Lunch with Seth

Friday was a big day in the College.  We had 3,000 students show up to Welcome to the Majors (see photos from the event here) and a lunch with more than 100 business leaders to hear Seth Godin speak and have a conversation about what it takes to differentiate yourself in today’s business world. I thought you might all enjoy my comments at the lunch explaining why I wanted to bring Seth to UCF…..

Good Afternoon! It is such a pleasure to see so many of Orlando’s Business Leaders in the audience today. We are starting a new era at the College and I am excited to share a stage with Seth Godin to tell you how business education is changing and how we can work together to build something remarkable here at the UCF College of Business.

I am especially thankful to our Sponsors: Burr Forman, Florida A&M Law School, Florida Blue, Florida High Tech Corridor, The Orlando Magic, UCF Marketing, and Verizon for helping to make this event possible. Seth’s comments to 2000 students at Welcome to Majors this morning did much to help set the tone for the College of Business experience this year.

Before I ask Seth to say a few words to kick off our discussion, let me tell you a little bit about how we got to this place and why I wanted the Orlando Business Community to hear from him.

I have been a dean for eight years, (5 at UNLV and 3 here) and a faculty member for almost thirty. Over that time, I have become increasingly convinced that undergraduate business education is fast becoming a commodity..

  • First, American trained faculty are using American concepts and theories to provide the same education to people around the world;
  • Second, the internet has made information free, replacing the need for standard lectures and recitation sections
  • And Third, on-line education allows anyone to be “a professor” and provides convenient, low-stress experiences with little regard to quality control….content is being built into the technology, the instructor is little more than a grader, and people can take these courses at home dressed in their bathrobes.

While information may be a commodity– perspective, experience and connectivity are not.

I believe that in education, the single most important person after the student is the person in front of the class.

I believe that no real learning occurs without people being uncomfortable.

I believe that today’s business education is misaligned with the contemporary marketplace: that we are still trying to win the last war: one won with standardization, stability, and cost-minimization, rather than prepare students to win today through differentiation, quick pivots and unexpected options based on real time data.

I believe that the value of higher education lies in providing students with reason, perspective, intuition, and the qualities the market values: characteristics such as getting out of your comfort zone, taking smart risks, working across boundaries and knowing how to be a creative problem solver.

And, I believe that the only way to do this in higher education today is to create a culture where students engage with faculty, industry and each other every day.

As my beliefs were coming into clear focus, I stumbled upon on a TEDX talk called “Stop Stealing Dreams” by some guy named Seth Godin. Seth was asking many of the same questions I was:

  • What if it was possible to teach habits, attitudes and mindsets like risk-taking, boundary-spanning, and persistence? (What if I could cure all helicopter parents, I thought..)
  • What if we taught people what it really takes to succeed?
  • What if instead of asking students to participate, we expected them to and supported them with a wide variety of opportunities to engage?
  • What if we tried to differentiate the school this way, rather than just by having the best Department of Whatever?

Seth’s video emboldened me.

And UCF had put me in a position to try to effectuate these types of change. No matter that I am at a huge College with 9000 students built on efficiency, standardization and per unit cost minimization. I have a faculty with a spirit for innovation, a committed staff, and a university leadership eager to let me try something different. UCF is decidedly that way…always expecting the next milestone

While Seth’s words were encouraging, I went down this path because I believe it is the right thing to do and that the schools that figure this out first will win the future.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not even sure I know all the questions. But over the past three years, we have inched toward the edge of this cultural cliff by:

  • Replacing academic advising with career counseling—students are required to think about their future and how they are going to get there, the day they walk into the building. This is NOT optional.
  • Creating Welcome to the Majors—a signature experience that introduces students to our culture of engagement and challenges them to use their time here to take the actions necessary to realize their dreams.
  • Implementing a Failure Competition where students compete for recognition by destigmatizing their failures, celebrating persistence and telling others what they can learn from the experience.
  • Bringing greater visibility to college-wide rituals that emphasize cross-functional collaboration, data-driven decision-making, risk-taking and problem solving (e.g., Joust, Case Competition, etc.) AND
  • Fashioning rewards for faculty and students who exhibit the qualities we hope to instill in all our students.

This semester, we take the plunge off the cliff’s edge by

  • Launching a New Integrated Business Major designed to create “students of the business” –people imbued with the qualities and skills needed to work in today’s networked economy of many small and medium sized employers. AND…
  • We are Opening the Exchange: A place where all students will be expected to come and engage with people from the business community: EVERY DAY at least 100 students will be exchanging experiences and ideas with thought-leaders who can help them invent their future.

This last effort is key: It involves an open invitation to the business community to engage with our students in conversations about how they can best approach what lies ahead.

I want The Exchange to be the centerpiece of the UCF College of Business Experience and I want all of you to help make it the cross-roads of town and gown on campus.

With so much at stake and so much ahead of us, I thought it was the perfect time to ask my muse (Seth) to come and challenge all of us to get this done.

As fate would have it, I had a connection: Dean Caravelis—an alum and great friend of the College who has developed a dialogue with Seth and attended one of his weekend retreats.

I called Dean and took him to lunch. We concocted a plan, you all chipped in, Dean printed these cool notepads, AND…..

Seth Godin is here. How Awesome!!!

Seth, the floor is yours…

It’s the First Day of School

It’s been many years since my mom insisted on taking pictures like these:
I’m sure you can all relate, but I was motivated to post these pics of the kids because today opens a new chapter in the College of Business at UCF. For the dozen new faculty who start holding classes in the college today, it is literally their first day teaching at this school. Their energy, experiences and fresh ideas bring all of us a sense of renewal.

But even long time members of the College come to work at a different place today. We have completely restructured our undergraduate experience in an effort to get students to think carefully about their career goals and to help them actively pursue post-graduation opportunities while they are still in school.
This starts with a new Integrated Business major that serves as the College’s focal business degree. It is designed to create “students of the business” — people who understand the key drivers of value and can contribute across functions (e.g., finance, marketing, management, operations) to help a company reach its goals. The program has a hands-on, practical approach that resonates with the many small and medium size employers that characterize the Central Florida job market. We expect about half of the students in the College to be Integrated Business majors within just a couple of years.

We have also reoriented four majors (Accounting, Finance, Marketing and Management) so that students who want to concentrate in a single area of business will have the deep understanding and mastery of cutting edge skills employers demand from such specialists. In most instances this means more quantitative skills, but in all instances it means demonstrating the ability to excel at understanding, communicating, and applying the core concepts that define state-of-the-art practice in these professions.

And to help students identify their strengths and interests upon entry into the college, we have implemented a primary core set of six courses that will challenge students to take a hard look at their career goals, where they have a competitive advantage and what they can do to realize their dream and “get to the one”. This will require students to engage, study hard and “play for keeps”. To ensure that students focus on this critical portion of the curriculum, dual enrollment in courses that meet at the same time has ceased and students will need to finish these courses before gaining access to a business major.

These changes are so fundamental to the student experience in the College that I’ve arranged for one of today’s leading business thinkers to come share his thoughts with students about how they can best use their time in college to differentiate themselves and succeed in reaching their aspirations. Seth Godin will be the keynote speaker at Friday’s “Welcome to the Majors” and will also address a group of local business leaders about how we can best form partnerships to differentiate the UCF College of Business. Google him. 

Those are just the changes for the first week! I have a few more things in the works that will also help redefine what it means to be a UCFBusiness student, but I’ve told you enough for now… Can’t use up all my exciting news in one post.

Welcome to the College, young Knights. It’s the first day at your new school. Make your mom proud.

Anne Marie

Today, Anne Marie retires from the UCF College of Business. We plan on sending her out in style. God knows she deserves it. Anne Marie has worked for at least four different deans and has solved an unimaginable number of problems, both real and perceived. Most of those issues never got to the dean’s door.

Deans love this. So, it came as no surprise that when I reached out to my predecessors and asked them to help me tell her story that they responded with enthusiasm. We share a fondness for this classy woman who lightened our burdens and endured our peculiarities with style and grace. I will try to be brief, but can’t resist being a little tongue and cheek along the way while I poke some fun at me and my predecessors in an effort to highlight her many talents..

As with most good things in the College, the never shy Dick Huseman takes credit. He told me in a recent phone call that he hired Anne Marie. Dick was in need of a new executive assistant and got a recommendation from someone in the community to give her an interview. I strongly suspect that Anne Marie was interviewing Dick more than the other way around, but somehow they came to terms. My guess is that, like most things, Anne Marie figured she could fix him. 

Dick quickly learned that he had found a terrific gate keeper who kept an ear to the ground and brought an air of professionalism to the College. This latter quality is strikingly apparent in one of my favorite photos in the college archive: It is of a dashing Dick leaning against the receptionist desk next to the immaculate Anne Marie, with a young Cindy Colon (looking like Annette Funicello) seated to his left. Every time I see that photo I think: I would definitely do business with these people.

It is a truism in dean searches that they always want the opposite of the last one. I am told that Tom Keon is as reserved as Dick is effervescent. He certainly did something right as he led the College through incredible change and growth. Not surprisingly, Tom gives Anne Marie equal billing in their success, writing..

….”Anne Marie de Govia, or as I fondly remember AM, was a true partner to me for the 14 years we worked together in the dean’s office at UCF. There are many wonderful traits that I could describe but I prefer to focus on just a few. First and foremost, AM is a true professional who never accepted less than perfect for any and all work that crossed her desk. Second, as dean, everyone that had contact with the office would remark on how helpful, how friendly, and what a joy she was to interact with at all times. And, of course, how lucky I was to have her as an assistant. Finally, she was a friend. She was always there to cheer, support, and provide a warm heart and ear to listen. I still miss her. God bless, and good luck, my friend and colleague.”

When Tom departed, Caribbean English collided with North Carolina speak. No one can smooth over a tense situation with a folksy response better than Foard Jones. Attackers leave both comforted and a bit confused. I suspect Anne Marie took on the role of translator. Foard acknowledges he certainly was in need of her help, writing…

…”Sophisticated, warm, intelligent, and dedicated are just a few ways to describe Anne Marie De Govia. I could not have asked for a better chief of staff and partner in crime. I quickly found myself using the word “we” a lot. As in “Anne Marie, how should we handle this?” or “what should we do now?” But more than her administrative acumen and experience, I could count on her easy laugh, humor, and tales of Carnival to make the day a little brighter and less insane. Sometimes you just get lucky. I surely did with the opportunity to work alongside Anne Marie. She made a difference in the lives of many in many ways.”

Then came the guy from Vegas, direct as Foard is subtle. By the time I came to UCF, it was Anne Marie’s College. I would regularly remark that while people in the College didn’t know each other very well that everyone knew Anne Marie. The College it seemed flowed through her, perhaps because she was charged with helping everyone figure the new guy out. 

It wasn’t hard to see Anne Marie’s talent, but it took me a little while to decipher her three distinct looks…

Look One only appears when she has a Caribbean student in her office needing help with a largely self-inflicted crisis. That look means “What exactly were you thinking before you did that unbelievably stupid thing…I’m not sure I can, or should, save you.” She saved them anyway. They were grateful.

Look Two occurs when someone is claiming that I said something that she is sure is stupid, but Anne Marie can’t rule out the possibility that I said it. These encounters usually end with a sigh of relief (she was grateful it was nonsense and she wouldn’t have to fix it), but on occasion would lead to Look Three.

Look Three is a very wry smile that means “Dean I am about to teach you something about the college that will save you from your dumb self: Be grateful.”

I am.  

There can be no greater legacy than to leave the people you meet throughout the years grateful for having the pleasure of knowing you. And since we don’t do anything small at UCF, I know that there are countless parents, students, faculty, staff and alumni who remember this place fondly because of an encounter they had with Anne Marie. She is and will forever be, a UCF Knight. Charge On girl, Charge On.  


UCF Day at the Trop

After shaking 500+ hands at graduation on Saturday I was looking for a little R & R. So I was more than happy to accept Grant Heston’s invitation to join him for the Rays-Mets game at Tropicana Field on Sunday. Besides I had been bugging my staff to get me one of those cool mascot soap dispensers they were going to give out to kids 14 and under that day. (Hey, I’m the Dean. I get to be unreasonable at times.) I thought the quirky give-away would make a fine addition to my collection.  

It was also UCF Day at the park complete with white Rays hats with gold letters and black trim. The Rays hold similar days for other Florida universities, but UCF was the only school to sell out its allotment of tickets this season. The place was packed. Did you make the game Mets fan and UCF alum Merrell Bailey?  This day was made for you girl.
As I watched the action, it occurred to me that the Rays and UCF have a lot in common. Both think a move to a downtown location would transform their community and their organization. Both the Rays and UCF lack the tradition of their rivals. They started out as people’s second favorite team and have had to earn the locals’ support. Both are constantly underestimated, but end up beating their more glamorous opponents 3 to 2. And both excel at customer service, going the extra step to surprise you with the unexpected when you visit them. Like this, for example:

Lonny will tell you that people from the bayou call this lagniappe. I call it being 14 years old again. Thanks Rays, it’s going to look great in my office. 

New Faces in Several Places

August brings the start of the academic year and with it a lot of new faces.  Most of those new faces are students, but August is also a time when new faculty show up on our door.

This fall, ten new tenure track faculty will start at the College. The Dixon School welcomes two assistant professors: Elizabeth Poziemski and Joseph Johnson. Professor Harry Paarsch, who is leading our Big Data effort, as well as Assistant Professor Sami Alpanda join Economics. Finance has a whole bunch of new people: Ajai Singh, who will serve as Department Chair as well as the Sun Trust Chair, David Harrison who holds the Dr. Phillips Chair in Real Estate, and three new assistant professors: Yan Lu, Xiaodi Zhang and John Min Oh. Management welcomes James Combs, who holds an endowed position in American Private Enterprise. And just in case you missed it, two assistant professors joined the Management Department in the Spring of 2015: Steve Whiting and Tang Wang.

We are also adding four new lecturers: Peter Resch and Ian Cherry in Finance; James Keebler in Marketing; and Michael Pape in Management who will serve as an Entrepreneur in Residence.

We thank the donors who helped make these hires possible and look forward to the energy and ideas these new colleagues bring to the College. I know the students will benefit greatly from their presence.

If all these fresh faces aren’t enough, we plan to add ten more new faculty for next year.  So students, get to know these new people now so that you’ll have time to meet even more new faculty in the fall of 2016. They are the folks who are going to make your UCF experience great.