The Business of Next: Developing leaders of a bright new world

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School has been developing leaders of a bright new world for 100 years.

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School has been developing leaders of a bright new world for 100 years.

The Business of Next

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School has been developing leaders of a bright new world for 100 years.

By Courtney Mitchell
Photos and Videos By Jeyhoun Allebaugh and William Frasca

One hundred years ago, Carolina’s first business students had a humble home – the attic of Alumni Hall, then one of UNC’s newer buildings along the edge of McCorkle Place. President Edward Kidder Graham envisioned a prosperous economy for the New South and wanted students to learn the science of business administration in the broad liberal arts tradition he believed would boost the state’s economy and drive industry. He hired economics professor Dudley Dewitt Carroll to lead the way.

Carroll chaired the brand-new Department of Commerce and the enterprise accelerated with remarkable speed. Enrollment boomed, the department outgrew buildings, degree offerings multiplied at every level, and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School began to take shape – and a place of prominence – on Carolina’s campus.

Now, nearly 37,000 UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni lead in all 50 states and 86 countries worldwide. Students attend classes on campus, on weekends, at night and from around the globe. Faculty excel in both research and teaching, graduates climb to C-suite offices, and the wide-open minds of innovators and entrepreneurs meet the pressing issues of our time with wisdom and curiosity.

With the school’s second century on the horizon, the lessons of the Kenan and Flagler families remind us that the future of business isn’t hindered by an acknowledgment of the past. Instead, it is driven by those same traditions of ingenuity and resourcefulness that first turned North Carolina’s pines to pitch and tar, that transformed North Carolina – the last of the 13 colonies to create a bank – into a hub for banking and financial leadership on national and global scales.

How does a top-ranked business school respond to the rapidly changing needs of the world around it and create the entrepreneurs whose dreams will define the business of next? To build on the auspicious legacy of the first 100 years, leaders will need to seek new paths with new partners and have the courage to come at the world’s most complex problems with everything they have.

Abhi Mehrotra (M.B.A. ’15) has seen that process from the inside out. An emergency physician, he noticed the modernization of medical records had created more efficient, coordinated systems of health care and health information to keep patients safe. But the Electronic Health Records boom had an unintended byproduct – burnout. At shift’s end, providers, Mehrotra included, are met with hours of entering notes and documenting visits, a burdensome workload created by technology designed to support them.

“Staying late like that can negatively impact home life. Having my nose buried in a computer – when I should be listening attentively to a patient – really disrupts the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship,” says Mehrotra, professor and vice chair for strategic initiatives and operations at UNC’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

He joined the Weekend Executive MBA Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler where he met Scott Quilty (M.B.A. ’15), a U.S. Army veteran with a background in sales and marketing.

Together they launched a successful startup aimed at maintaining the quality of EHRs while bringing back the joy of practicing medicine. Their company, MedScribes, employs more than 60 aspiring pre-professional students across the Triangle to sit in on patient visits, transcribing conversations, entering data and tracking down test results while physicians care for their patients. Scribes allow doctors to see anywhere from two to eight additional patients in a day. And, more important, patients benefit from more focused attention from their doctors.

To build the best possible service, the team took advantage of every opportunity UNC Kenan-Flagler provided. Professor Ted Zoller’s Soft Launch class was a true startup accelerator where they considered client needs, identified pain points and consulted investors. They used free office space at 1789 Venture Lab to incubate the idea and relied on UNC’s alumni and entrepreneur connections.

“If we had IP questions or trademark issues, we turned to an alum or someone connected to the business school for help. As first-time entrepreneurs, we have not met a Tar Heel who wouldn’t drop what they were doing to point us in the right direction,” Quilty says.

As MedScribes grows, the founders recognize the role their UNC Kenan-Flagler education, with its core values of teamwork and community, played in MedScribes’ success. To return such generosity, both are serving as coaches for this year’s EMBA Soft Launch class, helping UNC Kenan-Flagler’s next generation of entrepreneurs explore their own big ideas and turn them into successful businesses.

“Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves when we look at our budget for the year,” Quilty says. “We look at old pitch decks, and it’s happening. We have awesome employees, happy clients, and now we’re looking at cash flow and investments to scale.”

The future doesn’t just belong to the next big thing. The old-fashioned family business is stronger than ever and anything but old. As next-generation leaders take the reins, UNC Kenan-Flagler offers opportunities to explore the innovative and novel concepts needed to translate the value of these treasured institutions to a new world.

Caroline Lindley (B.S.B.A. ’14, M.B.A. ’17) and her parents operate Lindley Mills, established in Graham, North Carolina, by her ancestors in 1755, decades before there was a United States of America. The mill had remained in the family until the mid-1800s, and in 1976, the family took ownership of the business once again. Lindley Mills is located in the same place where, more than 260 years ago, their ancestors first ground their community’s grain into flour, but Lindley’s training is helping her family stay ahead of the game.

“I am so lucky to get to go to work with my family and so many of our employees who feel like family every day,” says Lindley, now vice president of sales and marketing at Lindley Mills and using the skills and insight she learned at UNC Kenan-Flagler to infuse her family business with new energy and ideas.

Lindley’s path home wasn’t a direct one, though the mill stayed in the back of her mind – during her undergraduate years at UNC Kenan-Flagler, she realized the valuable lessons learned in the family business courses could be applied to the future of her family’s mill, even if she wasn’t ready to commit.

Instead, she took a job at Credit Suisse in the international loan operations settlement group. But, when she began to sort through the roots of what her family had been able to create, she felt a stronger desire to dig in. Lindley Mills needed to grow to keep up, but how? She returned to UNC Kenan-Flagler for her M.B.A. to learn strategies for investing in and sustaining the family’s business while maintaining the integrity they’d cultivated through the years.

“During the classes you create a life plan and think about contributing to your family business, while also analyzing its opportunities and future,” says Lindley. “I really wanted to be the one to carry this legacy forward.”

Lindley capitalized on the resources of the Family Enterprise Center, serving as the president of the MBA Family Business Club, which brings together family business students to talk combining family, business and ownership, and joining the Women in Family Business peer group to meet and learn from successful businesswomen.

During her M.B.A. studies, she identified marketing and sales as a need in Lindley Mills’ long-term strategy, and she interned at The Biltmore Company where she learned from a world-class marketing team and further refined her skills by working with their exceptionally loyal customers. She followed the center’s advice to not “go back to your family business and be the person trying to fix everything right away. Take time to listen and learn from the people who have been there.”

No two days at the mill are the same as she juggles finance, social media, marketing strategies, e-commerce, sales and even lab analysis. The puzzles change as fast as you can solve them, she says.

“The bar for producing high-quality flour is always rising, and I enjoy the fast-paced environment and the satisfaction of providing our customers with an excellent ingredient for their bakeries. I’m looking forward to the changes our new facility will bring, and I am so excited for the future of our family business.”

Support UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

The mission of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, honed over 100 years, is to shape future leaders with a world-class faculty and make a meaningful difference in the world. Top programs, renowned research, award-winning teaching and highly successful graduates are the products of this relentless focus and uniquely collaborative culture. Their goal is to not just solidify UNC Kenan-Flagler’s position in the top tier of business education, but to elevate it: to be the very best business school of the 21st century.

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