Business Ambassadors Hit the Street
By Bob Haworth
Professor of Business Management
The introductions were over, and the board room became quiet. Rebecca Rodriquez, a Westminster Business Ambassador, began to present the pro's and con's of one of the most controversial topics in the banking industry, mark-to-market accounting. She was presenting to Harris Simmons, the Chairman and CEO of Zions Bancorporation, and arguably one of the top business leaders in the State of Utah, along with a group of his senior executives. Rebecca nailed it! Then it was on to Blake Troester to present another complex topic…an overview of mortgage-backed-securities, and the impact they have had on both the banking industry and the U.S. economy…another great presentation! Finally, Isis Diaz presented on the government TARP program (Troubled Asset Relief Program) including our overall assessment of the program, and its impact on the banking industry...wow...three for three! The presentation ended and a lively dialogue between Harris, his executive team, and our group of 12 top Westminster business students continued. Harris shared his insights on the current state and challenges of the U.S. banking industry, in one of its most dramatic periods since the Great Depression. Not a bad way for a Westminster business student to spend a morning! This is what the Westminster Business Ambassadors is all about!
The Spring ’09 semester saw the launch of the Westminster Business Ambassador (WBA) practicum at the Gore School of Business. The program is the vision of John Groesbeck (Dean), and working together with me (Professor of Business Management), the “maiden” program was successfully planned and executed over the course of the semester.
The goal of the WBA practicum is to take our top business students, and expand their classroom learning, by exposing them to the senior executive teams of premier companies in the Salt Lake valley. The practicum is limited to 10 to 12 students, all of whom require a recommendation by a professor, and a minimum 3.5 grade point average. Without a doubt, these students are the top business leaders of tomorrow.
Three premier, and very different, companies were included in this semester’s practicum: Zions Bancorporation (Harris Simmons, Chairman and CEO); Myriad Genetics, Inc. (Peter Meldrum, President and CEO); and, Associated Food Stores, Inc. (Richard Parkinson, President and CEO). In preparation for each presentation to these executives, the ambassadors performed detail research on these companies and their industries. In addition, guest (expert) speakers met with the students on industry-related topics. I challenged these students to analyze their research findings from the “CEO’s perspective” in order to both broaden their learning, and to gain a strategic perspective on each company. Based on the results of their research, the students prepared, and delivered, a 45 minute presentation to the CEO and executive team, followed by an open, and lively discussion on the company and the issues these executives deal with day-to-day.
Westminster is very grateful to these companies, and their executives, for partnering with the Gore School on this WBA program. Each of these three companies provided these students with an incredible learning experience:
- At Zions Bancorporation, Harris Simmons challenged our students to research and learn about some of the most complex banking topics that were impacting not only the banking industry, but our entire U.S. economy. During our session, Harris shared his personal experiences in Washington D.C. working with Treasury Secretary Paulson, during a period when some were predicting the collapse of the banking sector…a fascinating discussion!
- At Myriad Genetics, Inc., Peter Meldrum, along with his senior executive team, shared insights with the students into the biotechnology industry, where high risks–high rewards are a day-to-day part of the business. Having an opportunity to discuss Myriad Genetics from a strategic perspective, where “science versus business” decisions must be made on investing resources, was an incredible learning experience. Plus, meeting with a group of business executives who not only manage a highly successful company, but truly change the world, was inspiring to our students.
- Finally, at Associated Food Stores, Inc. – Rich Parkinson arranged for our students to tour AFS’s state-of-the-art food distribution center in Farr West Utah that services over 400 supermarkets throughout the Rocky Mountain West. The facility uses conveyor belts to drive productivity and to move cases throughout the distribution center. Giant scanning devices then direct those cases to their appropriate locations, and robots pick entire pallets from warehouse racking three-stories high….all under one roof in a building larger than 20 football fields….wow! Two weeks later, once the students’ presentation was completed, Rich assembled his entire executive team in their board room for the meeting. We had an incredible learning experience from these executives about the food distribution and supermarket industry. The meeting concluded with a presentation given by AFS on their “localization” program, which assists their independent supermarket customers to tailor their stores, products and promotions to the right demographic market in their communities.
As you can see, these Westminster Business Ambassadors had a great semester. This year’s ambassadors included: Diana Brailoiu, Abby Brass, Isis Diaz, Jason Jenson, Cary Kylen, Ryan Mason, Brent McKendrick, Nic Richards, Hunter Richardson, Rebecca Rodriguez, Blake Troester, and Cameron Wynhof. Congratulations to these outstanding students.
The Westminster Business Ambassador practicum will be offered every Spring semester. Bob Haworth and John Groesbeck are looking forward to our next set of companies, and opportunities for our students. More to follow…