Archive for October, 2008

ConocoPhillips donates $25K to Energy Institute

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

At an Oct. 27 reception in Goldring/Woldenberg Hall II, ConocoPhillips presented a gift of $25,000 to the Tulane Energy Institute. The gift, one of the first in ConocoPhillips’ Faculty Sponsorship Program, will support Joe LeBlanc, who teaches the Freeman School’s energy trading courses.

Left to right, James McFarland, executive director of the Tulane Energy Institute; Geoff Parker, director of the institute; Angelo DeNisi, dean of the Freeman School; Frank Dodaro, manager of pricing processes at ConocoPhillips; Sherri B. Thomas, director of campus recruiting at ConocoPhillips; David Velasquez (BSM '09), who was recently hired for the ConocoPhillips training program; Joe LeBlanc, clinical professor of business; and Peggy Babin, associate dean.

ConocoPhillips targeted the Tulane Energy Institute as part of its effort to build strategic relationships with schools whose programs meet the recruiting needs of its commodity trading business.

“ConocoPhillips is pleased to have as one of its first recipients in the Faculty Sponsorship Program Prof. Joe LeBlanc and the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University,” said Sherri B. Thomas, director of campus recruiting at ConocoPhillips. “We are actively building strategic relationships with professors and universities that have courses and programs that support the recruiting needs of our Commodity Trading business, and we believe building a solid relationship with the program at Tulane will have a positive impact on our recruiting efforts and our business success.”

LeBlanc has taught Energy Fundamentals and Trading at the Freeman School since 2007, and he has been instrumental in enhancing the course with industry-leading simulation, trading and financial software from Advantage Futures, FEA, Oracle, Reuters and Trading Technologies.

HCA chief highlights Tulane Business Forum

Monday, October 20th, 2008

The most innovative idea in the world isn’t worth a nickel if you don’t execute it properly.

That was the central message of Richard M. Bracken, president and COO of Hospital Corp. of America, the world’s largest private operator of health care facilities, in his keynote luncheon address at the 29th annual Tulane Business Forum.

The forum, an annual presentation of the Tulane Association of Business Alumni, took place on Friday, Oct. 17, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. More than 700 local business leaders attended this year’s event.

The theme of this year’s forum was innovation, and Bracken used the opportunity to discuss some of the innovative ideas that have guided the growth of HCA.

“You really don’t get the chance to do big, earth-shattering ideas in every environment, but a lot of really good things come from small changes,” Bracken said.

He cited a program HCA initiated to reduce hospital-acquired infections, a major problem in the health care industry. By creating a simple program that encouraged clinicians to wash their hands more frequently-and executing that program effectively by involving clinicians, administrators and even patients in the process-HCA was able to reduce infections inside its hospitals dramatically.

“Surgical-acquired infections went down by half,” Bracken said. “Bloodstream infections went down by about a third. We had stunning results. This is a fine example that small changes can lead to big gains.”

Bracken also discussed some of the innovation-related mistakes HCA has made over the years, including a 1995 effort to streamline its supply chain in the style of Wal-Mart. HCA made the mistake of implementing that change in operations from the top down, and the company ended up paying the price.

“It was a great idea, but it was poorly executed,” Bracken said. “It went nowhere in a hurry, not because the idea was wrong but because the execution was wrong.”

Bracken said that HCA went back to the drawing board and re-implemented the effort, this time from the bottom up, and the streamlining program became a success.

“Innovation is really a leadership problem,” Bracken added. “It’s not a problem with your employees. It’s about embracing it and structuring it and putting it where it’s going to have some chance for success.”

Bracken, a Tulane parent, got a laugh at the beginning of his presentation by praising Tulane University as a leader in innovation, not so much for its role in the recovery of New Orleans or the transformation of public education but for the transformation of his two sons.

Bracken showed the audience two sets of photos of Richard Bracken Jr. (L ’09) and Robert Bracken (A ’08). In the first set, Richard, with a guitar perched on his lap, looked up from beneath a mop of shaggy hair while Robert smiled blissfully while traveling in South America. In the second set of photos, both Richard and Robert were cleanly shaven and wearing coats and ties.

“Tulane worked some pretty serious innovation on these guys,” Bracken said. “It took me about two months to get this second set of pictures done, but my great thanks to the faculty of Tulane and their respective colleges for really working some magic on these fellas.”

In addition to Bracken, this year’s forum featured a wide range of speakers addressing the role of innovation, including retired Maj. Gen. David M. Mize of Apogen Technologies/QinetiQ, Debra Neill Baker and Edwin Neill III of Neil Corp., William F. Borne of Amedisys, Jim Bridger of New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, Todd M. Hornbeck of Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc., and Matthew M. Wisdom of TurboSquid Inc.

Students meet the “Oracle of Omaha”

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett shared his thoughts on the future of Wall Street, the upcoming presidential election and what he looks for in an investment with a group of 27 Freeman School students during a two-hour question-and-answer session at the headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The students traveled to Omaha, Neb., on Oct. 17 to meet Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., tour two of his companies, and enjoy lunch with the “Oracle of Omaha.” The trip was part of an annual event Buffett hosts for college students. Students from Tulane and five other universities got an audience with Buffett the same day he published a headline-grabbing opinion piece in the New York Times announcing his plans to take his cash holdings and invest in U.S. stocks.

“You couldn’t have timed the trip better,” says Assistant Dean Peter Ricchiuti, who accompanied the students. “He spent two hours answering our questions and then he took us to lunch at a place called Piccolo Pete’s. After the lunch he must have spent an hour and a half letting us take pictures with him.”

“The trip was amazing,” says Stephen Frapart (BSM ’09), who was instrumental in organizing the visit. “It was truly one of the most special experiences in my life. Everything you’ve read, seen or heard about Warren Buffett is all true. He is charismatic, humble, funny, sincere, brilliant and an excellent communicator.”

Ricchiuti says the students were impressed that, despite being one of the world’s richest men, Buffett lives a modest, unassuming life. He drives his own car, a late 1990s Lincoln Continental, and lives in the same house as he did 40 years ago.

The all-day visit included tours of Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries Nebraska Furniture Mart and Borsheims, one of the largest independent jewelry stores in the nation.

During the question-and-answer sessions, Frapart asked Buffett what he considered to be the defining moments in his life and what he learned from them. Other Tulane students asked how the economic slowdown in the United States would affect other countries and how Buffett determined his vote in the presidential election. Buffett said he approached the election the same way he views other choices in life, by looking at the larger picture. He said to look at the world’s population as a lottery with 6.1 billion names in a barrel. If your fate were determined by picking a station in life, who would you want representing your interests?

“(In picking from the barrel), you didn’t know what you would get. You could be somebody from Bangladesh, from the United States, or male or female, black or white, or healthy or sick,” Ricchiuti says, recounting Buffett’s views. “If that were the situation, who would you vote for? Who was going to be the best president for everybody?”

Students also asked Buffett about his definition of success. He described a successful person as someone everyone wanted to be around and someone everyone wanted to make sure was around, says Kathleen Murphy (MBA ’09). “My favorite idea that he talked about was that an individual chooses his or her behavior and personality,” Murphy says. “I liked it because it reminded me of something my dad has been telling me for as long as I can remember. My dad says that happiness is an act of will. I liked that Warren Buffett wanted to talk about appreciating and enjoying life as much as he wanted to talk about investing.”

Buffett told the students he looks for simplicity in investments and seeks companies that are positioned for growth because of their service or product, not because of their management, which can easily change. He told students to look for companies that “an idiot could run, because at some point an idiot is going to run it,” Ricchiuti says.

–Keith Brannon

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