The Arthur A. Ciocca “Executive in Residence Program” brings the boardroom into the classroom.
By Michael Reardon
Brad Grinna ’06 and three other students took over Apple Computer, Inc., during spring break this year. Grinna and fellow students Ben Shephard ’05, John Speer ’07 and Casey Gough ’07 didn’t storm the computer giant’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. Nor did the four engineer a hostile takeover on Wall Street.
They were among 20 Holy Cross students who participated in the newly created “Executive in Residence” Program at the College. Part of the intensive weeklong event involved working as a team to revamp an established company such as Apple. Other teams of students took on assignments such as creating a new company, analyzing a merger, and repositioning a product that has done poorly in the marketplace.
At the end of the week, the students made presentations to a panel based on the results of their projects. They did not, however, present to a group of faculty members—a task that can be intimidating enough. Instead, the students faced a panel of Holy Cross graduates who have become powerful business executives.
“It was the most rewarding experience of my college career so far,” Grinna says of the program.
The Executive in Residence Program was created through a $1 million grant from Arthur A. Ciocca ’59, founder of The Wine Group, Inc. of San Francisco, Calif. With the idea of exposing Holy Cross students to a wide range of business concepts, opportunities and skills, a main component of the program is to have sessions taught by highly successful Holy Cross alumni from various business fields, including entrepreneurship, finance, management, advertising, human resources and marketing. All of the executives took time out from running their own companies to participate in the Executive in Residence Program free of charge.
The March 7-11 program, which was free to the students, also included workshops on public speaking, interviewing and career planning. Participation was not limited to accounting or economics majors; on the contrary, students in other programs were strongly encouraged to take part—based on the idea that a liberal arts education is often the most valuable asset for achieving success in the business world.
In fact, this was one of the key reasons Ciocca wanted to start the Executive in Residence Program in the first place.
“The program gave the students the confidence in knowing that what they learn as liberal arts students, especially problem-solving and communication skills, will serve them well in business,” Ciocca says. “I believe passionately in the American free enterprise system. Enterprise is what makes this system work. I’d like to see more of our best and brightest enter this noble and wonderful world.”
Besides Ciocca, eight other alumni executives participated in the program: Edward J. Ludwig ’73, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Becton Dickinson and Company; Brian Kelley ’83, president and chief executive officer of SIRVA; Peter George ’81, president and chief executive officer of Crossbeam Systems; Regina Sommer ’80, chief financial officer at Netegrity; Thomas M. Patton ’86, principal of Vista Advisors, LLC and president of QDx, Inc.; Joan Hogan Gillman ’85, president of East Rock Associates; Leslie Grattan ’85, senior human resources specialist at Trans-Lux Corp.; and William Maloney ’59, president of Osprey Holdings Ltd.
The structure of the program was developed last summer, largely through a series of phone calls and e-mails between some of the participating executives and former prebusiness advisor, Edward T. O’Donnell ’86, associate professor of history.
“We had several conference calls starting in August with most of the principals,” O’Donnell says. “We said we should model it on business retreats, including having workshops and weeklong projects that need to be presented.”
Each day of the Executive in Residence Program was devoted to a particular aspect of business. For instance, on Monday, Kelley held a seminar titled “Building a Company … from LBO to IPO.” Other seminars headed by the executives included, “Starting and Building a Company”; “What Can Go Wrong and How to Fix It”; “How Do You Keep a 100-Year Old Institution Growing Strong”; and “Bringing It All Together.”
Students in the Executive in Residence Program were fortunate to be able to get to know, network and learn from high-level corporate executives and business leaders. O’Donnell says programs of such high caliber are rarely found on any campus—let alone at a liberal arts school. But the creation of the program, however successful, begs the question of where it fits within this liberal arts tradition.
According to David Chu, associate professor of accounting and current prebusiness advisor, the program complements Holy Cross’ liberal arts tradition while, at the same time, provides students with the tools to succeed in today’s business environment.
Chu says Holy Cross students are currently not formally schooled in how businesses are started; how startup capital is raised; how businesses function; or the vagaries of internal business culture. The Executive in Residence Program gives students a foundation to help them as they embark on their careers, whether it be in business or elsewhere.
“The point of this program is to provide students with a working knowledge of business,” Chu says. “If we are going to prepare our students for the modern world, they need some kind of preprofessional education. The world is very specialized and professionalized today. Liberal arts education needs to evolve and adapt to prepare students to meet the demands of that kind of world. So regardless of what major they are enrolled in, they need to know about the institutional nature of business. When they interview for a job, they have a working knowledge about that job.”
Maloney says the program does not represent a deviation from the Holy Cross liberal arts curriculum but called it “an additional piece of the pie”—to provide students with a level of knowledge about business that is unique for a liberal arts college. He adds that the program is not designed in any way to undermine the Holy Cross liberal arts curriculum; its purpose is to give students additional skills to take to the workplace.
“This is not an attempt to create a prebusiness or trade school curriculum,” Maloney says. “We’re not trying to alter the curriculum. We’re not in competition with or making a change from the liberal arts tradition.”
According to Maloney, understanding business practices is essential for other professions, such as medicine or law.
“The CEO and managing partner in a prominent Boston law firm doesn’t spend his time being a lawyer, he is running a business,” he says. “In a medical practice, it’s important to manage costs and drive revenues.”
Patrick Alessi ’07 participated in the Executive in Residence Program and agreed that having fundamental knowledge of business can be an asset in other professions. The economics major began his academic career at Holy Cross, hoping one day to become a physician like his father.
Upon entering Holy Cross, however, Alessi found economics and business fascinating and did not want to major in chemistry or biology. Since his participation in the Executive in Residence Program, Alessi’s interest in business has gained more prominence, and he is taking a closer look at hospital administration and other aspects of health-care management, rather than a career as a physician.
“By participating in this program, I saw what was out there,” Alessi says. “This has broadened my scope of what I can look at. There is an incredible amount of areas you can go into in business.”
Chu says he sees no conflict between a preprofessional program and a traditional liberal arts education, with its emphasis on areas such as history, the understanding of political systems, and appreciation of modes of expression.
“These are fundamental skills for us to understand the world,” he explains. “This is also great preparation for business leaders. A marketing major may have taken four or five courses in marketing, but our students take courses about human nature and can go beyond the techniques of marketing. Our students can see beyond the vocational training.”
Chu’s definition of a business is: a service or product that nobody has heretofore provided; the pursuit of funding to embark on the venture; the hiring of a team to provide the service or product to a client; and the ability to sustain the activity over the long term. By his reasoning, Chu believes even religious organizations and nonprofits have a business dimension.
“Every human activity would fit into this definition,” Chu says. “For example, running a church has a business element to it. There’s the management aspect; hiring the right people; identifying target clients; and being able to sustain it year in and year out.”
Business 101, continued >>>