Joe Rippe’s college career began like that of many students—academically awful, but, boy, was it fun. He was in Missouri, three states removed from the watchful eye of his parents and far from his previous responsibilities, he was free to do as he pleased. And he did.
He joined a fraternity and played saxophone in a band. Studying was something he did when he had time.
This, of course, didn’t sit well with his father, who was a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of guy. He left school at age 14 when his father died so he could drive a cinder truck and support his family. Even though he wasn’t old enough to get a license, the local police knew that if they busted him the family would starve, so they left him alone. After serving in WWII, he spent his nights in school, learned the hard way the worlds of real estate and banking and eventually went to work for one of his childhood friends—Carl Lindner—as president of Provident Bank.
Life’s tough, he tried to teach his kids. You need to work hard. You need to be disciplined.
“We ate dinner together every night,” Joe says, “and if you were playing ball beforehand, you didn’t dare show up dirty. And there was the standing rule every Sunday: You don’t make Dad late for Mass. If you made him late, you were his for the day. You only did that once.”
So Joe’s preference for good times instead of good grades didn’t sit well. The elder Rippe, though, knew how to handle it. While Joe was home on break during the fall semester, the family hosted a fundraising event for the Musketeer Club. He made sure his son was introduced to Xavier’s president at the time, Paul O’Connor, S.J.
“What do you know about Xavier?” O’Connor asked.
“Not much,” Joe said. “I’ve been to a few Xavier-UC football games before.”
“Why don’t you come down and see me. I’ll tell you a little about Xavier.”
“OK. Maybe when I get back.”
“How about tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow. Come see me tomorrow.”
The two spent the day together. Before Rippe left, O’Connor had his secretary tell the other college that Joe wouldn’t be back. Rippe laughs.
“That guy could sell you sand in the desert,” he says. Sales job or not, it worked. Rippe started at Xavier and started over. He became a serious student, earning his bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA as well, landing fast a job with the Big Eight accounting firm Arthur Young. Life was good except for one thing: He noticed the little guys—the entrepreneurs—were not getting the attention they deserved. So he and two other accountants left the firm and created Rippe and Kingston in October 1976. Except no one told them it helps if they have clients. They crunched some numbers and made some cold calls until January 1977 when they got a call from a businessman in Detroit. He wanted them to help him acquire a business.
“You help me find an acquisition,” he said, “and you’ll have an ongoing client. Besides, you don’t have anything else to do anyway.”
He was right. He used them to buy five companies over the next eight years. They added mergers and acquisitions to their skillset and grew the company into one of the 20 largest non-publicly held accounting firms in the country, with additional investment in time management solutions, capital advising, real estate and a slew of other individual investments.
The collection of work helped him receive the Deal Maker Award for entrepreneurship from the Association for Corporate Growth in April, and gave him the wisdom that a long list of organizations have asked him to serve on their boards, including Xavier. It also helps that he’s not lost the Jesuit ideals of making the world better that were ingrained in him as a student.
“We try to take into consideration in each deal if are we making the world better or more difficult. We don’t go in and wipe out layers of management and destroy people’s lives. And we always look at ethics of the situation. If a potential client is a problem, maybe that’s not the client we need to represent.
“You know, you can lead a life of success and/or a life of significance,” he adds. “You can do the former without doing the latter, but there’s a lot we can be doing to help others, to make this a better place to live.”
In July, Brian D. Till becomes dean of the Williams College of Business. Xavier magazine sat down with him to learn more about his vision.
Xavier: You’re coming to Cincinnati after nearly two decades at the John Cook School of Business at Saint Louis University, a Jesuit institution. What will you bring along with you in terms of that SLU experience?
Till: A very strong commitment to the value of a Jesuit university education and its corresponding ethics and values. One of the things we have at SLU is a “Service Leadership Certificate” for undergraduate business students. Students take workshops on campus, attend speakers and participate in service projects in the community. I think that’s just a perfect program for a Jesuit university. It’s important that business students have out-of-class opportunities to engage and live Jesuit values through service work.
Xavier: Is there anything that the Williams College needs, or needs to change, in your view?
Till: I’m not coming on campus with pre-determined set of programs. As I learn more about what is unique at Xavier and the Williams College of Business, naturally I will have some ideas. But most importantly, I intend to work with the various WCB constituencies—faculty, staff, students, business community—to craft a strategic direction for the College. That said, I have a few focus areas. I want to assure we maintain a strong undergraduate program connected to their liberal arts education. I want to enhance students’ global perspective and ensure that students integrate learning across disciplines.
Xavier: Your background includes corporate stints in a variety of foreign countries. How does that affect your viewpoint?
Till: As I mentioned, it is important to look at ways to improve students’ exposure to international opportunities. I have developed strong personal ties with two countries in my life: Norway and Colombia—Norway through friends and Colombia through teaching experiences. I am particularly interested in connecting with Latin America. Colombia is becoming an important business hub for that part of the hemisphere. I think it’s an area of the world that has a lot of potential, but it isn’t as bright on people’s radar screen as is China, India or Europe.
Xavier: Without revealing any master plan, you must have some process in mind for the future?
Till: I want to immediately develop a strategic plan, which will provide a blueprint for what we do as a College. This strategic planning process ought to be very inclusive. It will include staff, faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and our board of advisers.
Xavier: You come to campus as a proven branding, creative advertising and marketing authority, having written a book and a number of articles on these topics. How will this influence your decisions?
Till: As part of the strategic planning process, we will define the Williams College of Business as a brand. I don’t know yet what that answer will be. But we will be exploring the question of what we want the Williams College of Business to stand for—what makes it unique and what are the defining characteristics of a Williams College of Business educational experience?
Xavier: You’re a native of St. Louis. How will this color your experience living here?
Till: I think there are a lot of similarities between St. Louis and Cincinnati. I look forward to learning more about the city and experiencing what makes Cincinnati unique and special.
[divider]At a Glance [/divider]
Name: Brian D. Till
Title: Dean, Williams College of Business
Education: PhD in Business Administration, University of South Carolina; MBA and BS in advertising, University of Texas at Austin
Author: The Truth About Creating Brands People Love (2009)
Background: Professor of marketing and department chair, Saint Louis University, 1995-2012; Special assistant to the dean and visiting professor, Loyola University Chicago, 2010-2011; Assistant professor, Drexel University, 1992-1995; Product brand manager, grocery division, Purina Co., 1985-1988.
First, the Williams College of Business selected the housing assistance agency, People Working Cooperatively, as one of eight winners in its first Xavier Launch-A-Business competition in 2010.
Then in October, the agency selected Xavier to receive its annual Chairman’s Award, which is given only to those whose work helps to support its mission.
“The award is significant,” says Joe Carter, visiting professor in the Williams College of Business and director of the X-LAB competition.
“Most all of the businesses we selected are for-profit businesses. We want to attract more nonprofits, so it’s good for us to be recognized for the work we’ve done to help them.”
The X-LAB competition rewards entrepreneurial business ideas by providing support, guidance and networking to help them get launched. Xavier liked the agency’s proposal to create a fee-for-service program that offered its home repair services to the general public to generate revenue for its nonprofit work modifying the homes of low-income people. The new service, called Whole Home, launches this spring.
Jock Pitts, president of PWC, says the service fills a niche for home modification to fit the elderly or disabled homeowner’s needs. The agency developed and implemented its plan with support from Xavier faculty members, alumni, graduate and undergraduate students.
But the agency also noted that it collaborates with Xavier’s Department of Occupational Therapy and the Community Building Institute.
“A lot of things are coming to pass because of the X-LAB venture,” Pitts says. “I see a wonderful future working with Xavier.”
The Williams College of Business is expanding yet again, opening an off-site location in Northern Kentucky. The addition—a 5,700-square-foot space in the Columbia Executive Center in Fort Mitchell, Ky., about 20 minutes south of downtown—is designed to make attending Xavier more accommodating and accessible to those living in the suburbs who would have a challenge getting to the main campus for classes. All of the coursework is the same at off-site locations. Williams also has off-site locations in the northern suburb of West Chester and the northeastern suburb of Deerfield Township, which are also both about 20 miles from Xavier.
The Williams College of Business found a new way to interact with the business community to create a link between the corporate and academic worlds. The University partnered with Platform Lab, a non-profit IT test and training facility funded by the Ohio Department of Development.
Through Platform, mid-market firms lacking large research and development budgets can conduct IT test projects without investing in expensive short-term assets to increase their competitive edge. The idea is to provide flexibility and scalability for the local business community in a way that saves them about 90 percent of what it would cost to do it anywhere else.
So where does Xavier come in? “We provide faculty expertise that companies might desire,” says Mark Frolick, Xavier’s Western and Southern professor for information systems. For example, faculty members are directing IT research projects that participating companies fund collectively so they can all benefit.
“From a University standpoint, we can train faculty on the latest testing methods that we can take back and tell our students what’s going on in the business community,” he says. “And we can also put together groups of students and take them to the facility to demonstrate how disaster recovery and testing are done.”
Schools such as Case Western Reserve University and the University of Toledo partnered with Platform to the north, while Xavier is taking charge of Southwest Ohio. “Right now we’re getting it off the ground,” Frolick says. “It opens more opportunities for the University and ties us closer to the business community.”