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Month: March 2016

Executives on Campus: John Ridings Lee, Insurance Entrepreneur

Executives on Campus: John Ridings Lee, Insurance Entrepreneur

John Ridings Lee holds the distinction of being one of the first freshmen at the University of Dallas. And although he didn’t graduate from UD, perhaps the university can stake a small claim to the success he has achieved in his career. Lee spoke recently to Dr. Greg Bell’s Business Foundations class on March 31 about what he’s learned during his 50-plus years in the insurance industry.

Lee’s first job (after a stint in the military in Special Forces) was working for an insurance syndicate in London called Blackwell and Green. They assigned him to work on the offshore oil rigs near Aberdeen, Scotland. “I think Scotland is about the coldest place in the world, so I was ready to head back to the states,” he said.

Upon returning to the U.S., Lee took a job as a salesman at Southwestern Life Insurance Company. “After a couple of years, I realized the janitor was making more money than I was,” he said. “Because he was a better salesman.” In hopes of improving his bottom line, Lee took a look around the industry and determined that he should head in a different direction. “Employee benefits was just beginning to break through,” he said. “So I decided to start my own company as a benefits administrator.” That company, Employee Plans Management, administered group health and life insurance plans for large companies.

After about four years as CEO of Employee Plans Management, Lee decided to sell the company and start a holding company that could serve as an umbrella for other businesses. Over the next several years he founded a succession of companies that provided the insurance industry with new and innovative tools. For example, Lee’s North American National Re was one of the first to spread the financial risk of large life insurance policies to more than one company. “My dad told me I was a glorified bookie,” he said. “But we paid back our initial debt in the seventh year, and the company sold recently for $770 million in capital and assets.”

That wasn’t the only bet that paid out for Lee. In 1982, he and a partner started Management Compensation Group, a company dedicated to compensation and executive benefit planning. The company, which grew to twelve offices and over 400 employees, sold in 2013 to insurance giant, Prudential.

Lee also holds patents on unique financial instruments including a product which pays salaries to the survivors of deceased employees. In addition, he invented a product that offers a paid-up life insurance policy to retiring employees. As a result of his patents, Lee receives royalties every time a new one of these policies is written.

Lee credits his ability to stay on top of industry trends to his moving around from company to company. “Don’t stay with one company your whole life,” he advised students. “Look for a different hill to climb. Look for a different way to skin a cat if you want to improve your personal bottom line.”

Lee said another crucial component of success is to surround yourself with the right team. “There’s no substitute for smart people,” he said. “Your math-inclined people, like actuaries, keep your business running. And your ‘people-people’ can get more you more yeses than anybody else.”

Lee also advised students to trust their first instincts when trying to solve a problem. “If you’re sure you’re right, don’t let anybody talk you out of what you know to be true,” he said. “Whether you end up being right or wrong, you’ll learn something.” Finally, Lee told the group to be aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. “Somebody is always going to be trying to sell you something,” he said. “So do your homework and know what it is you’re buying.” Good advice from a man who built an enormously successful career around making the right bets at the right time.

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Executives on Campus: Hon. Doug Lang, 5th District Court of Appeals

Executives on Campus: Hon. Doug Lang, 5th District Court of Appeals

Ethics can mean different things to different people: morals, values, principles. To the Honorable Doug Lang of the 5th District Court of Appeals, it’s a combination of honesty, integrity, and civility. Justice Lang, currently a student at the University of Dallas’ School of Ministry, spoke to Dr. Greg Bell’s Business Foundations class on March 31 about the importance of ethics—in the public areas of law and business and in the private areas of our personal lives. “Although some people say that ethics are fuzzy and can’t be articulated, the truth is, they are very simple,” Lang said. “They can be summed up by the rules you probably learned in kindergarten: don’t lie, don’t steal, and don’t hit anyone.”

Lang defined honesty as simply telling the truth and cited examples of professions which demand honesty of their practitioners. “The CPA’s code states that its members should have self-discipline above and beyond what’s required by the laws and regulations that govern them,” he said. “And attorneys must swear not to make false statements or to withhold material facts.” Lang added that businesses must be subject to moral principles as well, and that the way a business behaves is not separate from individual ethics—the same principles apply.

Lang went on to discuss how a business’ ethics and moral principles will serve as the foundation of its reputation and how the status of that reputation can translate into profits for the company. “Businesses that hold the highest ethical standards inspire trust and confidence. And when they establish a reputation of honesty, word of mouth brings in more business,” he said. “In that way, honesty pays.” Lang tied honesty to integrity, which he defined as reliability. “Integrity is when you know that someone is going to the do the right thing,” he said.

Also within this spectrum of ethics is civility. “Civility is respect for others,” he said. “And it envelops the concepts of honesty and integrity. They are all different concepts within a greater whole.” Lang said that civility is a respectful posture towards both customers and competitors. “We have to respect our adversaries,” he said. He also described civility by giving examples of its opposite: incivility. He cited the statistic that managers of Fortune 1000 companies typically spend seven weeks of every year dealing with the aftermath of incivility. “That’s lost productivity,” Lang said. “And it means that businesses must begin to manage, teach, and hire for civility.”

Finally, Lang discussed his decades-long career as a lawyer and the rewards and challenges he faced along the way. “To begin, law school will be the three most difficult years of your life,” he said. “It will be the hardest work you will have done.” Lang advised students interested in a law career to do their research. “Learn about what it really means to be a lawyer. Don’t just base your idea from what you’ve seen on TV” he said. “Read law magazines, go to law websites, and talk to lawyers about what they do.” Lang also said that working part time at a law firm can give students a clearer picture of what a career in law would be like.

Lang sees the future of the legal profession as more of the same. “There will always be real estate lawyers needed for the buying and selling of dirt,” he said. “And the amount of regulations on businesses–things like environmental laws and building codes–is only going to increase.”

Lang also said that there will always be a need for litigation and appeals, what he called hard, strenuous work that can be depleting and not always rewarding. “Losing is like being kicked in the head a thousand times,” he said. “But winning is—wow!”
The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information, click here.

Greetings from London!

Greetings from London!

art london

After minding the gap exiting the tube in London, Art emerged from Westminster Station to behold a wonderful view of Elizabeth Tower at nighttime. Inside the clock tower is a bell known as Big Ben whose chimes can be heard within a five mile radius!

Caption/Photo: Paulina Martin ‘17, @University of Dallas Career Development Photographer

Executives on Campus: Matt Victorine, Vice President and Relationship Manager, Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services

Executives on Campus: Matt Victorine, Vice President and Relationship Manager, Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services

According to Matt Victorine (BA ‘91), relationship selling is really needs-based selling. “Sometimes you just have to stop talking and listen for cues as to what the customer needs,” he said. “And then present solutions based on those needs.” Victorine, Vice President and Relationship Manager for Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, spoke on March 29 to Dr. Laura Munoz’s undergraduate marketing class as part of UD’s Executive’s on Campus program.

In Victorine’s current role, his responsibility is to maintain and grow relationships with individual brokers who use Fidelity’s platform to manage their clients’ assets. “The sales team are like hunter/gatherers. They work on bringing in new brokers.” he said. “From there, I take over the relationship and work with the brokerage firm to determine how FIdelity’s suite of practice management tools can help them grow their business. I get resources from the inside to the outside. Hopefully, this will translate to more business for the firm and more business for Fidelity.”

In response to a question from the group about different sales approaches, Victorine pointed out that “sales training” is a billion-dollar industry. “You can see advertising for all sorts of courses and conferences that promise to teach you how to sell if you’ll just follow a certain process,” he said. “But, most large firms want to teach you their way of selling because they want consistency.” Victorine said this is the reason that most entry-level sales positions don’t require a particular degree. “History, philosophy–it doesn’t matter,” he said. “ As long as you’re eager to learn.”

Victorine polled the class about their jobs and internships. One student mentioned that he only took phone orders and wondered if that was really “sales.” “Every job is really sales,” Victorine said. “If you are the contact point with your company, you’re selling the company during that call. And,” he added, “you could always go for the upsell.”

Victorine also discussed the myriad opportunities at available at Fidelity for recent graduates, both in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and beyond. “Our Westlake campus employs over 6,700 people on a beautiful, 330-acre campus,” he said. According to Victorine, Fidelity has entry level sales positions in areas like retail investing and 401K customer service. “And the salaries are competitive,” he said. “It’s better than barista money.”

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information click here.

Executives on Campus: Doug Lattner, Former Deloitte CEO

Executives on Campus: Doug Lattner, Former Deloitte CEO

University of Dallas students often hear about the importance of critical thinking. At a meeting on March 28, Doug Lattner (MBA ’73), former CEO of consulting firm Deloitte, told the university’s Accounting and Finance Society how to leverage a those critical thinking skills into a career as a consultant.

“What consultants do is help businesses solve complex challenges,” he said. “But good ideas aren’t enough. Those ideas have to executable.” That’s where critical thinking comes in. According to Lattner, consultants work with clients to drive positive change within the client’s organization by assisting with things like financial strategy or mergers and acquisitions. Consultants transfer their knowledge to their clients, and businesses value the objectivity that consultants bring to the table.

According to Lattner, consulting companies like Deloitte have changed their hiring process over the years. “When I started out,” he said. “I went straight from undergrad to graduate school and then was hired by a consulting firm.” Now, according to Lattner, consulting firms would prefer that an undergraduate gain work experience before pursuing an MBA. “This way, you can draw on your experience during your MBA program to give more relevance to what you’re learning,” he said.

When hiring entry-level consultants, Lattner said that firms like Deloitte are looking for a number of things: strong academic performance, the ability to think critically about a problem, and a combination of qualitative and quantitative skills. “If you’ve focused mostly on accounting, take a business strategy class. If you have been focusing on strategy, make sure to include technology classes as well,” he said. As far as personality traits, Lattner said that once a consultant gets that entry-level position, the firm will be looking to promote those who are hardworking and diligent. “They want someone who is always driving the ball,” he said. “That’s how you’ll get noticed.”

Lattner explained that as consultants move up the ranks at Deloitte, they gain experience in various practice fields that might interest them, in the same way a college freshman might experiment with different classes to settle on a major. “In the beginning, you may dabble in technology, energy, telecom or healthcare,” he said. “It’s important to find an area that interests you and in which you can share your skill set.” But as consultants move into management roles, they become subject-matter experts in their practice areas. For example, Lattner said that Deloitte has nurses and physicians consulting in their healthcare practice segment. “Imagine the credibility they could bring to a healthcare client,” he said.

Lattner went on to describe a consultant’s typical work week. “Consultants spend four days per week at the client’s site, then come back to the office on the fifth day,” he said. But Lattner emphasized that a consultant’s number one job is to meet the expectations of the client. “That means consulting is not an 8 to 5 job.”

But although consulting can be a demanding career, Lattner has found it to be rewarding as well. “If you want to be in a cube all day, don’t be a consultant,” he said. “But if you want to travel and gain experience across a variety of cultures, consulting can give you that.”

The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence. For more information, click here.

Executives on Campus: Flip Howard, Founder, Meridian Business Centers

Executives on Campus: Flip Howard, Founder, Meridian Business Centers

According to Flip Howard, you don’t need a revolutionary idea to become a successful entrepreneur. Taking an existing idea and executing it better than anybody else works, too. “Ninety percent of business owners are terrible at what they’re doing,” he said. “You can do it better with hard work.” Howard, founder and president of Meridian Business Centers, recently hosted students from the University of Dallas’ Entrepreneurship Society at one of his Dallas-area centers on March 23.

Meridian operates 15 locations in DFW and Houston in which small businesses can lease individual offices that share common areas like conference rooms, work rooms, and kitchens. “This set up is perfect for firms with one to four employees, like lawyers, stock brokers, or small tech companies,” he said. “Although they may pay more per square foot than leasing an office directly from a landlord, our tenants pay only for the office space they actually need. And because the spaces are turnkey, there is no need to spend time or money setting up utilities like phone or Internet.”

Howard explained that because Meridian leases–rather than owns–the spaces they operate, they keep zero debt. “This means that we can weather economic downturns better than some of the larger real estate companies,” Howard said. “Our ups and downs are smoothed out.” One of the most lucrative areas for Meridian is virtual offices, in which individuals or companies can pay for using Meridian’s physical address on their business cards, phone-answering service, and even the use of the conference room. “Most of our virtual tenants travel or just work from home,” he said. “But they might need to meet with clients occasionally, or have a FedEx package delivered. So we’ve adapted our services to the needs of the market.”

Howard’s career as an entrepreneur began in his teens when he and his current business partner painted addresses on curbs to make money. “I could make $250 in the same amount of time that my friends working in fast food were making $20,” he said. “After that, I knew I’d never have a ‘real job.’”

Soon after college graduation, Howard and his business partner started University Laundry, a laundry pickup and delivery service for college students. Working about a hundred hours per week while building the business taught him a lot about management and finance. “You can’t learn how to manage people from reading a book,” he said. “You have to get out there and do it to learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Howard told the group that one of the most valuable lessons he has learned as an entrepreneur is that success is all about staffing. “I’m always looking for people that have a positive, unselfish attitude,” he said. “Everyone occasionally makes bad hires. But you need to be able to let go of the ones who just don’t fit.”

Howard also counseled the group not to be overly cautious when analyzing opportunities. “I work a lot with Young Catholic Professionals,” he said. “And one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people in the 24-30 age range tend to over-analyze problems. They can be too timid. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who get things done. So just get out there and do something.”

Howard also told the group to hold themselves to a high standard. “Whether it’s morally or in the business world, so many people set a low bar and have low expectations for themselves,” he said. “You need to be different. Set the bar higher for yourself and you will stand out.”

For more information on the University of Dallas Entrepreneurship Society, click here.

Greetings from Ireland!

Greetings from Ireland!

art ireland

Art was really living life on the edge when he paid a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. Are you even a UD student if you don’t make a pilgrimage to the Cliffs? Located at the southwestern side of the Burren region in County Clare, Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher can reach a maximum height of 700 feet. This means if you take an unnecessary risk, you could experience a 7 second long plunge into the Atlantic Ocean!

Caption/Photo: Paulina Martin ‘17, @University of Dallas Career Development Photographer

Big Data Means Big Ethical Questions

Big Data Means Big Ethical Questions

“Big data” is a term that occurs regularly in discussions of corporate strategy and analytics, but what is it? “I hate the term ‘big data,’” said Tom Nealand, MBA ’87, Executive Vice President of Strategy & Innovation at Southwest Airlines. “You have to get clarity around what those words really mean if you want to develop a successful organizational structure that can take advantage of the information you’re generating.” Nealand spoke recently as part of the University of Dallas’ TIE expert panel series.
The panel discussion, held on March 18, 2016 and entitled “Executive Decision Making: Analyzing Big Data,” drew a large crowd at the University of Dallas’ Satish and Yasmin Gupta School of Business, due in no small part to the credentials of the panel, which also included Aaron Miri, MBA ’10, Chief Information Officer of Walnut Medical Center; Ellen Barker, MBA ’94, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Texas Instruments; and Rhonda Levene, MBA ’89, Former Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Daymon Worldwide. Mark Ryland, Chief Architect, Worldwide Public Sector Team, Amazon Web Services, moderated the panel.
Ryland attributed the tremendous growth in the sheer amount of data available to analyze to a few “megatrends” that have emerged within the tech industry. “First, storage is basically free,” he said. “There’s never any real reason for a company to delete the data they have collected on their customers. Second, the growth of new tools to analyze data has made it possible to handle a lot of information cheaply. And third, these days, just about everything is instrumental and is throwing off data. This means we are accumulating unprecedented amounts of information.”

But how, exactly, could and should a company use these mountains of data to make decisions? Barker explained that three things about big data make the management of it especially complicated. “Because of the internet of things, we are receiving data from an amazing variety of sources,” she said. “The velocity of data has also increased. And data has volatility. Some data is more valuable in the stream and less valuable as time progresses. Because of all these factors, we have to ask, ‘How do we architect our environment to give our business units the data they need?’”

Levene said her previous experience with Coca Cola and Daymon Worldwide helped her see big data from a consumer, brand-building perspective. “Big data becomes really effective for retailers when it creates consumer pull demand versus retailer pushing demand,” she said. “If handled correctly, it helps retailers correlate their next steps.”

For Miri, careful data analysis can have even greater implications. “In healthcare, data analytics is about saving lives,” he said. “If I can analyze how long it takes a patient to get from the ambulance into triage and then shave minutes off of that time, I can have a great impact on patient care.” Miri said even social media platforms can have an impact on hospitals. “We look at every bit of data. For example, we might look at Twitter for news of how the flu is spreading in the DFW area. That helps us prepare for what might be coming,” he said.

The panel also addressed questions from the audience about the ethics of collecting large amounts of data and then correlating it in a way that could threaten an individual’s privacy. The panelists agreed that even so-called anonymous data can be “de-anonymized” if subjected to a fine-grain analysis. Miri explained that the sequencing of the human genome is an example of how detailed healthcare data can both help and harm a potential patient. “If your genome shows you are at risk for cancer, a health insurance company cannot deny you coverage because of provisions in the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “But life insurers are not part of those regulations. They can deny coverage based on your genomic risk of getting cancer.” While this may seem troubling to a healthcare consumer, Miri added that these ethical situations should not preclude data analysis within the healthcare industry. “We must use the data to push society to get better. That’s the purpose of technology in healthcare. The question is: will people be willing to give up some privacy in order to achieve the end-game of a healthier society?”

Several members of the audience were also interested in how the panelists view the future of data analytics in their roles as employers. One person asked how he could remain relevant as an employee in an industry that changes every day. Nealon emphasized that to be successful, data analysts must emphasize their business skills. “Your business skills, coupled with strong applied mathematics skills, will make you an asset to an employer,” he said. “You must bring up your business intellect. You want to be known as a business person with tech DNA.”

All panelists agreed that the collection, analysis and protection of data is now an integral part of corporate responsibility and is what they called a “board-level” issue. “Proper data governance is a priority for businesses,” Ryland said. “And these emerging questions about how to use the data have become ethical questions as well.”

TIE stands for Transformation, Innovation and Ethics. It is an expert panel series in which alumni leaders host a discussion on transitions and the future of business. The purpose of TIE is to bring together alumni, administration, students and faculty to discuss a rapidly transitioning world and how to innovate and manage that change in an ethical manner. Find out more by visiting UD’s Alumni website.

Traveling Thursday in Greece

Traveling Thursday in Greece

Art 3.10.16 cropped

#TravelingThursday in Greece! Art made it to the Acropolis of Athens! He had his picture taken in front of the Parthenon, but soon got a bit tired of the hordes of selfie-stick wielding tourists. Art then decided to get away from all the tourists and hangout at the  Erectheion instead. Also located on the Acropolis, the construction of this unique temple was completed in 406 BC. Dedicated to the gods Poseidon and Athena, the Erechtheion is famous for its porch featuring several caryatids (statues serving as columns).

Caption/Photo: Charlie Sigur ‘18, University of Dallas Career Development Student Assistant

Greetings from Greece!

Greetings from Greece!

greece - art

Greetings from Greece! Art is sitting on Mount Parnassos and overlooking the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece, which has suffered all sorts of damage. After being built in the 7th century B.C., it had been rebuilt twice in antiquity after a fire and an earthquake, and now suffers from decay due to its soft, limestone material.

Caption/Photo: Paulina Martin ‘17, @University of Dallas Career Development Photographer