth’s Country Club used to be this way, however, with the struggling nature of this industry, the club had to make an important decision and become an untraditional country club. Due to the falling of hard times, the country club has reduced their entry fees and eliminated the assessment fees for the end of the year. Also, the country club has no golf pro or employees due to the struggling times of the new era of country clubs (brought about by economic conditions and changing lifestyles that often leave many people with no time for golf or other country club activities).

Professor Connell expressed the importance of creative cost-cutting and other surprising approaches to management in this type of business situation. With the responsibility of a struggling business, every decision needs to be completely thought through. Every decision for this business could potentially shut down the business or help the business to just maintain where it is at. Management for this business can be difficult because people come to the country club to participate in all of the activities that are at a country club. Due to the struggling times, the country club eliminated the restaurant and cut labor for the club.

Another discussion that we had in class was people now just do not have time for the country club. Back in the 50’s and 60’s people built their life around the country club. Now many people build their lives around their children. This industry deals with a lot of competition as well. Restaurants are very assessable to get to as well as other activities that anyone would want to do.

The Monmouth Country Club was founded in 1902, making it one of the oldest in Illinois. This untraditional country club has been changing and adapting to the new times. Due to the adaptations that have been made, Monmouth’s Country Club has been able to stay in business and continues keep the traditions going.

Collin Glas

An Eye-Opening Field Trip to Observe a Grand Entrepreneurial Investment: Al McGuire and Trevor Davies of the McGuire and Davies Funeral Home and Crematory

Last Tuesday we endeavored upon what has become a much-anticipated field trip each Spring semester to the McGuire and Davies Funeral Home and Crematory located here in Monmouth, IL.


As always, co-owners Al McGuire and Trevor Davies led us through their beautiful, full-service facility on what is for students an eye-opening experience shattering stereotypes of “funeral homes” as being little but dreary places of great sadness. This is because the McGuire and Davies Funeral Home and Crematory has been designed to allow family members, friends, and other mourners to “say goodbye” to their departed loved ones in whatever manner they wish; with a focus, more and more, on celebrations of the life of the deceased.

It was also an eye-opening experience due to the very calculated nature in which key investments have been made by the two entrepreneurs. This is particularly the case with the facility’s crematory; which has long-since paid for itself despite carrying a major price-tag.

I leave it to class blogger Mackenzie Whiteside to tell you more about our eye-opening visit to the McGuire and Davies Funeral Home and Crematory.

Prof. Gabel


Our class recently had the opportunity to visit McGuire and Davies Funeral Home located here in Monmouth. The trip allowed us the opportunity to explore the funeral home, the industry, and the entrepreneurial venture of partners Aloysius “Al” McGuire and Trevor Davies.

Al McGuire was first introduced to the funeral industry while attending school at Loras College. Originally, Al was pursuing a secondary education degree, planning to eventually become a high school teacher.  With college being a very expensive endeavor, Al decided to move into the upstairs apartment of a funeral home near campus to avoid campus living fees.  While living there, he assisted the funeral directors with normal funeral home operations where he soon became very interested in the field of work.  It was then he decided he wanted to pursue a degree in Mortuary Science.

After receiving his degree, Al went on to complete his apprenticeship at a funeral home in Chicago, IL. After some time, he decided to move his family to Monmouth where he became involved in a local funeral home.  He worked diligently for this home for nearly twenty-one years before deciding to part ways.  From there, Al decided that he wanted to start his own funeral home here in Monmouth.  He, along with Trevor Davies, began to plan for this very large financial endeavor.  The pair put everything they had on the line in order to fund this business: home mortgages, 401k’s, and even the local memorial park that Al owned.

During the first year of business, Al and Trevor did not have their own facility to work out of. Most of the office work was performed at the office for Al’s memorial park, and services were held at local churches.  The lack of facility did not hinder their business at all.  The pair were able to provide services for many families before the completion of their facility.

With the completion of their facility, Al and Trevor became the owners of the third local funeral home. The facility itself was uniquely designed to cater to the needs of their customers.  The home includes a large room to be used for services, a kitchen, an office, the crematory, a showroom, and a meeting room for family consultations.

One of the main differences between this funeral home and those of local competitors is the crematory. This $90,000 investment is what gives their business its major competitive edge; as no competitor has one across several local counties. The two entrepreneurs are able to complete on site cremations, providing services for a family “from start to finish”.  Although it seems like a large and potentially uncertain investment, Al informed us that it has already been well worth the money. Being the only crematory in the area not only gives their business an edge, but it also provides a useful option for other funeral homes in the area (that pay to use the McGuire and Davies Crematory for their clients).

In the 2016 election, Al McGuire was named the Coroner for Warren County. For the next four years, Al will serve his community not only through his own business, but also through his new line of work. McGuire and Davies have invested their lives into this industry and have been successful thus far. They believe in their business whole-heartedly and will continue to strive for success throughout the coming years.

Mackenzie Whiteside

The Liberal Arts-Based Journey of Lobie Stone: From Barges, to Oil Trading, to Enron, to A Successful Entrepreneur, and, Finally, to First Lady of Monmouth College

Our guest speaker last Thursday was unique in at least two big ways.

First, Lobie Stone–wife of Monmouth College President Clarence Wyatt–is the first First Lady of the College we have had as a guest speaker. Second, her journey to this point in her life–which included running a successful interior design business along the way–was not only different than any other we have heard about but also demonstrative of the value of a liberal arts education; specifically the diversity of things in life such an educational background prepares one to successfully do.

With that brief introduction to what was a fascinating glimpse into ongoing the liberal arts-based journey of Lobie Stone, I turn things over to class blogger Farida Mohammed for far more detail.

Thank you Lobie for being our guest!

Prof. Gabel


When we think of a woman who has done and seen it all in different Business fields we can think of no other person than the First Lady of Monmouth College, Lobie Stone.  It was an honor to have her speak to the Midwest entrepreneur class this week. Being in a Liberal Arts College is a great opportunity to explore several fields.  After listening to her story I can say Stone is an example of how the importance of acquiring such a degree can benefit a student.

Stone’s mother was an artist and her father was the president of a barge line.  It was no surprise that Stone followed her mother’s path and acquired her degree in studio art and art history from the University of Minnesota after having studied for two years at Centre College, a liberal arts college much like Monmouth.  After graduating from college, Stone lived in Paris for a year.  This trip shaped her life and left her thinking that she was returning to the United States to be an artist.

Upon her return, her father requested she take a trip down the Mississippi River on one of his company’s towboats in order to take photographs for the company’s annual report.  She ended up in New Orleans and realized that she wanted to stay in the city and work in the river industry.  Through networking and referrals she got a job with a large river transportation company moving petroleum products.  This executive who hired her told her he did not know what to pay her as she would be the first woman in the country to dispatch towboats.  He decided to pay her the same as the switchboard operator, rather than the same salary as the man who previously held the job.  She reminded us that such a thing was legal at the time.

As her career progressed, she was hired by an oil company to operate its trading division and barge line.  As part of her job, she travelled between New Orleans, Chicago, and Houston.  At some point, she had to make a tough decision to choose between the two businesses.  Her heart was in New Orleans with the river business, but she knew her future was in Houston as an oil trader.  The class learned that a trader is one who takes title to the product while a broker is a middleman who takes a commission.

For Lobie this was a very exciting time in her life.  She was learning something new every day, and she was a pioneer in what had been considered a man’s world.  For example, she was a denied a seat in the main dining room of the Petroleum Club of Houston, even though she was a member of the Petroleum Club of New Orleans, with reciprocal rights.  What guided her in this business were the words of her father, who was her personal role model, “Your word is your bond” and “Never be tempted to tell someone what you think they want to hear.”  With everything that happened with her oil trading business, it did not discourage her; instead it made her much stronger.  She decided it was time to do something different.

At this point she was married to her former husband who happened to be the head of operations for a major oil company in Houston.  There was a conflict of interest between their job, so she began a career as a stockbroker.  Her pay was strictly commissions, no salary.  As they said in the industry, “you eat what you kill.”  This was much like being an entrepreneur, as there was no paid vacation, no personal or maternity leave.  After several years, she gave birth to a daughter with special needs.  She then took almost ten years off and gave her total time and attention to her daughter.  “They said that she would never walk, but she went on to win gold medals for running in the Special Olympics,” she said with so much pride.  After making sure her daughter was in good care, Stone decided that it was time to return to work.

Due to her previous background in working in the both the oil industry and as a stockbroker, she was able to acquire a job at Enron in Houston.  For the first time in her life, she did not find satisfaction with her job.  In a matter of months Enron declared bankruptcy. The head of the crude oil division climbed on a desk and, using a bullhorn, told everyone that they had twenty minutes to clear the building.  This was the defining moment for her, which completely changed her career path.

Stone had been an interior designer for her family and friends “for fun and for free” for almost 25 years.  She moved to San Antonio for family reasons.  For a woman who had no credentials in interior design but a studio art degree, she did not know where to start to help her to explore her career dreams.  However, due to referrals and determination, she took a retail job for a short period, where she learned where to find the best antique stores, iron craftsmen, limestone cutters, and other artisans.  It also helped her get to know potential customers to whom she could offer her design services in the future.

She advised the class that sometimes we have to learn to set our egos aside.  Also, her travel experiences and an eye for great color, composition, and style enabled her to succeed in this industry.  Stone also told us about a cautionary tale to use the Internet very wisely.  This is because anything that goes on the Internet is going to be there forever.  She said that you need to closely monitor that what is on the Internet about you and your business is correct.  As an entrepreneur it will be an important thing to look out for since that is your name and your reputation.

As much as interior decoration seems very easy, one must be equipped with skills to help them do a great job.  Stone mentioned that the previous businesses that she had been involved in prepared her to be an entrepreneur.  She stated that as an entrepreneur whatever you do reflects you, but in a big company you are less visible. This is one reason why being an entrepreneur was one of the memorable things that she has enjoyed doing.

To conclude the story of her journey as a young oil trader and stockbroker into First Lady of Monmouth College, she left us with some tips on how to manage our lives to become successful students and eventually entrepreneurs.  According to her, you have to take the time to do your job right the first time.  You also have to learn to gravitate towards meeting new people, and the only way to do this effectively is to get off your phone so you can build a personal connection with others.  Stone is indeed an example of what a liberal arts education can do for an individual.

Farida Mohammed

Monmouth College ’18

Economics and Business Double Major

Of Entrepreneurial Passion and the Extreme Ups and Downs of “Burning the Candle at Both Ends”: The Story of Joni Bucher and the Bucher Cattle Company

Yesterday in Midwest Entrepreneurs we returned to the ag-related theme of the first several weeks of the semester. But I knew going in that this entrepreneurial story—that of Joni Bucher and the Bucher Cattle Company (based in Good Hope, IL)—would be different in important ways from the stories of our other ag-related guest speakers. In particular, I knew that tending to animals on the farm would make this entrepreneurial venture far different than that of Paul Rickey; our “traditional row-crop farmer-as-entrepreneur” from earlier in the semester. Simply put: Animals require far more and more frequent attention than do crops.

But, as we learned from Joni Bucher, there were far more striking differences than this.

One assumption I made in error was that cattle farming—as an industry and business activity—is relatively homogeneous. We learned from Joni that cattle farming, like most other industries, has a variety of niches within it that can be pursued as business opportunities by entrepreneurs. We also learned that doing whatever it takes to successfully pursue one’s passion—“burning the candle at both ends” as Joni put it—can have both highly positive and highly negative consequences for the entrepreneur.

This and more is discussed in today’s student-authored blog story below. The class blogger is James McGrew; nephew of Joni Bucher and proud birthday boy (which led to cookies for the class from the guest speaker).

Prof. Gabel


Tuesday April 4 was my birthday and the class and I were grateful to learn the “ins and outs” of running a small, highly specialized cattle farm located in central Illinois from my aunt Joni Bucher. Joni always had a great interest in farming growing up. But she was instructed by her father to “get an education before returning to the farm.” Because of this Joni spent about 20 years first in the nursing industry and then the pharmaceutical industry. After being the top sales rep for the pharmaceutical firm for 12 years in a row her employer decided to downsize her division and she lost her job. While this event can be said to be sort of epiphany that led her back to her love of farming, in 2004 she had decided to take up cattle farming as a hobby while still employed. In fact, it was the money earned from her work as a sales rep. that allowed her to buy the farm (and supplement the losses sustained by running it for its first several years of operation). Things began to progress past the point of being a hobby when she bought 10 cows to start her own herd. She admits that one of her biggest mistakes early on was ignoring how expensive it was to raise and tend to the cattle. She simply spent what needed to be spent because she had the money to pay for it without realizing how much she was in fact spending.

In 2007 the farm became a more serious business venture Joni when purchased 80 acres and built a barn. Around this same time she agreed to raise 12 completely organic grass-fed calves for a consumer group. Because they were organic, they could not be vaccinated or receive  hormone implants. These calves could also only eat grass; no grain. This greatly increases the time it takes for the animals to reach harvesting weight. These three factors contribute to a longer growing time, which also increases the amount of time it takes to see a return on investment (ROI). This was another of Joni’s biggest mistakes; she didn’t realize it took so long to raise these animals and see the ROI. Once she raised them she also chose to act as the distributor, the intermediary, and the salesperson; doing all distribution-related activities herself. All of these “lessons learned” added up to her consistently losing money in the early years of the business.

After these mistakes, Joni realized that raising grass-fed cattle was not her plan. She then started to win very large and important cattle shows all across the country. Using her success at these shows, she decided to shift her focus to a niche market. This market was creating breeding stock to sell to other cattle farmers in order for them to improve the desirable traits found in their herds. Once she shifted her market focus her hobby started to take the form of a profession; and a profitable entrepreneurial business.

In 2011 Joni volunteered for a position on the Illinois Beef Association; the leading trade association for beef producers in the state. In this position she acted as a promoter to help increase consumer confidence and boost sales of beef products. Since then she was elected to Vice President of the organization. She now spends a lot of time reviewing legislative acts that have to do with the beef industry. In the last year she has traveled to Japan and Cuba in order to promote the sales and exportation of US beef to these countries.

She slowly grew her herd until 2012. When she was laid off her sales job in 2012 she decided that she should be able to sustain herself on the cash flow from the farm and she began farming full time. Ever since then, she has slowly been growing her herd and selling cows all across the country; while at the same time perfecting her brand image of being a high quality cattle producer.

In an effort to improve the quality of her product and the environment in which she works Joni practices intensive rotational grazing. This means that a group of cows never stay in a pasture for more than a few days. This allows for a higher number of cows to be raised on fewer acres than a conventional farm. Joni has been using this practice since she started her operation and it is beginning to catch on with more and more farmers all across the country.

Joni talked a lot about how focusing on your business can be detrimental to family life but she also told about the great benefits of being able to do what you love every day. She told the class to make a plan and follow it; but to always have a “plan B” which takes into account worst case scenarios. She emphasized importance of being able to adjust to ever changing markets. She also told the class to network with smart and successful people in order to facilitate the sharing of valuable knowledge between different types of farm operations and industries.

Listening to Joni’s presentation about how she built her farm from the ground up was extremely interesting and eye opening. I enjoyed how she was upfront about some things and did not try to sugar-coat the perils and hardships of being an entrepreneur. She provided knowledge about an industry that no other entrepreneur has this year in an interesting and engaging way. She is the embodiment of being your own boss and waking up and having the privilege to do what she loves every single day.

James McGrew