Xavier Magazine

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=”×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.

Xavier Magazine

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. 


Xavier Magazine

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.”

Xavier Magazine

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.”