Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Getting On Stage With Ben & Jerry

WFU Business School Headshots 8-20-09 We did it! The Wake Forest University Schools of Business can now say that it is home to the 2010 CEO of Tomorrow! Thanks to everyone who stepped up to the plate and made this a reality. I may be the one making the trek to Raleigh but Wake Forest really pulled together to make this happen. This is going to be an unforgettable experience, and I wish I could bring many guests with me to share in the networking opportunities that the NC CEO Forum will offer.

I want to share a few reflections from the competition. About two weeks ago, Dean Reinemund sent an email out to the entire student body, encouraging each of us to submit a question to the NC CEO Forum and vie for a coveted spot on stage with the founders of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. Though mired in the back end of an insane semester, I decided to take a look at the topic - “Triple Bottom Line: 21st Century Leadership in People, Planet and Profit” – and give it a shot. We had already learned about the topic in Dr. Bern Beatty’s financial accounting class, providing an excellent foundation as I started to craft my question.

Where to go with the question, I thought. I didn’t want to hand these guys soft serve. Yet knowing the the event planners were naming the finalists, I didn’t want to introduce a question so edgy that it would strike fear in the hearts of those making the selection and risk zinging the keynote speakers. Tapping into years of journalistic experience, I came up with a multifaceted question that I hope will give people a better understanding of the company’s thinking:

“The global need for triple bottom line investment is so extensive. How does a company such as Ben and Jerry's gauge, prioritize and ultimately select where to allocate its time and financial resources? How does the company articulate such allocations to employees and investors?”

It was exciting to get the email confirming that I would represent Wake Forest as a finalist. I went on a marketing blitz, tapping into my existing follower base on Twitter, posting on my Facebook account, and reaching out to a number of groups through other forms of social media. I know many of you voted dozens of times. The wide-ranging support that I received meant more than the final result, though I must admit that winning feels good! This is not just about me, but it further validates the effort exerted by every student, professor and faculty member to make Wake Forest a premier business school.

I must admit that midway through the competition I went through my own personal version of the Prisoner's Dilemma, where I briefly wondered how much effort was coming from the other three finalists. NC State's Sean White really seemed to have a strong network across multiple social media platforms, but it was more difficult to gauge what the students from Duke and UNC were doing. Should I ease up or continue to aggressively push for votes? Should I shirk or continue to exert maximum effort? I chose the latter - efforts by the other finalists were nothing short of motivation to keep finding ways to promote my question and meet my goal. Thankfully my summer "break" finally came, yielding more time to "campaign."

The NC CEO Forum kept all four finalists in suspense, taking a day and a half to announce the winner after what it called “epic” voting totals. What that says is that Wake Forest and others voted and voted and voted. I know there was strong competition from the “bigger” schools but dedication to a cause can speak much louder than sheer numbers. By noon Wednesday, I had grown weary of refreshing email and decided that I would stop watching and waiting for the pot to boil. It took a call about an hour later from my friend and teammate Shonna Brackett to hear the news that I had won. Honestly, it was a great way to find out! A quick check of Twitter confirmed the victory and of course I retweeted as quickly as I could.

What are my plans for Tuesday? I want to get to the event as early as possible. There will be countless networking opportunities, an early panel discussion led by Dean Reinemund, and so many high-caliber presentations. I am eager to get on stage with Ben & Jerry, ask my question(s) and make our school proud. My daughter is very proud of me - she wants credit for at least 12 votes - and she is hoping I try and get them to sign something (maybe the lid to a Cherry Garcia pint). Tempting, though I would need to eat the ice cream over the next six days to have the item ready for signatures. A sacrifice that could be made, I suppose.

When possible, I plan to blog and/or tweet from the event, and you can guarantee that there will be a hefty post-event blog chronicling my interactions and experiences at the 2010 NC CEO Forum. Each of you will get a “front row seat” to this event, I promise.

Again, thank you! And congratulations to all the finalists for what is sure to be an amazing shared experience!

Paul Davis / @WakeForestMBA

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