Big-Time Champions of Corporate World Bring Insight, Excitement to Auriemma Leadership Conference

Geno Auriemma UConn Leadership ConferenceThe president of Meriden-based Protein Sciences said her company hopes to have an experimental Ebola vaccine ready in six months.

Meanwhile, a UConn alumnus, who ran one of the largest financial institutions in Europe, is now setting his sights on expanding and revolutionizing the banking industry in Africa.

And a senior vice president at United Technologies Corporation said that the growth in wealth and status among Asian residents will open up an enormous tourism market that will increase demand for air travel—and new jet engines.

“Leading for Innovation and Change” was the topic of the Geno Auriemma UConn Leadership Conference at Mohegan Sun on Oct. 22 and 23. For the nearly 200 business executives and entrepreneurs who attended, the ideas, enthusiasm and leadership advice were invaluable.

During his lunchtime presentation titled, “Changing the Game,” Auriemma coached business leaders on the need to re-create and innovate a company, or a team, even in good times. “Why go to practice when you know you’re going to win? Why change something when what you’re doing is already working? Because you have to get better,” said the coach of the UConn Women’s Basketball Team.

“As a coach, I know the flaws in our team. Do you want to make changes when you’re 40 and 0? Or at the end of the season when you don’t get into the Final Four? The time for change is when things are going great and you’re at the top of your game. You don’t want to make changes in a time of panic, out of desperation.”

Auriemma, who coached Team USA to a gold medal in the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Istanbul this fall and the UConn Women’s Basketball Team to nine NCAA Division One National Championships, also told the audience that sometimes leaders have to look backward—at what made a business great—in order to move forward.

Often, Auriemma said, he watches footage from games that occurred 40 or 50 years ago and finds a skill or a strategy that has been forgotten. “Sometimes going back, to what made your corporation or your team or your sport great, may be the way to go,” he said. “If you ignore the past, you may miss an opportunity to learn.”

The conference was punctuated with exciting examples of innovation and change in Connecticut.

In a discussion about the healthcare industry, Manon Cox, president and CEO of Protein Sciences in Meriden, talked about how the company has invented FluBlok®, a flu vaccine that contains no egg, antibiotics or other preservatives and is three times stronger than a traditional vaccine. She went on to tell a spellbound audience that the company is now working on an Ebola vaccine and hopes to have a product ready for trial in six months.

Bob Diamond ’77 MBA, ’06H, founder and CEO of Atlas Merchant Capital and formerly chief executive of Barclays, discussed his company’s ambitious goals to revolutionize the financial sector in Africa.

“Seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa,” said Diamond, who was valedictorian of his MBA class at UConn in 1977. “Africa jumped off the page for us.”

More babies were born in Nigeria last year than in all of Europe, he noted. Meanwhile, fewer than 20 percent of the residents of Africa even have a bank account. Some 80 percent live too far away to ever use a bank branch and most will do their banking with a mobile device.

The financial opportunities in Africa are not limited just to a single business, but present an opportunity for economic growth for an entire continent, he said.

“Innovation isn’t always about doing something brand new,” Diamond said. “It’s also about how to create jobs and foster economic growth.”

Vision, speed, and creative ideas are vital even in a long-established company like United Technologies, said Michael McQuade, senior vice president of science and technology. Whether developing jet engines, elevators, or the latest, quietest and fast helicopter, innovation is a daily component of all the company does.

“At our subsidiary, Otis, we move the world’s population every three days in elevators,” he said. “We do things for which failure is not an option. We are constantly thinking about creativity in an area where we cannot fail.”

McQuade said the two biggest trends the company is following are the urbanization of the world, with more than 1 million people moving to cities a day, many in high-rises requiring elevators; and the growth of the middle class, which has tremendous implications for jet-engines and travel, particularly in Asia.

One of the ways that UTC retains, motivates and inspires its workforce is to offer company funding for higher education, he said.

John Caine ’97 a UConn alumnus and chief product officer at said his company has embraced the changing lifestyles of consumers. Some 30 percent of reservations now are made from a mobile device—often at the last minute. As such, the company’s subsidiaries, like Open Table and KAYAK, have ahd to change to accomodate those customers, including creating sites that are easy to use from a mobile device.

The company doesn’t just talk about change for its customers, he said. There are no private offices at and at least once a year the employees relocate to a new desk to get a fresh perspective.

A new perspective was needed at Aetna during a crisis that was costing the company $1 million a day, according to Elease Wright ’76, former senior vice president of human resources. She talked about how the company transformed itself during that crisis.

“We went from the darling of Wall Street to the company everyone loved to hate,” she said. The company selected new administration and engaged every employee of the company, she said.

“We recognized that if we didn’t change the organization, we would become irrelevant,” she said. The company focused on the people who used its services as the centerpiece for all decisions. “If we were dealing with a tough issue, we asked ourselves, ‘What would our values say?’ It became a way of life.”

“Change was messy and difficult, but do-able,” she said. “One of the leading indicators of failure is success. You constantly have to think about strategy, marketing, perspective and listen to suggestions. Egos can ruin companies. Leadership must be consistent with values. It takes only two or three years for a culture to unravel.”

Andy Bessette ’75, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Travelers, talked about reinventing the Travelers’ Championship golf tournament to attract greater attendance and raise more money for charity. He urged his colleagues to create a culture that allows people to speak up—and then to really listen to what they recommend.

“You have to talk to everybody,” said Bessette, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UConn and is a former Olympic athlete. “It’s important to get feedback and be engaged. You want to be respected as a leader by your team. You have to talk to everybody…you have to be in the tank with your people.”

The two-day program was inspiring for many, including Sharad Patney ’13 MSBAPM, who works in information technology at VLink Inc. of South Windsor, Conn.

“The interaction between different industry leaders is what I enjoyed most,” said Patney, who attended the conference for the second year. “This type of program pulls us out of our shells and allows us to look at our businesses from a new perspective.”

Pictured: Bob Diamond, Professor Lucy Gilson, and School of Business Dean John Elliott.

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