Not all businesses are created equal. Good companies discover efficient ways to meet customers’ needs and, in doing so, improve the world around them. And students at Western Michigan University (WMU) have the opportunity to explore how to do just that, through an innovative program announced this week.
The Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy, a unit of WMU’s Haworth College of Business, will foster integrative learning through immersive experiences that give students real-life business experience inside and outside the classroom. Through those experiences, as well as a new curriculum developed specifically for the effort, students will learn how to lead and think strategically about business efforts founded on the principle that purpose can create value for all involved.
“We’re working to show people how they can really grow profitably, but with a purpose that improves people’s lives,” said Dr. Derrick McIver, one of the co-founders of the program. “So they’re driving not only their profits, but creating value for all their different stakeholders, from their customers to their employees, their suppliers, their communities, and society.”
Among the experiences the center will offer are interdisciplinary outreach through a new leadership and business strategy major and minor; innovative action-learning efforts that give students relevant career experiences; and a graduate-level course on small business acquisition that gives students capital to purchase and run Western Michigan companies. The effort also includes a retreat for students and alumni where they can share experiences focused on principles, performance, profit, and purpose.
Dr. Doug Lepisto, who will co-direct the center with McIver, said the societal moment is right for this kind of movement and education.
“I think there’s kind of a crisis of purpose, and people are looking for purpose in more areas of their life,” said Lepisto. “It’s not surprising that, given they spend so much time at work, individuals would be looking for it there. But it’s not entirely obvious how you do that and profit at the same time.”
Lepisto, who called the center a “big win” for students and the community, cited a recent student effort to launch a wine brand as an example of the big win. “After expenses, 100 percent of the profits went back to the students,” he said. “They benefited by going through that project and bringing a product to life. Current students benefit by operating the brand. Future students will benefit through 100 percent of the profits coming back for scholarships. Alumni feel pride for our great university. And our retail partners also benefit because they’re sharing in the profits. So it really lifts up a lot of people simultaneously. And that’s the principle we want to teach our students to do in business.”
WMU’s new endeavor has drawn $6.5 million from entrepreneurs and philanthropists, including the Haworth family, the Menard family, Greenleaf Trust Chairman and WMU Trustee William D. Johnston, and the Charles Koch Foundation, which provided the seed investment to establish the center and help fund its related academic activities.
“This effort will allow us to orchestrate these really deep and moving experiences that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” Lepisto said. “Our hope is to connect value with purpose, and unlock a new way of doing things in business, and for these students, a new way of looking at the world.”