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Xavier Magazine | July 28, 2017

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Setting the Course

Setting the Course
Greg Schaber

Stephen Smith found his moral compass as an undergrad at Xavier. And in an era when American business was busy earning one black eye after another, the 1968 graduate used that compass to chart a path to business success. It brought him back to the University in the 1990s, ultimately leading him to accept a spot on Xavier’s board of trustees. And now, as the University sets the course for its future with To See Great Wonders: The Campaign for Xavier, the desire to share that compass with future generations led Smith and his wife, Delores, to make a significant gift for construction of a new home for the Williams College of Business and the graduate program in health services administration.

 

If your goal in business is money, I don’t think that’s the ultimate happiness,” Smith says. “The ultimate happiness is to be in business, be successful and have a moral compass. That’s what I really like about what the University is doing-the idea of forming the whole person who gives back to society. It isn’t just the education: It’s the commitment to the whole person I see there.”

Like many alumni, Smith’s involvement with his alma mater grew by degrees. For the first decade after graduation, he returned each year for homecoming. Then, as often happens, he became more involved in his career and building a successful business-he was an early partner in Brandywine Global Investment Strategies, now part of Legg Mason-and he drifted away from the University. But Smith’s course changed in 1994 when another alumnus invited him to attend a basketball game. Eventually, he met James E. Hoff, S.J., then president of Xavier.

“I was looking at what Fr. Hoff had done, and I felt that maybe once in a generation you have somebody come along with an enormous vision,” he says. “And then came Mike Graham, and one of his goals was to carry that torch. What they were doing was something that deserved my support. I thought what Mike wanted to do happens once in a generation-moving the University from being Cincinnati-centric to more global. I could see the growth.”

Those who can see growth are critical at this early stage of a campaign-particularly one with a vision as sweeping as the To See Great Wonders campaign. In many ways, at this early stage, seeing the growth means sharing the overall vision as set forth in the master plan. Actual design and construction, of course, are dependent on funding. But preliminary plans for the new college of business-and the rest of the James E. Hoff, S.J. Academic Quad-are slowly clarifying themselves. And bit by bit, the initial vision is moving closer to reality.

Early gifts like Smith’s are critical in providing the momentum necessary to speed that movement, says Gary Massa, vice president for University relations. “The first building is always key in an effort like this,” Massa says. “It unlocks the door for everything-more construction and renovation and the necessary elocations of various programs and departments across the campus.”

From his large office windows in Hailstones Hall, Ali Malekzadeh has a clear view of the proposed building site on Ledgewood Avenue. But when he looks out in that direction, Malekzadeh, dean of the Williams College of Business, envisions not so much a building as a seamless melding of academic, hands-on, practical and professional development-a non-stop, all-day epicenter of learning infused with ethics and guided by faculty, alumni and members of the business community.

The facility he sees achieves things great and small, but all of them are important. For example, it William_0261brings faculty together-many now have offices spread over three floors of Schott Hall. And it provides the means for students to take what they’ve just learned in class, walk to another area and immediately put it to work operating a student-run business or investing money for the University. It includes study pods to allow students to work independently or in groups of two or three, as well as larger study rooms to accommodate larger collaboration. And the overall environment bespeaks professionalism. But the overarching vision, Malekzadeh says, is that all of the college’s stakeholders-students, faculty and staff, and members of the business community, including alumni-will feel welcome and comfortable in ways currently impossible.

“We have to have a place where alumni, advisory board members, mentors and all of these business people we know and interact with feel comfortable to stop by on their way to work, pick up The Wall Street Journal in our building and talk to our student organizations or maybe lecture in a class,” he says. “And then on the way home, there’s ample parking so they can park, get some food in the building, go talk to some classes, to student organizations, and interact with the faculty about research and teaching. So the three constituencies can come together very comfortably in a very comfortable environment.”

Seated at a round, gray conference table in his Alumni Center office, associate vice president for facility management Bob Sheeran pores over a bubble chart representing the most recent draft of the spaces and square footage that will one day make up the new college of business. There’s an atrium, instructional space, offices, space for the graduate program in health services administration and room for an auditorium. The auditorium, Sheeran says, was originally planned for the Learning Commons across the quad, but will likely end up in whichever building is constructed first. The circles and squares are arranged in proximity to one another, but they represent needs, not a floor plan.

Getting beyond that point and into the world of engaging an architect and construction requires cash flow. And time is literally money. Sheeran says projected construction costs are likely to increase by 5 percent each year construction is delayed.

Which is where Smith comes in. “I wanted to give it a kick,” he says. “I thought if we could just go do this building, make a commitment and start it early so they could get some cash flow to do it, that would get things moving.”

University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., says that for the campaign to be successful, Xavier’s development efforts must be sophisticated enough to reach out nationally to alumni and friends like Smith. “Steve became engaged with our students and faculty in the Williams College of Business and recognized he could enhance in a grand way the great things that are happening over there,” Graham says.

While the exact layout of the new building has yet to be set in stone, Sheeran says the facility as envisioned will be about 90,000 square feet, carry a price tag of about $28.5 million and feature a lot of glass while retaining a collegiate, gothic feel. General plans include state-of-the-art flexible multimedia and classrooms as well as individual and collaborative study areas. Classrooms are currently being projected at about 32 square feet per student, up from the current 22-square-foot average, which makes the rooms more comfortable and increases their flexibility.

With the new facility will come physical homes for the Xavier entrepreneurial center, the institute for business ethics and social responsibility, and the center for investment research, which will be a repository for high-tech equipment, including computer terminals with Bloomberg financial database and Reuters Station capabilities. The main floor will feature 40 workstations-large enough to accommodate M.B.A. classes. There will also be an office for the center’s director and an overflow room or corporate suite with 15 additional machines. This second room will be home to the students overseeing the student investment fund, which is charged each year with overseeing a $1 million portion of the University’s investments.

James Pawlukiewicz, chair for the department of finance, envisions the center as “a centerpiece for the new building. It will be in a very prominent space; it will be very visible to anyone that enters the building. There will be stock tickers and LCD information boards.”

Pawlukiewicz says the center will provide services to the University, the community and the business community, provide applications for students in a number of business research areas, and aid immensely in raising the college’s profile even more.

“The facility as planned would make us the envy of the schools in the Midwest,” he says. “No other school has a facility as ambitious as this one. This will be one of the places in which the real world will enter the college of business building.”

Paul Fiorelli, director for the center for business ethics and social responsibility, says the centers will likely be located in close proximity to one another, which could promote synergy between the three. To some extent, that’s already happening-two years ago, the center for business ethics teamed with the center for entrepreneurship to produce an ethics institute targeted to small businesses.

In the case of entrepreneurship, the creation of a physical center will promote interaction with other disciplines across campus. Thomas Clark, director for the entrepreneurial center, says the new space will not only provide an office for students involved in the six student-run businesses on campus, but will also serve as a central point of access for any student in another field who wants to launch his or her own business.

Malekzadeh says the three centers will be showcased because each of them plays a key role in bringing together the college’s students and faculty with the business community through mentoring, advisory and consultative relationships. Beyond their educational importance, Malekzadeh says, they also will be important tools in recruiting students.

“When we bring in a prospective student, right now, I really don’t have anything to show them,” he says. “‘Here’s a classroom. It’s a square classroom. There are some tables in there.’ But when they enter the new facility, we showcase the centers: ‘We want you to start and run businesses. We want you to practice everything in an ethical way. And we want you to know the latest in technology. So when we present you to the market, we present you as a graduate of this University, and you have great practical experience.'”

Although the building’s actual design phase is some time in the future, Malekzadeh’s message is clear: The quality of the construction is very important, but the goal is to provide a facility that allows students to be educated in “the right way,” so that they embody the best of Xavier’s ideals.

It is this overall vision-and the substance behind it-that holds Smith’s attention. “When you’re in business, having some sense of morality to the whole thing is important,” he says. “That’s a theme the college doesn’t just pay lip service to. I had meetings with the kids, and you do see that they’re trying to form the whole person.

“It’s very holistic, and to me it’s a great commitment to make. If you want to take this project to phase two, some people really have to step up to do it. It’s my first major commitment to anything like this, and I thought it was well worth it because the Jesuits gave me one hell of an education.

“It’s wonderful to look back and say my business career was a success. But what’s more important is a value system, and I know the University is seeding that in the next generation of students. I want to make sure it continues.”

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