Dean’s Blog

Journey to the Middle East

Posted by Joseph Phillips on March 5, 2018 at 8:03 AM PST

I just returned from a trip to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to visit SU alumni in the two countries.  We have about 60 alums in Kuwait and 160 in Saudi Arabia.  As for future alums from there, we currently have 57 Saudis studying with us and (only) two students from Kuwait.  An important component of our trip was to learn how to improve on that!

I accompanied Jim Hembree from University Advancement, who does all the organizing and worrying on these trips, and is really good at both! :)

My trip actually started with a trip to Washington, D.C. for a meeting at Georgetown University.  It was the Second International Jesuit Networking Conference, aimed at promoting more networking across the different arenas of Jesuit activity.  I was invited because of my role as President of the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools.  IAJBS is one of the few examples of Jesuit institutions from around the world coming together to collaborate in a sustained way.  While I am familiar with the work of Jesuit institutions in higher education, it was fascinating to learn about the work of Jesuit organizations in other areas such as refugee services, the environment, and K-12 education.  It was also a privilege to meet many of the leaders, often Jesuits from around the world, in these other apostolates.

When I left the Georgetown campus to head to Dulles Airport it was in a rare driving snowstorm in DC!  How ironic to start a trip to the desert in a snowstorm!  Luckily, my Uber driver had a Ford Explorer!

The first stop was Kuwait City, where I caught up with Jim, who had arrived a day earlier for planning purposes.  This was my first time in the Middle East!  I was actually very sick with some kind of cold or flu that had started a week earlier, but somehow worsened near the end of the journey to Kuwait, but I rallied to stay on the schedule Jim had crafted.

I think we ended up seeing 17 of our 60 Kuwaiti alumni in individual or group meetings.  Most of our alums are graduates of Albers or our engineering programs.  They are an impressive group playing important roles in Kuwaiti society.  In fact, I would argue that Seattle U is having more impact on Kuwait than any country in the world.  While 60 sounds like a small number, our alums are really making a difference there.  For example, one is Speaker of the Parliament, arguably the second most important political position in the country behind the Kuwaiti King.

Our Kuwaiti alums were very happy with their SU education and enthusiastic about having other Kuwaitis follow them to SU.  They want to help us recruit Kuwait students and we need to find a way to harness that good will and energy!

Next, we took a short flight to Dammam in Saudi Arabia, the closest airport to Al Khobar, where we would be staying.  Al Khobar is on the Saudi coast near Bahrain.  It was the university’s first visit to the Eastern Province.  We have fewer alums there, so we ended up meeting with four alumni, three of whom were bankers!  Al Khobar proved to be the most tranquil spot on our trip, without the traffic and noise of bigger cities like Kuwait City and Riyadh!

Then it was on to Riyadh!  Here we connected with 24 alumni and two SU parents in individual and group meetings.  As in Kuwait, our Saudi alums are very grateful for their SU education and very interested in helping us recruit more Saudis to SU.  While in Riyadh we also visited the US Embassy to learn more about recruiting Saudi students and we also visited a local university — Prince Sultan University, which has 5,000 students and is the top rated private university in Saudi.  We talked about ways that PSU and SU might collaborate.  An alum also took us to the Janidriya Festival, which is a huge celebration of Saudi culture that was taking place during our visit.  There were very large crowds there but we managed not to get lost!

On the final day, we made a visit to the Ministry of Education to learn more about the best ways to recruit Saudi students.  We heard that the Saudi government scholarship program wants to focus Saudi students on attending the Top 200 universities in the QS University rankings.  Almost all of those universities are research and graduate student focused institutions, so that does not make a lot of sense for undergraduate students.  Nevertheless, the ministry indicated they can make exceptions to the policy when a student makes a strong case.  The ministry is very focused on rankings, and SU and Albers have plenty of rankings, so we should be able to give Saudi students some material to work with in putting together a persuasive application!

We capped the visit to Saudi with a trip into the Saudi desert to visit a camping site for dinner, hosted by one of our alums.  Bet you didn’t know that Saudis love to camp!

After the dinner, I headed to the airport for my red-eye flight back to Seattle.  Jim left the next morning for Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Sorry, but I had to pass on that part of the trip because I do have to be in the office from time to time.  Between this trip and two other trips in February, I was in the office for a whopping five days in February!

INRIX CEO on the Future of Transportation

Posted by Joseph Phillips on February 2, 2018 at 5:02 PM PST



Bryan Mistele, CEO of INRIX, was the featured speaker in the Albers Executive Speaker Series on February 1st.  INRIX is a leading provider of real-time transportation information, connected car services and analytics worldwide.   If you are using a traffic app on your smart phone, the data is likely to be coming from INRIX, located right here in Seattle.  The title of his presentation was, “The Future of Transportation: The impact Autonomous, Connected, Electric & Shared vehicles will have on society.”

According to Mistele, the future of our transportation is all about ACES – Autonomous, Connected, Electric, and Shared cars!  It is these four trends in automobiles coming together to solve our multiple problems around congestion, safety, pollution, expense, and inconvenience.  The future Mistele sees is everyone getting around in electric, driverless, Uber-convenient vehicles.  In cities such as Seattle, with a fleet of autonomous vehicles operating on demand, we will not need on-street parking, parking lots, shuttle vans for the handicapped, gas stations, and no doubt a host of other things we take for granted.  Even public transit is in jeopardy of going away, according to Mistele.  None of us will need to own or lease a car.  The economics of this vehicle fleet will be too compelling.

Mistele illustrated how fast this scene is changing by noting that 12 years ago when INRIX was first launched, the state of the art for traffic reporting was the helicopter.  Of course, now it is the smart phone app powered by INRIX data, all facilitated by cloud computing and more powerful data transmission capabilities.

And it is not just cars that will be changing, but trucks, as well.  We are not far away from routine autonomous truck delivery.

Of course, autonomous driving and delivery will mean job displacement.  Truck drivers are in short supply compared to demand and labor costs are a very high component of total costs for companies such as Uber.  Autonomous vehicles will address the cost pressures, but what happens to the drivers?  Mistele responded that job displacement has always been an unfortunate part of technological breakthroughs.  In the past, we have shifted labor from one activity to another, but not without some difficulty for some.  In the case of Uber drivers, he sees the situation as slightly less fraught, since Uber has only been around for a few years.  It is not like someone who has been in a career for several decades and now the demand for his or her skill set is no longer there.

There were many business analytics students in the audience.  When asked what advice he would have for them, he was quick to say, “Get your hands dirty!”  Find out how the tools actually work and don’t be satisfied knowing about things in the abstract.

Mistele was asked how INRIX survives as a stand-alone company and does not get swallowed up by a larger tech player.  He responded that they must continually innovate the services they can sell.  They are not just about traffic apps.  For example, they can sell their data to companies who use it to do everything from decide on store location to learning if a competitor’s sales campaign was successful to understanding in-store consumer behavior.  And remember where all this data is coming from – signals coming from smart phones and connected vehicles, and every year there are more and more of both on the road.

He also noted that ACES is not a domestic phenomenon, but a global trend.  INRIX has customers in 60 countries, but he is seeing the most activity in North America, Western Europe, and China.  The changes he expects to see in the US should be happening at the same time in Europe and China.  Emerging markets will be slower to adopt ACES, but they are sure to experience it as well.

Bryan Mistele opened a lot of eyes and minds to future possibilities in transportation.  According to him, in just a few years everything will be coming up ACES!


Albers Faculty Honored with Endowed Professorships

Posted by Joseph Phillips on November 26, 2017 at 2:11 PM PST

Two Albers faculty members were recognized for their outstanding achievements with appointments to endowed professorships.  At an installation ceremony on November 17th, Dr. Jot Yau, Professor of Finance, was recognized as the fifth holder of the George Albers Professorship in Business.  Dr. Tina Zamora, Associate Professor of Accounting, was introduced as the third holder of the David E. Tinius Endowed Professorship in Accounting.

Jot Yau  joined our faculty in 2001.  He serves as the chair of the Department of Finance and previously chaired the Department of Economics and Finance and served as MSF program director. Earlier, he held the Robert D. O’Brien Endowed Chair of Business Administration and the Dr. Khalil Dibee Endowed Chair in Finance.  Jot has published numerous articles and scholarly pieces. This includes three books -- Socially Responsible Investment in a Global Environment (Edward Elgar), Dim Sum Bonds: The Offshore Renminbi (RMB)Denominated Bonds (Wiley), and as an editor of Advances in International Investments: Traditional and Alternative Approaches (World Scientific). He has also served as Special Editor of The Journal of Alternative Investments and as associate editor of that journal.  Currently, he is on the editorial board of the International Review of Accounting, Banking and Finance.  Jot has served on the curriculum committee of the CFA Institute and the exam and curriculum committee of the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association. He co-founded Strategic Options Investment Advisors Ltd., a Hong Kong-based investment advisory and served as its principal investment advisor and commodity trading advisor. Jot has also served as the treasurer of the Northwest Hedge Fund Society and as a member of the board of directors of Group Health Credit Union (GHCU).  His PhD in finance is from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he has an MBA from the University of Toledo, and his undergraduate degree is from the University of Hong Kong. As you can see, he is a very worthy recipient of the Albers Professorship, with outstanding accomplishments in teaching, research, and service to the school and profession!

Tina Zamora is Associate Professor of Accounting and joined our faculty in 2010.  Tina teaches primarily in the areas of managerial accounting and corporate governance.  Tina’s research examines how financial and fairness incentives and corporate governance impact organizational and individual decisions. Her work has been published in such influential journals as the Journal of Finance, Journal of Business Ethics, Auditing: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Journal of Management Accounting Research, and Issues in Accounting Education. She has served as an Associate Editor for Issues in Accounting Education, and is currently on the Editorial Board of Auditing: A Journal of Theory and Practice. Prior to entering academia, she worked for KPMG for several years as a Senior Tax Specialist.  She has her PhD in accounting from UW and two master’s degrees and her undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon.  Here at SU, she has been selected as a Faculty Fellow for both the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture and the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability. Among her many service activities are  heading up the Department of Accounting's Assurance of Learning efforts, serving on the university Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Advisory Working Group, and assisting with the PMBA Curriculum Implementation.  She has also co-led several successful study tours to the EU.  Given all her success in teaching, research, and service, she is a very worthy recipient of the Tinius Professorship!

Endowed chairs and professorships are a particularly important resource for a business school to have.  They are a valuable tool for attracting and retaining outstanding faculty such as Tina and Jot.   If Seattle University and the Albers School are to attain our aspirations for academic excellence, we can only do so with a strong portfolio of endowed chairs and professorships.

We have the good fortune to have five endowed Chairs, and the current holders are:

The Lawrence K. Johnson Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship: Dr. Lisa Zhao, Professor of Entrepreneurship

The Frank Shrontz Endowed Chair in Professional Ethics: Dr. Jeffrey Smith, Professor of Business Ethics

The Khalil Dibee Endowed Chair in Finance:  Dr. Peter Brous, Professor of Finance

The Robert D. O’Brien Endowed Chair in Business: Dr. Eva Lasprogata, Associate Professor of Business Law

Currently, we are recruiting to fill the Thomas F. Gleed Endowed Chair in Business Administration, a position given to a visiting faculty member that helps to strengthen the intellectual climate of the Albers School.

We have five professorships, including the George Albers Professorship and the Tinius Professorship received by Jot and Tina, respectively.  The others are the Robert Bosanko Endowed Professorship in International Economics and Finance, currently held by Dr. Bonnie Buchanan, Associate Professor of Finance, as well as the Genevieve Albers Professorship, held by Dr. Marc Cohen, Associate Professor of Business Ethics, and the Eva Albers Professorship, held by Dr. Quan Le, Associate Professor of Economics.

The three Albers Professorships are funded by the Genevieve Albers Endowment, which was left to the Albers School to support our programs.  The Albers family was a generous supporter of Seattle University, and to honor that support our school was named the Albers School in the early 1970’s.  In 2001, we received a generous endowment from the estate of Genevieve Albers, the daughter of George and Eva Albers, which among other things created the Albers Professorships. It was George Albers who founded a successful food processing business that was sold to Carnation, and then bought by Nestle.  The Albers brand was sold by Nestle to Continental Mills which uses the brand today for corn meal and grits.

The Tinius Professorship was named after Dave Tinius, a member of our accounting faculty from 1971 to 2015. Dave served as department chair for 18 years between 1977 and 2003.  Many of the distinguishing features of our accounting program happened under his leadership of the department.  This includes our Beta Alpha Psi chapter, the Accounting Awards Banquet, the department advisory board, the Master of Professional Accounting program, and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.  We are fortunate to have this professorship to remind us of Dave’s critical role in building up our outstanding accounting program!  The endowment was created with contributions from the many accounting alumni and professionals who admired the career of Dave Tinius!

Congratulations to Jot Yau and Tina Zamaro for these recognitions of their outstanding work, and many thanks to our donors who have made this recognition possible!




Venture Capitalist Out to Beat Economic Inequality

Posted by Joseph Phillips on November 8, 2017 at 5:11 PM PST



Venture capitalist, entrepreneur, and social activist Nick Hanauer joined the Albers Executive Speaker Series on November 7th to speak on economic inequality and its effect on the social fabric of the US.  He argued that inequality is polarizing our society and too many are being left behind.

Hanauer is a widely admired entrepreneur and investor. He is a co-founder and partner in the Seattle-based venture capital firm, Second Avenue Partners. In 2015, he also founded Civic Ventures, an organization pursuing significant social change, and has been involved in initiatives on gun control, the minimum wage law, and homelessness.

Hanauer has managed, founded or financed over 30 companies, including companies like Amazon, Aquantive, Insitu, and Marchex.  With those bona fides, he argued, he knows just as much about capitalism as anyone else.  Hard to argue with that!

What has led to this precarious state of affairs?  Hanauer argues it is not due to forces such as globalization or changes in technology, but rather comes from our unthinking acceptance of Trickle Down Economics.  He has reprised this characterization of Reaganomics to apply it to contemporary thinking.  Trickle Down Economics includes tax cuts for the wealthy, economic deregulation, and what he terms “wage suppression.”  Wage suppression is founded on the claim that higher wages kills jobs.

Hanauer repeatedly asserted that higher wages will not result in reduced employment, but rather will increase jobs by generating the buying power to increase consumption and spur business activity.  He identified a significantly increased minimum wage law, such as $15/hour, as a sure fire remedy to the inequality problem.

Not everyone agrees with Hanauer on that point, of course, including me, but he is right to a point.  Yet there is some level at which a higher minimum wage becomes counterproductive as the unintended consequences kick in and employment opportunities fall and prices increase.

Everyone knows that the City of Seattle is running a huge experiment with its minimum wage law by boosting the minimum wage significantly – it is supposed to reach $18/hour for some employers by 2025.  Economists are studying the phenomenon to learn more about the impact of such laws.  There are competing studies coming to different conclusions about the early data, but ultimately this will get sorted out.  Data on the full effects of the law will become available.  The profession will review the studies and come to a consensus on the best methodologies and the soundest conclusions.  Of course, Hanauer does not want to wait for that.  He is advocating for minimum wage hikes nationwide now.  No surprise there – he is an evangelist, not an economist. :}

In the follow up Q&A, Hanauer was asked how he navigates between his two worlds of investors-entrepreneurs-the Chamber of Commerce and activists-unions-philanthropists.  He said he does not try to appeal to people on the edges, but looks to find a super-majority in the middle of reasonable people.  He cited the $15/hour movement as an example.  Of course, you can count on the social justice crowd to be in favor, but you also have to rally a sizable group in the middle with the argument that a higher minimum wage creates the buying power necessary for economic growth.

When asked what concerned people should be doing about inequality, he said the most important thing to do was to resist the “raising wages kills jobs” argument.  Higher wages do not kill jobs, they create them.  His idea is to shame people into not making this argument and make it the equivalent of uttering a racial slur.

He was asked what role social enterprise might play in fighting economic inequality.  He started his answer by saying we need a new measure of economic prosperity.  GDP and similar measures have a number of flaws, including an inability to consider issues of environmental sustainability.  We need a new measure that takes into account the problems that are solved, such as unemployment or low wages.  Measured in this way, social enterprise has an important role to play because it is always geared around solving a social problem.

When asked about his view of the impact of trade on wages, he said that free trade had a disastrous impact on some communities.  He said he had recently attended a conference organized by the Institute of New Economic Thinking, and found that many economists were rethinking their neo-classical views on trade policy.  He may be overstating that rethinking, but certainly even neo-classical models would not give a gold star to trade with China since so many model assumptions are violated by China’s interventionist policies on imports and exports.  And of course traditional free trade models have always punted when it comes to the distribution of the benefits of trade, knowing they would be skewed and that redistributionist policies would be needed (but never really executed).

One questioner wanted to know about the impact of the next recession (and it is coming at some point) on workers benefiting from a $15/hour minimum wage.  Won’t a recession trigger an increase in savings, a decrease in demand, and a decrease in jobs?  Hanauer noted that what is different about today is the “super abundance” of capital – there are a lot of places for business to borrow (and he could add that may not be unrelated to the unequal distribution of wealth), so there should be no credit shortage in the next recession.  Well, maybe, but lenders could impose higher lending standards and capital could be cut off that way, as occurred in the Great Recession.    He also noted that high wage/low inequality nations (read Scandinavian economies) are more resilient in a recession than other economies.

The final question asked what he saw as the difference between a good people manager and a good leader.  He responded that a leader has vision.  He or she has a clear, bold idea and they are able to energize and motivate a group around that vision.  Sounds like Hanauer on the issue of economic inequality!

As an economist, I squirm at the sweeping statements Hanauer makes about the minimum wage and trade policy.  But there is no denying that economic inequality has become a serious issue for us and we need to do more than talk about it.  Maybe he has decided this is the best way to get us to take action on this critical problem.  In any event, he is a stimulating and provocative speaker who we were happy to have on our campus!







Posted by Joseph Phillips on October 20, 2017 at 1:10 PM PDT


Many of our students are concerned about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), either because it affects them directly or because they know someone who is affected.  Our President, Fr. Steve Sundborg, has addressed the issue, as have other campus leaders, and I want to add my voice to theirs.

I do not support the rescinding of DACA and am very hopeful that legislation will be approved between now and March to reinstate the program.  Unfortunately, there are no guarantees this will happen.  The university has made it clear we will support them in every way we can.   We have also made it clear that should ICE agents visit campus, we will do everything we can do within the law to protect the rights of students.  I do not expect such visits to take place, but I cannot guarantee that.

DACA isn’t the only issue out there.  What about Charlottesville?  Charlottesville is a nightmare.  Who can imagine that in 2017 White Supremacists feel emboldened enough to have a public demonstration of any kind?  And that they then are bold enough to return to the scene again and again?  And that all our elected officials are not lining up to condemn these displays in no uncertain terms?  I am very concerned with Charlottesville and its aftermath.

How about NFL football players, starting with Colin Kaepernick, using the National Anthem to make a statement about racism in our society?  I support that.  Players have the right to do that and I would be disappointed in them if they stopped doing that before they think their message has been heard.  That is not disrespect for the flag, for the military, or the nation.  It is about seizing an opportunity to voice frustration with our failure to make progress on racial injustice.  Things are not getting better, they are getting worse, and I am very troubled by the efforts to silence these players.

DACA, Charlottesville, Racism in America – all are difficult issues for all of us.  If you are a student troubled by these, you should know you are not alone in your concern!  They concern me, too!

Nobel Prize Winner Advocates for Social Business

Posted by Joseph Phillips on October 13, 2017 at 10:10 AM PDT




Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus spoke at Seattle University on October 12th about his latest book, A World of Three Zeros, The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.

The Bangladesh-based creator of microfinance has long argued that the capitalist system is imperfect and can be fixed to yield better lives for the poor.  As Dr. Yunus said last night, we have a system where, “the more you have, the more you get,” referencing the enormous inequality of income and wealth that results from unrestrained capitalism.  The solution is to get more resources into the hands of the poor, giving them more opportunity.

Born in the seaport city of Chittagong, Dr. Yunus studied at Dhaka University in Bangladesh, then received a Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Vanderbilt University where he received a Ph.D. in economics.  In 1972, he returned to Bangladesh to head up the economics department at Chittagong University.

Starting with Dr. Yunus' personal loan of small amounts of money to destitute basket weavers in Bangladesh in the mid-70s, grew micro-lending and the Grameen Bank.  From the Grameen Bank has emerged the Yunus Center and the Grameen family of businesses, which advance social business and poverty elimination around the world.

During his interview, Yunus explained the success of micro-lending -- giving poor women a loan to launch a sustainable income generating activity, expecting them to pay back the loan so the funds can be made available to someone else, using groups to hold people accountable, and keeping it simple with minimal documentation, bureaucracy, and legal oversight.

In A World of Three Zeros, Yunus is pushing the social business concept.  This is an organization dedicated to creating employment by offering a needed good or service while not generating profits for shareholders.  A social business starts with a capital injection from donors or investors.  Once the social business is beyond breaking even, it then returns that capital injection to the investors, but only the original amount – there is no interest or dividend.  The investor is then free to provide funding to another social business.  Meanwhile, any surplus generated by the social business gets plowed back into the organization’s activities.

It is important to realize that Yunus is not advocating for the abandonment of capitalism.  After all, it is capitalism that generates the wealth that allows investors and donors to provide the start-up funds for social businesses!  However, he is saying we need to abandon our belief that human nature is all about being selfish!

Interviewer Dave Ross, a local radio personality, was skeptical of the model, wondering why investors would provide capital if there was no return.  Yunus reminded him of the significant charitable giving that takes place around the world, and that people are both selfish and selfless, and this model appeals to the selfless side of human nature.  A World of Three Zeros provides many examples of successful social businesses, so he must be on to something!

Ross noted that Seattle University was the first university to host a Tent City for the homeless, and asked what he would recommend the university do to solve the problem of homelessness.  He responded with what I will call the “Yunus Challenge!”  He said we should organize a Design Competition for our students, with the challenge being to create a social business to solve homelessness.  We need to respond to the challenge!

During the interview, Yunus did not have a chance to address the “third zero” – Zero Net Carbon Emissions.  But in the book, he takes up the issue of global warming and how the consequences of global warming will put a greater burden on the poor – those least able to absorb it.  He notes that since social businesses are not focused on profitability, they will have more degrees of freedom to produce goods and services in a more planet-friendly way.

It was an honor to be able to introduce Dr. Yunus to the audience.  After all, when is the last time I introduced a Nobel Prize winner?  Back in the day, I taught the International Economic Development course at Creighton University.  I remember discussing in class micro-lending and Dr. Yunus before the topic was in the economic development textbooks, so he is someone I have admired for a long time!

Seattle University was honored to host Muhammad Yunus on our campus and to learn how social businesses can help create a more inclusive economic system, one that provides more opportunity to all members of society!


MOD Pizza: Culture Creates Purpose

Posted by Joseph Phillips on October 12, 2017 at 11:10 AM PDT


When Ally and Scott Svenson started MOD Pizza in 2008, they wanted to create an organization with a distinctive people-first culture that met a market need – fast-casual family-friendly food that happened to be pizza.  Today, MOD has 265 stores across 24 states and the UK, employing over 5500 “Mod Squaders.”  The brand has been named the fastest growing restaurant chain in the US for the last two years, and recently landed in the #2 spot on the Puget Sound Business Journal’s “Fastest Growing Private Companies” list. On October 11th, the Svenson’s joined the Albers Executive Speaker Series to explain their journey in progress with MOD pizza.   They are the first husband-wife team to participate in the Speaker Series, now in its 16th year! :}

The Svenson’s are serial entrepreneurs, recently being named the EY Entrepreneurs of the Year in the Pacific Northwest. The couple co-founded Seattle Coffee Company in London in 1994, and in 1998 sold it to Starbucks as their entry into the European market. Scott remained on as President of Starbucks UK, and subsequently President of Starbucks Europe, while Ally helped to oversee the transition of the Seattle Coffee Company stores to Starbucks branded stores.  While in the UK, the couple were also instrumental in growing Carluccio’s Ltd, a London based operator of Italian deli/cafes.

In 2001, the Svenson’s returned to their hometown of Seattle to raise their family.  Their entrepreneurial spirit again kicked in, and they began exploring ideas that combined their passion for business, people and purpose.  The first MOD opened in downtown Seattle, and the pioneer of fast casual pizza known for its individual artisan-style pizzas and salads and people-first culture was off and running.

More recently, MOD has become known for the purpose part of the business – hiring “second-chance” employees who experienced difficult times due to addictions, mental illness, or prison – people who few employers want to provide opportunity to.  The Svenson’s knew they wanted to have a business with a cause beyond earning profits, but did not start MOD with the goal of providing opportunity to at-risk individuals. Instead, that distinctive mission emerged from the people-first culture they created at MOD.

As they tell it, at the “five store mark,” they were still searching for a successful concept, with some stores doing OK financially and some struggling.  What was working was the culture.  The second-chance employees they had hired were doing well and were grateful for the MOD opportunity.  They were using MOD as a platform to change their lives.   Seeing this, the Svenson’s now knew what the purpose of MOD would be – instead of writing people off from the workplace like most of society was doing, they decided they would intentionally hire at-risk employees and give them a chance to reclaim meaning and purpose in their lives.  The MOD culture created the MOD mission.

They had a “dining room table” conversation about whether MOD could scale and whether they should try to expand the business.  It would have been easy enough to keep things simple, manageable – and small.  It was their second-chance employees who convinced them to go big.  They wanted others in similar circumstances to have the same opportunity for change that they had.  Now MOD is on a mission to spread this opportunity both nationally and internationally!

The Svenson’s noted that having a strong people-first culture and a purpose of hiring those who others would pass over is not just the right thing to do.  It also makes sense from a business standpoint.  It can give you a sustainable competitive advantage.  It will be something that is very difficult to replicate.  In the long run it will increase productivity because you will have engaged, experienced employees.  It will also build customer loyalty and connection.  Today, more and more consumers are drawn to brands that are about more than profits.  That promise of sustained competitive advantage has helped MOD raise $150 million from investors.  The Swenson’s said they cannot prove it is a winning formula – yet – but they believe it!

Ally and Scott shared their initial reluctance to promote the MOD purpose of hiring at-risk employees.  They were afraid it would come off as self-serving and insincere.  It was their second-chance employees who convinced them otherwise.  A TV station had gotten wind of the hiring strategy of MOD and wanted to do interviews on it to put together a story.  Those employees jumped at the opportunity to tell the MOD story.  They were proud of their accomplishments and wanted to give hope to others in similar circumstances.  That convinced the Svenson’s that it was OK to be more public about the MOD purpose.

What is next for MOD besides expansion across the globe?  They are working on a community store concept – something that has positive impact and will be “about and for” the neighborhood it serves.  Some of the initial thinking is being done with Seattle University’s Center for Community Engagement and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center in the Albers School, looking at the Yesler Terrace neighborhood near the SU campus.  It will be a facility that provides opportunity, training and feeds people, but does not duplicate services already available.  It is a work in progress but something that MOD is very serious about.

Scott and Ally Svenson have created a distinctive business with a strong people-first culture and a mission to provide opportunity to those who frequently are without one.  MOD Pizza is an inspiring story for all who know that business is a mechanism for social good and not just earning profits.  It is a belief they are turning into reality, thanks to a culture that creates purpose.




Meeting Mother Teresa

Posted by Joseph Phillips on September 29, 2017 at 12:09 PM PDT


At Seattle University’s Mass of the Holy Spirit on September 28th, Fr. Steve Sundborg, SJ, President of SU, reminded us that this month is the twentieth anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death.  I had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa in December, 1996, which was just a few months before she passed away.

It was in Calcutta at her Missionaries of Charity center there.  I was travelling with a group of Creighton University graduate students doing a study tour of India.  I had co-sponsored the trip with my colleague, Dr. Vasant Raval, who is still a member of the Creighton accounting faculty today.  Calcutta was our first stop on the tour.  Mind you, in 1996 there were not many Americans visiting Calcutta as tourists, and the city had long surpassed what its infrastructure could support.  It was very different than Omaha, Nebraska!

We had heard that sometimes Mother Teresa would show up for the 6:00 AM mass in the chapel at the center.  So, we all got up early in the morning to make the mass.  Initially, she was not there, but not too long into the mass she slipped into the back and sat next to one of our students!

After the mass, she was happy to meet with us briefly, and invited us back the next day.  When we returned, we had our own audience with Mother Teresa.  She was short in stature, but as you might imagine, had a very powerful personality.  She was very intense and very committed to the importance of her work.  Of course she took the opportunity to remind us of the need for support of the mission of the Missionaries of Charity and we were happy to oblige with some modest financial contributions!

At one point in our conversation she produced a box that had medals with the image of St. Mary on them.  She looked me in the eye and said that these were miraculous medals that she wanted to give to our group.  Then she took a handful out of the box and placed them in my hand, instructing me to distribute to the group, which I dutifully did! 

Over the years I have given a few of these medals to people experiencing illness, and in each case their condition improved notably and they lived longer than expected.  I really do believe they are miraculous!

Sometimes you get asked questions such as, “who is the most famous person you have ever met?” or “who is the most impressive person you have ever met?”  I have an easy answer for those questions!  Looking back, it was such a privilege to have met Mother Teresa.  It seemed important at the time, but is even more important today.  It is not uncommon for a priest such as Father Sundborg to refer to Mother Teresa in his homily.  Each time that happens I am probably the only person in the church who can say that he actually met her!

By the way, in the picture above, you can see the box of medals in Mother Teresa's hands!  Can you spot me in the picture??

A Lesson From Totality

Posted by Joseph Phillips on August 28, 2017 at 7:08 AM PDT

I learned a valuable lesson from Totality. Along with many others, I headed to Oregon on August 21st to observe the full eclipse that went streaking across the US that day. Skies were crystal clear in the Willamette Valley, perfect for viewing the eclipse. As the moon gradually edged in front of the sun, it began to grow darker and colder. Soon there was just a sliver of orange peaking around the moon, and then -- there was totality! The sun was a dark blue globe surrounded by a shimmering white border that streaked out in different directions. It was amazing!

And what it taught me was the difference that 1% can make. Going from 99% blockage to 100% changed everything. Totality looks nothing like 99% -- or 95% or 90% for that matter. That last 1% makes all the difference.

As an economist, I am always analyzing things at the margin. I am always doing the cost-benefit analysis. I am always measuring the marginal benefit against the marginal cost.

It doesn't work with a full eclipse. It is the last one percent that provides the most gain, not the first one or ten or twenty percent, as we might normally presume. There is supposed to be declining marginal utility to any activity -- not true when it comes to the full eclipse!

We are often told to give 100% of ourselves to whatever we do, or better yet 110%! An economist would listen to that and wonder whether 95% or 99% would do, since the last bit of effort will be subject to diminishing returns. But that could be a mistake! What if that last 1% of effort makes all the difference, just like in a full eclipse? What if going that extra mile really is the difference between a huge success and a mediocre result or even a failure?

I am changing the way I am looking at things. Efficiency is important, but I can't always assume that the last one percent of effort will yield only minor benefits. The payoff could be huge, just like it is in Totality!

23rd Annual IAJBS World Forum

Posted by Joseph Phillips on July 26, 2017 at 8:07 AM PDT

The 23rd Annual International Association of Jesuit Business Schools (IAJBS) World Forum took place in Namur, Belgium from July 16-18.  Including myself, there were six attendees from Albers and one faculty member from the School of New and Continuing Studies. The event brought together 130 faculty from 19 different countries, 5 different continents, and 50 different universities and institutes.  The 24th World Forum will take place at Seattle University, July 22-25, 2018!  Mark your calendars!  We are looking forward to hosting!

Our faculty managed to deliver five papers at the conference, despite being sidetracked by a beer tasting river cruise and dinner in a castle!  The cruise featured the five different beers brewed by the monks who run the Chimay brewery.  Chimay Blue was the clear favorite for the Albers crowd and the other conference participants.

Namur is at the junction of two rivers, the Meuse and Sambre, and since this made it a strategic location back in the middle ages, naturally there is a big castle, the Citadel, looming over the river junction.  While the Citadel looks formidable, over its history it was under siege 21 times and each time the castle fell. Zero for 21 is not good in any sport!

The University of Namur was the host institution for the conference, and it happens to be the only Jesuit university in Europe outside of Spain.  Namur is a town of about 110,000 in the French speaking part of Belgium (Wallonia), and while not high on the list of places to see in Belgium, it is actually a spot worth visiting if you have the opportunity.  Besides the castle, it has a very walkable downtown core with many narrow streets free of automobile traffic, exactly what a tourist hopes to find in a European town!  I really do not understand why Rick Steves does not cover it in his guide for Belgium!

The IAJBS is an organization that brings together the deans of Jesuit business schools around the world.  Our board has members from the US, Latin America, Europe, India and Asia.  The main activity of IAJBS is to organize the annual World Forum that brings faculty and administrators together from a variety of Jesuit institutions around the globe.  These gatherings facilitate collaboration between the business schools, whether that is joint programs (the University of San Francisco, IQS in Barcelona, and Fu Jen in Taiwan jointly deliver a master’s degree program), faculty collaboration in research, sponsorship of the Journal of Management for Global Sustainability, or sharing best practices in Jesuit business education.

Every four years, IAJBS is joined at the World Forum by Colleagues in Jesuit Business Education (CJBE), which is a group of US Jesuit business school faculty who collaborate and share around the delivery of Jesuit business education. CJBE will be joining us in Seattle for its Twentieth Annual Conference next year.  Ironically, CJBE was founded in 1998 and its first conference was held at Seattle University!  They have not been back since, but we are happy to have them in 2018!  To mark the occasion, we are welcoming Fr. Bob Spitzer, SJ, to give a keynote address.  Fr. Spitzer, former president of Gonzaga, was instrumental in the founding of CJBE while a faculty member at SU!

Fr. Michael Garanzini, SJ, Secretary for Higher Education for the Jesuits, was at the World Forum, and delivered a keynote address about his plans to establish the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU), indicating that he saw IAJBS as model for organizing other Jesuit activities in higher education on a global basis.  He will be convening a meeting in July, 2018 of Jesuit university presidents from around the world to launch this initiative.

The 23rd Annual World Forum was another successful event for IAJBS.  Now it falls to us to host a successful 24th Annual IAJBS World Forum in Seattle in 2018!