WMU center established with $6.5M to advance principled leadership and business strategy

Contact: Paula M. Davis
Students gathered around the table talking

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University has launched a center to advance the principle of mutual benefit in business. Led by two business faculty members who specialize in management, the innovative new center is founded on the premise that purpose and profit can be powerfully linked through the actions and strategies of leaders.

The Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy will provide deeply immersive learning experiences at the undergraduate and graduate levels that blur the line between education and professional business experience.

These learning experiences, and related programming by the center, strongly integrate WMU and the West Michigan business community through large-scale consulting projects, executive mentorship for students, an investment fund to support small business acquisition by MBA students and "learning spaces of the future" to facilitate solving business problems through collaboration and technology.

The new endeavor, operated through the Haworth College of Business, has attracted $6.5 million from noted entrepreneurs and philanthropists who support the center’s mission.

The Haworth family, Greenleaf Trust Chairman William D. Johnston, the Menard family and the Charles Koch Foundation have provided the generous seed investment to establish the center and help fund its related academic activities.

"We are truly grateful to these donors for partnering with us to develop the next generation of business leaders," says WMU President Edward Montgomery. "Their philanthropy enables Western Michigan University to help students and business leaders harness their passions and beliefs to change the way we think about profit and purpose through new and exciting education, research and outreach activities."

Johnston says he is excited about the center's innovation and the broad impact it can create. "The center has touch points that will cause talented, aspiring students to choose WMU. It provides differentiating experiences and lifts up our West Michigan business community. This will be a game changer, and I hope others lean in to engage,” he says.

Lepisto and McIver are co-directors of the center.

“Businesses are successful when they have deeply rooted values,” adds Dick Haworth, chairman emeritus of Haworth. “Students today want to marry purpose with profit, and this center will offer Western Michigan students the opportunity to contemplate how they, as tomorrow’s leaders, can do that. I am thrilled to support Derrick and Doug’s vision for this new institution.”
Dr. Doug Lepisto, assistant professor of management, is co-director of the center with Dr. Derrick McIver, associate professor of management.

"We believe the path to purpose and profit is found in creating genuine value for others," Lepisto says. "We believe this principle, we teach this principle, and we practice this principle. To make this a reality in business requires leadership and a strategic approach to maximize benefit across stakeholders. Our center strives to create a 'big win' where students, the University, the business community and alumni are all simultaneously elevated through our work."

“To stay relevant, all of us need to embrace learning and new ideas so that we can create an America where nobody gets left behind,” the Menard family, owners of Menards, a Midwestern chain of home improvement stores, said in a statement.

“We hope our support of Western Michigan University’s Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy will enhance the educational experiences of students, preparing them for future success and offering them an opportunity to think about how they can add value to their communities after graduation.”

Experiences the center will offer

  • Interdisciplinary outreach through the new leadership and business strategy co-major and minor.
  • Innovative, immersive, technologically enhanced action-learning that offers students relevant career experiences from day one.
  • A course for graduate students on small business acquisition that also provides select students with capital investment from alumni to acquire and operate West Michigan companies.
  •  A retreat in which students and alumni share a transformational experience focused on principles, performance, profit and purpose.

featuring Collaboration with the businesses through:

  • Large-scale, consulting projects where leadership and business strategy students, alongside faculty, solve problems for executives on increasing profit and purpose.
  • Conferences focused on leading profitable businesses that are able to make a greater contribution to customers, employees, suppliers, community members and society.
  • Executive education sessions on leadership and strategy, which explore creating genuine value for others.
  • Research on topics such as leadership, strategy, meaningful work and leading with purpose, relevant to both academic leaders and industry.
Students sitting around a table looking at product mockups.

A wine brand with profits going toward scholarships is now available, courtesy of the efforts of leadership and business strategy students.

"Traditional notions of shareholder-only business models are becoming obsolete," McIver says. "And traditional notions of higher education are becoming obsolete. We aspire to set a new standard for business education and are innovating to impact as many people as possible as deeply as possible. The most important thing we can pass on is enabling others to pursue their purpose and passion in ways that help improve others’ lives."

“We are excited about Western Michigan University’s vision for a center that offers students the opportunity to explore their own talents and principles and also the role of business in society,” said Charles Koch Foundation Vice President of Philanthropy Charlie Ruger.

“We believe that everyone has extraordinary potential, and educational programs that help people develop and apply their unique abilities can drive progress. Western Michigan’s new center invites students to start thinking about their purpose and potential impact now, and we’re proud to support that vision.

The center activities are already well underway with new initiatives being launched rapidly. To learn more about the Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy, visit wmich.edu/leadershipcenter.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.