Moderator Chip Hunter, CCB dean, looks on while panelists Lisa Brown, Tyler Lafferty, and Dale Silha discuss how to attract talent and a skilled workforce to Spokane.

Carson College Annual Events Offer Business Insights to Pacific Northwest Policy Communities

By Sue McMurray

As an integral part of Washington’s research-oriented land-grant institution, the Carson College of Business creates value for business and academic communities by hosting the annual Burtenshaw Distinguished Lecture and Power Breakfast events, along with industry speakers throughout the year. In 2019, a mix of globally competitive business leaders and entrepreneurs shared their professional insights through panels and lectures on the Pullman campus and in Spokane.

Burtenshaw Lecture features Ivar’s president Bob Donegan

Bob Donegan delivers keynote at the 2019 Burtenshaw Distinguished Lecture Series.

Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s, presented “Ivar and Ivar’s: How Our Flounder’s Quirky Hospitality Lessons Have Worked for 80 Years,” at the 2019 Burtenshaw Lecture. Donegan spoke about Ivar Haglund’s vision and effective marketing strategies that have kept the business going since 1938. Among Ivar’s key business philosophies is “expect failure”—a practice of anticipation that prepared staff to do sales transactions by hand when all the cash registers at Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park) went down during a large sporting event. In fact, Ivar’s was the only booth that remained open in the stadium, said Donegan.

Other practices of success include good customer service; hiring optimistic, enthusiastic people; offering competitive wages, employee awards, and full benefits to attract and retain employees; customer knowledge via data analytics; and a focus on fresh, local, wild, and sustainable foods.

“We manage for the long-term and partner with vendors: a handshake is our contract,” said Donegan. “We are deeply buried in the community and practice philanthropy—charity is its own reward.”

Spokane Power Breakfast suggests tactics to attract millennial employees

In a response to Spokane’s growing business leader and manager requests for more information on how to work with millennials, the Carson College Power Breakfast hosted “Talent Management and Spokane: Attracting a Skilled 21st Century Workforce” a panel presentation by Lisa Brown, director of the Washington Department of Commerce; Tyler Lafferty, serial entrepreneur; and Dale Silha, vice president of McKinstry. All shared insights on optimal hiring practices and relationships concerning millennial employees—Spokane’s fastest growing population—according to Spokane Mayor David Condon, who gave opening remarks.

Brown suggested cultivating startups in new spaces, such as media arts and creative economies that can turn into business. She also recommended Spokane invest in affordable housing and transportation, such as high speed trains, that would reduce dependency on cars and increase interconnectivity within the city.

Lafferty said companies can differentiate themselves by offering strong referral bonuses and creating a culture of giving. As one example, at the end of each year, his company divides any remaining operational funds among the employees to donate to an organization of their choice.

“Employers need to connect workers to a sense of greater purpose and passion,” said Silha. “Inspire employees to have a high quality of life in the workplace, not just see it as a job.”

As for desired skills, Lafferty said business school graduates need soft skills such as teamwork and financial literacy while Brown made a case for more career-connected learning opportunities at WSU Spokane, such as health education research, graduate engineering, computer science, and entrepreneurship.

Industry Speakers

Don Clarke with wife, Mary Ann in Martin Stadium

Don Clarke, former president, Lord & Taylor

“Have a hunger to be something more than you are.” Don Clarke (’71 MBA) shared this advice and other lessons with entrepreneurship majors during a recent guest lecture hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurship.

Clarke related that as a child, helping his father work as a bricklayer taught him diligence but also to dream for something bigger. When a school principal asked him to run for a student office, something Clarke had never considered, it was a turning point that taught him how to step out of his comfort zone to achieve more than he thought possible. As a first-generation college student, Clarke earned a bachelor’s from BYU and his MBA from WSU. “When I first graduated from WSU, my main objective was to become a chief financial officer and earn $25,000 a year,” he said. “I far surpassed that.”

During his long career as a senior executive with major retail companies and as a business professor, Clarke developed entrepreneurial strategies to help his companies and clients become more successful. For example, he improved customer shopping bags that saved a company $150,000 and recouped $350,000 by reducing the number of bad checks.

Clarke provided students with a litany of good habits he associates with entrepreneurial success, including confidence, creating energy and a positive environment, responsibility, and the ability to make a difference quickly. At the top of the list were listening and understanding what motivates people. “One time my boss showed me that I didn’t listen,” he said. “I changed after that day. You need to be an honest evaluator of yourself.”

Gary Rubens shares business insights with Carson EDGE students.

Gary Rubens, serial entrepreneur and CEO, Athlete Intelligence

Growing up poor on the Olympic Peninsula, Gary Rubens, one of Seattle’s top angel investors, was a high achieving student with no resources to go to college, despite being accepted at WSU. Instead, he forged a career by working in construction, metal manufacturing, and lighting industries before starting his own company during the dot-com era. Rubens eventually sold his online lighting and home furnishings business, ATG Stores, to Lowe’s—a big-box retailer—for $100 million. That transaction and many others since then have given him the financial freedom to invest in educational opportunities for low income and underprivileged students, something dear to his heart.

Rubens founded the Rubens Family Foundation and has donated more than $30 million so far to Washington state nonprofits, supporting over 7,000 students to attain a college education and careers in STEM and health care related fields.

As part of his philanthropic service, Rubens recently visited the Pullman campus to share career advice with students in entrepreneurship and Carson EDGE programs. Carson EDGE supports first-generation, low income business students to successfully transition into college.

Rubens urged students to develop good practices such as choosing supportive friends, managing stress by focusing on solutions, and listening more than talking.

“Something I’ve done right as a CEO is surround myself with people who know more than I do,” he said. “It’s important to build a diverse team and to remember there’s a reason you’re a leader; people should want to follow you, not be forced.”

Rubens admitted he’s made plenty of mistakes along the way when it came to managing and understanding people, which is one reasons he chose to pursue an online psychology degree from WSU. He is currently a junior and will use his education to continually improve himself.

“Success can be had in many different ways,” he said. “It’s not always the picture you have, so choose your career wisely and do what makes you happy. It’s what you do with your money that’s important.”