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CEO Profile: Christine Poon, Dean of Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University

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Christine Poon and Anil Makija, Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University Christine Poon and Anil Makija, Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University

PRESIDENT&CEO speaks with Christine Poon and Professor Anil Makhija about the newly formed National Center for the Middle Market at the Fisher College of Business at OSU. From our February Issue.

PCEO:  Chris, why did GE Capital pick Fisher College to partner with to create the National Center for the Middle Market?

Poon:  That’s a great question. GE Capital, as you know, is one of the major lenders into the middle market, and they began to realize that, as important as they have been to the middle market for literally decades, they knew very little about the middle market and when they looked to academics, they realized there was really a dearth of academic interest in the middle market.  So they began a search to look for a collaborator. I think that, certainly, what they liked about Fisher College was the fact that we had a great reputation, we were part of a big public institution (the Ohio State University), and we are also in the heartland of middle market territory.  But I think what they really liked about us was the collaborative nature that they felt the minute we met each other.  We shared ideas, we brainstormed with each other, we made each other better and each other’s ideas got more lift the more we spent time with each other.  The chemistry was really excellent.  And so, like all things, I think great partnerships start with trust, they start with good chemistry and they start with people being able to collaborate and share ideas.

PCEO:  Is this an on-going collaboration?  Are they deeply involved in the research being done? 

Poon:  Well, I’ll let Anil talk a little bit more about how we’ve set that up. But I would say from the very beginning and through the entire length of this partnership, this is all about collaboration.

PCEO:  How would you define the role of the National Center here at Fisher?

Poon:  The National Center actually has three very distinct objectives.  One is the research objective, which Professor Makhija can talk a little bit more about.  Another is what we’re calling Corporate Outreach or Executive Education.  It was important for GE Capital to think about the center as a way to allow middle market companies to network with each other, to learn new skills that would help them advance their companies.  And third was really student engagement – exciting the students and presenting opportunities for the students to create careers in the middle market.

PCEO:  How was the initial research originally conducted?  Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Makhija:  In terms of the process, I think our first approach was to make a very broad team, and this team consisted of several Ohio State faculty researchers, but also individuals from GE.  But this wasn’t even the complete picture, because since this area hadn’t been researched very much we were also very interested in what the existing data was.  So we engaged Dunn & Bradstreet, as well as a group that helped us to do a survey, RDI, and we looked at census data, Compustat data, etc. So you might say that we had a very open approach to exploring this market.

PCEO:  And in terms of on-going research, what’s the staff look like in going forward?

Makhija:  One of the principles by which this center has been established is what you might call an ‘open source’ model.  What this means is that we want to, of course, engage our own faculty, but we are very happy to go to the best minds on the middle market, wherever they may reside, be it other American universities or perhaps abroad. But, of course, we want to start with some understanding of this market ourselves.  So, our initial ‘baby step’, shall I say, is to put a Fisher imprint on it to begin with.  In the first year, we are going to engage our own faculty, but soon after, we will try to offer grants that will be all available to any deserving proposal from across the board.

PCEO:  Chris, is there much interaction with real world CEOs here at the center in the course of the research?  Are you eliciting input from CEOs?

Poon:  The Center, by definition is a center where we believe it’s a mix of faculty, CEOs, real practitioners of business, and of course students.  We think that is what distinguishes this kind of a center.  So it is a center that will do important academic research, but it will also have this role to do what we call Corporate Outreach, and of course the student engagement piece is important.  CEOs will sit on every element of this center.

You know, on a more macro-level, one of the joint objectives that Fisher and GE Capital have, is that we begin what we’ve called a national dialogue on the middle market.  This is a market that has no voice.  We believe that if we can begin to fuel the answers to some great research questions, we can begin to help shape some of the thinking as our regulators think about the kind of regulations they put forward, and how they sort of know how these regulations might affect middle market businesses.  They certainly know, from the feedback from large companies, how various regulations will affect the large companies, but it’s this middle market, which is a third of the non-government economy, whose voice is never heard. 

And so we believe that in regulation, in legislation, in taxation, there are probably a lot of things that one can think about to make sure that the effect of these actions at least are neutral to middle market companies, and could possibly encourage the growth, the health, and the job creation that these companies give to this nation.  So, I think in a macro-sense, that’s really what our dream for this center is about.

ABOUT Fisher College of Business:

Since 1916, The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business has produced exceptional leaders who meet the challenges of a changing global business environment through creative and effective solutions.

In 1993, the college received a gift from alumnus Max. M. Fisher, a leading industrialist, philanthropist and public servant. Mr. Fisher’s desire to see his alma mater become one of the premier management institutions in the country spearheaded the construction of a state-of-the-art, six-building campus. In recognition of his commitment, the college was named the Max M. Fisher College of Business.

Since then, the college has undergone a corporate turnaround; narrowing the focus of its programs, recruiting leading faculty, placing a renewed emphasis on experiential learning, and offering a wide range of international study options. Faculty and staff have also established new scholarship and fellowship opportunities, strengthened their commitment to diversity, and created innovative academic and corporate partnerships.

As a result, Fisher’s international reputation continues to rise and is reflected in rankings which place the college among the top 25 business schools in the nation at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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