Four prominent business leaders advised more than 70 University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business students on what it takes to manage from the top at the Executive Insights panel held at the Nebraska Union October 26. The event, sponsored by the School of Accountancy and Department of Finance, allowed students to network with the professionals following the discussion. Panelists included Karen Ganzlin, executive vice president and chief human resources officer of TD Ameritrade; Eric Johnson ’85, vice president-tax of Conagra Brands; Jim Kruger ’86, chief financial officer of Nelnet; and Matt Marsh ’91, partner and global retail industry leader of Deloitte & Touche.
Panelists emphasized the foundation of a great business starts with people. Kruger told students how executives can create success by building a winning culture.
“We recruit people that value the customer,” said Kruger. “Without customers, we don’t have an organization. We also want to make Nelnet a fun place to work because that attracts talented people. Our diversified revenue stream is important because it gives opportunity to our employees to grow in areas that are thriving. Finally, we’ve found our focus and willingness to give back to the community often attracts good people more than anything else.”
Johnson, who works closely with the college through the Business Career Center, talked about how modern business attitudes continue to change. He believes Conagra’s vitality has experienced remarkable change in recent years.
“Conagra has gone through a huge culture change the past three years. We’ve brought in new ideas to a competitive food industry that has historically been very conservative. We now have a very open environment where the CEO is working in collaboration areas along with everyone else. It’s transforming the way we do business and one of our visions to disrupt the industry by involving everyone in the decision making process and making decisions faster,” said Johnson.
Ganzlin told students to think about what type of organization they want to join when looking for work. By choosing the right company, she sees better outcomes happening for the employee and business.
“I look to see whether the person is coming for a job or if they’re looking to start a career. When you join a company, you’re opting into their culture. The technical skills to do the job are important but you also have to ask yourself if the business environment is the right fit. At TD Ameritrade it’s all about teamwork and collaboration. You can’t work in isolation anymore, and it’s important to value diversity in terms of ideas and backgrounds in order to make better business decisions,” said Ganzlin.
Deloitte & Touche focuses on creating long-term success with their employees according to Marsh. The company culture diversifies as people are given opportunities to discover areas where they can excel.
“We give a lot of opportunities to our people fast so they can grow and have multiple experiences,” said Marsh. “Our model involves growth and career preparation. We’ve built training centers that are the envy of the industry because we want to accelerate people’s careers. Most of the people I work with are spread out all over the world, and within that structure micro-cultures occur because of teams and partnerships that form. Generally, you gravitate to people you enjoy being around and as long as those things are happening the business moves forward and does well.”
Dr. Richard DeFusco, chair of the Department of Finance and professor of finance, moderated the panel discussion. He emphasized both the value of input from panelists and the high-level of questions asked by the student audience.
“The student participation for the event was fantastic,” said DeFusco. “I served as moderator but the student questions made my job simple. I heard a general theme from the panelists to work hard, have the right attitude and build relationships of trust with co-workers. If students came away with that information, I consider Executive Insights a resounding success.”