Alumni Profile: Digital Self-starter

Michael Loban
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Entrepreneurial Studies, 2008
Chief marketing officer and co-founder, InfoTrust
Cincinnati

Info What? | InfoTrust is a fast-growing technology company that was featured recently in the Cincinnati Business Courier for its early growth and global expansion. The start-up’s major customers include E.W. Scripps, Total Quality Logistics, the University of Cincinnati and LegalZoom. It reported earnings of $2 million last year.

Google That | “We’re in the business of analytics consulting…and are certified as a Google Analytics Partner. We try to answer a simple question: How do we turn data into something that helps organizations market themselves better and generate more sales?”

Origin Ukraine | “My family won a green card, which gave us the legal right to move to the U.S. when I was in high school. I’m grateful to my parents. When you’re 15 or 16 years old, you can adapt to anything, but it was harder on them. I’m confident I wouldn’t have the same level of opportunity if I had stayed in Ukraine.”

Major Studies | “When I declared entrepreneurship as my second major, I had no idea what it was. What I thought of as entrepreneurship is very different than how I think now. But my favorite classes were theology and philosophy. It helped me see the world differently.”

Data Discovery | “After graduation I worked in a number of different jobs and noticed how companies paid attention to social media. The Chamber of Commerce offered classes on Twitter and data analytics. It’s where the marketplace was going.”

Worry Wart | “The challenges have been in areas I didn’t anticipate, but I tend to worry. I consider myself a highly successful worrier, but worrying doesn’t stop me. It keeps me on my toes and helps me anticipate.”

A Xavier Foundation | “The best thing about Xavier is the ability to go out and explore. I was interested in things beyond business, so I applied for a fellowship to go to Israel, and I managed to go to the Vatican while I was at Xavier. You don’t anticipate those opportunities would be available in college. That’s why I love Xavier so much.”

Next Stop: Dubai | InfoTrust recently opened an office in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. “It seemed like a market that was ready for the services we offer. That turned us into an international company. We also have clients in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Asia.”

And Beyond | “We have very ambitious goals. We’ve been growing almost 100 percent year over year. We want to stay on track of being a company that builds products, and we want to grow our consulting.”

Estate Sales Meet the Internet: Everything but the House

A typical estate-sale experience is: up at 6:00 a.m., arrive on time to find the early birds have already scooped up the best items, leaving only picked-over boxes of tired tablewear and random bric-a-brac. Andy Nielsen, MBA 2013, is changing all that—for both sellers and buyers.

As president and CEO of Everything But The House (EBTH), Neilsen has shifted the paradigm of the classic estate sale and launched it into cyberspace. “We’re taking what’s historically a small, local sale and presenting it to a world-wide audience,” he says.

His pitch is pretty compelling to investors, too. He’s already raised $13 million in venture capital funding for the business.

Judging from their unassuming corporate headquarters, that cash is not being budgeted for tony executive washrooms. Modest beige-toned offices lead to a contemporary space filled with intent young professionals working at sleek office furniture topped with matte-black computers. The next set of doors reveals a classically old-school warehouse filled with neatly organized objects, artifacts and furniture.

A cursory review of current inventory: a circa 1800s lemon-peel leather baseball, a Victorian walnut parlor set and a framed, autographed photo of TV stars Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford from “The Jeffersons.” These, and
hundreds more items, are being perused these days by potentially 100,000 registered customers.

According to Nielsen, what separates EBTH from other estate sale service providers is attention to detail and impeccable customer service.

“We provide a wall-to wall service. We coordinate trash removal, donations and the sale of anything from $5 to $100,000. We’ve also
leveled the playing field for buyers. Gone are the days of showing up at 6:00 a.m. You can bid from a computer, tablet or mobile device. We can pack and ship anything from a coin to a car.”

As far as future plans? EBTH has 13 million reasons for optimism. “We’re in six cities and just launched Atlanta and southwest Florida. We’re sprinting toward another six cities right now. Everywhere from Boston to Los Angeles.”

Stay tuned to ebth.com online for further developments—and a highly-addictive shopping experience.

MICHAEL SHAW

A Career of Amusement: Life on the Merry-go-round

Back in the day, most kids wanted to be president when they grew up. Or run away to join the circus. Vic Nolting managed to do both. Sort of.

The 1970 business grad grew up to become president of Coney Island amusement park, making him commander-in-chief of one of the region’s most popular playgrounds as well as one of the softest spots in Cincinnati’s collective heart.

And don’t even think of it as a job, he says. “It’s kind of a calling. Most everybody that works here are not just workers, but keepers of the flame.”

For most Cincinnatians, the flame that has attracted them to Coney for so many generations hasn’t been work but play as they sought the cooling refuge from the summer sun beating down on them in the park’s famous Sunlight Pool. It’s the center of the park’s attractions and the bulk of Nolting’s business.

But Nolting’s typical day doesn’t begin with turning on the pool spigot or making sure chlorine levels are up to spec. “When I arrive, I take a quick tour of the park and see what’s going on, see if all is right with the world. Then it’s back to the office. I kind of bounce back and forth all day long.”

Nolting’s earned his privilege of “managing by wandering around” after bringing Coney back from the brink of extinction. Because of its location along the Ohio River, the park regularly flooded, so its owners, Taft Broadcasting, decided in the early 1970s to all but give up on the park and develop Kings Island in Mason, Ohio. Rides were relocated and shows were shifted. The pool continued to operate, but Coney Island was all but forgotten.

In the mid-1980s, the park was sold and the new owners brought in Nolting to bring it back to life. “I got here in 1983 and we started renovating in 1984. By 1988 we had renovated the entire grounds. And we started to add rides back. Today we have 23 rides.”

The growth has, Nolting admits, made work like a circus sometimes. “In 2000, we had a millennium party and brought in Nick Wallenda who walked a tight rope over the pool before he ever attempted Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. We also had a trapeze act and Benny ‘Boom Boom’ Koske, the human bomb, who blew himself up three times a day.”

Still, even though his job has an amusement value, Nolting borrows a phrase from Joe Nuxhall when considering what’s next: “I’m rounding third and heading for home.” Even to the point of grooming his own replacement to ensure a smooth passing of the flame—although, he admits, it won’t be one-time headliner Santini Demon who set himself on fire, swallowed swords and made the insanity of amusement parks just another day at the office for Nolting.

Touched by an Angel Island

In the late 1970s, all the buildings that remained on Angel Island were going to be demolished because they were in such disrepair.

Then a park ranger wandered inside one of teetering wooden structures and made an amazing discovery—poetry on the barracks walls. Not written, but carved into the wooden walls using classical Cantonese techniques.

Local scholars and preservationists found out about the discovery and organized a committee to preserve the buildings—and the island with its dark history.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/McKechnie-682×1024.jpg”]McKechnie[/lightbox]Angel Island is the largest island in the San Francisco Bay and the lesser-known West Coast counterpart to Ellis Island in New York. But while Ellis was welcoming to immigrants from Europe, Angel Island became an unwelcoming place of interrogations, detention and denial for those from Asia.

In 1882, the U.S. passed The Chinese Exclusion Act that was designed to keep immigrants from China out of the United States—unless, of course, they had money.

“If you were Chinese and came in by boat travelling first class, they let you right in,” says Michael McKechnie, executive director of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation and 1980 MBA graduate. “Second class, you were taken over to Angel Island and interrogated.”

While the actions of Angel Island aren’t a highlight of U.S. history, the site is an important marker of the country’s growth and worth saving. Today, Angel Island—located within view of both Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge—is a state park like few others. And it’s McKechnie’s goal to save it.

“We’ve raised $40 million to renovate the immigration site,” he says. “And we’re finishing the second large building transforming it into a museum and The Center for Pacific Coast Immigration.”

Learn about Angel Island and McKechnie’s effort to save it.

It’ a challenge, he admits, but he credits the same spirit of perseverance that first brought the Chinese to America with saving the site that was created to keep them out decades earlier. “The Chinese were fearless about working hard. The members of our board are five and six generation Chinese Americans and now top attorneys in major firms.”

McKechnie can’t share their past, but thanks to the art carved from misery that has had a much bigger impact on McKechnie’s own sense of mission, he can help preserve it.

Alumni Profile: Jonathan Herman

Jonathan Herman
BSBA in Marketing, 1993
Executive Director, Allan Houston Foundation
New York, N.Y.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/herman.jpg”]herman[/lightbox]What’s in a Name? | “I’ve been fortunate to develop a variety of philanthropic programs for pro athletes and entertainers including [New York Knicks assistant GM and former NBA All-Star] Allan Houston, [NBA Hall-of-Famer] David Robinson, [actress] Eva Longoria, [NFL cornerback] Eric Wright, [NBA All-Star] Chris Paul, [music industry pioneer] Russell Simmons and others.”

Major Decisions | “I was recruited to Xavier on a soccer scholarship, but ended up not playing. I was attracted to the business school and became a marketing major.”

Playing the Player | “I learned sports marketing with the athletic department, which was producing the ‘T Time’ ads promoting Tyrone Hill. The department became concerned about potential NCAA violations using real players, so I played the role of an XU player in a television commercial. They sprayed me down to look like I had been sweating and used so much water that for years afterward people would ask me if that was real sweat.”

A Real Class Act | “While at Xavier, I founded a club called UNITE, which brought together students of various ethnicities to break down racial and social barriers. I also led the student effort to establish E Pluribus Unum [a mandatory cultural diversity class], so I guess I’m partially responsible for anyone who had to take that class.”

The Law and the Bubble | “After graduation, I was offered a scholarship to go to law school at Northeastern University. I never planned on being a lawyer, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity. By my last year, I knew I wasn’t going into practice, so I started a dot-com that provided music and entertainment online. After the dot-com crash, we morphed into a marketing firm. One of our first clients was Houston, who eventually asked me to oversee his non-profit and for-profit activities.

Charitable Credentials | “I managed his foundation for about 10 years and was then asked to work with an organization called Living Cities, which is a collaboration of some of the largest philanthropic organizations in the country, including Bill and Melinda Gates and the Ford Foundations, to provide guidance for celebrities and entertainers who want to do philanthropy the right way.”

App the Expert | I’m also involved with iChannel Media, a mobile technology company working with celebrity experts, major brands like Johnson & Johnson and non-profit organizations to create mobile networks and channels distributed through apps. It’s always exciting to be part of a start-up on the cutting edge.”

Thinking Differently

When the world zigs, Gary Sharpe zags. If someone says no, he says yes. Sell? Nope. Buy.

“I’ve been a contrarian my entire life,” he says. “I’m not sure how my parents put up with me.”

While such an opposing perspective may have taken its toll on the patience and blood pressure of his parents, looking at life through such a contrarian lens has definitely provided the 1973 MBA grad with a very clear vision of how to best negotiate the congested and cutthroat ways of the business world—and make a lot of money along the way.

“The world does not run in straight lines,” he says, “so you’ve got to think differently. The way I see it, if the herd is going in one direction, there’s money to be made going in the other direction. Or as companies get bigger, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that is going to fall off their truck that you can make money on.”

This combination of professional revelation and personal self-awareness became apparent to Sharpe early in his career, shortly after he graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in economic geography with a specialty in thematic cartography.

Wait. A degree in what? 

Sharpe laughs. “There was one job in the world I was qualified for, and it was taken.”

Still, armed with a degree and eager to get out in the real world and make his mark, he grabbed the first job that came his way—developing government contracts for Philips Electronics in its human pharmaceutical branch in Columbus, Ohio. The position reported directly to the CEO and was open for good reason. “It was the job no one wanted.”

Sharpe took it and ran. After a few years, he approached his boss with an idea of how to grow the role: He repeatedly heard talk from his customers about products they needed to help them do their jobs but couldn’t find anyone who had them or could produce them.

“Not interested,” his boss told him. “Just sell what we’ve got.”

That wasn’t the answer Sharpe wanted to hear. Go with the flow? No way. And he couldn’t just let the opportunity to meet so many needs go unfulfilled.

So he did what every good contrarian would do: He quit and went out on his own, creating Health Care Logistics, a one-man-enterprise headquartered in the spare bedroom of his house. “The garage was my warehouse,” he says. It didn’t take long, though, before the business was booming and the bedroom was too small.

“I went on a sales call in Dayton, Ohio,” he says. “The director of purchasing was known to be really mean, and before my butt could hit the chair, he said, ‘OK, what are you selling?’ Sometimes I talk before I think, so I said, ‘What are you looking for that you can’t find?’ He told me. I said, ‘Give me a week. I’ll either find one or make one.’ It evolved from there.”

Today, the company’s a multimillion-dollar enterprise with four warehouses in the United States and one in England, all filled with unique or hard-to-find health care products. Often new innovations make older products outdated, but not every hospital has the newest innovation and still needs to support the older technology. The massive product list includes a handful of products that Sharpe holds the patents on.

“The patents are mostly defensive,” he says. “There have been a number of times I helped others create a product and then they would come back and undersell me. I got tired of that. But we’re always creating new products. We’ll get a customer’s request and create something. Or we’ll make a product on our own and throw it against the wall. If it sticks, it stays in the product line.”

Sharpe’s love of innovation and entrepreneurship has prompted him to support the Critical Making Program, a new effort within the Williams College of Business that blends innovation with Ignatian values. 

He also endowed an academic scholarship at Xavier—not for the best and brightest, but for those who may not have the best GPA or SAT score coming out of high school but deserve a chance. A student, he says, like himself.

“I graduated from high school with honors and an award in science,” he says, “but I was crappy at taking standardized tests. When I went to OSU’s orientation, I was told that I should drop out now because based on my test scores I would flunk out my first quarter or the spring quarter at the latest. I thought, ‘They have to take me, so I’m staying.’”

He stayed, of course. What else would a contrarian do? And he’s been proving to them and everyone since that success sometimes comes from the other direction. 

 

Alumni Profile: Jeff Schneider

Jeff Schneider

• Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, 1968; Master of Business Administration, 1979
• President, Jeff Schneider and Associates
• Addison, Texas


Meet the Millers |
“No one was musical in my family. The reason I wanted to play was because of a grade school friend—Glen Miller. (Not the Glen Miller.) His whole family played and he invited me over. His dad said, ‘Jeff, you need to tell your mom and dad you want to play music.’ Now I’m a jack of all instruments and master of none. I play piano, guitar, banjo, and alto and tenor sax.”

Marching to Xavier | “I got to Xavier and I was in the marching and concert bands. I didn’t want to be a music major, but I wanted to be in the music program. I was able to study accounting and do the music as well.”Schneider

King Accountant | “I graduated and went to work for Arthur Young. One of our clients was King Records. I had no association with them while I was at Xavier. I couldn’t even find it when we were supposed to meet there.”

Studio Sounds | “We arrived at what looked like an old garage. It looked like money had been spent on the recording studio itself, but most of the building was in its original condition. The rooms we were in were really small and we were working on card tables. When we heard the music, we asked, ‘Hey, can we go listen?’ ” 

Godfather Encounter | “We were behind the glass so they couldn’t hear us. The lead singer was maybe 15 feet away. He was wearing jeans and a loosely fitting dress shirt. He had a pompadour haircut and was sweating because he was dancing as he sang. When they finished he asked, ‘Who are the three guys in the suits?’ The engineer told him, ‘These are the auditors.’ And I thought, ‘Hoo-boy, here we go.’ Usually when someone finds out we’re auditors, the conversation goes downhill.’ Instead the guy asked me, ‘Do you play an instrument son?’ I said, ‘I play the guitar, sir.’ He said, ‘Then come on out here. You can play with us.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ Fright went right through me. But I walked right out there. There were two or three guys with guitars, and one guy just handed me his. He said, ‘Here, have fun.’ “

It Felt Good | “The song was ‘I feel Good.’ They cranked up and away we went. I’m playing along. I could read music so I could tell what they were doing, and I played in a dance band for about a year, so I could keep up. When we were done he came over, gave me a high five and said, ‘Son, you’re pretty good.’”

Naïve Fun | “I came back and asked the engineer, ‘Who is that guy?’ He said, ‘That’s James Brown.’ I was so naïve, I didn’t recognize him. I’m sure the recording ended up on the studio floor, but it was great fun.”

A Different Business Approach

Larry Blanford was walking through the hallways of a Catholic high school in Guatemala, checking out how his company’s strategic business plan was working.

The 1984 MBA graduate was president and CEO of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and carefully etched into the company’s mission and corporate strategy was a goal to, yes, make a lot of money, but also to make sure that its financial success was felt by more than just shareholders.

The people in the small Guatemalan town weren’t just coffee bean pickers. They were human beings who played an integral part in the company’s success. As such, the company felt they should enjoy its rewards as well. So they paid them fair trade wages and provided support for the local school so its workers’ children could get a better education.

As Blanford walked, he was approached by one of the students, a senior, who asked to speak to him. Because of the support his company gave the school, she said, she was accepted into nursing school. She would have to leave the community, but as soon as she received her nursing license she was going to return to the village and give health care to the people.

Today, several years after the fact, Blanford nearly tears up as he retells the story. It was, he says, a transformative moment—a confirmation that his philosophy and approach to corporate leadership were correct. Leadership, he says, is about using business to make the world a better place. Make a lot of money and then share the rewards. “Do good by doing well,” he says.

During his six years at the helm of Green Mountain, he not only put such beliefs into practice by implementing everything from fair trade practices to packaging its products in biodegradable bags, but he also changed how analysts understand this idea of helping others. Rather than continue with the common terminology of “corporate social responsibility,” he changed it to “sustainable business practices.” The first, he says, is more secondary in nature, something done as an aside to the business, while the latter implies that the idea of helping others is not only built into the business mission but is required for long-term survival. Although he admits his approach to business is “somewhat different from how business is frequently done today,” he in no way admits that his approach is wrong. Quite the contrary, in fact. And he’s not alone in that belief. Corporate Responsibility Magazine recognized him as the Responsible CEO of the Year—twice. 

That’s not to say he overlooked the foundational aspects of business. Hardly. He grew Green Mountain at a compounded annual rate of 75 percent, with sales quadrupling to $1.4 billion in just three years and the stock price growing 1,500 percent during that time. 

But maintaining a moral compass in a world where money is god can be daunting. “A failure of values can lead to egocentric, unethical leaders,” he says. “That invites stifling regulations and increased costs. I would say that a majority of CEOs are trying to do the right thing. But every one of them has the power to do what’s right. That’s why teaching values to business students needs to be the foundation of their education. It’s critical for business and for the country.”

For Blanford, such a belief came from the collection of experiences he gained—in part—during his climb up the corporate ladder. He actually began as a chemical engineer for Procter and Gamble but became intrigued with business. That led him into a variety of management positions including, eventually, the head of several businesses. He was president of Maytag Appliances, Philips Consumer Electronics and Royal Group Technologies before being tapped for the Green Mountain position.

“I was learning and growing all along the way,” he says. “By the time I got to Green Mountain, I was in a unique position to bring to bear all of the experiences I gained from all of the companies where I was CEO.”

But his business beliefs were equally formed during his days in Catholic school in suburban Dayton, Ohio, and in church.

“Somehow people think you must check your faith at the door when enter the workspace,” he says. “But you have the opportunity to live out faith with every person you interact with. And the Church has much to offer business with its call to advance the condition of the human spirit. We are all called to a greatness greater than ourselves. It’s like Pope Francis reminding us of our responsibility for those less fortunate. Or like the comment [Catholic motivational speaker] Matthew Kelly makes—and I truly believe this—that when you use your talents to help others to be the best they can be, that is a moment of holiness.”

The Circle of Life: Women and Business in Africa

Josephine Lando began making dresses in high school. It was a hobby at first, but soon her friends began asking her to make them dresses, too. By the time she finished boarding school and returned to her home in Rongai, Kenya, she was making more than dresses on demand. She was making money. It wasn’t a lot, but it whet her appetite for business.

Lando already knew something about business. Her mother had a small business making chapati, the traditional bread in Kenya. She used to get up early to help her mother prepare the bread so she could sell it to office workers who took it with their tea. Later, Lando realized her mother was paying more for the flour and other supplies for her bread but was reluctant to raise her own prices.

She saw how hard it was to make money with a small business. She wanted to learn not just how to do it right, but also how to help other women learn how to succeed with their small businesses. But to do that would require education. And that wouldn’t be easy.

Enter the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, a scholarship program that sends bright, disadvantaged Kenyan women to college. Lando applied to several colleges and picked Xavier. As an international undergraduate business student majoring in accounting, everything was going well. She was on target to graduate in December 2014, and she was chosen to be a Brueggeman Fellow, a prestigious honor that would allow her to study the empowerment of women business owners.

But that’s when things started to turn. Already supplementing her Xavier scholarship with loans and a work-study job, she found herself struggling even more when aid from a family friend dried up. Suddenly, her enrollment and Brueggeman Fellowship were in jeopardy.

That’s when things started to turn again. As a resident assistant in the Commons Apartments, she often saw University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., when he passed her office on his way to his apartment. One day last spring he stopped in and asked what she was working on. She told him of her Brueggeman project and her financial troubles. Graham suggested she contact Susan Mboya, a Kenyan businesswoman at Procter and Gamble who founded the scholarship program that sent Lando to Xavier.

Now with Coca-Cola, Mboya heads up a program that works to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs in developing countries by 2020 with training, finances and networking. Called 5by20, the program dovetails neatly with Lando’s goal of helping women with their businesses.

Graham emailed her, and Mboya became so interested in Lando’s project that, in April she awarded her an internship with the 5by20 program in Nairobi, about 20 miles north of Rongai, her home town. At the same time, Lando learned she won the annual Antonio Johnson Scholarship Award at Xavier, which provides full tuition for her senior year.

Lando went back home to Kenya for her 10-week summer internship where she gathered data about women entrepreneurs, studied their businesses and taught them the basics of accounting, bookkeeping and business planning. For her project, she created a handbook of business practices to help women manage their small businesses.

At first, she complained about the long ride between Nairobi and Rongai—the traffic congestion, the hours on the bus, the crowded roads. Soon she reveled in the trip because the road is lined with women selling everything—water, fruit, chapatti, even dresses.

“Seeing this motivates me to create something that will be beneficial to them,” she says. “When I see a woman sitting by the road or in the market selling fruits, I see her taking her children to school with the money she gets. I see smart children growing up healthy, with a good education and learning the value of investing back into their communities. I see the cycle continuing.”