Archive for February, 2011

Crisis experts tout importance of ethical leadership

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Having a well-defined code of ethics may not prevent every crisis, but according to one of the speakers at this year’s Burkenroad Symposium on Business and Society, it helps prevent those crises that do occur from becoming worse.

This year's Burkenroad Symposium on Business and Society emphasized the importance of ethical leadership during times of crisis.

“Ethical leadership is one of the ways of keeping problems problems before they become catastrophes,” said Gael O’Brien, principal of the consulting firm Strategic Opportunities Group and a columnist for Business Ethics magazine.

The importance of ethical leadership was a central theme of this year’s program, “Honor in the Face of Fire: Turning Crisis into Opportunity.” The symposium, an annual presentation of the Freeman School’s Burkenroad Institute, took place on Friday (Feb. 18) in the Lavin-Bernick Center.

In addition to O’Brien, this year’s presenters included Anjali Sheffrin, a research professor with the Tulane Energy Institute, and Robert Ulmer, a professor of speech communication at the University of Arkansas and an internationally recognized expert in crisis communications. Adrienne Colella, James McFarland Distinguished Chair in Business and director of the institute, moderated.

O’Brien said a common theme in many recent business crises—ranging from Countrywide Financial and Toyota to Massey Energy and BP—is self-deception on the part of company executives.

Gael O'Brien

Gael O'Brien

“Unethical behavior is really a result of other behaviors that blind us from seeing what is actually happening,” she said. “Self-deception allows us to distort reality so that we think what we’re doing is somehow justifiable.”

The solution, O’Brien suggested, is to foster a culture of two-way communication within organizations and to make values a fundamental part of corporate strategy.

“Ethical leadership does increase trust and avert crises,” she said. “Not standing for something means you don’t have a basis on which to make decisions.”

O’Brien cited FM Global, a Rhode Island-based insurance company, as a good example of ethical leadership in action. A core value of the company is the belief that all loss is preventable, and as an outgrowth of that belief, O’Brien said the company hires engineers to work with clients to reduce the risk of unnecessary losses.

“Ethical leadership is essentially about creating a win-win situation and ensuring that the organization you’ve been entrusted with is going to be able to survive,” she said.

Anjali Sheffrin

Sheffrin, former chief economist for the California Independent System Operator, told the story of her experience as market monitor during the California energy crisis. It was Sheffrin who ultimately proved that companies like Enron were manipulating the wholesale electricity market to drive up prices at the expense of the public.

When it was first introduced, California’s electricity market was praised as a model of innovation that would rely on competition to drive down energy costs, but Sheffrin said none of the individuals involved in creating the system questioned some of the assumptions at its core.

“Always question the fundamental assumptions people are making,” Sheffrin said. “If people had questioned those assumptions, we might have prevented some of the damage.”

Ulmer closed out the symposium by emphasizing the importance of ethical communications during times of crisis. Too many companies don’t spend enough time developing and articulating organizational values, he said, which puts them at a disadvantage when a crisis occurs.

Robert Ulmer

“Because we haven’t really thought about what our values are, we start thinking about things like reputation and image and this is going to be on the front page of the New York Times,” Ulmer said. “If you haven’t thought about how you would respond and how you would communicate in a situation, you’re more apt to have a maladaptive response.”

During times of crisis, Ulmer said organizations should remember to listen to stakeholders, avoid spin, focus on solutions rather than reputation, and—most importantly—always tell the truth.

“Lawsuits come back years and years later, and if you have to start to think, what did I say again, that’s where you start to look silly,” he said. “That’s why values are crucial to organizational responses.”

Business Plan Competition announces semifinalists

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

The Tulane Entrepreneurs Association has announced the semifinalists for the 2011 Tulane Business Plan Competition. The competition, which takes place on Friday, April 8, at the Freeman School, will award up to $70,000 in cash to the most promising new venture.

This year’s competition attracted 76 entries from 50 universities in five countries, including China, Thailand and Spain, and the 20 ventures selected to move on to the second round run the gamut from biotechnology to finance to alternative energy.

“Yet again, we have been extremely impressed by both the quantity and quality of the plans submitted in this year’s competition,” says Chris Williams, president of the Tulane Entrepreneurs Association, organizer of the annual event. “It gives us reassurance that the principles of conscious capitalism are continuing to spread throughout the global business community. The plans advancing to the second round represent the best ideas that our generation has to offer, and the Tulane Entrepreneurs Association is proud to be associated with ventures of this caliber.”

The Tulane Business Plan Competition is the nation’s only competition dedicated to the principles of conscious capitalism. In order to be considered, ventures must demonstrate not only market potential but also the ability to positively affect all stakeholders and the society in which they operate.

The 2011 semifinalists are:

  • Bioceptive (Tulane University)
  • Drop the Chalk LLC (Tulane University)
  • Eden Organic Water (Northwestern University)
  • EMOPP (Tulane University)
  • enVivaTech (Tulane University)
  • Forfront Industries (Ball State University)
  • G&G Heritage Hotels (Purdue University)
  • GTC NOLA (Tulane University)
  • HomePoint Testing (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Nooch (Duke University)
  • Oculeve (Stanford University)
  • Orthopeptide Biotechnology (Drexel University & Tulane University)
  • OsComp Systems (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Pathostat LLC (University of Arizona)
  • Project Yele (Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Rebirth Financial Inc. (Tulane University)
  • Sanergy (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Tilapiana (Brigham Young University)
  • True Products LLC (Dartmouth College)
  • TrueId Security (University of Louisville)

Each of the above ventures must now submit a full business plan for review by competition judges. On March 18, the Tulane Entrepreneurs Association will announce three finalists who will be invited to compete for a grand prize of $50,000 in the competition’s live final round.

This year, thanks to a gift from the Domain Companies, the competition will also award a prize of $20,000 to the venture judged to have the most positive economic impact on New Orleans. In addition to the six Tulane-based plans above, five other ventures were  chosen to move on to the second round of the Domain Companies New Orleans Entrepreneur Challenge. Three finalists will be selected to compete for the $20,000 prize in a live round following the Tulane Business Plan Competition.

The 2011 Tulane Business Plan Competition is sponsored by the Domain Companies, the Graduate and Professional Student Association of Tulane University, the A. B. Freeman School of Business, the Graduate Business Council of the A. B. Freeman School of Business, Crescent Bank & Trust, Nola Graphics, the Tulane Association of Business Alumni, and the New Orleans BioInnovation Center.

For more information about this year’s competition, visit

Business world gets smaller during international seminar

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

From human rights violations in China to political oppression in the Middle East to arrogance and decadence in the U.S., international news media broadcast negative images of cultures around the world on a daily basis, but according to a group of Freeman School executive MBA students, those stereotypes have little to do with reality.

International Intensive Week Seminar

Executive MBA students from New Orleans, Houston, Chile, China, Greece and the United Arab Emirates came together as one class for this year's International Intensive Week Seminar.

“When you get into a class like this, with people from similar educational backgrounds, you realize we’re all just normal people,” says Dan Gaines, a solutions engineer with Adecco iSolutions in Houston. “The way things are sensationalized in microcosm is not really the way things are in the macro environment.”

Gaines was one of 126 executive MBAs from New Orleans, Houston, Chile, Greece, China and the United Arab Emirates who came together in January for this year’s EMBA International Intensive Week Seminar.

Since 2006, the Freeman School has combined students from its executive MBA programs around the world for a week of intensive classes and extracurricular activities focused on international team building and leadership. The students share a classroom for two courses—Managing People Internationally and Leadership and Ethics—and work on assignments together as part of multinational teams.

“Business is global, and part of doing business is understanding your market,” says Russ Robins, associate dean for executive education and organizer of the annual event. “To the extent you’re dealing with people from another culture, you’d better get exposed to the way they think.”

This year marked the first time that students from a predominantly Muslim country participated in the seminar. The 21 visiting students from Abu Dhabi University required a few special accommodations—such as prayer rooms and halal meals—but according to many of the participants, what was most striking about the week wasn’t the differences between cultures but rather the similarities.

“We all care about our families and our countries and our people,” says Leonardo Gonzalez, one of the students from Chile. “Those things are the same for all us. I think we have more similarities than differences.”

EMBA students Jennifer Fredericksen, Dan Gaines, Clayton Smith, Refaat Aboukowik and Leonardo Gonzalez work on a case during January's intensive week seminar.

“We’ve done exercises where we’ve taken votes and nine times out of 10, we’re pretty much in agreement with how we see things,” adds Clayton Smith, one of the students from Houston. “We’ve had a few disagreements along the way, but they were constructive disagreements.”

“Different backgrounds and different cultures relate to difference decisions,” says Refaat Aboukowik, one of the students from Abu Dhabi University. “I think we all had generalizations and stereotypes about what other cultures think, but this was the first time we were able to have a real exchange.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the disagreements over how to handle situations presented in the cases often boiled down to corporate differences rather than cultural.

“It’s more organizational culture—where we work, how things are done at our organizations, and what the code of ethics is,” says Jamil Al Turk, one of the Abu Dhabi students. “Of course your own values and where you come from are part of it, but I think most of it is the influence of the organizational culture.”

It’s that kind of insight that makes the International Intensive Week Seminar one of the executive MBA program’s most popular events.

“When we poll our students, this is always one of the best-rated events,” Robins says. “It’s really eye opening for them.”

International Intensive Week Seminar Class Photo

This year's Executive MBA International Intensive Week Seminar combined students from the U.S., Chile, China, Greece and the United Arab Emirates.

Freeman Days invades National WWII Museum

Monday, February 14th, 2011

On Thursday night (Feb. 10), the Freeman School hosted its annual Freeman Days Networking Reception at the National World War II Museum’s Stage Door Canteen. The business school’s biggest annual career event, Freeman Days brings together students, alumni and corporate recruiters for an evening of professional networking followed by a day of company presentations and information sessions on campus at the business school.

This year’s events attracted 395 students, 150 alumni and 100 recruiters and company representatives, making it the biggest Freeman Days New Orleans in history. To see more photos from this year’s networking reception, visit the Freeman School’s Flickr site.

Stephen Feazell (MBA ’11) was one of 140 students who attended this year’s networking reception to meet alumni and recruiters and, hopefully, generate some job leads.

Marcella Fonseco (BSM ’12) greets Yolanda Johnson, talent acquisition manager with Enterprise Holdings, during the reception’s “speed networking” session. The exercise, modeled after speed dating events, lets students and employers meet and share information in 15-minute rounds.

April Cathey, right, a recruiting agent with the Internal Revenue Service, tells students a little about the agency during the speed networking segment. More than 90 recruiters attended this year’s reception to pitch their organizations and try to attract the best talent.

Left to right, Steven Folse (MFIN ’11), Christina Thomas (MFIN ’10) and Chris Partridge (BSM ’08, MFIN ’09). Thomas and Partridge, financial analysts with Chaffe & Associates, were among the 150 alumni who attended the reception to network with students and fellow professionals.

Burkenroad Symposium to explore turning crisis into opportunity

Monday, February 7th, 2011

From the Deepwater Horizon disaster to the subprime mortgage debacle to the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, recent history is filled with examples of crises that pose daunting, multileveled challenges to the organizations involved, but those trying events can also present unique opportunities.

Honor in the Face of Fire: Turning Crisis into Opportunity

The 18th annual Burkenroad Symposium will explore organizational crisis and how businesses can turn adversity into competitive advantage.

For the 18th annual Burkenroad Symposium on Business and Society, “Honor in the Face of Fire: Turning Crisis into Opportunity,” a distinguished panel of scholars and business experts will explore the issue of organizational crisis and discuss ways in which forward-thinking companies can transform adversity into competitive advantage.

The symposium, an annual presentation of the Burkenroad Institute at Tulane University’s A. B. Freeman School of Business, will take place on Friday, Feb. 18, at 10 a.m. in the Kendall Cram Lecture Hall of the Lavin Bernick Center. The event is free and open to the public.

“Crises can result from negligence, chance or willful misdoing, but regardless of the cause, the critical issue is how organizations prepare for crisis and, more importantly, how they respond, both internally and externally,” says Adrienne Colella, the James McFarland Distinguished Chair in Business and director of the Burkenroad Institute. “The speakers at this year’s Symposium on Business and Society will address the ethical, leadership and communication issues involved when organizations experience a crisis.”

This year’s presenters include three nationally recognized experts in the areas of ethical leadership and social responsibility, energy management, and crisis communications.

Gael O’Brien is founder and principal of Strategic Opportunities Group, a consulting firm specializing in ethical leadership, social responsibility and crisis management. A columnist for Business Ethics magazine and author of The Week in Ethics, an influential blog covering corporate ethics, O’Brien is co-author with Deepak Chopra and Jack Canfield of Stepping Stones to Success. In 1996, O’Brien was recruited by Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America to help create a model workplace after the company was sued by the EEOC. She later served as vice president for corporate communications and public affairs with Mitsubishi Motors North America and as president of Mitsubishi Motors USA Foundation. O’Brien was also director of marketing at Price Waterhouse, chief of staff for a senate leader in the Ohio Senate and assistant editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Anjali Sheffrin is a research professor at the Tulane Energy Institute specializing in market design for wholesale electricity markets, economics of renewables and regulatory policy. Sheffrin has 27 years of management experience in the electric utility industry, and as chief economist for the California Independent System Operator, she was the market monitor during the state’s energy crisis, where she led the effort to identify market manipulation and gaming in the wholesale electricity market.

Robert R. Ulmer is professor and chair of the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. An internationally recognized expert in risk and crisis communication, Ulmer was one of the first researchers to focus on finding positive results from a crisis, and his approach, called the discourse of renewal, is now used throughout the business and health industries as a way to communicate crisis-driven information effectively. Ulmer has co-authored five books and over 40 research articles on effective crisis communication. His most recent book, Effective Crisis Communication: Moving from Crisis to Opportunity, explores how effective crisis communications can be used to develop a meaningful dialog and shared understanding with stakeholders.

The Burkenroad Institute was established in 1990 to increase the understanding of and promote, through research and education, the ethical decision making of business leaders. Through the annual Symposium on Business and Society, the institute’s objective is to focus attention on the corporate social responsibilities of business leaders as well as to stimulate thought and discussion among students, faculty, executives and community leaders about some of the difficult issues that face today’s leaders and managers. National experts in business, education, journalism and policy making participate in this annual conference.

For more information about this year’s symposium, contact Christian Galvin at 504-862-8481 or

New fund hopes to jumpstart high-potential ventures

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

New Orleans experienced an unprecedented influx of entrepreneurial talent and energy in the wake of Katrina, but activities like meet ups and networking can take those entrepreneurs only so far. At some point new ventures need capital, and that’s just what Freeman School professors John Elstrott and Ralph Maurer hope to provide them with.

Ralph Maurer and John Elstrott

Freeman School professors Ralph Maurer, left, and John Elstrott are part of the management team for the New Orleans Startup Fund, a new nonprofit venture capital fund that targets high-potential early-stage ventures.

Elstrott, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and executive director of the Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneurship, and Maurer, visiting assistant professor of strategy, are part of the management team behind the New Orleans Startup Fund, a new nonprofit venture capital fund created to provide local high-potential ventures with seed capital, a critical need in the local entrepreneurial community.

“We’re trying to fill a gap that too many for-profit investors are afraid to step into, and that is the proof-of-concept, early-stage businesses that in some cases haven’t made a sale yet,” explains Elstrott, who chairs the Startup Fund’s finance committee. “We’re willing to get in there early and provide them with not only capital at a very reasonable cost but also managerial and technical assistance.”

The Startup Fund is the brainchild of a group of local business leaders including Matt Wisdom, Ben Allen, Leslie Jacobs, Hunter Pierson, Rick Rees and Michael Hecht. Modeled after similar funds in other cities, most notably Cleveland’s JumpStart program, the Startup Fund’s goal is to harness the energy of young entrepreneurs and help keep their businesses—and the jobs and economic prosperity they create—in the greater New Orleans area.

According to Maurer, who serves as executive director of the fund, New Orleans has long suffered from a lack of so-called angel investors, the wealthy individuals willing to invest $50,000 to $100,000 in new, risky ventures they believe in. While the fund’s primary purpose is to fill that need with low-interest loans or equity investments, a secondary role is to help expand the city’s network of angel investors.

“We’re trying to build the capital infrastructure of the city,” Maurer says. “If we do our job well, we probably don’t even need to exist in 10 years.”

To qualify for funding, ventures must be headquartered in the New Orleans area and must demonstrate the potential to grow to $20 to $50 million in revenues in five years. The fund has so far raised about $4 million to invest through a combination of federal, state and private money, but Maurer says the goal is to grow the fund to $7 million or more.

Maurer says the fund hopes to invest in four to five companies per year at an average of about $250,000 per investment. Unlike traditional VC firms, the Startup Fund isn’t looking for a big return. Instead, it hopes to recoup its investments as quickly as possible and direct those funds to other early-stage ventures. Since its launch in December, the fund has received more than 60 applications, and Maurer says he and his staff are currently looking seriously at about 12 ventures.

Both professors plan to get students involved with the fund. Elstrott says there will be opportunities for students to provide managerial and technical assistance to the companies on behalf of the Startup Fund as well as possible  jobs and internships with the companies themselves. Maurer plans to bring in some of the entrepreneurs applying for funding to talk to students in his new venture planning course.

“I see the Startup Fund as sort of the second stage of the post-Katrina entrepreneurial rebirth,” Maurer concludes. “The first stage was developing a culture for entrepreneurs, and places like the Idea Village, Launch Pad and the IP Building have done a wonderful job with that. Now we have some very talented entrepreneurs in the city with promising ventures, but they need resources to get to the next stage. To me, that’s really what this is all about.”

For more information about the New Orleans Startup Fund, visit

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