Last month on Kalamazoo College's campus, Pietra Rivoli, author of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, compared the liberal arts to a bridge between market forces (which we'll call: "the greatest good for the greatest number") and altruistic forces ("the greatest good for all"). Bridge-like, the liberal arts is the place these two forces engage in a dynamic that is both oppositional and complementary.
In her book, Rivoli called this dynamic the "unwitting conspiracy" and stressed its importance to the future, into which will be interwoven business, the self-fulfillment of individuals, and the welfare of others (as well as the planet). Rivoli argued that a liberal arts education helps equalize the proportion of the dynamic's forces so that the opposition can be meaningful, or, simply, can be. Because "business issues are also matters of justice and fairness," she said, "the potential for constructive engagement among Kalamazoo College's Guilds is an important opportunity for a great business education"--an opportunity that lies in the conversations Business Guild members can have with Sustainability Guild members and with Peace and Justice Guild members, and with others.
In other words, the liberal arts, Kalamazoo College, and the Guilds combine to offer students a business education not only appropriate for the 21st century but perhaps indispensable if we're to have a 21st century.
That was a message of Rivoli's closing plenary lecture at the Kalamazoo College Business Guild's three-day conference, titled: "Liberal Arts--Informing Today's Global Business Practices."
The College's practice of the liberal arts provides another vital element of a great education for business: international study. "Most Kalamazoo students have lived the kind of intercultural experience that makes global business go," said Corinna Keller '92, Vice President for Marketing Partnerships/Trade Marketing for MTV Networks, Latin America.
"Success beyond the borders you're comfortable with requires a sense of adventure, mission, and journey. You need to be okay with being disoriented, and I imagine Kalamazoo College's study abroad program provides that," said Kurt Lentner, Director of International Marketing for Stryker Instruments, and one of Keller's co-presenters at a special session devoted to international marketing.
The opening plenary lecture was delivered by Wesley Sly, Commercialization and Marketing Professional Development Manager for 3M Company, and father of current "K" student Katy Sly '12. He noted that a liberal arts education provides business persons greater kinship with customers and better understanding of markets. He too used a bridge-like metaphor to underscore the power of a broad education. "The liberal arts graduate," he said, "is a liaison between the customer needs and wants and the technical specialists in the lab responsible for developing products that meet those needs and wants." In global business, he continued, customers live throughout the world, and so the ability to navigate cultural differences is vital. Kalamazoo College certainly provides a leg-up in that area.
A special session on international banking and finance featured two alumni: Bill Williams '71, Executive Vice President for the Bank of New York Mellon, and Jonathan Cunningham '84 , who recently retired as executive vice president of the convertible securities department at Jefferies & Company, Inc.
Williams' seemingly mismatched provenance for a banking career included a political science major, foreign study in Turkey, and a Peace Corps English teaching assignment in Tunisia--all accomplished before the mid-1970s and its seismic changes in energy demand and the importance of the Middle East to that demand.
"Kalamazoo College prepared me for a job I didn't even know existed," he said, "in fact, one that probably didn't exist at the time I graduated."
Before his retirement, Cunningham recruited many "K" students as interns at Jefferies. He described the humility of Kalamazoo College students as their greatest challenge and greatest strength. "The latter because humility is the wellspring for their open minds and their willingness to learn and take on all tasks," he said. "It's their challenge when it interferes with getting noticed."
Thankfully, the Guilds Initiative is a tool "K" students can use to avoid a fatal delay in making connections. According to Cunningham, one "breaks through" in banking and finance by cultivating connections, and "that needs to start in your freshman year." The Guilds offer the opportunity to find mentors and develop one's "who-you-know."
Both men offered other practical advice to conference attendees. For example, no matter how open an undergraduate curriculum, students interested in banking and finance "should take English and writing," stressed Williams. The ability to analyze and write concisely and take--and write--a stand is invaluable.
"Pay attention to the quality of writing in your e-mails," added Cunningham. "It will set you apart--for good or ill. And the creep of text-messaging style into e-mail is poison."
Other conference presenters included Michael Ricco, President of Ricco Consulting, and a sales and marketing expert with more than 35 years experience in the airline and travel industries. He participated in the
The College's practice of the liberal arts provides another vital element of a great education for business: international study.special session on international marketing and emphasized the growing importance of alliances in international business and the relevance of the liberal arts to the team building skills such alliances require.
Lennart Johansson, Consul General of Sweden, State of Michigan, and Chairman and CEO of Johansson Global Technologies, gave a lecture on Sweden's successful global energy industry. He cited the similarities between Michigan and Sweden in the race for developing alternative energy sources and described sustainable energy technology as the next great business opportunity. "If I were an entrepreneurial student, I would be jumping into these opportunities and starting a business," he told the participants at the Friday evening banquet.
Speaking of opportunity, the three-day conference was an extraordinary one for all "K" students, according to Joan Hawxhurst, Director of the Center for Career and Professional Development and the Guilds Initiative. "Our distinguished guests confirmed the power and the promise of both a liberal arts education and the Guilds," she said. "It was a great learning experience for our students. They saw firsthand how the academic and co-curricular elements of the K-Plan point them toward professional success."
Several seniors presented their Senior Individualized Projects: Dan Hoevel--"Capturing Convertible Volatility: Assessing the Rationale Behind Convertible Bond Arbitage With Implied Volatility;" Erin Dreps--"The New Industrial Revolution: The Role of Remanufacturing in the Transition to Sustainable Economy;" Adam Baranowski--"The Asian Financial Crisis as a Catalyst for Paradigm Shift in South Korea: An Econometric Analysis;" Nathaniel Victor--"Value Investing During and Impending Recession: A Case Study of Pegasystems Inc.;" and Dayna Doman--"Porsche in the Global Automotive Market." Students also had the opportunity to meet and question conference speakers and participants during a special networking event and during meals.
Conference supporters included the McGregor Fund, the James S. Kemper Foundation, the Kalamazoo College Center for International Programs, the Kalamazoo College Economics and Business Club, and the Kalamazoo Public Library. "And I must note the extraordinary work of senior Aidis Tuxhari," said Hawxhurst. "She was the coordinator of this conference, a role that certainly turned out to be a challenging learning experience--at various times surprising, stressful, and gratifying. What never varied was her calm and gracious demeanor. "
Photo: International marketing experts Corinna Keller '92 and Michael Ricco help a student at the Business Guild's International Business Conference.