A few years ago, Keith McFarland wrote a book titled The Breakthrough Company, which was based on a five-year study he did of more than 7,000 companies. I like his book because it focuses on how middle market companies can achieve lasting success. Too often, business books are geared towards large global companies which has little relevance for small and mid-size businesses.  One of the key attributes of companies that break out of the entrepreneurial phase is that they surround themselves with networks of outside resources which McFarland calls “scaffolding.”  For example, one story he shared was about former NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, who started The Staubach Company real estate company in 1977.  Staubach faced some challenging times early on in his career, and he credits the support of his Young Presidents Organization (YPO) forum group for helping him work through the difficulties.


Kristian Agoglia

Whether forum groups, advisory boards or key consultants, there is much to be gained in having this kind of “scaffolding” as you build a business.

My interviewee this week, Kristian Agoglia, has built a successful vegetation management and disaster recovery company in New York and is now expanding his business to Mississippi. Kristian is a native of Long Island and grew up in a hard-working entrepreneurial family. He attributes the core values that his parents instilled in him as having a big impact on his success in business.

When Kristian was 15, he started a lawn service business, which was the predecessor to his business today, Looks Great Services.  By the time he graduated high school and went off to Liberty University, he had a thriving business, which he was able to continue even while in college and later graduate school at Regent University. In 1999, Kristian formally incorporated his business and the rest, as they say, “is history.” He has continued to grow his business and later added disaster clean up services as a service offering.

In 2005, Kristian deployed crews to Mississippi to help with post-Hurricane Katrina clean up. It was during this time that he met his wife who was from Columbia, Miss. After getting married, he decided it was time to start Looks Great Services of Mississippi, which specializes in vegetation management for utility companies and employs over 75 people in the state.  This past year, Kristian and his wife decided to relocate from New York to her hometown of Columbia.

As we discussed the challenges of growing a company, Kristian noted how he had always sought outside perspectives on his business. He shared a story of how he hired Bobb Biehl, a guest lecturer at Regent University, to advise him on his business while he was still in college. He shared, “It was a significant investment for me at the time, but it was worth every penny.” Biehl has continued to be an advisor to Kristian and his company. He noted, “I have always sought other people’s opinions and advice on my business to help identify blind spots, gain perspective, and improve my operations.” Kristian noted that over the last 15 years he has invested significant time and resources in seeking this type of feedback on his business and it has paid large dividends for him.

During disaster recovery projects, Kristian can have over 1,000 people working for him. His ability to scale quickly when needed is based on the quality of the team he has developed. He noted, “I try to help my employees find their strengths and focus their work on those type projects.” He continued, “My philosophy is to try and fit a round peg into a round hole.”  He spends a lot of time in the interview process to really get to know the individual. He wants to understand what truly motivates them and what they care about. Kristian’s commitment to maintaining his own “scaffolding,” his perseverance, and his perspective on the importance of people has him positioned for continued success in his business. Kristian is a welcome transplant to Mississippi, and I know he will have a positive impact on the state.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, April 25, 2014.] Read More

There exist an endless number of articles, books, blogs, and interviews on the state of higher education (HE) in America. The themes are consistent – fewer resources, fewer students, bloated administrative staff, less affordability, unsustainable student debt, poor graduation rates, unimpressive employability skills and what the heck is a MOOC and why should I care. And there exist an endless number of individuals, organizations and

entities doing their part to address these and other challenges including President Obama’s push for HE to graduate more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM students, increase affordability and improve accountability.

So, given there is already a ready and willing audience for this type of conversation, why not explore a slightly different angle? Why not combine some history with technical terminology along with a new view on the management challenges facing the American HE system? Thus: HE v3.0, The Retailing of Higher Education. The premise is that our beloved HE system is in its third iteration (more on that) and this third version, though still in its infancy of development, will borrow many qualities from the retail industry.

The leadership at HE institutions – boards, senior administrative and academic leadership – must not only be cognizant of these qualities but rigorously develop the talent and processes to manage this evolution or not be competitive in v3.0 and beyond.

HE v1.0 – The Rise and Continued Dominance of the Traditional University

“The early American colleges devoted themselves almost entirely to the teaching and study of theology, Greek and Latin languages, classical literature and philosophy.”—Richard Ruch, Higher Ed, Inc. The Rise of the For-Profit University

There is some debate on the “oldest university.” The word university, derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning a “community of teachers and scholars,” was first used by the Italian University of Bologna, when it was founded in 1088; thus, it is considered the first “modern” university. However, history does show a number of “institutions of higher learning” that were formed a millennium before 1088 in the ancient civilizations of Greece, Persia, Rome, China and Africa, to name a few. The differentiation mainly resides in the form and function of the medieval European model from which the current “modern” university model has evolved.

There is no debate that whether it was 1088 AD or 1088 BC, the fundamental model of teaching and learning was developed whereby a community of scholars sought to impart their knowledge to a set of young, eager, maturing minds known as students (Isn’t it interesting that the word “student” is derived from Latin studium, “study, application,” but originally meant “eagerness,” which itself was derived from studere, “to be diligent; to push, stick, knock, beat”). The model was based on the student’s ability to discern the teachings of the scholars and through certain trials (known as tests) these students would demonstrate they had gained sufficient absorption of these teachings to “apply” this knowledge to a field of study.

The advent of the land grant colleges via the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 in the United States ushered in a focus on agriculture, military science and engineering while maintaining the study of the classics. Regardless of academic focus, the calendar for study revolved around crop harvests and Christian holidays. Over time, a structure evolved that organized disciplines and related fields of study into what are now called schools and/or colleges (within a university).

A further iteration of v1.0 (call it v1.5) institutions was the advent of state-supported schools – making the attainment of postsecondary education an integral component of a state’s economic development strategy – led to a focus on job/career training along with federally-funded research. This focus was furthered by the development of community colleges, which were even more focused on local workforce development. This part of the evolution views HE as a social good that should be made available to as much of the population as is possible.

HE v1.0 for the most part is still the dominant model today. Its fundamental basis derived during the millennium before the birth of Christ, leveraging a calendar based on an economic sector which now represents less than 5 percent of the US economy and though many of the innovations that have dramatically changed our world have been developed at these v1.0 institutions, the basic teaching/learning paradigm used by them is not that much different than when Plato and Socrates and their community of scholars taught their students in ancient Greece.

HE v2.0 – Advent and Challenges of the For-Profit Institutions

“When John Sperling started the University of Phoenix in 1976, there was nothing new about profit in higher education.” Richard Ruch, Higher Ed, Inc. The Rise of the For-Profit University

One of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, realized there was a need for skills beyond the classical learning paradigm of the traditional colleges of Colonial America. Franklin lamented that many of his contemporaries had an “unaccountable prejudice in favor of ancient customs and habitudes.” Eons before Franklin’s lament, the advent of the next iteration of higher education began by helping to meet the employability needs of the fifth century B.C. Greek economy via traveling teachers for hire known as sophists. Competition among sophists and proprietary schools was brisk and produced two beneficial outcomes for the consumers of education: affordability and quality. (Sound familiar?)

Ironically, as if a harbinger of current times, these early v2.0 schools were for those whose learning needs the traditional colleges (v1.0) could not meet and/or for the students who could not get admitted to the v1.0 institutions. The rise of the University of Phoenix in 1976 proved there was a large market demand (and sustainable economic model) to meet the learning and career development needs of “non-traditional” students as well as those the HE v1.0 institutions did not wish to and/or could not adequately serve. Though not without significant challenge and controversy, these HE v2.0 institutions grew from 0.2 percent of all students seeking degrees in the 1970s to over 12 percent by 2012. Many of these institutions offered many advances not offered by most HE v1.0 institutions including online, multiple locations leading to anytime, anyplace learning with introduction of some pace-based learning paradigms focused on specific career skills/development and traditional degree attainment.

HE v3.0 – The Rise of the Retail Influence on HE

“Five years ago, Southern New Hampshire University was a 2,000-student private school struggling against declining enrollment, poor name recognition, and teetering finances. Today, it’s the Amazon.com of higher education. The school’s burgeoning online division has 180 different programs with an enrollment of 34,000. Students are referred to as “customers.” It undercuts competitors on tuition. And it deploys data analytics for everything from anticipating future demand to figuring out which students are most likely to stumble. “We are super-focused on customer service, which is a phrase that most universities can’t even use,” says Paul LeBlanc, SNHU’s president. Gabriel Kahn, Slate.com

Elements of the retail model have always been a part of the HE v1.0 and HE v2.0 institutions (especially v2.0 ones) – marketing, cost and revenue management, price-to-value creation, etc. What is being presented here is the need to make these and other retail paradigms (see below) more transparent and central to the academic and administrative management of a successful HE v3.0 institution.

Why is this evolution occurring? Simple and the answers are well known:

  • Students and technology. Students take in information from a variety of sources, and education is another information source. HE v1.0 and v2.0 institutions have a model whereby it is assumed that they are the sole source for ALL information that the student needs. The students, in all other areas of their life, can “pick and choose” to create the type information, the sources and economic model that suit their needs.
  • These student choices are enabled by technology, of course, but technology provides more than creating a set of choices for information access. It also creates alternative means to distribute that information freeing the traditional singular time, place and pace modality (of v1.0 institutions in particular) with anytime, anyplace, and any pace.
  • The students are customers – thus the goal as higher education leaders should be to align our brand and the experience associated with that brand in meeting the needs of the segment of the customers (students) that can best be served (i.e., meet their career and skill attainment goals) with a sustainable economic flywheel.

Let’s be clear, this argument is not meant to condone or embrace any model that subverts the fundamental tenant of being an educator – that same tenant that has existed from whatever was the first institution of higher learning – to provide an environment whereby a community of scholars can embrace, develop and grow the next generation of scholars, workers, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, business leaders, mothers and fathers. This notion of students as customers is a well-debated concept but is universally not an accepted idea in higher education. The reality is both sides of this argument are correct – “students” are customers, consumers, and students all at the same time; and it changes depending on where they are in the process of being recruited, admitted, enrolled, being taught, supported, and finally to graduating and giving. The focus should be less on a term or word and more on how best to serve these students, thus the intention of the remainder of this article.

What has been lost by many HE v1.0 institutions is the lack of flexibility in how it delivers the learning paradigm, not using technology as a means of creating the total student experience and not using retail elements as part of its core academic and operating paradigm. HE v2.0 institutions were founded on market demand and have embraced some retail paradigms, but too many have lost sight of the group they are serving – shareholders vs. the students. There are examples like Grand Canyon University and Southern New Hampshire University that have made customer service and a retail paradigm core to their DNA and are HE v3.0 early adopters.

So what are some of these retail elements that will be the cornerstone of HE v3.0 institutions? This isn’t meant to be an all-inconclusive set of elements, but represent some of the building blocks upon which HE v3.0 institutions should have as cornerstones:

Customer service orientation

  • The experience that a student has with an institution becomes even more relevant – front line employees must become more like retail front line employees – as they must represent the brand and make every experience a positive one
  • That experience can be translated into higher value as students will migrate to institutions that cater to them and understand their “lifetime value” – from pre-admit to alumni – and once they see that value being delivered they will be willing to pay a premium for that level of service (see Nordstrom’s)

Customer segmentation

  • The idea of a “student” will extend beyond the traditional undergraduate 17-21 year olds, thus HE must develop “storefronts” and “merchandise” that cater to a broader range of learning paces, timing and career needs
  • Like a good retailer, HE must be able to deliver personalized degrees delivered with the economics of mass production (mass customization)
  • Utilizing a more comprehensive marketing strategy and plan that leverages more interactive means, provides true analytics/metrics of reach and impact leveraging the latest in data mining (see Google and AMEX)

Brand management

  • Institutions will need to develop clarity of their brands and the “experience” associated with that brand \
  • Like a brand manager at P&G, university leaders will need to manage multiple “sub-brands” – professors, colleges, academic departments, athletic teams, bands, research, etc. – and they must align all these sub-brands with the overall brand of the institution.
  • This portfolio brand management model becomes a greater challenge for a system with campuses with various missions. But again, a retail analogy exists – Hilton Hotels has various “sub-brands” that exist across various service levels and price points that are still able to maintain a connectivity to the larger Hilton brand
  • Using the Hilton analogy, HE institutions must align and balance product offerings (see below) and service delivery to value and customer segmentation – the essence of the brand is defined at this intersection

SKU management/Value pricing

  • The fundamental product (SKU or stock keeping unit) of every HE institution is the courses. Up until now it was not critical to know the fundamental economics of a course/department. Going forward, the economic future of an institution will be dependent on its ability to fundamentally understand these economics, manage the stock (course availability), and develop pricing based on competitive realities and delivery modalities (online, hybrid, offline)
  • This will also require institutions to become less of “all things to all people” and focus on courses/subjects where they can be competitive and provide clarity for the customer segments they target (and create a distinctive value proposition for that segment) and create models that allow for students to “pick and choose” their learning style and source of courses (see Amazon).

· Multiple site management o When Central Michigan can have a campus in Washington, DC, and Tulane University has a campus in Madison, Mississippi, and Stanford can compete to build a research island in New York City – the idea of having a single physical campus where students come to a specific site will be irrelevant. Schools will need campuses where the customers are located in addition to the traditional v1.0 models.

What does this all mean?

The hope is that this article leads to a discussion amongst HE colleagues on this evolution, especially as conversations center on strategy development and leadership selection/development. Part of the reason HE faces the issues described at the beginning of this article is partially due to a vibrant and engaging discussion on how the industry is evolving and what fundamental changes must occur. Evolution is a natural occurrence in all aspects of humanity and commerce. HE is not exempt from this evolution; the only question is whether we see the new generation of community of scholars in a way that truly creates an optimal learning and growth environment for students or if we remain a HE v1.0 institution stuck in a v3.0 and beyond world.

[Originally published by University Business on April 21, 2014.] Read More

Thomas Edison once said, “I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it.” Edison was a prolific innovator with over 1,000 patents in his name. I believe he captured the true spirit of an entrepreneur with his statement. Entrepreneurs are visionaries who are not satisfied with the status quo.


Bob Lomenick

While others see insurmountable challenges, they see opportunity. I have had the good fortune to visit with many great entrepreneurs, and I am always inspired by their desire to create positive change in the world. I was reminded of this Edison quote during my interview this week with Bob Lomenick, owner of Tyson Drug Company in Holly Springs. Lomenick is a true entrepreneurial success story.

Lomenick grew up in Iuka and went on to get his pharmacy degree from the University of Mississippi. After graduation, he worked for an independent pharmacy in Olive Branch and later for a high volume pharmacy in Millington, Tennessee. Early in his career, he learned of an opportunity back in Mississippi with the owners of an independent pharmacy in Holly Springs — Tyson Drug Company. Lomenick moved back and went to work for the owners and over a period of several years transitioned to be the owner. From that one pharmacy, he has grown over the last 30 years to three locations and began a pioneering medication adherence program.

From his customer interactions, he observed that patients were often having trouble managing multiple medications and following the proper dosing schedule. He noticed that many customers ended up in nursing homes simply because they could not manage their medications properly. Based on these observations, he created a program called RxSync to synchronize patient refills by combining strip packaging technology with a comprehensive medication therapy management process. Lomenick now serves thousands of customers with this program throughout the region, and he is recognized as one of the leading independent pharmacists in the country. In fact, he was named the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Next-Generation Pharmacist Awards. Pharmacists come from all over the country to Holly Springs to learn from Lomenick on how to develop this type of innovative program.

Lomenick shared with me that he has always been one to take calculated risks. Entrepreneurs like Lomenick are never satisfied with the status quo. They are always looking to improve the way things are done.He shared that it took him a long time, but he has truly learned to trust his gut instinct.  This gives him the courage to act on “out of the box” ideas. As Apple® founder Steve Jobs said, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Lomenick attributes his success to having great people and well developed processes to ensure consistency and accountability.  With over 30 employees, Tyson Drug Company has a family atmosphere with a passionate focus on the customer.  Lomenick leads by example and makes sure every employee knows they are important to the success of the organization.  In addition, Lomenick is a “roll up his sleeves” kind of leader that leads by example.

I enjoy learning of entrepreneurial success stories like Lomenick and Tyson Drug Company.   I believe it is important to see how other Mississippi entrepreneurs are taking risks and making a national impact.  I am excited to see how Lomenick continues to expand his business and innovate in the important realm of patient medication adherence.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, April 21, 2014.] Read More

A few years ago, authors Malcolm Gladwell(Outliers) and Geoff Colvin (Talent is Overrated)brought to the public’s attention the 10,000 hour rule for becoming an expert. They were citing the research of psychology professor Dr. K. Anders Ericsson in which he concluded that it takes about 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to truly become a master at your chosen endeavor. I bring this up because, as leaders, it is important to strive for excellence and mastery in your organizational setting. I was reminded of this research when I was thinking about my interviewee this week, Darden H. North, MD. Dr. North has not only enjoyed a long and productive career as a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with Jackson Healthcare for Women, but he also has established himself as a bestselling murder mystery and medical thriller author.


Dr. Darden H. North

North, a native of Cleveland, Miss., graduated from Ole Miss where he was editor of the yearbook (The Ole Miss) and vice president of the Associated Student Body. He went on to get his medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine where he also completed his residency. North has served in leadership roles in his profession including serving as secretary of the Mississippi Obstetrics and Gynecology Society, chairman of the National ACOG Junior Fellow Advisory Council and chief of the medical staff of both River Oaks Hospital and Woman’s Hospital.

Well into his medical career, North hung up his golf clubs and decided to pursue professionally the hobby of writing. His first three novels, available in print and e-book, have been awarded nationally, most notably Points of Origin in Southern Fiction by the Independent Publishers Book Association (IPPY) Awards. Fresh Frozen is in film development by Frank Vitolo and Scott Alvaraz, screenplay adaptation by Amy Taylor. Darden’s fourth novel Wiggle Room was published also in print and e-book by Sartoris Literary Group in summer 2013. North’s books have sold over 17,000 copies. Today, North still maintains a full-time medical and surgical practice while also writing and participating in literary panel discussions with other writers.

North shared that he was inspired by his mother who taught him to believe in himself and that he could accomplish anything if he set his mind to it. This is a powerful thought to sow into the life of someone. One of my mentors often reminds me that “What I Can Conceive and Believe – I Can Achieve.” Not surprisingly, North emphasized that he believes it is important to have faith and find strength in God when reaching forward and “to never become complacent with the status quo.” North has tried to be an innovator both in his medical practice and as a writer. He was a pioneer in the use of robotic surgery in both multi- and single-site techniques and is a national instructional proctor for Intuitive Surgical Gynecological Robotics.

Like other effective leaders, North recognizes that we always have more to learn. He said, “I look for new opportunities and encourage others to do the same.” He advocates actively seeking advice from others and having the courage to listen for the kernels of truth that lie in complaints and criticisms. As a leader, he tries to acknowledge the potential in others and encourage them to achieve to the best of their ability.

As I learned more about Dr. North and his accomplishments, I came away with great respect for his ability to master not just one craft, but two. I also appreciate the courage it takes to “create” and to put your work product out into the marketplace. As North enters a season where he is delivering second generation babies, I also expect he will continue to be a prolific writer and contributor to the state.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, April 14, 2014.] Read More