The Business Journal of the Greater Triad Area – by Justin Catanoso
As chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Inc. between 2001 and 2006, a Fortune 100 company with $35 billion in revenue and employees around the world, it's fair to say that Steve Reinemund made plenty of tough decisions which he instinctively knew were sound and true.
Like introducing Pizza Hut home delivery when he ran that unit in the 1980s. Like acquiring Quaker Oats as the nation hungered for healthier snack foods. Like diversifying the corporation's vast employee base from street-level salespeople all the way to the boardroom.
So it should not be taken lightly when the 60-year-old Reinemund says, "Of all decisions I've made in my life, I feel much more certain about this one" — accepting the first deanship of the newly merged Calloway School of Business and Accountancy for undergraduates and Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University.
But it's even more telling that the decision was not Reinemund's alone.
He not only consulted with his wife of 34 years and four children, ages 27, 26 and 14 (twins), he gave them each a deciding vote. His oldest son ran the meeting, and the ground rules were clear. All or nothing. One "no" vote means Reinemund would turn down Wake Forest, the family would stay in Dallas, Texas, and he would continue his search for life after Pepsi.
"The decision to go was a family decision," says Reinemund, who took early retirement two years ago from a travel-heavy, all-consuming job he loved to have more time available for his younger children. He starts at Wake Forest on July 1.
For members of the dean search committee, they can hardly believe their good fortune. The headhunter they hired recruited a stellar group of candidates, many with significant academic experience and credentials. Quality choices abounded for the all-important job of creating a new whole out of two separate and distinct institutions.
"Most of the faculty on the search committee really wanted a person with an academic background," says Holly Brower, an assistant professor at the Calloway school. "What was amazing was how much unity there was for Steve as our first choice. I didn't expect that."
Of course, they also didn't expect the former leader of a global corporation with a reputation for strategic thinking, team building and results that transcend quarterly revenue reports to apply for the job. But that, too, reveals much about the next dean.
Reinemund has a relationship with Wake Forest going back many years. The late Wayne Calloway, for whom Wake's undergraduate school is named, was a mentor of Reinemund's as an earlier PepsiCo CEO. Reinemund oversaw the Pizza Hut installation in the Benson Student Center on campus. His older kids considered going to school at Wake Forest. And he has visited often to make speeches.
More important has been his decade-old relationship with President Nathan Hatch, where the two met as national board members for the Salvation Army. Both men embody similar leadership and spiritual values, and have admired each other's professional accomplishments.
Thus, last fall, as Reinemund was considering his next career move and where he could make the kind of impact that best fits his skills and aspirations, he was intrigued to learn that Wake Forest would be looking for a new business school dean. He actually read the job description online. Then he talked it over for weeks with his wife before calling Hatch in February to ask: "What would you think if I threw my hat in the ring?"
Jill Tiefenthaler, in her first major task as Wake Forest's new provost, oversaw the search process. She knew much was at stake. Putting the two schools together was the right idea for two relatively small but solid programs. But picking the wrong leader could damage both, she says.
"Looking at how competitive business education has become and how small our schools separately are in terms of students and faculty, how do you do all you want to do in this global marketplace?" Tiefenthaler says. "Having the right leadership is absolutely critical."
The numbers underscore the provost's point: Calloway has 516 students and 31 faculty members, the Babcock school has 264 students in its full- and part-time programs and 42 faculty members.
Reinemund's 22 years of experience with PepsiCo — running divisions, making acquisitions and mergers, managing and developing key personnel — would all seem applicable to combining and running two business schools. Until you remember that academia often runs by its own rules and at its own deliberate pace with tenured employees/critics who cannot be ignored or replaced.
Brower says what impressed her most about Reinemund was not so much his resume, but himself. He seemed genuine, reflective, even humble. He explained how his experience might apply to the new job of dean, but stressed he had much to learn from those around him. He listened. He even pushed back.
As the committee tipped from interviewing the candidate to persuading him to accept the job, Reinemund pressed them to think hard about his lack of academic experience and whether that would be a handicap, and whether they truly believed his corporate skills would readily transfer.
"What really sold the search committee — the lighting of the candles way above the icing on the cake, if you will — was that he spent a half hour interviewing us, urging us to be careful with our decision," says Tom Dingledine, who chairs the Babcock school's board of visitors. "Since he's accepted, I've told my colleagues on the committee that I'm still getting chills from this. It's just incredible."
The real challenges, of course, lie ahead. And Reinemund says he will head to Winston-Salem this summer with far more questions than answers at the outset. One question will not only stand above others, it will likely be his guiding light:
"How does putting these two schools together create a better opportunity for the students to become successful business leaders?" he asks. "It's way too premature to weigh in on this, but what appeals to me is this: I have been involved in mergers and business transactions and the successful ones are about creating growth and positive change, not efficiency through cost cutting and squeezing. Those are never terms that describe a successful venture that puts resources together."