Cullman Lunch: Cary Jenkins

Cary Jenkins was behind one of the biggest tech exits in recent Columbus history.  His company of TopNoggin, the producer of the innovative pension management software platform: Bluefin, was recently acquired by The Hartford Financial Services Group.  Cary continues to believe that the IT departments of large companies are not designed to innovate; after TogNoggin he has continued to seek out technology needs with other ventures including Visible Equity and My Financial Guard.

As far as the Cullman lunch series goes, Cary was on the informal end of the spectrum.  He spent some time demonstrating the Bluefin product and tried to let our questions lead the discussion.

A few themes that I picked up on:

  • “Bullets in your gun” when brining in partners. Cary highlighted two selling points when trying to recruit partners away from lucrative corporate life: fun and a potential lump sum.  When our group discussed our reasons for wanting to start a company, we boiled it down to “we just want do something different” and “fun.”  Cary also pointed out that most millionaires become millionaires as the result of a lump sum (i.e. it is very hard to become a millionaire through a salary)—and by taking equity you create this potential.
  • Be honest with your talents. Some of the first people Cary brought on when he started TopNoggin were a domain expert (an actuary) and a president.  While Cary is very talented in crafting and selling a product, he is first to admit that general management is not his forte.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability of new ventures: Cary took us through the startup history of TopNoggin and Visible Equity.  Both companies began by doing something else and the economic situation (e.g. Housing Market Meltdown, Dot Com Bust) and customer needs led their products in new directions.

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Free Food and Drink

Ever since I got my snazzy new Fisher business cards, I’ve made a habit of leaving them in the “fishbowl” that frequently resides near the register at diners, eateries, watering-holes and restaurants.  My persistence finally paid off: I had a pretty lucky weekend.  Today, a couple of my starving MBAs friends (including fellow Fisher Grad Life blogger Robin Jenkins) and I enjoyed a meal on the house at Noodles & Company.  Also, taking a note from my Johnny-Appleseed-esque business card distribution scheme, Emma won a happy-hour (free drinks for her, and discounted drinks for her friends) at McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon in the South Campus Gateway.  These two freebies were of differing value.

If you’ve never been to Noodles & Company your are missing out on some good and reasonably priced food—I recommend the Whole Grain Tuscan Linguini with Parmesan Chicken which you get in a few minutes for 7 bucks.  The freebie, which they called a “tasting,” consisted of a family style meal for six.  As a group, we picked a dish from each of the noodle menus (Asian, Mediterranean and American) and they though in a few salads, desserts and drinks.  Although, their Pad Thai is far from the best I’ve ever had, it was a pretty low key and fun way to cap off the weekend.

The McFadden’s experience left a bit more to be desired.  To their credit these complementary “happy hours” seem to be a pretty effective way of getting people in the door.  As far as I can tell, they had 10-12 people on Saturday night that were hosting a happy hour for their social circle.  The strategy probably does a reasonable job of compensating for the abysmal customer experience.  When we arrived, we got a table by the window.  At about 10:30, a McFadden’s employee came by to ask to us to get up so that they could “clear out” the table and chairs.  In fact, by that time every table was taken and they asked everyone to get up.  I’m not an expert in the restaurant business, but I would think that you would start removing tables like at 6:00 PM as the dinner crowd left—not at 10:30 when the restaurant is full.  Besides that, the incredibly understaffed bar (3 bartenders to 150 bar goers) and the Howard-Stern-brand-of-inappropriate DJ, everything else was awesome.

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Cullman Lunch: Jason Mlicki

Last week some of my classmates and I had lunch with Jason MlickiFisher College of Business MBA and “Resident Left Brain” at Mlicki, a Columbus branding agency.

His feeling in that service and b2b (business-to-business) branding is still in its infancy. Some of the firms biggest successes have been with business that operate in industries that have not traditionally invested in very much branding. He highlighted some of Mlicki’s experience with engineering and construction firms including R.W. Setterlin. I found particularly interesting Jason’s response when asked him how he sold Mlicki’s services to such firms. By demonstrating “thought leadership” as it applies to business problems he could sell work to firms that operated in industries or were in need of services not represented in Mlicki’s portfolio.

Another of Jason’s central themes was the idea that consumers shop comparatively and buy emotionally. He shared an anecdote of his experience buying a flat screen HDTV a few years back. Before heading to the store, Jason looked a copy of Consumer Reports and circled several products in the sizes and categories which he was looking.The products he circled were almost exclusively Samsung brand televisions. However, he came home from Best Buy with a brand new Sony. Only when Jason found the circled Consumer Reports a few weeks later, did he realize what effect the emotional power of the Sony brand had on his buying decision.

Thanks again to Jason Mlicki for visiting us at Fisher. For more of his thoughts on branding check out his blog.

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Evening at Limited Brands

Last week I had what was hands-down the coolest opportunity since starting Business School: the Evening at Limited Brands program.  Limited Brands is a Columbus based apparel company that is home to Victoria’s Secret, Pink and Bath & Body Works among others. Last Wednesday evening a hundred or so Fisher MBAs came to the Limited Brands campus east of Columbus where the Limited Brands executive team hosted a cocktail party and networking event.  We were also treated to a private address from Limited Brands founder, CEO, Chair of the Ohio State University Board of Trustees and Columbus legend Les Wexner.

While Wexner spoke for nearly an hour covering a range of topics some of his most noteworthy ideas were:

Flexing your change muscle – His idea was that agility in more important in today’s business environment than ever before.  By challenging yourself to think differently, by picking up a book you wouldn’t normally read or taking a new approach to solving a familiar problem you can prepare yourself for the day that you will have to adapt.

Inner-self leading your outer self – As the Limited grew, Wexner found others looking to him for leadership even though he never considered himself a leader.  As he tells it, he found that there was something inside him—an inner-self—that was decisive and convincing that would lead his outer-self to do what must be done.  In fact, he explained, his two selves often had a dialog while he stood in front of the bathroom mirror shaving.

Thank you again to Les Wexner and the Limited Brands executive team.  Altogether this was a very exciting event and the only opportunity I have had to meet someone who had a campus building named after him.

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Cullman Lunch: Jim Terranova

This week’s guest was at the Cullman lunch series was Jim Terranova, Director of Fund Operations, WS Investments at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati a Silicon Valley law firm.  WSG&R specializes in business, securities, and intellectual property law with a focus in start ups.   Jim essentially runs the firms internal venture fund that it uses to invest in its clients.

Jim is a Fisher Alum and has been very engaged with the Fisher Entrepreneurship Association—he has taken the lead in organizing an annual entrepreneurial tour of Silicon Valley—as well as a member of the Fisher Alumni Society Board.

Jim spoke about the firm’s history of starting with “first circle” companies (i.e. start ups) and growing their offerings as their clients grew to “second” and “third circle” companies.  While he hesitated to provide legal “advice” he did share some of the legal pitfalls he had seen with early stage companies; the most common mistakes centered around failing to clearly define relationships with partners, founders, employees or vendors.

Thanks again to Jim for coming in to share his experience with us.

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Cullman Lunch: Jim Katzenberger

One of the greatest things about The Fisher College of Business is the level of engagement with the greater business community. One unique way Fisher brings the community into the graduate experience is the W. Arthur Cullman Executive Luncheon Series: giving graduate students an opportunity to interact in an intimate setting (lunches are capped at 10-14 students) with entrepreneurs and business leaders.

This Wednesday I attended my first Cullman Lunch with Jim Katzenberger currently an executive at Profit Performance Advisors, in Philadelphia. His consultancy focuses on helping business overcome their “growth inhibitors” and quickly growing businesses for exit events.

Jim’s varied experience includes stints at IBMRazorfish/i-CubeCambridge Technology PartnersBristlecone, Catalyst and being one of the first hundred employees at SAP. At SAP he saw the business grow from less to 100 employees to 2,000+ in less than two years. When asked what growth inhibitors SAP (now a $10 billion company with 50,000 employees) had at this stage, Jim cited the culture shift needed (particularly among the earliest employees) to move from a midsized to a large, flexible firm.

Finally, the signature “formula for growth” printed on the back on of Jim’s card is worth noting.

A(K + S) + GOALS = PBC => IR

Translated, this means Attitudes times Knowledge and Skills plus Goals equals Positive Behavioral Change leading to Improved Results.

Thanks again for coming to Jim for coming to visit Fisher this week. I have another Cullman lunch this week; look for a blog later in the week.

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This Wednesday my Managerial Economics class took our shot at the Wharton OPEQ simulation.  OPEQ (a play on the Organization of Oil Producing Countries or OPEC) is a web-based economics simulation meant to demonstrate competition in cartels and game theory.

The concept is relatively simple.  As a group, you compete against several other peer groups.  Each group represents an oil-producing country in a mythical world.  Each year (or round in this case), your country chooses how much oil to produce.  The total profit your country makes in a year is a function of quantity and price; however, price has an inverse relationship to quantity available in your world (i.e. if you get too greedy, you end up making oil price very cheap and consequently cause everyone to make less money).

The only chance at winning is to try to get all the countries in the world to cooperate and restrain production.  However, as we saw is almost every case, cooperation was impossible.  The constricted communication (only a few emails back a forth) and forced anonymity made little incentive for cooperation.  Even though our group started with good intentions, we ultimately finished in the bottom third of the class.

If you played OPEQ this week or have in the past, let me know what you thought? Find any winning strategies? (I am pretty convinced there aren’t any.)

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Careers in Marketing Boot Camp

I spent the day yesterday in the “Careers in Marketing Boot Camp” at The Fisher College of Business.  The Career Management Office organizes several boot camps throughout the fall covering the various careers that MBAs typically seek including: consulting, operations and logistics, marketing, finance, sustainability and real estate.  The Marketing Boot Camp, which was generously sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, was a day-long seminar focused on career paths in marketing, networking strategies and interviewing techniques.  Several alumni and marketers from local firms came to Fisher to share their experiences and take questions on their careers and firms.

The keynote speaker, Mr. Brad Davis, Vice President Nationwide Financial Individual Investments, gave an engaging (and sometimes humorous) but certainly informative presentation covering his experience in branding in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry and how that brought him to his position at Nationwide.  The topics he covered were too numerous to summarize completely, but some of the highlights included:

  • The balance between the science and art of marketing
  • The concepts of “misattribution” and “consideration sets”
  • The marketing cycle
  • Marketing is Business and Business is Marketing: everyone owns a piece of establishing and nurturing a relationship with the customer

Once again thanks to Brad Davis, Nationwide, Jenny Heckscher, the Fisher Office of Career Management and everyone else that took the time to attend and answer questions: The Scotts Miracle-Grow Company, dunnhumbyUSA, Nestlé, Cardinal Health, Resource Interactive, Greif, Sterling Commerce, The Columbus Chapter of the American Marketing Association, The Fisher College of Business Marketing Faculty and second-year MBA students.

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TechLife Columbus and the Business Builders Club

One unique part of the Ohio State University culture is the Business Builders Club (BBC).  The club, which sits apart from the business school, focuses on building a foundation for entrepreneurship for OSU students.  Since its founding in 2000, the club has developed a reputation for developing innovative and successful businesspeople and has become a differentiator for OSU. Although the BBC is primarily geared toward undergraduates, I “sneaked in” to the first meeting of the year this past Tuesday.

Sandy Blanquera, the keynote speaker, told a remarkably personal story of her own journey from corporate employee, to franchisee, to entrepreneur.  She now owns and operates the Columbus-based social marketing company, Social Boomerang.  Additionally, Sandy and her husband are very active in the Columbus entrepreneur community.  In fact, on her recommendation I joined TechLife Columbus: a group focused on technology, entrepreneurship, education and “accelerating the pace of getting to know really cool tech people in town.”

Although I have only been an active member TechLife Columbus for a few days now, I already got the opportunity to attend an event—a social event at the economic development and incubator facility, TechColumbus.  From these two events my excitement for the entrepreneur community in Columbus has grown immensely, and I am looking forward to getting more involved with both organizations.

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PowerPoint Overload

As I print thirty pages of PowerPoint slides for my courses this week, I can’t help but wonder when PowerPoint became such an integral part of the classroom experience.

At the risk of sounding nostalgic (or curmudgeon-like), I am forced to think back to my undergrad experiences.  As an engineering student, I only took a handful of courses that utilized PowerPoint as a teaching tool and I occasionally used it as an aid for my own oral presentations.  However, it was far from a standard part of every classroom.

But flash forward just five years, and (at least in the business school) there is a projector in every room and four out of my five MBA courses are taught primarily using PowerPoint.  I’m not sure what to think of it.   It does seem to be pretty effective and some instructors have found innovative ways to teach using the medium: one instructor encourages “active learning” by distributing slides with blanks in the places of key terms and ideas—as we cover the material in class we are encouraged to fill in the blanks.

Are there any thoughts on the use of PowerPoint as a teaching technique?  Have instructors lost the ability to lecture or lead a discussion without a using it as crutch?  Or is its pervasiveness an indicator of its effectiveness?

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PowerPoint handouts for this week 092709
PowerPoint handouts for this week 092709