By Elise LeQuire
In the summer of 2009 Richard Reizenstein retired from the College of Business Administration, stepping down from his 35-year role as founder and director of the Executives-in-Residence (EIR) program. Reizenstein leaves behind a robust program that has evolved from a couple of executives speaking to students by phone, to on-campus visits by top-flight executives throughout each fall semester.
Reizenstein is turning the reins of the EIR program over to J. Paul Dittmann, director of the college’s Supply Chain Forum. Plans to broaden the scope of the program include extending executive visits to students in the Global Leadership Scholars Program, an undergraduate honors program that adds a concentration in international business to the student’s major. “Virtually all our speakers have global operations in their companies,” Dittmann says.
Executives scheduled to visit campus in the fall of 2009 include Steve Harmon, vice-president of Kimberley-Clark Corporation; Laurie Tucker, senior vice president of FedEx; James Haslam, founder of Pilot Corporation; Alan Wilson, CEO of McCormick Foods; Joe O’Donnell, CEO of INMAR Corporation; and Ruben Sloan, executive vice president of OfficeMax. “We invite them to share with students their philosophy, their company’s philosophy, and their philosophy of leadership,” Dittmann says.
And thanks to the global information network, a couple of students studying in Europe in the fall can participate in the curriculum. “We will deal with them on a remote basis so that they can get credit while studying abroad,” says Dittmann.
A Cut Above
“EIR is a program that differentiates UT from many other universities,” says Tonya Hinch, a 1985 UT graduate. A former executive with Procter & Gamble, Clairol, Neutrogena, and the Edison Schools, Hinch was a visiting executive in 2008. “Dick Reizenstein and the EIR program were the primary reason I was able to achieve my life goals. If he asked me to sweep floors for him, I would,” says Hinch, who considers Reizenstein one of her important life mentors.
“A motivated student can get an education on par with any Ivy League school,” she says. At prestigious schools such as the Wharton School and the Harvard Business School, Bill Gates might talk to an auditorium of hundreds, but he does not sit down at the dinner table or meet face-to-face with students.
In 2003, Hinch, a former Fortune 500 executive, retired from the corporate world and launched her own business, Life Planning Unlimited. In the workshops she offers, Retiring Backwards, she teaches her own philosophy of success.
Hinch entered the workforce at a time when your life in the business world was your work and executives, especially women, were expected to work 100 hours a week. “I did not buy into that,” she says. She has always strived to reach a balance between her career and her life. Early on, her goal was to retire early and live in New York. Life, however, dealt her another card. She returned to her hometown of Crossville to care for her ailing father and took over management of the local family business, Don Hinch & Associates. She holds on to her big city aspirations by maintaining an apartment in New York City.
Hinch recalls the give-and-take of the group sessions and the no-holds-barred exchanges with executives she enjoyed as a student in the EIR program. In the 1980s, students were grappling with issues such as sexual harassment on the job and the difference between male and female bosses. “It’s very unusual to get the small group and one-on-one contacts students enjoy with EIR,” she says. “Where else would you get the opportunity to bring these issues up?”
A Legacy of Engagement
“The fact that a lot of former students of Dr. Reizenstein return to participate in the EIR program testifies to the influence he had on everyone,” says Brian Spaid, who received an MBA in marketing in December 2008 and was a student in the EIR program his final semester. Spaid is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in marketing in the College of Business Administration, with the aim of pursuing an academic career.
The program puts some of the most powerful executives in the world into the classroom and in informal settings, from group meetings to small meetings over a meal to one-on-one sessions. “It reminds you that there are real people behind these big companies,” says Spaid. “These corporations are not just ‘faceless monolithic multinationals.'” In fact, Spaid found that executives are increasingly interested in finding the best solutions to serving both their shareholders and their communities. “The shift toward greater corporate responsibility is encouraging,” he says.
And though the executives don’t reveal any top corporate secrets or hand out stock tips, they sometimes do give students a glimpse into the psyche of the company and a peek behind the curtains of corporate enclaves. In one of the group meetings after class, for example, FedEx’s Laurie Tucker mentioned casually that FedEx was not airing any advertising for Super Bowl 2009. “A month later, I heard it on the news,” says Spaid.