The Real Victory

This weekend we partnered with the UCF Alumni Association to host a tailgate for 350 fans before the Michigan game.  Both Julie Stroh and I are Michigan alums.  Dr. Hitt was pleased to see us both sporting black and gold.  When I spoke to the crowd, I used my time to put the game in perspective…

When I walked into the Big House in 1977, Michigan was ranked No. 2 in the country and had more wins than any other program in college football history. FTU didn’t have a football team. Today we share the field, and this huge accomplishment couldn’t have been possible without the hard work and support of the people here today.

The institution across the street taught me the importance of greatness. Everyone in the stands today and all the players wearing winged helmets understand that being good, or pretty good, isn’t good enough. The weakness of the institution is reflected in one of my favorite T-shirts you will see around campus. It reads: Maize–A more arrogant shade of yellow.

I don’t know who will win today but I do know two things: UCF’s best days are ahead of it, not behind it. And the real victory, the real victory will come when the dean of the business school at Michigan is a UCF alum. 

I don’t have to tell you that the final score wasn’t pretty. But progress at universities is measured in decades, not football weekends.  And while it is fun to watch our teams compete on the field, the real measure of our success comes from preparing our students to know they can compete with anyone, anywhere (in the classroom, on the field and in shaping the future) and that greatness is always the expectation. Go Knights.

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. 


I want UCF students to get a great education.  This is not just about whether they have a solid grasp of statistics, finance, marketing or management.  Understanding these topics gets you a good education, not a great one.  A great education requires things that transcend a specific course or major.

First there must be some “aha moments”: eye-opening interactions that expand your horizons; presenting you with new possibilities, challenges, and perspectives on the world. Aha moments come from interacting with accomplished faculty, dedicated staff and engaged students who challenge your values and world view while raising your aspirations.

Second, a great education helps students make good choices about their careers and life.  It allows students to realistically preview different paths, better understand their interests, strengths, and weaknesses, and helps them develop a realistic plan to achieve their goals.  This requires students to get out of their comfort zones, experiment, build relationships with people who are different than themselves and risk failure so that they can succeed.

Finally, a great education gives students the confidence, knowledge and skills to compete with anyone, anywhere, no matter what the competition’s pedigree.  This comes from being in a competitive environment that helps students improve their performance through sustained effort combined with strong developmental feedback.

If you got these three things, you got a great education.  And a tell-tale sign that someone got a great education is what baseball coaches call swagger.  They look for it when players step up to the plate.  It is a critical quality in a game where you fail (get out) way more frequently than you succeed (get a hit).  Ricky Henderson, perhaps the greatest lead-off hitter of all time was famous for repeating under his breath: “You are the greatest Rickey” every time he stepped into the batter’s box.  If he struck out, he could be heard saying on his way back to the dugout: “You’re still the greatest Rickey.”  Rickey had swagger and people wanted him on their team.

Knights need swagger too. Be prepared: I am going to be looking to instill some swagger in all of you.

Cluster Hires and Meaningful Buys

After several years of tough state budgets, the University is hiring faculty again. If you come to our Hall of Fame on February 26th, you will learn why I think this is such a big deal. But this post focuses on how we are making those hires and how faculty wanting my support for a cluster hire proposal can strengthen their case.

What is a cluster hire you ask? Well at one level, universities like UCF have always hired with respect to clusters. We call these clusters departments: They are organized around a field of study that has developed a distinct way of looking at the world (e.g., economics, psychology, sociology) or a particular process or set of activities (e.g., chemistry, criminal justice, finance, or marketing). But clusters in university-speak have come to mean organizing around a particular problem (e.g., cancer, clean water, cyber security, poverty) or opportunity (nano-technology, entrepreneurship) rather than as traditional departments do. Topics like poverty or entrepreneurship, so the argument goes, don’t always fit into neat departmental boundaries and that progress is best served by bringing together multi-disciplinary teams to work on them.

Universities don’t administrate their way to research greatness, so a cluster approach best starts with proposals from faculty looking to do something great. They are, after all, the ones who do the research. The problem is most faculty are not accustom to doing research as part of a large multi-disciplinary team. Professors are fiercely independent people accustom to working alone or with a like-minded colleague or two. Ask them what they need to extend their research, they typically ask for more money first and a buddy who thinks just like them second. If they are told new colleagues should be part of a cluster, they round up some acquaintances in other departments and propose clusters with a vengeance that ask for funds to hire more people who think like them. In these proposals each participating department gets a new buddy.

In the sweepstakes for new resources, nobody likes to be left behind. Suffice it to say that I am buried in clusters. I am only a cog in this process. The big decisions will be made at higher levels and they have their own guidelines for proposals. But, I can’t support all of the ones I am seeing, so I’ve developed three questions to ask colleagues soliciting my support:

1. What are the expected short to midterm outcomes that I can expect from this effort? Is it increased research funding of an expected amount? Improvements in publication rankings in an important area? The development of a novel graduate program? The solving of a specific problem in five years? In short, what tangible outcomes should I expect?

2. What will these new hires allow us to do that we cannot achieve with the resources we already have in place? I have seen proposals that identify as many as twenty people on campus with an interest in a particular cluster. My first reaction to that proposal was: Wow, why can’t we get this done with the resources we have? What’s missing from this group? Seems unlikely that it is more of the same people that we already have. So tell me exactly how these new people are going to contribute to the effort. If all they do is contribute to disciplinary strength, I don’t need a cluster hire. If they are radical departures from the people we have, how do they fit in to both the cluster and their proposed home.

3. How is this a meaningful buy? This is an issue of the magnitude of the ask relative to the size of the task. For example, if you asked me for $1 million in hires across departments in an effort to raise our MBA program into the top 50 among US schools, I would reject your request. That in my mind is a five to ten million dollar challenge. One million wouldn’t put much of a dent in that goal. It wouldn’t meaningfully help in the fight to cure all cancers either. I would be better putting that one million elsewhere. So, give me some hard reasons why we can get this done.

Hope this framework helps. I wish you all happy and productive clustering.

Earn A Seat At The Table

The Ambassadors tell me that students don’t know anything about our Hall of Fame. Apparently all those photos in BA 2 don’t capture the imagination of people studying for an exam or waiting to see someone in the Office of Professional Development. That’s a shame: One of the primary purposes of the Hall of Fame is to show students what is possible and inspire them to “get to the one.” So, we’ve cooked up a way to give some engaging students a chance to get out of their comfort zones, earn a seat at the table and have a conversation with a Hall of Fame member.

A look at the numbers gives you a sense of the opportunity. The college has more than 50,000 alumni. Just 65 are in the Hall of Fame. It is a very exclusive club. One of the best aspects of my job is that I get to interact with this highly accomplished group on a regular basis. These are people who have had a wide variety of experiences and have gained unusual perspectives on all sorts of things. I learn something new every time I talk to one of them and because most Knights weren’t born into a life of privilege, they tend to remember where they came from and remain approachable. The key to engaging them is to come with good questions. Having a few good questions shows that you are both prepared and interesting–prerequisites for accomplished people to give you some of their valuable time.

So on February 26th at Rosen Shingle Creek, most of our Hall of Fame members will be in attendance as we induct three more alums into their ranks. Information on the evening can be found by clicking here. As a current student, you can be part of this event by coming up with three great questions you would ask one of those 65 alums at the event. You can view the detailed rules for the contest on our website, but the bottom line is: Impress us with your questions.

Hints: (1) Google a few Hall of Famers. (2) Questions like: “How did you become so successful?” “What advice do you have for people just starting out?” Or “what would you do over again?”….. make me yawn: they don’t require any homework and don’t give me any reason to believe you are interesting. On second thought, these questions annoy me. (3) Questions like: “Mr. Horton, what was the most positive thing you took away from your Enron experience that shaped how you lead today?” (Sorry, Stan can’t attend this year) or “What is going to be the next big thing in your industry and how is that going to impact people pursuing a career in your industry?”…. are much better questions, but these are just examples. The more original you are, the better.

We expect 30 to 35 Hall of Fame attendees that night. We won’t match them with more than one deserving student each, but that means there could be as many as 35 winners. If you do win, we are going to want to know what you learned by having that seat at the table. So, listen carefully.

Good luck. The Hall of Fame is a very fun event. 600 people will be there. Even Lonny attends. A group of engaging students asking questions will make the night even better.

How Do You Like Us Now?

On Friday we launched a new website meant to highlight our faculty’s research, engaging college culture and efforts to get students “to the one”. We also see this new site as our primary platform for informing stakeholders about our evolving portfolio of academic programs as well as our efforts to partner with the local business community.

So check out the site and let us know what you think by answering our poll and offering comments. Websites are always a work in progress and your feedback will help ensure that #UCFBUSINESS offers the best possible experience for those who visit the site.

New York, New York

The man on the left in the photo is Jesse Wolfe. Two years ago, he finished third in the Joust. His company, O’Dang Hummus (@odanghummus) seeks to be the Ben and Jerry’s of hummus. Jesse owns a blender, an unlimited supply of chickpeas, a contagious personality, and a knack for storytelling. What he doesn’t own is ego. Jesse is coachable–he recognizes his weaknesses and is willing to collaborate with others to improve his skills and business plan.

After his third place finish in the Joust, he started selling his 47 flavors of hummus at local Farmers’ Markets. I strongly suspect that his production process is similar to what Penny on the Big Bang Theory used when she invented “Penny Blossoms.” I also know his margins are better than Penny’s. When Jesse isn’t at Farmers’ Markets or in class, I’m pretty sure he lives in the “Upstarts” space in BA-1, getting advice from people like Steve Felkowitz and improving his business plan. Almost every time I go by that space —morning, noon, night, weekends –Jesse is there.

About a month ago, O’Dang Hummus, along with three other UCF student-lead teams, got invited to New York City to compete in the Blackstone Launchpad business plan competition. There he and his partner Ryan Andrew (the guy on the right in the photo) would compete against19 other teams representing 15 universities pitching ideas that ranged from making space travel affordable, to a laundry service on bikes, to selling camel’s milk. Note that UCF had 4 of the 20 teams in this competition–Cameron is rightly very proud.

Our students pitched their ventures on the 18th floor of the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. Two of our teams made it to the finals, beating contestants from schools like USC, UCLA, Temple, and UM. When it was all done, UCF had the highest placing student run team. Jesse and Ryan’s O’Dang Hummus finished second overall, just behind a three year old company started by a faculty member that already had 30 employees. Jesse and Ryan’s passion grabbed the judges, their plan showed them the numbers worked, and their knowledge convinced potential investors that they could trust Jesse and Andrew to realize the vision. You can read about it all by clicking here. After the event, Blackstone asked Jesse and Ryan to delay their departure home so that they could meet with Blackstone’s catering staff on a special event that would feature their product.

The path that “gets you to the one” often takes you far from your comfort zone (it was the guys first time in NYC), and over difficult terrain (third place finishes). Frequently it requires you to find collaborators along the way (Ryan, Steve) and takes you to a place where passion collides with cold hard data (a business plan competition judged by seasoned investors). But “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” and be the one that lands the big check. Well done guys, well done.


Generalists Make Great “Silo Busters”

In our continuing effort to explain the advantages of our new Integrated Business Major that will launch next fall, I have asked some of our alumni who helped design the program to explain why they think the new program is so valuable…

Robert Case is a graduate of our undergraduate program, member of the Dean’s Advisory Board as well as the College’s Hall of Fame and currently runs RB Case Consulting Inc.

Recently I had a long conversation with someone I deeply respect and admire. She wanted to use me as a sounding board because she is contemplating a career change. My colleague is someone who has managed to get her undergraduate degree while not only working full time, but advancing her career at a pretty rapid pace. Now she’s preparing to sit for her MBA, also while working full time. Darned amazing, when you consider she’s also a mom and contributes time to several charitable endeavors.

The reason for the career change? The company she works for has recently been acquired, and is going in directions she’s not happy with. The reason she wanted to talk? She feels she’s at a cross-roads. Her career path has taken her across several functional lines, and she’s now wondering how that looks on paper….what do I stand for?, She was asking.

I know this person very well. She’s has been a direct report to me. I’ve promoted her on more than one occasion because she has a proven track record of getting things done, of accepting new challenges with a sense of adventure, excitement and intellectual curiosity, and of having that unique talent of bringing people of diverse experience and perspective together. So, it really wasn’t hard to answer her question. I told her she was a generalist – what I like to refer to as a “Student of the Business”….someone who can actually look across functional lines – not only see accounting, and finance, and marketing, and sales, and human resources, and information technology, but more importantly, really see the interconnectivity between all of these critical components of an enterprise. Because of this, she’s an individual who can do something every business I know of needs if it is to continue to grow and prosper. She can build cross-functional teams. That makes her a Silo-Buster. She breaks down the mental walls that seem to grow around departments: A special talent, indeed. I know she’s going to do just fine in whatever new chapter she writes in her professional life.

Our new Integrated Business Degree is designed to inspire just that kind of mentality. To help you develop the kind of business vision that sees the whole, the parts, and the sum of the parts. Generalists like to know not only how the all components work – they want to know how all the components work together! If that’s what you’re passionate about, the Integrated Business Degree was designed with you in mind.

A Fish Out of Water

In our continuing effort to explain the advantages of our new Integrated Business Major that will launch next fall, I have asked some of our alumni who helped design the program to explain why they think the new program is so valuable…

Dean Caravelis is a graduate of our MBA program, a member of the College of Business Alumni Association Board and owner of Blezoo.

“Adapting to Change,” a term we have all heard and also one of the main topics drilled over and over into my head during my UCF education. It is no coincidence that adapting to change would be the key to my survival and growth in a small business environment. I’ve had to continuously adapt to unique work dynamics, learn completely new skills, take calculated risks and push myself way out of my comfort zone. Most importantly, I came to the realization that to be an entrepreneur you need to “embrace being a fish out water and revel in it”.

After working no more than 300 hours for a fashion jewelry distributor, I earned the title of Marketing Director when I was a wide-eyed 25 years old with a newly minted MBA. I was essentially told: figure out our industry, understand licensing, bridge the gap between the marketing and sales departments, modernize the company’s marketing and by the way you have 3 months to sink or swim! I swam, but not knowing that my biggest tests were still ahead.

Five years later, when I started my business ‘Blezoo’, I had little to no sales experience. This was a problem. With any new business, cash flow is the lifeblood of survival. In desperate need of orders, I had to reinvent myself into a ‘Sales Director’. Once again, I became a fish out of water going and meeting with people during a deep recession and convincing them to spend their money with an unfamiliar new company. I nearly drowned in the process, but I was willing to adapt to change and push the limits of my comfort zone. Sometimes you have to tread water before you swim.

Networking and making connections allowed me to survive the recession. It took me a few years to figure out what networking actually means because like most people, I had a misconception about the process. It is actually making human connections, understanding how we are all interrelated and then taking proactive steps to energize your network. It is all about adding value to others; which in turn will elevate your visibility and credibility by ten fold. It all starts with making human connections. Adapting to change, getting out of my comfort zone and reinventing myself as a Sales Director allowed for me to embrace this definition of networking.

You never know how your career path will develop when you are a student, but while at UCF, I did know one thing: I didn’t want to be a cog in the machine. I wanted to work in a small to medium sized business environment where I could learn many skills and be able to make a significant impact on an organization at a grassroots level. If I were a student today, I would jump at the opportunity to earn UCF’s Integrated Business degree. It focuses on the skills necessary to succeed in the small to medium sized business environment. This degree teaches and develops problem solving, data analysis and collaboration skills needed in order to be better prepared for the real world. Most importantly, it will get you out of your comfort zone early in your career and teach you how to start embracing and reveling being a fish out of water.

Round 5 of Our Failure Competition Starts Today

Round 5 of 0ur Failure Competition kicks-off today.

At our Hall of Fame event last February, we featured a video of our alum Mayor Ken Bradley who is also CEO of Florida Hospital, Winter Park. The video starts out with Ken saying the following: “I came to UCF as a failure and left a success.” Ken had seen his dream to enter medical school dashed, but found his future at UCF. He has gone on to great things and now has doctors reporting to him! His achievements landed him in our Hall of Fame, a place where only 61 of our more than 50,000 alums have been recognized for their accomplishments.

Despite what helicopter parents think, everyone fails. It is part of life. Getting comfortable with failure is a key step in becoming a better risk–taker and successful business leader. That is why we celebrate failure and persistence in the college. Today, we begin the fifth installment of our Failure Competition in the College’s Capstone Class. I will be explaining the details of this semester’s competition to students today at 1:30 pm. But the basics are pretty simple:

1. Each student in our capstone class is asked to write an essay on a failure they have experienced, how it transformed them, and what others can learn from their experience.

2. They are to post these essays in response to this blog along with the section number and name of their instructor. They must complete this exercise by 5 pm on November 7th.

3. Each instructor will then choose a winner from their section and explain why they chose the essay they did. The deadline for them to make the selections is 5 pm on November 14th.

4. Those winning entries are then sent to me. I will select three finalists.

5. The finalists will be asked to submit short videos based on their essays. They must have those videos to me by Nov 25th at 5 pm.

6. I will then feature one video each day on my blog the week of December 1st, with a vote taking place on Thursday Dec 4th.

7. The winner will get a letter of recommendation from me along with a $500 cash prize. Second place will get $300, third place $200.

We have had as many as 1500 voters for the past competitions. With the help of the alumni association, I expect we will have at least that many this semester. If you want to get some sense of the stories that have moved voters in the past, finalists’ entries are still on my blog as prior posts. Look them up.

Good Luck to the participants and Charge On!