“What do you do when you see the color red? Stop. If there were a fire, would you want to stop?” asked Dubitsky, the VCU School of Business 2016 executive-in-residence. “It kills me. It drives me crazy. My level of agitation with these things is what’s driven me.”
Dubitsky, founder and CEO of Hello Products, a line of friendly, natural oral health care products, sees the design of everything, everywhere.
There is no such thing as a boring category, he said. People care about everything. In his case, it’s exit signs.
“Politics isn’t boring,” he said. “We care about everything. If you care about it how can it be boring? Everything is art. Life imitates art. Let’s create the art we want in our everyday lives. … You’ve got to make whatever you’re working on look awesome. If it isn’t cultural, emotional, economically relevant, it’s not innovative. If no one [cares], it doesn’t matter.”
“Everything is art. Life imitates art.”
People need to feel something, he stressed. If creatives don’t feel something first, how can they expect anyone else to feel passionate about their products? What’s more, the bar is set low everywhere.
“Most things kind of suck,” Dubitsky said.
The good news is innovation and opportunities are hiding in plain site.
Take the oral health care industry. Dubitsky found it not only unfriendly but downright offensive, with its aggressive marketing and packaging that promises to kill, eliminate and destroy odor, germs and bacteria.
“I was like, WTF?” Dubitsky said, noting that the global icon for good oral health is an extracted tooth. “Where’s the function, freshness, fashion, flavor?”
So Dubitsky created Hello toothpaste, which tastes awesome and does the same job as harsher products, but with healthier ingredients.
“No one was doing that. No one’s made toothpaste you can eat,” he said before squeezing about two tablespoons of Hello’s fluoride-free paste into his mouth and eating it.
Hello Products was named one of the top challenger brands — small brands that disrupt bigger brands — two years in a row, by the Challenger Project. But Dubitsky doesn’t want to be a challenger, he wants to be a questioner: “Why the hell wasn’t it always like this?” he asked.
“Innovation is word that gets abused a lot,” Dubitsky said. “Most people think innovation is technical. To me innovation is creating something that people fall in love with. We’re winning on an emotional level. Its an emotional innovation.”
The key, he said, is cultural currency — knowing what people want before they do.
Prior to launching New Jersey-based Hello Products, Dubitsky disrupted the home products industry as a founding board member of green-cleaning upstart Method Products and created a sensation again as co-founder of lip and skincare maker eos Products.
He met the Method founders when they were just two guys making soap in their bathroom.
Since June 20th, 50 Mandela Fellows have been at VCU learning about entrepreneurship and government through academic coursework and experiential leadership training as part of the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. “I think what is amazing about this program is that I got to be in the same room, for six weeks, with African leaders. We got to unite. We collaborated. We shared ideas. I was with very smart people that inspired me,” fellow Itumeleng Phake (Tumi), from South Africa.
Since 1998 the SEAL Team Physical Training has provided an outdoor alternative to the gym. McGuire said, “Our new mission is to help individuals and teams reach their full potential. And what I love about the program is you get a chance to meet people from all over the world.” McGuire takes his knowledge from past experiences and his time as a US Navy SEAL to implement practice regimens for its diverse members and anyone else seeking training. “We’ve helped division one basketball football teams win fourteen championships in the last six years. Now we’re a small part of that, but I learned in the military there really is nothing like teamwork to bring out the best in people.”
In addition to promoting confidence, SEAL Team PT also focuses on leadership and teamwork. Mandela FellowNdahafa Hapulile from Namibia stated, “What I like about this is the combination of mental strengthening and physical, so I felt this was a part of building my character because this exercise was very intense. However, it helped me to go beyond what I thought was my limit, so now I’m not even sure what my limit is anymore.”
As an observer I was able to witness their leadership progress. One could see the growth of communication between the fellows and the ongoing motivation each one demonstrated, while striving to achieve a common goal of seeing each other be successful in the various tasks. As a result, the fellows became an efficient and effective team, while taking the concept of what it means to be a leader to new heights, and understanding the world of possibilities available when one can effectively work together with others.
“I think what come out of this program is that we’ve collaborated. We understand that we are unity and that we need to work together to succeed as a continent, as different countries, and that’s what I’ll take out of this program,” Phake summed up his experience. Of his morning at SEAL Team PT, Phake said “I loved it! I think it shows that working as a team, that’s when you’ll achieve a lot more goals. A lot of times we are very selfish in doing things, and what it just shows is that if we work as a unit, we can achieve things better. And it’s very difficult because people have different personalities. But here we had to stay afloat. And I think teamwork makes the dream work.”
“Part of what we hope you’ll learn from this experience is that it is mostly your initiatives that will make the biggest differences in this world,” VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said to the fellows at a welcome reception Monday. “A world full of people who absolutely, positively need your leadership, need your initiative and need you to be thoughtful about their concerns.”
The School of Business will host 25 fellows in a business and entrepreneurship institute. Fellows will attend sessions in Snead Hall with VCU faculty members and business practitioners to gain knowledge in critical topic areas such as creativity and ideation, entrepreneurship, brand management, analytics, technology, grants and more. In addition, fellows will be out-and-about in the business community with site visits such as Luck Stone, Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
Each fellow is matched with a peer collaborator from the local business community for networking and information sharing. In addition, International Coaching Federation-certified coach Lynn Ellen Queen of Queen & Associates, recruited 44 professional coaches from around the world to provide 10 one-on-one coaching sessions to each fellow — two sessions in the U.S. and eight once the fellows have returned to their home countries.
The other 25 fellows will participate in the public management and leadership institute through the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. This institute will expose participants to world-renowned scholars in the fields of governance, management, administration and leadership across the public and nonprofit sectors.
“We hope that the inspiration that has already begun to formulate in you will flourish completely and will enable you become the strongest leaders imaginable,” Rao said. “If VCU can be a small part of strengthening your ability to truly make a difference in the lives of millions of others, then we feel wonderful about that.”
The combined cohort of fellows will attend the 54th annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello on July 4 and were also welcomed at a special reception hosted by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and first lady Dorothy McAuliffe at the Governor’s Mansion on July 20.
The fellows at VCU are part of a larger group of 1,000 being hosted across the U.S. this summer. Upon completion of their program, these exceptional young leaders will meet with President Obama during a summit in Washington, D.C. Select fellows will also receive hands-on experience through six-week placements with U.S. companies, organizations and government agencies.
Fellows are young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa who have a proven record of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive change in their organizations, institutions or communities.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is a U.S. government program that is supported in its implementation by the International Research & Exchanges Board, an international nonprofit organization that provides leadership and innovative programs to improve the quality of education, strengthen independent media and foster pluralistic civil society development.
For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, visit yali.state.gov and join the conversation with #YALI2016.
Manoj A. Thomas, Ph.D.
Assistant professor and director of technology Department of Information Systems
School of Business
Microsoft recently granted Manoj Thomas two $20,000 Microsoft Azure research awards. The first award is to assess consumer sentiment about medical marijuana in social media. He will collaborate with VCU doctoral student Dapeng Liu. The second award is for a Continuing Medical Education capacity building, on which he will work with Mahabir Pun, winner of the renowned Magsaysay Award, a prize that celebrates transformative leadership in Asia. Both projects will use different Microsoft Azure-based technologies.
Thomas has been involved in information and communication technology projects around the world and his research has been published and presented internationally.
At its May 20, 2016 board meeting, the VCU School of Business Foundation elected two new trustees. Welcome!
William F. Gifford, Jr. (B.S.’92/ACCT) Chief Financial Officer Altria Group, Inc.
Billy Gifford serves as Chief Financial Officer, Altria Group. In this role, Gifford is responsible for the Accounting, Tax, Treasury, Audit, Investor Relations, Finance Decision Support and Strategy & Business Development organizations. He also oversees the financial services business of Philip Morris Capital Corporation. He most recently was Senior Vice President, Strategy & Business Development.
Since joining Philip Morris USA in 1994, Gifford has served in numerous leadership roles in Finance, Marketing Information & Consumer Research and as President and Chief Executive Officer of PM USA. Prior to that, he was Vice President and Treasurer for Altria. In this role, Gifford led various groups at Altria Client Services including Risk Management, Treasury Management, Benefits Investments, Corporate Finance and Corporate Financial Planning & Analysis.
Gifford received a bachelors degree in accounting from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business in 1992. Prior to PM USA, he worked at the public accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand, now known as PricewaterhouseCoopers.
He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.
John D. O’Neill, Jr. Partner Hunton & Williams
John O’Neill’s practice focuses on public-private infrastructure development, public finance, capital finance and complex commercial lending. Substantial experience in structuring transactions for a broad range of public and private infrastructure projects, including airports, roads and highways, convention and conference centers, educational facilities, government administrative facilities and water and wastewater facilities.
O’Neill received his B.A. from the University of Richmond and his J.D. from the Pepperdine University School of Law. He is a member of the American Bar Association, the Virginia Bar Association, the Richmond Bar Association, the National Association of Bond Lawyers, and a member and past president of the Bond Club of Virginia.
Following an exciting afternoon of pitches by five finalist teams, a panel of judges representing the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business Foundation today awarded $250,000 in the school’s inaugural EPIC Challenge. Awards ranged from $30,000-$70,000 and will be used by the winning teams to implement their ideas to support EPIC, the school’s new strategic plan.
Open to all School of Business faculty and staff, the EPIC Challenge encourages collaboration by requiring applicants to partner with one (or more) individual(s) from outside their own discipline and possibly even outside of the university.
A total of 35 teams comprising 154 individuals submitted proposals in fall 2015. Each finalist team worked with a mentor or mentors from the business community to refine their ideas and develop a pitch. Mentors included Bill Weber, Jack Hannibal, Neil Patel, Cathy Doss, Jane Watkins and Gary Rhodes.
The judges had the option to award funding to one or multiple teams. After an hour of deliberation the judges decided to fund at least a portion of every proposal. “All the EPIC Challenge projects were wonderful, so much so that the judges had to actually put on our boxing gloves to allocate our pot of money,” half-joked judge and foundation board member Juanita Leatherberry (B.S.’73/ACCT.)
“All the participants were so good, so fantastic, I could not be more proud,” said School of Business Dean Ed Grier. “I’m looking forward to next year already.”
From local innovation to global disruption: Richmond Companies that are redefining their industries.
That was the exciting topic the evening of November 10th, where Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business Dean, Ed Grier, and Impact Makers’ Vice President of Business Strategy, Rodney Willett, welcomed guests to an energetic reception at local business, Impact Makers.
The reception featured guest speakers from four local firms, including: Peyton Jenkins, Co-founder of Alton Lane; Avrum Elmakis, CEO of Best Bully Sticks; Rebecca Hough, CEO and Co-founder of Evatran; and David Cuttino, Co-founder of Reservoir Distillery. The discussion was moderated by VCU School of Business’ Executive Director of Entrepreneurship Programs, Jay Markiewicz. Over 125 Investors Circle members and friends of the VCU School of Business were in attendance to participate in networking and hearing from these innovative corporate speakers.
Dean Ed Grier began the program by speaking about the importance of the Investors Circle and its donors, and also thanked faculty, staff, and School of Business Foundation Trustees who were present. Dean Grier also introduced moderator Jay Markiewicz who led the panel in several rounds of word association, including “responsibility” and “failure.” This unique and fun program format lead to audience involvement as they were asked to toss out new words for association from the panel. Attendees were treated to many interesting insights into what makes these four disruptive and innovative companies tick. VCU School of Business Executive Director of the School of Business Foundation and Corporate Relations, Laura Kottkamp, closed the evening with motivational and grateful remarks.
All in attendance, including student and staff volunteers, networked over the length of the event in riveting conversation. Prior to the formal program, guests were able to learn more about each of the local companies by visiting displays around the event space. Offerings included mannequins wearing custom suits produced by Alton Lane, a video from Evatran about wireless charging technology, a table with some of the top selling dog treats from Best Bully Sticks, and a sampling station of bourbon and rye and wheat whiskey from Reservoir Distillery. Some of the insightful thoughts that could be overheard by the attendees included the state of local business, importance of community involvement, and expanding business globally. Overall, it was a very engaging and educational evening with a plethora of networking opportunities for the many in attendance.
Individual membership costs for the Investors Circle begin at $1,000 and Corporate at $2,500. For more information, please visit go.vcu.edu/InvestorsCircle or contact Katy Beishem at 804.827.0075 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Caley Cantrell is a faculty member at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter and head of the strategy track. Prior to transitioning from adjunct faculty to full-time faculty, Caley built an impressive résumé working for such prestigious agencies as JWT and The Martin Agency. Her position at the Brandcenter blends her experience in the ad world with academic rigors challenging current graduate students in the program. She has worked with student teams on projects for Goodwill Industries, Audi of America, C-K, The Ritz-Carlton, Tribeca Film Festival, Oreo and The Department of Defense.
Caley has been a consistent donor to the Brandcenter for more than five years, including making gifts to fund annual scholarships and designating the Brandcenter in her estate plans. In 2014, she took her commitment to her students one step further and endowed a scholarship for students in the strategy track.
Why do you give?
Working closely with students as I do, you see that they’re investing a lot of time and money in being here. Most quit their jobs to come to the Brandcenter because it’s such a demanding and immersive program. I’m proud that I’m able to give students a “leg-up” on their education.
I think I was like a lot of people who thought that making an ongoing donation was beyond their checkbook. I didn’t think I could make what I thought was a significant enough donation, but as I found, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought. When you think about students who are making sacrifices to pay their tuition, even a little bit can help make a difference for them.
Before I endowed the Cantrell Scholarship, I had been giving to Brandcenter annual scholarships. After my mom passed away in 2013, I decided I wanted to create something with permanence that would also honor my mother, whom had been an educator. An endowed scholarship did both, and as a faculty member I believe in our program, so I decided to put my money where my mouth was.
Did you have any experiences as a faculty member that helped to inspire your philanthropy?
We’re a small program, so I’ve been able to build strong relationships my students over the years. Overall, a lot of students come into this program with a sense of what they’ll be doing, but it’s still pretty uncertain. Over the course of the two years they’re with us, you see them struggle, and then they turn a corner where you see them click and develop this confidence; I look forward to seeing that change.
Every student is different. Some may be very confident in their work, but scared to present, or they may have ideas and just need organization; I find that growth to be fascinating to watch.
Do you have any advice for current students or recent graduates?
We have a very supportive alumni base who are eager to participate in our program and interact with our students. I want to encourage our alumni to please keep it up, as you cannot underestimate, what might seem like an easy piece of encouragement, can do to motivate a current student.
Read about previously featured friends and alumni:
Just like the professional cyclists scoping out the roads through the Monroe Park Campus ahead of the UCI Road World Championships, Isaiah Harvin was pushing pedals on Wednesday.
But he wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry — or at all. Harvin was among the students, faculty and leadership helping to stir up excitement for the new School of Business strategic vision by testing out a new ice cream bike.
This stationary bike harnesses pedal power to crank an old-fashioned ice cream machine, mounted on a rack in front of the handlebars. Starting with cream, sugar, salt and ice cubes, after about 45 minutes of hard work there was plenty of ice cream to share.
You won’t find that feature on the high-tech, carbon fiber cycles favored by the elite cyclists in the UCI road races.
“We’re going to be leveraging what Richmond is about, what VCU is about and what we’re about.”
“We’ve got the UCI bike race next week, and people like ice cream,” said Ken Kahn, Ph.D., senior associate dean in the School of Business. Snead Hall was packed with students on Wednesday for the Business Organizations and Student Services Fair, where the bike drew plenty of taste-testers and more than a few riders.
“As part of that [event] we are introducing students to our new strategic vision: to ‘drive the future of business through the power of creativity,’” Kahn said while taking a turn on the wheel.
“We’re going to be leveraging what Richmond is about, what VCU is about and what we’re about to really show that the School of Business is about doing things purposefully as well as creatively,” he said. “Creativity is an important theme in Richmond, and we believe we have the faculty and the curricula to differentiate ourselves about business and creativity.”
Carolina Romero, a senior marketing major, teamed with other students earlier in the week to churn a batch.
“We all took a turn on this bike to churn the ice cream. I think it took about 35 minutes, and riders switched out every five minutes or so to keep it going,” Romero said.
“It gets more and more difficult to churn as time goes by, but it was really, really fun. To see the product come out really made it all worth it. I hope I see the bike around campus more often.”
Claire Calise, assistant director of student and corporate engagement, also did her part spinning some ice cream.
“I love anything that’s interactive. This is something that students have never seen,” she said. The bike “includes them in how our strategic plan is unfolding,” Calise added. Further engagement of students, alumni and the business community will happen via an online survey, and the full strategic plan will be rolled out later in the school year.
Harvin, a sophomore marketing major, enjoyed his spin.
“Having the new motto and throwing in the bike and the ice cream was a really great way to show creativity,” he said.
The idea to have something special to mark the UCI championships came about in a faculty learning community.
“They wanted to have a stationary bike in the atrium for the bike race. The ice cream bike was found talking with some people in Richmond. We decided to go with the more interesting bike,” Kahn said. “It brings a new meaning to miles per gallon.”
At a reception in Snead Hall on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus, Professor Alisa G. Brink was named the KPMG Teaching Excellence Fellow by Paul Croston, Managing Partner of KPMG’s Richmond, VA office. In his remarks, Mr. Croston noted that KPMG established the Faculty Excellence Fund in the Accounting Department at VCU with the goal of supporting scholarly and academic research by an outstanding faculty member who has demonstrated exceptional progress in preparing students to excel in the corporate world. When asked to comment about Dr. Brink, a number of KPMG associates (and recent VCU graduates) consistently declared that she was a very deserving recipient of this honor. Mr. Croston indicated that KPMG is proud of the strong relationship the firm has built with VCU, having hired over a dozen Rams over the past five years in the Richmond office along with two others who have already accepted offers to join the firm in 2016. KPMG and VCU join in congratulating Dr. Alisa Brink on this well-deserved distinction!