Walking Up the Stairs

Walking Up the StairsCommencement Address - Little Rock, AR. Campus, Webster University This is a story about the importance of empowering others. John T. Quinlivan, a retired executive at Boeing Corporation, shared this wonderful story with me. It's a story about a simple act we all take for granted. A few years back John was the person in charge of delivering Boeing commercial jets to countries around the world. This particular delivery was to the nation of Kenya. The Boeing 767-400 plane landed at the Kenyatta International Airport with much fanfare and celebration.

The day began with great pomp and ceremony, as Boeing entertained airline executives and top government dignitaries with a demonstration flight in the new 767 over the beautiful landscape of Kenya. Later that day, the aerospace giant opened the airplane up for what is generally referred as static display, where people are invited to walk through the plane, sit on the seats, and get an up-close look of the plane.

More than two thousand Kenya Airways employees and invited VIPs showed up to get a glimpse of the country's new acquisition that afternoon. At the completion of the static display, the plane was cleaned and secured for the night. But then, the unaccepted happened, a group of children from a nearby orphanage showed up. they came to see the big bird that had landed near their home close to the airport. Despite protestation from the hosts, John Quinlivan insisted that they too should get a tour of the brand-new plane. When they finally made it on the tarmac, they stood transfixed at the bottom of the stairway looking up at the massive bird. From the top, John motioned to them to come up, but nobody responded to him. "They just stood there," John told me, and then he asked one of the Kenyan hosts to tell the children and adults who were with them in Swahili to walk up the stairs. again, there was no reaction.

It became clear to John that he had a small problem. The problem? The children and their handlers had never walked up stairs before. They didn't know how, and so with the help of the Boeing staff and Kenyan hosts, they assisted the children, as they made their way up to the plane. It took a while, but they finally made it to the top of the stairway and into the place. They stretched out on the large seats in first class, checked out the cockpit, sat in the pilot's seat, and looked in the restrooms!

At the end of the tour, it was a sight to see the kids attempting to walk down the stairway. A few found it more comforting and assuring to just sit on the steps, slid their way down as carefully as they could.

This is a story about a simple act that we take for granted. My friends, walking up stairs is enabling others to reach their goals. Walking up stairs is overcoming insurmountable odds and doing the impossible. When we walk up stairs, we are enabling others to participate in the American Dream. It begs the question: what stairs are you helping others to climb?

According to John, "the people of Kenya were thrilled to be a part of the Boeing 767-400 tour. But it was more than that. They were so proud of their new plane. You see, we must always remember the radical changes that products/services bring to people's lives and the transformational capacity to an organization or even to a nation and to its people." For John, it's about access, connectivity, opportunity, inclusion and education. These are defining attributes that are to be part of DNA of any organization.

Which begs the question: are you enabling these attributes in your organization?


John T. Quinlivan with Kenyan children at the airport

NAFSA Keynote Address - My American Journey

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande, DeanWalker School of Business & Technology, Webster University Full text of keynote address at NAFSA - May 29, 2013

As a child growing up in Africa, I must have heard my father tell the story a hundred times. And so it  was inevitable that I would hear the story one last time on the evening of august 23, 1979, the day before my departure to the United States of America. The story began on a rainy night, in a far away place called America. It's about 11:30 p.m., an older African-American woman was stranded on the side of an Alabama highway in a driving rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride home. Soaking wet, she tried to flag down the cars as they passed by, but nobody stopped to help. After what must have seemed like eternity, a young white man stopped to help. At this juncture my dad reminded me that this act of kindness demonstrated by this young man was rare in those conflict-filled, racially tense civil rights days. But this man was gracious and took her to safety, got her a taxicab. Although she was in a hurry to get home, she asked the Good Samaritan for his address just before he drove off. A few weeks later, the young man received an unexpected surprise in the mail. It was a giant console black and white TV with a special note attached. The note read:

"Thank you so much for helping me on the highway the other night." "the rain drenched not only my clothes but also my spirits. But, because of you, i was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and serving others unselfishly. Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole"

As a young lad, my first and only impression of America was based on this story. I saw America as a nation of helpers, a place of courage filled with encouragers, a country where everybody got along with each other and leaned on one another.

My American journey began on a rainy Thursday night, August 24, 1979. As the pan am Boeing 747 approached the john f. Kennedy airport, pictures tumbled through my mind - New York City, the Big Apple, the United States of America. I saw skyscrapers pushed up like mushrooms, stretching their heads toward the sky. I could hear playing in my head Frank Sinatra's song New York, New York.

Start spreading the news I'm leaving today I want to be a part of it.......... New York, New York I want to wake up in the city that doesn't sleep I'm gonna make a brand new start of it.... If I can make it here, I'll make it any where It's up to you, New York, New York

My perception of America was formed in part from watching American television: The Love Boat, The Jeffersons, Sesame Street. I could smell the good ol' American hamburgers with everything on it, French fries, and that ever addictive, American libation - chocolate milkshake!

It's been 34 years since my American journey began, I must confess that I still have many unanswered questions. For instance, why does the fat lady have to sing before it's over? And, will somebody, please, explain to me why it isn't over 'til it's over?

In America, you get the sense that everybody is in a hurry. It's as if they are running out of time. The centrality of movement makes one wonder whether such hustle and bustle ultimately does affect the psychological stability of the people. I wonder if this constant motion impacts the people's sense of place. You find this "hurry up and go" attitude almost everywhere you go in America. Legendary Indy car driver, Mario Andretti, confirms my concern when he said, "most Americans believe that if everything is under control, then they're not going fast enough." So many people are more focused on moving on to the next task and how fast they can reach the next intersection. Too many people are running through life without taking time to live life.

My understanding of America has come in different formats and stories. I recall one of the greatest tales ever told, a story of risk, failure, and perseverance....and, all revolves around an egg that was bent on defying the odds and met with an interesting result. It is the story of Humpty Dumpty. I'm sure you recall the rhyme. I ask that you please join me in reciting the rhyme just one more time.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men Couldn't put Humpty together again.

The key word here is the very last word of the rhyme - "again." What this confirms is that this was not the first time that Humpty had fallen. Humpty was a serial risk-taker. It was bold, fearless, unrelenting, and entrepreneurial. Humpty was all about setting stretch goals and was very familiar with the reality called failure. But, Humpty refused to allow failure to define it. Failure for Humpty was real-time feedback. Failure was an opportunity to regroup, to reassess, and to try again until success was eventually achieved.

The wall in this story is a simple metaphor that speaks to the singular act of overcoming challenges. Climbing a wall is moving beyond where you are. Climbing a wall is overcoming adversity, challenging convention, pursuing goals that are not easily achievable, and refusing to give up. Indeed, so many people the world over continue to climb the proverbial wall, and even when we fall, we find the way to get back up again.

This is an American story about the courage to seek challenges, to gratefully accept help when needed, and to persevere even when there is no apparent reason to do so. It's a vivid reminder that even when we do everything right - when we remain loyal to our employer, invest our money in "fool proof" funds, pursue the so-called American dream-that we may still fall short. This story affirms that somewhere in our life's journey, we will face adversity. Some we will overcome and some will overcome us, yet we will never be deterred, we will continue to persevere.

Humpty's story is a story about courage. Eddie Rickenbacker said it better that "courage is doing what we are afraid to do." And so, there can be no courage unless we are scared. We all have fallen, yes. We have been broken, certainly. But behind the doom, beyond the gloom, we should never take our eyes off that wall and should be ready to climb it over and over again, cracks and all, as impossible as it may seem.

I am particularly impressed with Humpty's support group, you know, his family and friends, all the king's horses and all the king's men, who provide the ultimate safety net for Humpty. If it wasn't for our "king's men and king's horses," getting back up when we fall would be impossible. They are the ones who encourage us to keep on going. They are there to pick us up when we are down. In my American journey, I have met so many king's men and king's horses who have made this journey a remarkable experience. I am grateful to the friends in West Texas, Oklahoma, D.C., NYC, New Mexico, and many more.

In my American journey, I met ordinary people who are battling against unimaginable odds, young men and women fighting incurable medical conditions, friends facing physical and mental adversity, and many more dealing with unbelievable economic challenges; yet they refuse to give in, they persevere, unwilling to relent and determined to succeed against all odds. It's a consistency that I see.

It's been a fulfilling journey, a meaningful experience that has made me a better person, more understanding and appreciative of people from diverse backgrounds, but my American journey also exposed me to so many other things I didn't expect to find in America. My journey has taken me to forty-six states in my quest to gain an appreciation of America. The visitor in me saw the awesome and overwhelming beauty and power of America. The student in me saw a nation of contradictions, a nation still grappling with the power of and a reluctant appreciation for the greatest heritage it possesses - diversity.

I took a look at the American constitution and read some of the memorable thoughts on the ideals of freedom and equality and compared all these great writings with today's current political rhetoric. And I wonder how the richest, most powerful nation on earth could have so much misery around without feeling something is wrong.

In my American journey, I found racial and ethnic harmony in the most unexpected place. On this street lives a world of respectful puppets and kind friends, where everyone owns a piece of the street-Sesame Street. Kermit the Frog teaches the value of friendship and reminds us that we were all born original, and yet so many people spend the rest of their lives trying to be copies.

Big Bird shows us that we are all birds of different feathers and that life is not about how different we are but the difference we can make. Big Bird challenges us to continue to strive towards building relationships with one another. I am impressed with Oscar who has consistently demonstrated the value of respect and tolerance for different ideas and different people. And it was the Count who introduced us to the intricate value of money and warns against the tendency of putting too much value on material things.

I cannot forget the connoisseur of continental cookies, the Cookie Monster whose behavior is a reflection of the consequences of addictive behavior and shows us that too much of anything is not good for us. Sesame Street means much more than alphabets and numbers to me. It's a real colorblind community, where diversity is valued, the very best of America because it shows our follies, reveals our strengths, and reminds us that we all belong on the same street called humanity.

My quest to know more about the technological and engineering accomplishments of America took me to Orlando, Florida, where I witnessed mind-boggling scientific and technological achievements at Disney World and got a rare opportunity to meet the greatest, biggest, the most celebrated rodent in the world. This worm, fuzzy, sensitive, always smiling rodent, they call Mickey Mouse, was indeed larger than life!

I was impressed with the vision and creativity of the man called Walt Disney, who took a pest, a nuisance to so many people around the world and turned it into a lovable, respectable, kid-loving, billion-dollar icon. And when you inquire from the folks at Disney what business they are in, their response is equally impressive: "we are in the happiness business."

At the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida, the visitor witnesses the conception of a dream, its lofty delivery from a simple but delicate physics of a bird in flight to the extra-terrestrial marvel of Neil Armstrong, who took one small step for himself and a giant leap for mankind. I gained a new appreciation for the creativity that is unique to America, yet I wonder why the same minds who conceived these engineering achievements have been unable to resolve the economic and social divide that continues to plague this nation.

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to connect with a St. Louis native, Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, who created a concept of immediacy and transparency that is enabling people to rise above their circumstance; he's become a new voice for over half a billion people the world over that has empowered the voiceless and enabled revolutions. Jack told me that immediacy is one of the biggest gifts you can give people because immediacy allows people to create and consume, to participate and observe. In twitter, there are no barriers or walls, only ownership. Twittering is a very freeing abstract notion that makes it easy to express what you want to say in 140 characters or less. Every idea is transparent, and when people update their family, friends, and the world, they are inspiring approachability.

Yet this begs the question: how can we sum up the courage to use this kind of creativity and utter brilliance to solve those elusive challenges in business and in life? How can we take this technology to enable competitive advantages that create jobs, improve our living standards, and ensure that our environment is sustainable? I don't claim to know the answer, perhaps you do. But I hope that whatever answer we come up with is immediate, transparent, and makes us all accountable to our fellow global citizens.

One of the most unforgettable experiences in my American journey was my visit to the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Upon arrival at the majestic Reagan Airport, I took a taxi cab to my hotel. And on the way to the hotel, we drove by the national archives building, where I noticed the bold inscription on the building, "The Past Is Prologue." And so, I inquired from the cab driver, "what do these words mean?" The cab driver replied, it means "you ain't seen nothing yet." This is the essence of America in its quest to continue to break its own record over and over again and to enable its own transformation.

In 1989, I had a brush with greatness. I challenged my microeconomics class at the University of Oklahoma to go on a search and find a mission for a successful local entrepreneur who built a business from scratch and had succeeded in creating something empowering, something good. My students took the challenge and went beyond the call of duty. They made a phone call to Bentonville, Arkansas, and succeeded in securing a Saturday morning breakfast with Sam Walton, the 74-year-old billionaire, founder of Wal-Mart. I was astounded by the sheer tenacity of six young men and women who were bold enough to dream with their eyes wide open and strong-willed enough to make those dreams come true.

And so, we headed to Bentonville, Arkansas, in the wee hours that Saturday morning. Upon arrival at the corporate headquarters in Bentonville, you wonder how something great could come out of a place so simple. Mr. Walton was waiting for us at the gate. And as we approached the gate, what we saw was a slender, gray haired gentleman wearing a worn out baseball cap, faded wrangler blue jeans, no-name tennis shoes and a casual short sleeve cowboy shirt.

The old man introduced himself as Sam as we passed him by, but we kept walking because the person we saw did not meet our expectations as America's wealthiest man. We were in the midst of greatness, and we didn't even know it. Over breakfast, Sam shared with us his personal philosophy of putting people before profit and the possibilities that come when we dare to set bold goals-goals that have significance to make it possible for poorer folks to buy the same things as richer folks. His remarkable audacity to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots is an inspiration.

My family arrived in St. Louis in the summer of 2000; we discovered a remarkable city on the shores of the mighty Mississippi river, a city known for its inclusive excellence because its ethnicity, geography, and attitudes all places it uniquely in the middle of America. This is the city that in 1904 did the impossible by hosting the World's Fair and the Olympics simultaneously. St. Louis showed the world then that it is a creative, innovative place. Today our city is known for many things, including the world champion Cardinals and culinary delicacies like Ted Drewes' concretes, toasted ravioli, and Provel cheese. St. Louis is also renowned for something else, a bridge, the Eads Bridge, which at one time was the largest suspension bridge in the United States.

The construction and design of the Eads Bridge set precedent in many ways. It was the first large bridge to span the Mississippi River, the first to carry railroad tracks. This visionary spirit that brought the Eads Bridge into fruition embodied what was demonstrated dramatically nearly 90 years later with the iconic design and improbable construction of the Gateway Arch which till this day remains the tallest man-made monument in the United States. The concept of building on a curve presented engineering challenges that were met with marvelous ingenuity.

On the east side of St. Louis runs the Mississippi River. Over a 100 years ago, the river was considered an obstacle to progress, yet rather than using it as an excuse, it inspired the city to think big and act boldly by building a bridge that crosses both physical and mental divides. It became, in essence, a powerful motivating force made of metal.

But there is a link here-allow me to suggest what I consider to be the most important work of all-that of building bridges, a connection between our past and a promising future. A bridge enables us to go from where we are now to where we want to be. Because bridges are not just made of steel, or bricks, or mortar, they are built from the foundation of the strongest substance of all: humanity. Building a bridge is taking responsibility for others. Building a bridge is doing something that others consider impossible. Building a bridge is one of the most meaningful, impactful exercise that we are called to do.

My institution, Webster University, has chosen to be a bridge-builder by being bold, by measuring our success not by those we exclude, but by those we include. We've done so by providing access to an affordable high-quality education to all those who seek the empowering strength of knowledge anywhere in the world. We are convinced that our mission will never have an expiration date. And to show this continued commitment, this fall, Webster University will open our first campus in Africa, in Accra, Ghana.

My friends, our choices in life are difficult but clear. How then can we choose to remain safely on our own shores, knowing that we could change the lives of those on the other side, simply reaching across and building human bridges?

Simon and Garfunkel's classic song, Bridge Over Troubled Waters reaffirms my belief in the intrinsic value of bridges and my sense of conviction in helping others. As I recall the lyrics, "Sail on Silver Girl sail on. Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way. And if you need a friend, I'm sailing right behind you. Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will ease your mind."

All of us must come to grips with the fact that it's not so much where we are that matters, but in what direction we are going. And that is why I remain hopelessly optimistic, because I believe that what our world needs now is an army of believers dedicated to ensure that our future remains in good hands.

Our world is ripe for a revolution of ideas, ready to embrace causes that are greater than all of us. Oh, yes, I know that it will demand courage. I know it's going to take a good size helping of commitment, I understand that it will take a ton of self-discipline. Because if it were easy, we wouldn't need those attributes to succeed. It if were easy, everybody would do it all the time. But our crusade must begin right here, right now, right away. It must begin with individuals like you and you, people who understand the meaning of commitment, sacrifice, and resilience. I'm talking about folks who recognize the value of finishing what they start and people who are not deterred by challenges and the notion that it's never been done before.

My American journey has showed me the resounding energy of people to overcome, to persevere, to make a difference.

I leave you with five takeaways from my American journey: The difference between success and failure is really a matter of time. The future is not a place you are going, it's a place you create. If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door. Learn from other people's mistakes because you can't live long enough to make them all yourself. We were all born originals, yet so many of us spend our entire lives trying to be copies - stay original! And, so, my friends, as you leave this place this afternoon and your life becomes visible once more in the floodlights of our world, please don't allow the rain of discontent to wash your hopes and dreams away. Don't allow the unexpected showers of life to rain on your spirit of enthusiasm, and your compassion for others.

I leave you with an African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together."May we go far together, for together, we can do more than we can ever do apart.

I thank you.

Dr. Akande: How Not Going Over the Cliff Has Helped

Posted: January 1, 2013
Published in: KTVI - Fox 2

(KTVI) - The last-minute deal from the Senate give hope the stalemate is over the 'fiscal cliff' won't be as disastrous for most Americans, but we are not out of the woods. Dr. Benjamin Akande, Dean of the Webster University School of Business explains how it can affect your wallet.

Cliff Compromise Could Help Economy, Cost Taxpayers

Posted: January 1, 2013
Published in: St. Louis Post Dispatch
Author: Tim Logan

The deal that was ironed out in Congress over nearly 24 hours Tuesday to resolve the so-called "fiscal cliff" should put the economy in St. Louis, and the nation as a whole, on sounder footing, local economists said.

But probably only for a little while. And your paycheck may suggest otherwise.

The agreement, which the Senate approved in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and the House OK'd as the night drew to a close, would forestall the mix of tax increases and spending cuts that was set to take effect this week, threatening to tip the U.S. back into a recession. If as expected it is signed by President Barack Obama, the deal will raise income and estate taxes on the wealthiest Americans and prolong several popular tax credits.

But it also will end a tax break that's been in place since 2010 that saves the typical family in St. Louis more than $1,000 a year.

The deal spells the end of the "payroll tax holiday," a 2 percentage point reduction in Social Security taxes that was enacted in 2010 to help stave off the recession. As a result, about 77 percent of households nationwide will see their taxes go up this year, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. For a family earning the median household income in St. Louis of $51,000, that translates to an extra $1,020 in taxes this year.

So while the fiscal cliff deal will lend some much-needed stability to the economy, said Jack Strauss, an economics professor at St. Louis University, it also could dampen growth, as families have less to spend.

"Incomes have been stagnant or declining for most people," Strauss said. "Now they're going to take this out. A lot of people really can't afford the decrease in their after-tax paycheck."

Other short-term recession-fighting measures survived in the deal, though, including an extension of unemployment benefits, popular tax breaks for children and college tuition and a five-year extension of a credit for the working poor. Several business tax credits were prolonged, too.

"This bill seems to have something for everybody," said Benjamin Ola Akande, dean of the business school at Webster University.

And Akande was hopeful it would have enough to boost confidence in an economic recovery that's been struggling for years to gain traction. Gary Thayer, chief macro strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors in St. Louis, said he, too, thought the deal would ease the minds of investors and executives, at least in the short run.

"This deal is a short-term fix that would prevent a recession in 2013 but is not a grand bargain that would solve many of the long-term debt and deficit problems," Thayer said.

And you can expect those problems will flare up again pretty quickly.

The agreement passed Tuesday merely punts on "sequestration," the massive across-the-board cuts in both defense and domestic federal spending that were part of the August 2011 agreement that created the "fiscal cliff" to begin with. Those cuts could hit hard in St. Louis, where huge employers ranging from Boeing Co. to Washington University Medical School have warned they could lead to furloughs, layoffs and other cutbacks here.

The cliff deal put a two-month stop on those cuts, meaning they'll now come due at the end of February, around the same time the U.S. Treasury is due to run out of money again, likely prompting another vote to increase the federal debt ceiling, which is what led to the creation of the "fiscal cliff" in the first place.

Indeed, Tuesday, even as lawmakers and economists talked about this deal, they were already pointing toward the next round of this seemingly endless fight over federal spending.

"Hopefully this is the last time in 2013 that we're going to have this discussion," said Strauss. "But it's not likely."

Dean Akande Receives 2012 Pillar in the Community Award

Published in: MarketWatch

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University, received the 2012 Pillar in the Community award from the Clayton Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon in his honor.

"In honoring Dr. Akande, The Clayton Chamber of Commerce had the opportunity to say thank you for all the contributions he has made to the St. Louis community," said Ellen Gale, executive director of the Clayton Chamber of Commerce. "Dean Akande is a unique and special individual who inspires greatness in others. He is a leader, a collaborator and a true Pillar of the Community. We were thrilled to be able to recognize his accomplishments and commitment to serving others."

In accepting the award, Dr. Akande, a Nigerian born U.S. citizen, called the honor a testament to the power of building bridges between people and communities. Akande grew up in Africa and came to the United States in the 1980s to attend college. Now since moving to St. Louis and joining Webster University 13 years ago, he leads one of the nation's largest international schools of business which serves more than 13,000 students across the U.S., Europe and Asia. His drive for excellence in higher education and dedication in helping businesses as Webster University's Chief of the Office of Corporate Partnerships has enabled him to forge educational partnerships with companies throughout the St. Louis Regional Business Council Outside academia, Dr. Akande is a director of Ralcorp Corporation, a Board of Trustee member for both the Missouri Baptist Medical Center and the Jefferson National Parks Association, and the Vice-Chair of Beyond Housing, a nationally recognized provider of housing and support services for low income families in our area.

"Dean Akande has a remarkable ability to bring together people from business, academia and the community to make a difference in the St. Louis region," said Kathy Mazzarella, president/CEO of Graybar. "He has a deep understanding of both the challenges and opportunities within our area, and he is gifted at connecting people who can drive positive change."

"Receiving this award reminds me that my community now, and hopefully yours, knows no boundaries," said Akande. "There can be no fence that keeps us from raising our hands to help those in need. My work has taken me around the world from Albania to Osaka, Japan. And my greatest fulfillments have come from reaching out to serve others."

In receiving today's 2012 Pillar in the Community award, Akande joins an impressive list of past honorees including Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, Commerce Bank's David Kemper, the late Sandy McDonnell and Missouri Botanical's former director Peter Raven, The award also comes just a week after St. Louis Magazine placed Akande on The Power List: The 100 people who are shaping St. Louis.

Labor Day Report

9/3/2012, (KTVI) – With the presidential election looming, this Labor Day is filled with questions about what’s next for the economy and the job market. Dr. Akande, Dean of the Walker School of Business and Technology explains the state of labor on Labor Day.  

Lessons from Oreo Cookies

Published in: Nota Bene, 2012 This year the iconic black and white Oreo cookie celebrates its centennial. One hundred years since the chocolate wafer sandwich first went on sale in the U.S., this favorite treat is now beloved around the world with $2 billion in global sales. Second only to the U.S. in Oreo cookie consumption is the world’s most populous country, China. But if you’ve traveled to the Far East, you’ll find the cookie you dunk in Shanghai is nothing like one you savor in St. Louis. In fact, the first Oreos sold in China crumbled. Consumers in a country not hooked on desserts thought the treat was too big and too sweet. Kraft went back to the kitchen and came up with a culturally conscious cookie that sells and satisfies. Kraft got it. As a global business they understood that diversity can drive and dictate the market.

At Webster, diversity is the tie that binds our institution. As a center of higher learning, it is our job to bring people together to achieve things they could never accomplish on their own. Our students and faculty represent 129 countries. And our programs mirror the world in which we live. We call it “inclusive excellence,” and it means drawing from all our generational and cultural strengths. This year’s Notabene 2012 is dedicated to that diversity in our students, faculty, alumni and programs. Inside you’ll read about students like Sara Gunn, whose passion for travel propelled her to visit 25 countries before turning 25, and Beverly Bland, whose unique lifestyle meant earning her degree on a journey of more than 2,000 miles. You’ll meet our Global Leader in Residence Yolanda Kakabadse, president of World Wildlife Fund International, whose drive for sustainability is changing the world. Our alumni are as diverse as the university they call their alma mater and include the man in charge of education for the United States Air Force Academy, and the Fortune 500’s newest female CEO (one of only 19 in the world), Graybar’s Kathy Mazzarella, a Walker alumni.

The ultimate competitive advantage emerges when you listen and learn from others and create something that is very distinctive and transformational. This inclusive excellence can be found in our new international programs like the MBA Global Track and our Global Hybrids. Each is designed so students graduate from the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology as true global citizens. Those who like their information fast and at their fingertips will want to learn about our new computer science degree, which equips students for cutting-edge careers in “all things mobile.” I always like to define competitive advantage as what you do that no one else can do even if they tried. You gain it through the ability to bring different perspectives and people together. That’s what we do at the Walker School of Business. We create the environment and provide the knowledge base that enable people to flourish in a world of uncertainty. By celebrating them we are making a true investment in the continued power of diversity.

So we raise a glass (of milk) in celebration of the unique strength that collective and diverse minds bring to our world. Dunk some Oreos and enjoy Notabene 2012!


Building Business Sense & Financial Cents with Diversity

31-Jul-12 Published in: Small Business Monthly Author: Julia Paulus Ogilvie

Often when the importance of incorporating diversity into business is discussed, the direct link to the company's finances isn't made. In the following Q&A, Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande, professor of economics, dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology, and chief of the Office of Corporate Partnerships at Webster University, explains why he believes embracing a well-thought-out diversity plan will contribute to your bottom line through what he calls "return on diversity."

Please explain what you mean by "return on diversity."

Pursuing diversity as a strategic intent should not be confused as a philanthropic quest to help others or to bring people of different backgrounds together. Return on diversity (ROD) is the ability to demonstrate that your action is measurable and that it effectively contributes to the bottom line. Return on diversity is when an organization is focused on issues of importance and urgency to your customers. You don't want to be known as being an expert on what used to work. There is absolutely no future in that type of strategy. My proposition is that a well-thought-out, effectively delivered diversity plan can make business sense and a lot of dollars and cents.

How can diversity be a competitive advantage for small business?

My definition of "competitive advantage" is what you do that nobody else can do even if they wanted to. So a well-honed diversity strategy keeps you a couple of steps ahead of your competition. The competition are those with the singular intent of taking your customers and encroaching on your market shares. One example that comes to mind is a simple one. If you are a small business selling any item that can be purchased at Wal-Mart or Walgreens and you are in close proximity to these retail giants, you are not going to be around for long unless you have a clear distinction that convinces the customer that they need to come to you and not go to them.

So, what does this have to do with diversity?

Well, your diversity strategy may entail appealing to a diverse generation of customers - say, the iPoders, who use social media as an effective tool to communicate. You may provide a forum for them to offer ideas on what they are looking for that they can't find elsewhere. To do so, you will need to embrace the iPod generation as critical members of your workforce, engaged on your leadership team; you need to listen to them and have the courage to take their advice. I look at Blockbuster video as a living example of a wonderful idea that effectively succeeded for a long time in relative terms, but they became unaware or chose to ignore the changing dynamics around them. Technology and new products neutralized their delivery methods, which was having the customer come to them instead of being accessible to the customer at all times. Blockbuster missed the opportunity to make some strategic acquisitions, to recruit a whole new generation of talent (generational diversity) and thereby extend their life cycle. They chose instead to stick to their original well-tested, tried-and-true business plan, coupled with a strong dose of denial, discounting the phenomenon called Netflix, iTunes, etc. Well, you may still find Blockbuster in a few places in America today, but they are not the Blockbuster they were. Blockbuster would have benefited from a diversity strategy.

How can the bottom line of small and midsized business improve from diversity?

Organizations can improve when they successfully execute a strategy anchored on the critical balance based on intellect, generations and a crucible of experience, which will drive business change and deliver economic advantage. Another term for this strategy is "inclusive excellence," where you give access to a broader scope of perspective and enable employees to test ideas by bringing different filters to issues and questioning current practices. These are simple propositions that organizations tend to ignore because they don't see the value of diverse perspective. A good diversity strategy is utilizing the diverse perspective you already have within your organization to explore new customer opportunities and to better utilize the existing relationships you already have with your customers.

Why should every company, large and small, have a diversity plan?

The future belongs to only organizations that can see around corners. A diversity plan will give you a peek of what the future looks like. The challenge is that some organizations are in a state of hospice, living on past glory, coasting on past successes with absolutely no strategic direction. Their strategy is based on hope.

What are the steps to creating a diversity plan?

I will tell you where most organizations go wrong when it comes to developing a diversity plan. There is a lack of ambitious initiatives, there are way too many goals, it lacks urgency, there is no timeline to keep them honest and their plan is the "all things to all people" plan.

What are the top benefits of a well-executed diversity plan?

The entire employee base will become engaged, there will be support from leadership, management practices will be integrated and aligned with the plan, and compensation and promotions will be tied to its success.

How can it be measured each year just like ROI?

Ask: Does your plan increase your customer base and your bottom line? Does it help retain your best talents?

Why do diversity plans fail? How can business owners avoid these pitfalls?

A plan without measurements is a slogan. The plan should be led from the top and not be handed to the HR department. What I notice is that most diversity initiatives are parked in HR. Diversity initiatives should be led from the top of the organization. IBM is a classic example of an organization that has reinvented itself by implementing a diversity strategy that enabled them to capture new markets - a case in point, their multicultural and women-owned niche business for minorities. It's a strategy that contributed to their bottom line. Return on diversity is the true measure of any organization’s real commitment to a diversity strategy that makes cents.

US Employers Add 80,000 Jobs As Economy Struggles

(KTVI) – June’s job report is out. The U.S. Labor Department says 80,000 jobs were added last month. A gain of 125,000 to 150,000 jobs are needed to begin to climb out of this hole which is filled with 13 million unemployed Americans.

Dr. Benjamin Akande, the Dean of the Walker School of Business at Webster University explains.

Here’s the Associated Press Report:

WASHINGTON (AP) _-U.S. employers added only 80,000 jobs in June, a third straight month of weak hiring that shows the economy is struggling. The Labor Department says the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent. The economy has added just 75,000 jobs a month in the April-June quarter. That’s one-third of 226,000 a month created in the first quarter. Job creation is also trailing last year’s pace through the first six months of 2012. A weaker job market has made consumers less confident. They have pulled back on spending, even though gas prices have plunged. High unemployment could shift momentum to Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. An Associated Press-GfK poll released last month found that more than halfof those surveyed disapproved of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy.

The Stalled Economy

(KTVI) – The U.S. economy added 69,000 jobs last month, the smallest increase in a year. Meanwhile, unemployment increased 8.1 to 8.2 percent. More Americans are looking for work as manufacturing slows.Are we on the road to another recession? Dr. Benjamin Akande, Dean of the Webster School of Business explains.

College Tuition Continue To Rise

(KTVI) – The Cost of college tuition jumped 15% between 2008 and 2010, according to the Department of Education and last year, 40% of states cut higher education spending. Dr. Benjamin Akande, Dean of Business at Webster University joins Randi Naughton to discuss different options students and parents can look into to help them pay for college.

50 Missourians You Should Know - Ingram's Kansas City Business Magazine

Once again, Ingram’s introduces 50 Missourians from all walks of business, people who help give the state its unique flavor and who live Show-Me every day.by Dennis Boone


This is why Benjamin Ola Akande, from most every success metric you can think of, elevates both Webster University’s business school and the broader St. Louis area: “Missouri needs to start thinking big ideas, transformational ideas that will move us,” he says. “We need to transform the way business is dealt with—in tourism, food technology, life sciences—and we need to be clear what our competitive advantage is, what we do that nobody else could do, even if they wanted to.” That kind of thinking has driven improvements at Webster’s George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology, where he’s been dean since 2000. During that time, student enrollments and graduation rates have risen by more than 40 percent within Webster’s largest academic unit. The Walker School is responsible for 63 percent—$136.8 million—of the institution’s $220 million total tuition revenue. A Nigerian by birth, Akande holds two master’s degrees (in public administration and economics) from the University of Oklahoma, where he also earned his doctorate in economics. If Akande were a stockbroker assessing the state, his recommendation would be “Buy!” Its emerging potential in life sciences and entrepreneurship, and its ability to bring top-level students in from around the world—and keep them here—are the transformational elements he says the state needs to leverage.

Go to Ingram's 50 Missourians You Should Know.

100 St. Louisans to Know - Small Business Monthly Magazine

April 2012, Small Business Monthly For his entire career, Dr. Benjamin Akande has been finding ways to help organizations go from where they are to where they want to be. As an economist by training, a professor of economics and dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University, Akande is dedicated to helping individuals, businesses and organizations thrive. “My world is participation on boards, supporting the education and success of young men and women, and shaping the strategy of organizations as a consultant,” says Akande, who is also chief of corporate partnership at Webster University for the past 11 years. Just as he has helped Webster University and its students reach new heights, he sets his sights high for the development of the St. Louis business community. Akande stays motivated by seeing positive results and says that when organizations are successful, society will be as well. “When people buy in to what organizations are doing, it benefits the people in the organization by making them more successful in society by bringing us all needed products or services and creating jobs and tax bases,” he says. “Then, when organizations are successful, they can give back to society. It’s a remarkable cycle.”

Go to 100 St. Louisans to Know list

Return to city brings no answers

A FEW weeks ago, I returned to Oklahoma City where, for 10 years, I had been a student. Then, I was eager and very impressionable. How I loved that city. It was so open, so down to earth, so tolerant. This has to be the safest city in America , I remember telling myself. And I believed it. As I approached the city on Interstate 40, I could feel those same old emotions rise within me. The spires of scores of churches climb above the welter of new suburban development.  I had not remembered so many churches, but the sight brought back to mind the way people of Oklahoma City treated each other with respect and civility.

It was the antithesis of acts of kindness and understanding that brought me back to Oklahoma City.  I had come to see the monument to the victims of the bombing of the Murrah Building.  My trip had been prompted in part by American Terrorist:  Timothy Mcleigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, the recent biography of McVeigh.

The book troubled me.  It unintentionally glorified the heinous, senseless acts of hatred, fear and intolerance that resulted in the horrendous blast that mutilated and killed 168 men, women and children.  For some who are bitter and disenfranchised, I am afraid Lou Michel's and Dan Herbeck's biography will illuminate a path of vengeance.

We have seen how one school shooting leads to another, how reports of workplace murders tend to beget others, how violence leads to copycat violence.  We have seen how the tranquility of middle-American cities has been forever shattered by the willful, dastardly acts of one or two deranged people.

Will McVeigh's execution on May 16 avenge the murders of the 168 killed in the bombing?  What kind of society is ours, that this execution is deemed by the courts to be fitting "closure" to grief felt by family members of the victims?  How does his death restore Oklahoma City's persona to that which I knew as a student and young professional years ago?

I have no answers nor were any apparent to me as I gazed on the stark and silent chairs - each representing a McVeigh victim - on the site where the Murrah Building once stood.

No longer can I look at the Oklahoma City sky-line and feel the sense of peace and goodwill that greeted me two decades ago.  In that sense, we are all victims; victims of a malady for which there is no apparent cure.  We may legislate against possession of guns, of explosive devices, of implements of group destruction.  That will help.  But it is we, not the materials, that lie at the core of those abject acts of utter violence.  What shall we do about this?


Jefferson National Parks Association Adds Seven New Directors

St. Louis, MO, April 24 – The Jefferson National Parks Association (JNPA) today announced the recent election of seven new members to its Board of Directors. JNPA is a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization that supports educational programming, exhibits, special events and site improvements in 10 national parks and public lands throughout the Midwest.  Its contributions are derived from the bookstores and other educational retail operations it runs for the parks.  JNPA’s largest affiliated park is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, better known as the Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse in St. Louis.

The newly elected Directors are:

  • Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande, Dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology at Webster University;
  • Michael E. Kennedy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of KAI Design & Build;
  • Erle Lionberger, community volunteer active in historic preservation;
  • Robert O’Loughlin, Chairman and CEO of Lodging Hospitality Management;
  • Kathy Reeves, Corporate Community Relations Director at Enterprise Rent-A-Car;
  • Rachel Seward, Assistant Vice President and St. Louis Civic Relationship Manager in Community Affairs for Wells Fargo Advisors;
  • Martha Uhlhorn, Owner and President of La Bonne Bouchee Wholesale Bakery and Gourmet to Go.

“We are delighted and gratified that JNPA has attracted such experienced and diverse leaders to our board,” said JNPA Board Chair Michael Hardgrove.  “Their guidance will be invaluable as we continue to look for new ways to support our national park partners in the coming years.”

The seven new board members join 14 other JNPA Directors, including:

  • Michael Hardgrove, Chair
  • Karen Luebbert, Ph.D., Vice-Chair
  • Ivy Neyland-Pinkston, Treasurer
  • Cathy Dunkin, Secretary
  • Tom Villa, Immediate Past Chair
  • Peter Benoist
  • Michael P. Burke
  • Jeannine Cook
  • Tom Irwin
  • Eugene J. Mackey, III
  • Les Sterman
  • Blanche M. Touhill, PhD.
  • The Honorable George H. Walker, III
  • Charles A. Weiss.

David A. Grove serves the organization as President and CEO.

For the Rest of Your Lives 2012 Graduate Commencement Address

Here you are.  You have spent countless hours reading textbooks, studying for tests, analyzing case studies, writing papers, presenting projects, defending your dissertation, and expanding yourself through the power of knowledge.  Today we commend you for all you have accomplished in your quest for education.  But at the same time we salute you for something just as important.  We salute you for your pursuit in the quest for the rest of your lives. Each semester, I am moved by the many untold stories shared by our students in our classrooms.  Our graduate students do more than continue their education while working full time and caring for their families.  They become more than classmates who study and learn together.  Every semester our graduate students use their personal experiences at work and at home to teach and counsel each other.  And every semester they are inspired to support each other in times of need and life’s seemingly endless challenges.  One of our classes recently spent time brainstorming ways to draw attention to the need for bone marrow donors after learning a fellow student’s loved one had been diagnosed with leukemia.  Your teamwork and your dedication have gone beyond the day’s assignment or the semester’s project.  It has been directed into making those around you better.  That, my friends, is a skill you will find as invaluable as the degree you are awarded today. At some point in your life you will be dealt a bad hand that you can’t win with… and when that day comes…and believe me it will come….I urge you to play those cards to win, by reaching out to others to join you in your quest to find meaning for the rest of your life. As you continue your journey for the rest of your lives and into the world of opportunity, you leave here with a good education and preparation.  But you also leave us with things we can’t take credit for: your optimism, your enthusiasm, your determination and your perseverance.  

May your cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall be with you for the rest of your life!     Graduates of the class of 2012, congratulations.