Tag Archives: kogod school of business

Kogod School of Business Alumna Helps Students Gain a Global Business Perspective with Startup Ageovisa

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Founder and CEO of Ageovisa, Samantha Bendt, creates a language learning platform for students who don’t want to take the one-size-fits-all approach.

Recent Kogod graduate Samantha Bendt founded Ageovisa to allow aspiring language learners to learn in the style that works best for them.

“Everyone learns differently, so Ageovisa allows students to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn,” says Bendt.

Ageovisa offers language learning resources through different learning styles using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic formats to facilitate interactive learning.

“Ageovisa is designed for both beginners and experienced language learners,” says Bendt. “My team and I are language and culture enthusiasts. We love meeting new people from all over the world. We want to provide a more personalized and interconnected experience for learners. Most platforms have a one size fits all approach with limited flexibility for their learners, so our method is meant to be more user-friendly.”

Founder and CEO Bendt launched the Ageovisa platform this past spring using a minimum viable product (MVP) model, which currently offers Spanish vocabulary in all learning styles.

“Next spring, we hope to launch our core development which will include grammar, cultural content, more languages, and more kinesthetic options,” explains Bendt. “We will be announcing the launch of additional features later.”

Bendt is no stranger to language learning courses, having taken Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Russian courses. Keeping up with her lessons became a real struggle when she realized that all current language learning platforms had a one-size-fits-all approach. This realization was the seed that grew Ageovisa.

While at Kogod, Bendt quickly understood how critical it is for business students and professionals to maintain a global perspective.

I’m grateful for my time at Kogod and the AUCI. The opportunities outside of the classroom were instrumental in my continued passion and entrepreneurial journey.”

SamanthaBendt

Samantha Bendt

Founder and CEO of Ageovisa

Almost immediately after beginning her Kogod journey, Bendt became involved with the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club. Through this, Bendt was introduced to entrepreneurial-related competitions held by Kogod and the AUCI, such as the Venture Capital Investment Competition, the AU Hack-for-a-Change Hackathon, the Kogod Case Competition, and the Startup and Standout Series.

“I participated in all of these competitions, and with my teams’ help and support, we even won first place in a few!” says Bendt.

Now, as an alumna, Bendt remains connected to the AUCI.

The AUCI has been the most influential component of my journey. They provided continuous support and mentorship that was greatly appreciated during times of need.”

A year from now, Bendt hopes to be able to offer additional features, including a mobile app to Ageovisa users—and she couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of fellow entrepreneurs and mentors she met along the way through her involvement with the AUCI and other competitions.

“Never be afraid to ask for help,” advises Bendt. “Entrepreneurship is a journey of learning, usually by trial and error. These experiences make you stronger and more resilient to challenges you may encounter in the future.”

Not Too Old For This

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Not Too Old for This

Aging workers contend with ageism and discrimination in the workplace, but this Kogod School of Business alum is helping to make policy changes.

BethFinkle

Kogod alumna Beth Finkel

Millions of older Americans have re-entered the workforce in recent months. Nearly 64 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 worked in April, essentially the same rate as in February 2020. That’s a more complete pandemic recovery than among most younger age groups.

Inflation and precipitous rises in the cost of living have forced many professionals to return to work from retirement. Others enjoy the engagement and camaraderie work provides.

Older workers weren’t any more likely than younger workers to leave the labor force early in the pandemic. Still, economists thought aging workers might be slower to return because people in their 50s and 60s typically have a hard time finding jobs than their younger counterparts, primarily due to ageism.

Kogod alumna Beth Finkel State Director of the New York AARP branch has been at the forefront of AARP’s fight at the state and national level for laws and policies that protect older workers from age discrimination.

“A recent AARP New York survey found nearly half of voters 50-plus were subjected to or witnessed at least one type of workplace age discrimination. Twenty percent said they were passed over for a job because of their age, and almost 10 percent said they were laid off or fired due to their age,” says Finkel.

A national AARP poll found 78 percent of workers 50+ report they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace—age discrimination against Americans aged 50+ robbed the US economy of $850 billion in 2018 alone.”

Furthermore, those over 45 make up the bulk of the long-term unemployed in America and globally. Hiring managers admit they are reluctant to hire individuals over 40, arguing they probably won’t be a good “fit” or will be unable or unwilling to learn new skills.

A large study of 5,000 workers and managers in seven countries by the nonprofit generation offers some rather grim statistics. Individuals age 45+ make up a high share of the long-term unemployed. Hiring managers have a negative view of 45+ job seekers, even though employers rate highly the job performance of those they hire. Despite national differences, the challenges and experiences of 45+ individuals are global, displaying striking consistency worldwide.

One key insight from the survey is hugely positive, however. Yes, hiring managers express bias against 45+ individuals. Still, those same employers also acknowledge that once they hire people over 45, these workers perform on the job just as well as or even better than their peers who are a decade younger.

Yet still, many workers 45+ simply cannot seem to penetrate a wall of resistance to simple consideration for a job.”

Changes are being made at the state and national levels to assist aging workers in their employment searches and help provide equitable hiring opportunities.

“In New York, the State Senate passed a bill prohibiting employers from requiring or asking for job applicants’ age, birthdate, and graduation dates unless relevant to the job. In Washington, we are urging the US Senate to follow the House by passing the Protect Older Workers Against Discrimination Act. In New York City, we requested to rename its Department for The Aging to something like Boston’s Age Strong,” says Finkel.

As 45+ individuals continue to seek work in a world where higher life expectancies and inadequate savings are pushing up retirement ages, employers and policymakers need to take steps to counter rampant ageism.

“Advocacy with businesses is part of AARP’s ultimate goal—to protect people 45+ from age discrimination,” says Finkel.

“At the end of the day, discrimination of any form is wrong, and multigenerational workforces are proven to be more productive.”

A New App Makes Lending to Loved Ones Stress-Free

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod School of Business alum Kaben Clauson has a new entrepreneurial venture—an innovative family-and-friends lending platform.

KabenClausonBanner

Kogod School of Business alum and cofounder of Pigeon Loans Kaben Clauson.

Kogod School of Business alum Kaben Clauson has a new entrepreneurial venture. This innovative family-and-friends lending platform takes the awkwardness (and risk) out of an all-too-familiar (and familial) financial relationship.

Pigeon Loans, founded by Clauson and Brian Bristol, makes lending to one’s loved ones a financially seamless process by incorporating a contract, a payment plan, and friendly reminders in a one-stop-shop platform. The Miami, Florida-based startup has already raised $2.5 million from Y Combinator, FundersClub, Kleiner Perkins Scout Fund, Sovereign’s Capital, Goodwater Capital, SaxeCap, Pareto Holdings, True Culture Fund, Magic Fund, Legal Tech Fund, Mentors Fund, Ascendo Venture Capital, and various angel investors.

We asked Kaben about this exciting new platform and to share tips for other young entrepreneurs like him.

Kogod School of Business: Can you tell us about Pigeon Loans?

Kaben Clausen: Pigeon Loans is a tool that makes it easy for friends and family to lend to one another. We built this software to remove the awkwardness that often comes with these types of loans.

We are bridging the gap between money and relationships. Our platform makes it easier to raise funds needed to start a business, go back to school, or pay for emergencies.”

As income inequality has skyrocketed across America, we’re seeing an exploding need for tools that allow people to help one another financially.

In the US, roughly $200B in personal loans are made each year—often through a ‘handshake’ deal that can go badly financially and interpersonally. Through Pigeon Loans, any two people can easily create a loan agreement that includes a contract, payment plan, and friendly reminders. Getting financial help from those who care for you most is the best path for many to get low-interest rates on favorable terms. We make this easy for the world.

How did you come up with the idea for this venture?

As the founders of Pigeon Loans, Brian Bristol and I have first-hand experience with the subject of borrowing and lending from those we know.

During the 2008 financial crisis, I witnessed the power of the community coming together to help each other. My family was in a tough spot, and loans were the only way out. Even back then, I realized that it made little sense that most of these loans were done without the help of any software.

As the pandemic began to rage, I saw many friends in need. It’s the balance between wanting to help and keeping the relationship from getting awkward.”

No one wants to send or receive those monthly payment reminders among friends.

Can you please share how your time at Kogod shaped your entrepreneurial journey?

Kogod is the place where I finally decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had no idea how I would do it or even what I would build. The classes I took highlighted real problems in the world. I was motivated by the fact that so much of our planet is still broken and that there was no guarantee any other person would fix them.

The best thing about Kogod is the students—everyone brings a unique global perspective. I was in the minority as an American-born citizen in many of my classes.  A global perspective is key because so much of our worldview gets stuck in the country we were raised in. This global atmosphere provides a deeper context for thinking about the problems that technology can solve.

What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?

I know how hard it can be to break into the technology industry, especially as someone who didn’t have connections in the space from the start. Making that ‘breakthrough’ a little easier for the next generation of Kogod students is a goal of mine.

My main advice for budding entrepreneurs is twofold. First, have a ‘learner’s mindset’ about everything.

Get the 411 on Sustainability in Business

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod School of Business alum Nat Zorach is one of few people with an MBA who is just as comfortable in work boots on a job site as he is in dress shoes in the boardroom.

“Whether we’re talking about the literal nuts and bolts of the work we are doing or about high-minded academic notions, I am prepared to jump right in,” says Zorach, a decarbonization and sustainability leader.

We chatted with Zorach to learn more about how his MBA degree from Kogod lends itself to his current career in sustainability and how other Eagles who are sustainability-minded can follow in his footsteps—whether they’re wearing work boots, dress shoes, or both like Zorach.

On the day to day, I figure out solutions to develop new programs to decarbonize the built environment, borrowing from my city planning experience, construction experience, and general affinity for working with diverse, clever humans to get stuff done!”

nat

In what ways is your career focused on sustainability in business?

“I manage performance reporting, analysis, process improvement, and program development for the flagship energy efficiency program of the Potomac Electric Power Company, more commonly known as Pepco, a subsidiary of Exelon. Across several jurisdictions from southern New Jersey to Maryland and DC, we spend over $100 million each year on energy efficiency programs, ranging from selling individual light bulbs to large industrial combined heat and power turbine installations. Exelon is committed to decarbonizing the power grid, and Maryland has some laudable and aggressive climate targets—we are working with the state and local jurisdictions to implement them,” explains Zorach.

 How is your company committed to sustainability?

“Exelon went from fighting sustainability efforts tooth and nail to figuring out how to work with the movement toward decarbonization. This was easier given that the company managed—until spinning off the subsidiary, Constellation, earlier this year—the country’s largest fleet of nuclear power plants when a lot of power generation is still fossil fuels,” says Zorach.

What advice do you have for students looking to work in the sustainability field?

“I got my job because of my unique mix of expertise—literacy in energy and utilities, extensive track record in community and economic development, a background in finance, and a strong understanding of numbers and quantitative analysis—plus a smattering of policy work and hands-on experience with the construction and the implementation side of things,” says Zorach.

My advice is to show up as much as possible, ask good and challenging questions of people around you, and support those people, too.”

“The climate crisis and the erosion of democratic rights around the globe mean that we must hold people in power accountable—while supporting innovative ideas for sustainability and equity,” explains Zorach. “A dear friend of mine once said, ‘it’s not enough for us to simply say ‘no’ to something; we must say ‘yes’ to something else.’ I think about this pretty much every day because I want to be a good critic while being an even better advocate.”

“Networking is also key, but it’s about quality networking. If someone gives you their card, reach out to them. If you give someone your card, make sure you have something to say. People generally reward honesty, curiosity, and integrity—quest after those things, and don’t be disingenuous,” advises Zorach.

Zorach’s diversity of skills shows how education combined with a willingness to get your hands (and boots) dirty is vital for success in the ever-changing and advancing field of sustainability.

Kogod’s Race in the Marketplace Course Is Invaluable for All AU Students

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Marketing and culture influence each other in highly sophisticated ways: marketing is shaped and, in turn, shapes culture. Companies court specific customer groups, and often, progressive ideas take a backseat to profit.  While it is no secret that the advertising industry has a sticky (or sticker!) problem with race, it is the marketplace writ large that is the topic of conversation in Professor Sonya Grier’s Race in the Marketplace course at the Kogod School of Business.

The class is centered on the theme that race plays a key role in the functioning of consumption markets worldwide. The course also closely examines how institutionalized racism and structural inequalities shape marketing practice, consumer behavior, and marketplace outcomes. Finally, the course content asks students to reflect on how marketing can be used to support more racially equitable marketplaces.

The class is a first of its kind nationally and a great draw in Kogod because of its very salient, real-world orientation. “This is one of the only classes where I felt that we applied realistic concepts every week. I came out of each class with a new concrete way to look at race in the marketplace,” said Kogod senior Yves-Myriam Millien. Kogod student Paige Kaiser remarked similarly on the uniqueness of Professor Grier’s class.

“This class has been eye-opening. There’s no other class like it at AU. Learning about my marketing specialization through the lens of critical race issues widened my perspective on the intersection of race and the marketplace today. It taught me skills about navigating these relations that will be valuable in my future career.”

Students in the class were surprised that they had never been exposed to the issues before. “Race is such a critical part of marketing, and I was shocked when I didn’t encounter it more in my earlier marketing coursework. It felt natural to have a class on it,” remarked Millien.

Grier has coedited a free textbook for the class titled Race in the Marketplace: Crossing Critical Boundaries, which is the first of its kind to explore the topic. Students come away learning how group-level targeting can exploit marginalized communities. They learn about the impact of racial disparities in labor markets, wealth accumulation, economic mobility, and public health. For example, a case study entitled Alisha in Obesity Land explores ways of encouraging elementary school students to consume healthier foods.

The class also teaches students to recognize racially-targeted ads more often in the world and to be more critical of the messages they promote and how they may perpetuate racial or cultural stereotypes.

“I learned how to critique business practices and be confident in that critique—how to have the vocabulary and understand the reality of what kind of change we could ask for from businesses.”

“The Race in the Marketplace course taught students about marketers’ role in combating inequitable effects in the marketplace on marginalized groups,” said Kaiser.

“This class has taught me about the reality of how companies can be incentivized to change, as well as different strategies to make businesses more inclusive,” added Hayes.

“Now more than ever, the industry is moving towards increased corporate social responsibility and recognizing the role marketers play in promoting equity in the marketplace. This class prepares students for just that,” said Kaiser. “By providing a foundation of racialization implications in the marketplace and discussing tools and tactics to combat them, students will leave Professor Grier’s class with a better understanding of how to promote equitable business practices and why it is their responsibility to do so.”

At the Kogod School of Business, our students use their education to create meaningful change in the world. Professor Grier’s Race in the Marketplace course is an absolute must-take for all looking to contribute to a more equitable market.

Leverage Your Career—Stay Grounded—Read the Tea Leaves

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod alumna Hilda Mwangi’s (JD/MBA) work lies at the intersection of public policy, government affairs, and the international trade and development industry. We chatted with her to learn more about the importance of flexibility and curiosity throughout one’s career. These two skills have proven beneficial for Mwangi as she holds the title of one of San Diego’s NEXT Top 40 Under 40 Business Leaders from 2018.

Can you tell us about your time at the Kogod School of Business? How did you choose the MBA program, what lessons did you learn that continue to stick with you, and how did Kogod prepare you for your career?

“Growing up around a family business, I knew a lot about how things in a small business worked but didn’t understand the theory behind it. I didn’t know the concepts—all of that knowledge was siloed—marketing, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, finance—how did it all relate? That is what I wanted to find out.

 A lot of companies did not trust my experience without education credentials. In 2008, at the height of the recession, I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Towson University, and my future concerned me. I was about to begin law school, and I was afraid that I would have difficulty finding a legal job when I graduated with my JD. Looking ahead, I knew that at that time, I had better prospects of securing employment in the business arena,” explained Mwangi.

 “I decided to apply to the joint JD/MBA program at American University’s Kogod School of Business and the Washington College of Law. The MBA program provided me with exactly what I needed. Not only did I connect my previous exposure to my family’s small business with the concepts and overarching theories from class, but I was also able to utilize my past experiences in the classroom. I was even fortunate enough to enroll my father’s business in the MBA capstone experiential learning course taught by Professor Parthiban David. Both the students and my family’s business benefited from the experience, and I got to serve as a project manager and liaison.

I loved my time at Kogod—juggling two programs simultaneously was demanding, but I had a great support system with my friends and professors. I was also working part-time in Annapolis, Maryland and juggling other responsibilities in my personal life.”

The MBA program not only sharpened my critical thinking skills but provided me with a global perspective of business.”

“The courses I took combined with my previous experience helped me prepare for, and succeed in my role as a business development specialist—I was able to anticipate my client’s concerns and help them set investment strategies. 

Today, I work for Takeda, a global pharmaceutical company, where I have held multiple roles. I have enjoyed liaising between policymakers, researchers, scientists, and external and internal stakeholders. In my current role as an associate director of research communications, clear and concise writing is key. Kogod’s emphasis on writing for business and understanding the importance of cultural competency in international business continues to help me each day as I work in a role that allows me to interact with colleagues from around the world.”

 What are some of the most important and formative moments from your career journey?

“I’ve had many pivotal moments in my career—my first year of law school was eye-opening. It reinforced that policy and legislation were where I wanted to be—not in a courtroom. The recession taught me how to be resilient and look ahead—read the tea leaves, so to speak—make plans and be agile. A move to Los Angeles in 2014 taught me that I am more capable and stronger than I previously thought. I proved to myself that I could make big changes and be okay. Mentors along the way taught me how to articulate my value, know when to move on, and how to stay true to my passions.”

I got to where I am today by being the best at what I do, articulating my skills to others, cultivating and maintaining relationships genuinely and authentically, and taking manageable risks.”

“I’ve always followed my curiosity and love for learning and pursuing challenges. Patience and planning have served me very well.”

What advice would you like to share with other women pursuing careers in business?

“Being a woman—a Black woman—in business, in the life sciences industry, is not easy. I have experienced my fair share of biases, prejudices, and incidents of discrimination—some subtle, some quite overt. My advice is to let your passions lead. Be aligned with who you are, your values, and go after your dreams. Make and maintain relationships with people­—real relationships, not transactional ones. Have hobbies—you never know who you’ll meet along the way. Give back to those less fortunate, underrepresented, and who helped you along the way.”

Make time for your support network—your family and friends—those who care most about you and fill up your tank.”

“Find your ‘personal board’—this is advice I got from a career coach—find the small group of people who can help you strategize, tell you the truth, challenge you, push you, slow you down when you need to, people who have your best interest in mind and people whose advice you know you can trust. Lastly and most importantly, choose yourself—take breaks, you deserve them. Go after opportunities that scare but excite you in equal measure. Be loyal to your growth—do not sacrifice your opportunities to learn and grow. We live in an age where hobbies can become business opportunities, gifted orators can earn a handsome living motivating and inspiring others, TikTok can change lives in 30-second increments, and personal brands are a common term now. Whatever your dream, whatever your idea, go for it.”

Live boldly. Others do—why not you?”

Mwangi highlights the significance of being mindful and cultivating relationships as a method of serving your mind and your career. Don’t forget who and what is most important to you along the way, and remember to stay open to possibility—obstacles are opportunities in disguise! 

How to Douse Chronic Workplace Stress Before It Explodes into Full Burnout

My article for the Society of Human Resources Management
By Antoaneta Tileva June 1, 2021

If it’s true, according to a recent Gallup study, that nearly 8 in 10 workers experience burnout on the job at least sometimes—and more than 1 in 4 experience it “very often” or “always”—then it’s clear that “chronic workplace stress has not been successfully managed,” as the World Health Organization has said.

“Burnout is when people have been highly engaged for a long time, without the personal skills and organizational support to maintain their well-being,” said Lindsay Lagreid, senior advisor at the Limeade Institute, a Bellevue, Wash.-based institute that conducts research on employee well-being.

Unsurprisingly, employee burnout levels in 2020—the year of the pandemic—were high, with one major shift from previous years: Fully remote workers are now experiencing more burnout than onsite workers. Before the pandemic, the perks of working remotely—either part- or full-time—led to lower levels of burnout compared with employees who were onsite all the time.

Burnout has effects on the micro and macro levels. If employees’ well-being suffers, they may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. They may also become less productive and unfocused.

Managers play a significant role in employees’ mental health and can take several approaches to ease the effects of burnout:

Conduct regular and varied check-ins. Brandon Greiner is vice president of operations for MedExpress, a Morgantown, W.Va.-based urgent care provider. He emphasized the need for honesty and transparency from both managers and employees: “An important first step in keeping stress in check is for managers to regularly check in with employees and encourage them to provide honest feedback regarding their workload, work environment and responsibilities.” These discussions can take a variety of forms, including hosting group or individual talks, creating employee surveys, and reviewing employment data.

Lagreid advises managers to “start asking better questions.”

“Asking ‘How ya doing?’ and accepting answers like ‘I’m fine’ or ‘hanging in there’ aren’t going to cut it anymore.” Instead, try more specific questions like:
*Have you been able to complete your projects on time? If not, why do you think that is?

*Do you have the resources you need to get your work done? If not, what else would you need?

*What can I do to make your job easier?

Educate employees on what burnout is. Educate your team on what burnout is and how it shows up, so they have the right language to describe their experience to you.

Workplace burnout is not a medical condition. Rather, it is a sense of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a feeling of reduced accomplishment, Greiner said. He defines workplace burnout as “often characterized by feelings of exhaustion, depersonalization and inefficacy. Workplace stress can cause mental and physical reactions that make employees less effective. Prolonged stress, which results in severe mental, emotional and physical fatigue, can lead to burnout.”

Said Lagreid: “First is a deep feeling of exhaustion—almost a soul-level feeling of depletion, not just needing a good night of sleep. The second step is cynicism—being ‘fed up’ or negative. This cynicism is how the brain protects itself from the source of exhaustion. The final stage of burnout is inefficacy—feeling like there’s no point and having a loss of hope, optimism and purpose, [and asking] ‘Why do I even try.’ ”

Some potential signs of workplace burnout include:

*An increase in irritability or conflict.

*A pessimistic outlook or marked lack of interest.

*Decreased productivity or quality of work.

*Fatigue or exhaustion.

*Restlessness or insomnia.

*Increase in physical illness or discomfort.

*Mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.

*Isolation or avoidance in the workplace.

*Decision fatigue.

*Concentration or memory issues.

Identifying the root causes of employee stress is the hard part, as is making successful organizational adjustments. “For instance, if employees find that long work hours contribute to stress, managers could consider accordingly adjusting work schedules,” Greiner advised.

“Evaluate workload, turnaround time expectations and support. Find things you can take off employees’ plates or find more efficient ways to get things done. All the burnout recovery in the world isn’t going to last long if an employee comes back to the exact same reality that caused the burnout in the first place,” Lagreid said.

Reflect on your management style. Managers should self-reflect. Are too many mandatory meetings getting in the way of completing work? Are assignments aligned with employees’ strengths? Managers can also do simple things that can make a big difference, such as not scheduling meetings during the lunch hour or late on a Friday.

“If you haven’t fostered that level of vulnerability and trust within your team, start by answering those check-in questions yourself,” Lagreid said. “Be honest with your team about your own challenges and stressors, so they feel safe doing the same with you.”

Encourage downtime and unplugging. People need time to recharge. Managers should encourage their employees to take time off. Lagreid advises managers to “model healthy boundaries for employees. Take walking meetings, don’t respond to e-mails outside of working hours, and take time away from work. Share the things you do to take care of your well-being, and ask them to share what works for them.”

Other tips include starting meetings by sharing fun trivia, holding a moment of mindful breathing or having workers share the things they’re grateful for.

Identify and encourage employee strengths. “Share specific and thoughtfully-worded gratitude often: Tell your people the specific skills and strengths they have and the value that brings to the team and the organization. Recognize contributions and celebrate wins,” Lagreid said.

Get familiar with resources for your employees. Make sure you, as a manager, are well-acquainted with your company’s employee assistance program or other mental health resources, how to contact them, and what the benefits are so that you can steer your workers to those resources when needed.

“Burnout has become commonplace in the modern workplace, and it doesn’t need to be this way,” Lagreid said. “The best strategy is an ever-present, strategic approach to employee well-being that is supported by the organization … from the top down and is integrated into daily work-life. … Creating a culture where well-being is a priority can provide the safety net needed to prevent and address employee burnout.”

Remember that everyone deals with stress differently, Greiner said. What’s stressful to one person might not affect another. Additionally, factors outside of work, such as taking care of children or elderly parents, health issues, or personal issues like loneliness or depression, can impact people’s ability to manage stress.

“It’s important to recommend resources that are appropriate for the individual employee,” Greiner said. “Promoting a meditation app may not be ideal, for instance, if the worker doesn’t enjoy using technology.”

Antoaneta Tileva, Ph.D., is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C. area. 

Surviving and Thriving through the Unexpected

My article for Kogod School of Business

How Kogod alum and entrepreneur Michael Bleau successfully pivoted his live events company during COVID-19.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, businesses large and small were faced with a daunting challenge—adapt to the new normal or perish. Some companies changed their operations with only short-term survival in mind. Fashion houses and designers, like Christian Siriano, for example, started making masks. Whiskey producers “brewed” hand sanitizer. To-go cocktails kept the restaurant industry afloat and rose to the surface as a product here to stay. Airlines offered cargo-only flights.

A sector hit especially hard by the pandemic was the events industry. For the first time ever, some of the most famous festivals, tournaments, conventions, and trade shows shut down. While adaptability has long been a key to business survival, the pandemic forced event companies to wrestle with the unthinkable—what if there were no more events?

Michael Bleau (Kogod/BSBA ’07), co-founder and CEO of EventHub, was among the many business owners considering how to pivot their operations in the new locked-down environment. Thanks to the unique solutions EventHub provides and the entrepreneurial mindset of the team behind it, the company not only weathered the pandemic but found new customers, added new capabilities, and solidified its standing as an industry leader.

Bleau traces the spark that ignited his entrepreneurial fire back to his participation in the annual Kogod Case Competition. “That put the bug in me for entrepreneurial initiatives,” he says. “And then throughout my time at Kogod, I was able to do some things that opened my mindset. I did a study abroad program that really started opening me up to a global mindset versus just thinking very locally.”

EventHub was the first company that Bleau started, and while it was positioned to successfully navigate the pandemic that began last March, it didn’t start out that way. “It took a while to develop to the point where it is now,” Bleau explains.

The company began as a consulting and event production firm, but securing funding from investors through the Techstars Anywhere Accelerator allowed Bleau and his team to expand their technological capabilities and shift their focus from managing events to connecting event organizers and potential sponsors through an event management platform—a capability no one else in the events industry had yet developed.

“EventHub does a really nice job matching event sponsors with potential event opportunities,” he says. “There’s not really another platform that does a good job of it. That’s why we decided to start it.”

When the first hints of a full-scale global pandemic began appearing in February 2020, Bleau and his team knew they were going to need to pivot their business model. So how did they do it?

First, the company identified long-term trends created by the pandemic, namely the rise of remote work, social distancing, shorter supply chains, and the need for more robust technology. “We realized that all of our customers are live event organizers, and they were going to need to adapt and want to do some type of virtual version of their events in lieu of a live event,” Bleau says. “There are very few large, public event-type platforms, so that was our focus.”

Then, it extended its already-existing capabilities instead of abandoning what its reputation was built on, preventing confusion among its existing customers and offering valuable services to new ones. “In March, we started developing a virtual platform that could sit on top of our sponsorship platform that was very focused on consumer and public events versus business-to-business conferencing because there’s a ton of B2B conferencing out there,” Bleau explains. “We worked with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on their virtual event; we worked with food and wine festivals, county and state fairs. It really led us in some ways to get more on the map with these larger events because we were the only real, good-fit solution out there for these consumer-oriented events.”

Finally, EventHub pivoted as rapidly as possible. “One big lesson learned for us is that fast, aggressive pivots are possible as long as you have a clear, strategic vision and a path to getting there,” says Bleau. “Your team should feel like there is an executable plan that everyone can get behind. Think about what your company does differently and what is needed in the market.”

Responding to unforeseen challenges is a part of business, and pivoting may not always be the right strategy. But finding a balance between being reactive and adaptive and determining whether the pivot is an added value rather than a temporary fix may be the difference between a business weathering a storm or shuttering for good.

 

A More Equitable Future

My article for Kogod School of Business

Professor Stacy Merida, Kogod’s new assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, describes her mission to shape a more inclusive Kogod community.

What do diversity, equity, and inclusion look like in a university setting? Who are the stakeholders of diversity initiatives? These are challenging questions, and the Kogod School of Business’s new assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Stacy Merida, is finding answers. Merida, who teaches music entertainment industry classes in Kogod’s business and entertainment program, accepted the position in January 2021. She is leading the school not only in learning what these terms mean to its students, faculty, and staff but also in implementing meaningful changes based on input from the entire Kogod community.

Merida has a broad view of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that not only comprises demographic characteristics like gender, race, and ethnicity but all dimensions of a person’s identity, such as immigrant and first-generation status, economic background, education, and more. Of course, some of these characteristics are more salient to people’s identities, and some, because they are more visible to society, affect how people are treated more than less readily observable traits.

“One of our strategic goals is to cultivate a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive Kogod culture where every individual, regardless of background, has the full opportunity to flourish and thrive,” says Merida.

The daughter of a civil rights leader, Merida has been passionate about social justice since her childhood in Alabama. And that passion has driven her throughout her career. Her PhD dissertation examined cultural competency and proficiency in higher education administration. She serves as a board liaison for diversity and inclusion at the Music Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) and represents American University as a committee member on the GRAMMY Museum’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility affiliate committee. Her most recent initiative was reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic and Tribal Universities to join the MEIEA through free membership.

In her new role as assistant dean, she will implement several initiatives that include creating a DEI task force, DEI fellowships, policy and procedure reviews, ongoing training, and surveying faculty, students, and staff. Her goals include ensuring students and staff reflect the diversity of our global society and transforming the faculty’s makeup to reflect the diversity of the student body. Another major goal is improving the academic outcomes for students from underrepresented, low-income, and other marginalized groups, in addition to securing transparent and more equitable outcomes for staff and faculty.

Diversity, as the word connotes, is about difference. But it is not about eliding or ignoring that difference. Rather, it is about ensuring that difference doesn’t lead to inequitable outcomes.

“There are distinct differences between equality and equity,” Merida explains. “Equity involves giving people what they need to be as successful as non-minoritized groups; conversely, equality is to treat everyone the same.”

Diversity is valuable in all areas but especially important in business. When a company has a diverse culture, it welcomes more viewpoints, allowing it to reach a wider audience. According to a McKinsey & Company report, “Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability.” Google recently completed a study, Project Aristotle, that identified psychological safety as one of the most important factors of a high-performing team. Employees feeling included and able to be their authentic selves at work frees up their minds and energy to focus on their performance.

“Diversity is extremely important in the business community where different perspectives are and should be highly valued,” says Merida. “Organizations that value diversity and inclusion strive to provide a space where all members are respected. If a system or structure perpetuates inequity and inequality, we should encourage one another to challenge this system or structure.”

Merida is also acutely aware that no one holds just one identity. The term intersectionality, coined by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, describes how individual characteristics like race, class, and gender interact with each other to form how someone sees—and is seen by—the world.

“Our students will find themselves working with employers, coworkers, and clients from diverse backgrounds,” explains Merida. “By experiencing diversity, we are laying the groundwork for all to be comfortable working and interacting with a variety of individuals of all nationalities.

“However, efforts in this space are nothing new as Kogod is ranked no. 9 by the recent Bloomberg Newsweek Diversity Index for its long-term commitment to diversity. I am exhibit A, as the creation of my position only exemplifies the continuation and broadening of Dean Delaney’s and the DEI committee’s visionary leadership. We are intentional in being the guiding example for our students, faculty, and staff.”

Merida’s new role is a testament to the hard work she and the Kogod community continue to engage in to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive business school that prepares students not only for successful careers but to be thoughtful, compassionate, and engaged citizens of the world.

Show Me the Money: Representation of Women + Capital in Media

My article for District Fray Magazine

Shakira sang about she wolves in the closet, which (albeit not) might as well have been a reference to the absence of popular media portrayal of the She Wolves of Wall Street. Kept pent up for far too long, women’s roars are finally falling on some eager ears. 

In reality and on screen, Wall Street has been a boy’s club. Not only are women less represented, but they are also less remunerated. Citi — one of the world’s largest banks– reported in 2019 that its female employees earn 29 percent less than its male employees globally.

But women are wresting the wads away from the dominant grasp in some surprising ways, including starting their own investing clubs and creating new enterprises during the pandemic.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are some bankable portrayals of women and money:

  1. Equity–is a corporate thriller that follows Naomi Bishop, an investment banker working on the IPO launch of a Silicon Valley company. While taut and engaging (and thrilling), it is also a very sophisticated exploration of the power dynamics on Wall Street between and among genders. One of the most memorable lines from the movie is Naomi’s deadpan, “I like money.” Taking a Wall Street opening bell hammer to the groan-inducing gold-digger trope, director Meera Mennon, portrays women as enjoying the competition, the chaos, the hard work of their careers but the perks, too (hello, enviable power wardrobe). And while Naomi’s character has been a caretaker for those around her, she reminds us that “Don’t let money be a dirty word. We can like that, too.”
  2. Drug Short on Netflix’ “Dirty Money”–Dubbed the “femme fatale of short trading,” Fahmi Quadir, a brilliant short seller who left a Ph.D. program in algebraic mathematics for a career on Wall Street, takes on drug behemoth Valeant…and wins.The recent Gamestop kerfuffle and techbro Elon Musk’s relentless Twitter beef has shorted short sellers, portraying them as predatory. Fahmi is a testament to a different kind of a short seller–one who looks to identify corporate malfeasance and (yes) reap the rewards. When she says, “I do my work in the shadows,” she is referring to the fact that short selling is sleuthing and hours of poring over quarterly earnings reports. In other words, you won’t find the kind of information Quadir unearths readily available and even less so revealed by the companies themselves. Short selling is especially male-dominated, so this documentary on a world understood by very few is illuminating: “All short sellers are outsiders. And women are especially outsiders in this world,” says Quadir.
  3. Capital in the 21st Century–”We have a mythology that what’s good for Wall Street is good for Main Street, but that’s really never been true,” says Rana Foroohar, financial journalist associate editor of the Financial Times, in this documentary take on Thomas Piketty’s tome of a book. Foroohar’s commentary features prominently in the film. And her recently-released bookDon’t Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech” is a searing indictment of the extent to which tech behemoths are monetizing our data.
  4. Bethany McLean’s podcast “Making a Killing” Known for her book “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” journalist and contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine, McLean takes issues you may think you understand and complicates them, featuring clever titles like “Keynes was wrong. Gen Z will have it worse.” Her more recent 2018 book “Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World” is also thoroughly engrossing and a must-read for the energy heads out there.

While portrayals of women in finance have been scarce, the tide is certainly turning, as is the cash flow, with more women asserting their seat at the table at this former boys’ bastion.