Leading by example is the core principle of In the Executive’s Chair, a signature business course offered at CSUSM, which invites senior executives to campus each semester to share their insight, strategies, and challenges of managing a business.

“We bring in top business leaders to talk about their careers, their companies, and the critical business decisions with which they are commonly faced,” explained Professor David Bennett, who co-founded and co-teaches the unique business course. “Our primary purpose for exposing the students to these successful executives is to better prepare them for their own business careers.”

In the Executive’s Chair was first introduced nine years ago as an upper division management course and continues to attract an enrollment of 75 students each semester. During the course’s tenure on campus, more than 130 executives have shared their business philosophies, successes, and challenges with CSUSM students.

The concept for the course was inspired by the Bravo television series, Inside the Actor’s Studio, which premiered on the cable network in 1994. The show’s host, James Lipton, interviews highly-regarded actors in a seminar-style lecture hall, giving his audience, which is comprised of students from a New York-based actors college, access to learn from the best in their profession. At its very core, the guest of honor shifts from celebrity to teacher imparting successes, failures, and words of wisdom to the next generation of actors, or in the case of CSUSM’s course, future business leaders.

Co-taught by CoBA professors Dr. Raj Pillai and David Bennett, the pair also serves as the interview hosts. Some of the past guests who have taken a seat in the executive’s chair have included Irwin Jacobs, board chairman of Qualcomm; Ted Waitt, founder of Gateway; Judi Missett, CEO/founder of Jazzercise; Neil Schmale, CEO Sempra; Mark King, CEO TaylorMade; and Jeff Moorad, owner of the San Diego Padres.

The course is sponsored by the University’s Center for Leadership Innovation and Management Building (CLIMB) and gives students a real sense of what it takes to be successful in business.

“We’re delighted to be able to facilitate student interactions with business leaders through this course,” said Professor Dr. Pillai, the executive director of CLIMB. “We invite members of the community to take advantage of this opportunity to attend the seminars and interact with top CEOs while visiting the campus.”

“This class is one of the many ways CSUSM is helping create tomorrow’s leaders,” said recent CSUSM business graduate Heather Grofik. “It’s an invaluable opportunity to learn from the best and hear as they share their stories of success firsthand, including some of the mistakes they’ve made in their careers. It’s an informative, applicable, and inspiring course that links the classroom to real-world experiences.”

While the Tuesday seminars are open to all students as well as the campus and business community to attend and observe, students wishing to enroll in the class for academic credit must first complete their lower-division pre-business courses and pass Business 302. The two-unit class requires enrolled students to read corresponding business texts, write analytical papers, take a comprehensive quiz, and participate in a team assignment.

“Every executive, bar none, has really enjoyed the class and the sharing experience they had with the students,” added Bennett.

Five weeks into the semester, already four CEOs have been in the executive’s chair, including Greg Koch, co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Co. As a craft beer-enthusiast, in 1995 Koch along with his business partner Steve Wagner started their own microbrewery with a 30-barrel system. After struggling for the first three years, the North County based company finally had its first break-even month in March 1998. Eight years later in 2006, Stone Brewing opened its first restaurant, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, which has become the leading restaurant purchaser of local small-farm organic produce in the county. Today, they are the largest craft brewery in the southwest, annually producing and distributing more than 100,000 barrels of artisan beer in 35 states.

While in the executive’s chair on Tuesday, February 8, Koch talked to students about his unique philosophy on competitors, which defies the traditional business culture of dog eat dog.

“A competitor is anyone that acts unethical or lowers the bar of the product they sell,” Koch explained. “A competitor creates an inferior product and tries to convince the public its superior. But those that raise the level of our industry are not competitors, but rather compatriots. Another craft brewer doing well is not a threat to our success. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Having a positive impact on the craft brewing industry and the community is important to Stone Brewing. Koch described his company to the audience as a positive philanthropic enabler, a catalyst that provides opportunities for others to give to charity. One of its largest fundraising events is their annual two-day festival, which is held at CSUSM in August. Over the last 14 years, the event has generated more than half a million dollars for local nonprofits.

Koch also shared some insight with students on some of the new projects Stone Brewing has in the pipeline that span from purchasing a local organic farm to expanding internationally and building a craft brewery in Europe.

“The world is way too unpredictable to look too far ahead,” Koch responded when a student asked him about his business projections for the year 2020 and 2030. “If we stick to our fundamental philosophies and ideals, wherever we go in 2020, 2030, and even beyond will be places that are good for Stone Brewing.”

Eight more CEOs will take a seat in the executive’s chair this semester to share their business philosophies and experiences with CSUSM students, including the CEOs of WD-40, Palomar Pomerado Hospital, and TaylorMade. In the Executive’s Chair seminars are held on Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. in Markstein Hall, room 125.

Upcoming Schedule:

March 1:    Jung-Ho Pak, Artistic Director and Conductor of
                                    Orchestra Nova
March 8:    Jeff Campbell, retired CEO of Burger King
March 29:  Gerry Krippner, CEO of HK Plastics Engineering,
                                    Inc.

April 5:      Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40
April 12:    Nancy Widmann, Senior Executive Coach
April 19:    Elliott Balbert, retired CEO of Natron
April 26:    Michael Covert, CEO of Palomar Pomerado
                                   Hospital

May 3:      Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade

“We’re delighted to be able to facilitate student interactions with business leaders through this course,” said Professor Dr. Pillai, the executive director of CLIMB. “We invite members of the community to take advantage of this opportunity to attend the seminars and interact with top CEOs while visiting the campus.”