When Belhaven University began planning its new Executive in Residence program, officials were hoping that not only would their students get a real-world lesson in what it takes to make it in business and help improve the university’s School of Business curriculum, but also give top-level executives a chance to see what exactly Belhaven has to offer in terms of business education.
For its first semester, the new program seems to have gotten an “A”.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and was flattered I was asked to participate,” said Sam Lane, senior vice president of First Commercial Bank who grew up in the Belhaven area of Jackson. “I was left with a good feeling about this generation of students and the job Belhaven is doing.”
“After talking with these highly successful business executives, the students were more excited about pursuing careers in business,” said Dr. Chip Mason, dean of the School of Business, in a statement.
As its name implies, the Executive in Residence program seeks to recruit senior-level managers to the campus, allowing students as well as faculty in Belhaven’s School of Business a chance to hear what the business community is looking for in young professionals and what it takes to manage from the top.
Jeff Rickels is assistant to the president at Belhaven, a private institution of higher learning in Jackson. He said university officials had been mulling the Executive in Residence program for years, but momentum grew when Mason went to university president Dr. Roger Parrott to “help give it more feet.” Plans were solidified in the fall, and the program kicked off this spring.
Executives in the first semester of the program included Lane; Earl Blankenship, chairman and CEO of Mercury Investment Management; Emmerson Daly, founder of Daly Equipment Corporation; Melanie Dowell, senior vice president of Morgan Stanley; and Lee Lampton, president of Ergon. Industries.
The role the executives played varied. For instance, Daly not only came to Belhaven for a roundtable discussion, but also had a group of students visit and tour Pearl-based Daly Equipment.
Lampton was featured at a March luncheon, and discussed various topics including trends in the oil and gas industry, what employers expect out of college graduates, the differences between a private and publicly traded companies and the importance of researching prospective employers before seeking employment.
Dowell addressed a group of top female Belhaven students, offering advice to them as they looked at life after college.
Lane and Blankenship served as guest judges in a “Shark Tank”-like business plan competition for one of Belhaven’s entrepreneur classes.
All of the executives interviewed said they hoped the students got as much out of as they did.
“I have a passion to be around and available to young people. People did that for me,” said Blankenship. “I loved the interaction with the students — it was like a breath of life to me.”
While the executives talked about big-picture issues, the smaller nuances of what it takes to make it business were also offered.
“One of the students asked me if they needed to make an appointment if they wanted to speak to me later. I told them all they had to do was when I call, answer the phone,” Blankenship said with a laugh. He added on a serious note, “I told them when you go to a meeting, always have paper and pen so you can take notes. It’s not always the big things (that makes one successful). It’s not complicated.”
Dowell said she jumped at the chance to participate because it was for young women.
“I wished someone had offered this program to me,” she said. She added that she also feels a need to coach young people on the smaller issues that can derail careers before they begin. “I always show up late for a job interview. If the person doesn’t stand when I walk in, doesn’t know how to shake a hand, it’s over.”
Dowell said she believes every institution of higher learning in the state should have a program like Executive in Residence, and both Lane and Blankenship said they have already talked to Belhaven officials about wider participation in the future.
Belhaven is listening.
“We are very, very pleased with the response we have gotten from the program,” said Rickels. “We already have plans to expand it.”