Wednesday, April 9, 2014

9:46 AM

It’s a new brand that reflects one of Simon’s oldest principles: To make it in business and grab the baton you must be smart, persistent, and prepared.

With a mission to claim and communicate the elements of a Simon education that are unique, valued, and transformative, the School recently launched a new branding initiative to set itself apart from the competition. Working with the highly regarded international marketing firm Moon Brand, Simon embarked on a journey of comprehensive research, analysis, and discovery, leading to a distinct and simple message consistent with Simon’s ethos: Toughen up.™

More than just a catchphrase pulled from an existing playbook, the new slogan reflects extensive research with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters in order to establish a message that is both original and authentic to the Simon experience. In the end, Toughen up is emblematic of our great School and reflects our long tradition of preparing each graduate for the challenges of the modern business world. Like expert coaches for a team of elite athletes, Simon’s instruction, career development, and attention to management as a science—not just an art—prepare students for success and fulfillment.

Perhaps no one knows better the benefits of being toughened up by Simon than our network of successful alumni. In almost any segment of business, there are Simon graduates from the past 50 years who have made the most of their business education, and who continually rely on the time-tested approaches to problem solving they learned at the School. So while the Toughen up slogan may be new, the Simon spirit that created it has been here from the beginning.

Here are just a few of their stories.

Toughen up.
Because you won’t always have the answer.

Vice President of Commercial Sales and Enterprise Solutions, Dell

“The best part for me is that what I learned at Simon wasn’t just case driven,” says Gary Bischoping. “Instead, it taught me the fundamentals of decision making.” As a key player in Dell’s move to reorganize and shift its business strategies, Bischoping says he relied regularly on the skills he learned at Simon to face tough business challenges. “It’s the fundamentals and those core principles I picked up from some of the best professors in the world that help me to solve problems sustainably,” he notes.

Taking the large computer retailer from public to private presented its share of challenges. “Since the discussions began in earnest in July 2012, there were several big decisions we had to face, including the fact that you don’t really know what the outcome will be,” Bischoping says. “I think a lot of the tough lessons you learn in the real world are that you don’t actually know the answer. But Simon taught me to make a hard decision in an uncertain environment and then learn quickly from the decision you make. You have to be tough enough to face the fact that you don’t know everything, and you have to take the risk.”

Still, Bischoping says, some of that risk is mitigated by what he learned at school. “If you apply some of the principles we were taught at Simon,” he says, “especially how you measure data, think through change, and control variables, you will understand how to think through the uncertainty instead of being paralyzed by it.”

According to Bischoping, another uncertainty stems from constantly evolving technology and the increasingly competitive environment in his industry. “The velocity of change at Dell has accelerated in the last few years faster than it did my first ten,” he says. “The rapid adoption of smartphones, the implications that cloud technology is having on delivering technology to people—those are elements that weren’t in any business case I studied. But they are deep in the principles of macro- and microeconomics I learned at Simon. They are part of the decision-making process that Simon brings to you that are relevant over time.”

Bischoping also credits Simon with preparing him for the realities of global business. “It’s an important differentiator,” he notes. “The fact that you can interact with a student body that is half international provides a unique opportunity to practice working with a global team.”

Looking back at his time at Simon, Bischoping says the lessons he learned from two professors still stand out for him. “Cliff Smith and Gregg Jarrell are probably the two I remember most frequently,” he says. “I always tell people about something Cliff Smith said that makes them laugh out loud—and then realize it is very applicable to making good decisions. He would say, ‘You know, if your head is in the freezer and your feet are in the oven, on average, you’re okay.’ When you say that to people, they realize they can’t just look at the average; it helps them realize you have to look at the distribution around the average to make a good decision.”

As for another critical skill he’s taken with him, Bischoping says, “Gregg Jarrell’s concept of a game theory that has you looking forward and reasoning back. You can’t believe how much that helps you make a decision in a time of uncertainty.”

Toughen up.
Because innovation isn’t easy.

Chairman and CEO, Broadstone Real Estate

As the former executive vice president and director of Home Properties and the current chairman and CEO of her own cutting-edge real estate investment management firm, Amy Tait has often counted on the business training and preparation she received at Simon. “I was thinking back about when I had to toughen up and overcome negative experiences,” she says. “It was shortly after I graduated from Simon. The 1986 Tax Act substantially changed the tax benefits available to real estate and had a really negative effect on property values and transaction volume. The late eighties and early nineties were very, very difficult for the industry.”

Around that time, Tait knew she needed to make some tough decisions. “In 1990, Bob and I were still newlyweds and our first child was on the way,” she recalls. “We had to remortgage our house to help make payroll. We also had to cut staff, including some of our close personal friends. But that led to our drive and ability to reinvent our company and take a new approach to how we owned, operated, and financed real estate. Those tough times are what led to creating something even better, when our family took Home Properties public in 1994.”

According to Tait, along with making tough decisions, success often means being willing and able to change. “You just have to always be prepared to innovate and change the way your company does business,” she says. “You don’t have to wait until there is a disaster in your industry to take action. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taking advantage of a positive opportunity.”

As Tait points out, the opportunities are not always what you would expect. After serving seven years as executive vice president for Home Properties, she stepped down to spend more time with her family. “We had all been workaholics in the business,” she says. “Our daughter once commented that it seemed like I was a visitor in our home.” The successful executive took that as an indication it was time to spend more time with her family, travel, and explore other business opportunities.

In 2006, Tait joined her husband, Bob, and her father, Norman Leenhouts, to form Broadstone Real Estate. In 2007, Broadstone sponsored its first real estate investment trust, Broadstone Net Lease, which has now grown to own 200+ commercial properties in 29 states with investors from around the US and several countries. But even with considerable success, Amy says she has learned some tough lessons. “I think I’ve learned you have to stick with your instincts even when times are tough,” she says. “That’s why we’ve started a second fund, Broadtree Homes, which buys single-family homes for rent. It’s an emerging business that is very management intensive, is quite challenging, and requires tremendous innovation. Owning and operating single-family homes as rental properties has become a more significant part of the housing market in the wake of the recent crisis.”

For Tait, being tough also means looking ahead and planning your strategy without losing sight of the details. “Dream about the big vision,” she says. “Then be a perfectionist in executing the minutia.”

Toughen up.
Because to get to the next level you’ll have to climb.

Chief Financial Officer, F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc.

For 25 years, Jeff Durbin has carved his own professional path. He says moving regularly between large corporations, midsize companies, and entrepreneurial startups has given him a unique perspective on being smart, tough, and successful. “In a large corporation, you can start in a small role and do well with hard work, luck, and an ability to navigate the politics,” he says. “If you want to be successful in a smaller organization, there are fewer places to hide. You need to be adaptable, and in order to gain credibility, you need to offer value that the organization lacks.”

“When I was at Telegroup, they put me on the acquisition team to look at two deals in Sydney, Australia, and once that was finished, I was tapped to lead the strategic planning team. Initially, I wasn’t hired to do either of those assignments, but, in a short time, I demonstrated that I had the skills to execute them.”

While Durbin prefers life outside large corporations, he recognizes how his Simon education helped prepare him for a variety of business settings. “There is this debate regarding the value of a university education or graduate degree and whether students are building the right skills,” he says. “In the business world, problems and their solutions are usually undefined. Frequently, you don’t even know you have a problem. In order to succeed, you need to know how to think and how to solve problems by offering solutions that meet the organization’s objectives. A huge value of the Simon Business School is that it develops your ability to do just that.”

In fact, Jeff says he is putting his analytic and problem-solving skills to good use at F. Gaviña & Sons Inc., a successful family-owned coffee roaster since 1870. Its brands, Don Francisco coffee and Café La Llave Espresso, are sold in many of the nation’s grocery store chains. It lists among its clients McDonald’s and Costco. According to Durbin, his responsibilities often land outside the typical Chief Financial Officer role. “If I were to distill our mission,” he notes, “it would be to help mentor the fourth generation of the family to be future leaders, while implementing better systems and processes that support stronger future growth. This is a company with a rich tradition of extraordinarily strong values: honor, integrity, and their good name.”

But Durbin says it is not a matter of keeping the company exactly the same. Instead, it is about continuous improvement in order to achieve new levels of prosperity and success. “This is a family that has entered into multimillion-dollar deals on a handshake,” he says. “Their values are extremely critical to them. As we grow, we need to always respect those core values and ensure that they remain the pillars of our growth. They will be especially important if we are going to double our size to $300 million by our 150th anniversary.”

Experience has also taught Durbin that much like growing a company, career growth means outperforming your competition. “Thirty years ago, it was very easy to be a company man,” he says. “You could work your way up and have a great career. It’s not like that anymore. I started at Kodak, and now Kodak is just a fraction of what it used to be. That’s a perfect example of how you can’t sit back and assume that just because you have one of the most recognized brands in the world it’s always going to be that way.”

Durbin also believes you need to be tough enough to take risks in order to get what you want from your career. “People shouldn’t shy away from trying something entrepreneurial,” he says. “But for some, getting into a large corporation and working your way up is a great thing, as long as you can be in the right company for that to happen. If you’re constantly enhancing your skills, building your brand in a substantive way, networking, and marketing yourself, things happen for you—even if they don’t always happen in the direction you expect.”

Toughen up.
Because Big Data doesn’t drive itself.

SIDDHARTHA DALAL ’71 (MA), ’73S (MBA), ’76 (PHD)
Vice President of Advanced Research and Technology, AIG

A celebrated research scientist and astute businessman; Sid Dalal understands better than most what it takes to make it in today’s competitive global climate. “Being tough has been part of my career since day one,” he says. “When you come to this country as a teenage immigrant with $8 in your pocket, it’s not an easy journey.” Being far from home, Dalal says he benefited from the close communities at Simon and the University of Rochester. “Many alumni have helped me in terms of preparing and toughening up,” he says. “I’ve found the training I got at Simon was tremendously worthwhile. It helped me think through ways to manage the business side of industrial research.”

According to Dalal, there is one area of research and development making a big impact on people’s lives. “Big Data is now everywhere,” he says. “The ability to make important decisions based on data is one of the most critical elements of business today.” The data expert also points out that this new world of information began with advances in computing, correction methodology, and analytics. But Dalal is also quick to recognize that the work is just beginning at the data collection stage. “The ability to relate the data is the key part,” he says. “In order to do that, you have to identify what kind of data you really need and how you can apply it in completely new situations.”

Dalal also pays attention to how more and better data can improve the products and services companies offer. “AIG is currently one of the largest insurance companies in the world,” he says. “We analyze data for everything from what kind of risk we write and underwrite to how we think about claims to help our customers be the best protected in terms of identified risk. All of that involves a huge amount of data.”

Dalal says that we are still in the infancy of this emerging science, and we are going to need to be tough, smart, and prepared to make it work for us. “I can tell you that in the next 20 years, we will still be studying Big Data,” he says. “All of this is going to be refined and refined further until ultimately it is perfected. If you think in terms of the revolution of the semiconductor, or the evolution of operating systems and the development of the World Wide Web, Big Data is on that scale.”

But Dalal insists it will not happen on its own. “It will take a huge amount of work,” he says. “Especially when we look at presenting the information, or how to tell one type of information from another.”

To move into a future where Big Data improves products and services, Dalal believes the professionals gathering and analyzing information would benefit from a Simon education. “It is the other part of toughening up,” he says. “It is the part about coaching, training, and mentoring. Big Data is in an enormous state of evolution, and there are many issues related to gathering information and the proper tools to analyze it. We must train people to use data so it all will have a positive impact on business.”

What it Means to Be Simon Tough

Recognizing the need to separate Simon Business School from the competition, Dean Mark Zupan notes that the new Toughen up brand not only reflects the School’s tradition of excellence, but also the emerging realities of a leveling international playing field. For him, the slogan is as much about alumni from the past as it is relevant to prospective students going forward. “We think we are simply being more realistic,” Zupan says. “The world is growing ever more global and more competitive. We want our graduates to know they can be the very best in the world, but it’s going to take their best—and our best—to achieve that outcome.”

Like many of Simon’s problem-solving frameworks that alumni rely on throughout their careers, Toughen up.™ extends well beyond any single business problem of the day. It serves instead as a reminder to the School’s smart, tough, and capable alumni that they have what it takes to make it in a dynamic and changing global marketplace. Even more important, the successes of Simon’s graduates stand as a testament and an invitation to potential students who are looking to make the most of their careers.

“For those who aspire to play with the best,” says Zupan, “we welcome you to come to Simon and Toughen up.”

What is Simon Business School Tough? 


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