News Story

Greene Conquers Everest at OAC Luncheon

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Dr. Greene (left) chats with Karl De Graff before the luncheon begins.

Dr. Greene (left) chats with Karl De Graff before the luncheon begins.
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Diane Peterson and Connie Sjoberg

Diane Peterson and Connie Sjoberg
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About 30 alumni and friends attended the luncheon at Ti Amo Ristorante in Tulsa.

About 30 alumni and friends attended the luncheon at Ti Amo Ristorante in Tulsa.
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SIFE faculty advisors are known as Sam Walton Fellows.

SIFE faculty advisors are known as Sam Walton Fellows.
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Chris and Linda Busch talk with Trait Thompson (left) and Gene Gregg (right).

Chris and Linda Busch talk with Trait Thompson (left) and Gene Gregg (right).

What can climbing Mount Everest teach us about the most effective way to conduct business? You'd be surprised at the parallels.

Dr. Steve Greene, dean of the ORU College of Business, commanded the attention of the room at the June 15 Alumni Connection Luncheon. Before he tackled the mountain, he talked about his students' many achievements this past year:

  • They scored in the 95th percentile on the National Field Test.
  • In a year-long competition that determined which U.S. schools had the greatest impact when it came to improving people's lives, ORU's Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) chapter was the regional champ and finished 9th in the nation (among 169 schools). Their presentation included seven of the twenty-nine projects they completed this year.
  • The Senior Paper class was involved in a "Shark Tank" experience, modeled on the TV show of the same name, and rewarded investors with revenue.
  • Several started new businesses in Africa and other locales.

After sharing some of his dreams and goals for the school -- more students, a stronger entrepreneurial focus, healing the sick (as in sick businesses), starting new works throughout the world, creating an "Entrepreneur Center without Borders" -- Greene launched into a riveting talk about business lessons to be learned from Into Thin Air, the Jon Krakauer book about the May 1996 Mount Everest disaster.

  • Look for optimal solutions, not acceptable solutions.
  • Don't take shortcuts.
  • Let those "rules of thumb" go by the wayside.
  • Don't focus on where you are; focus on where you're going. (Example: the people who built a factory to produce music CDs instead of realizing that music might be shared in another form in the future ... such as audio downloads.) Ask yourself: "What will the summit look like when we get there?" and "How do we get there?"
  • Challenge the status quo. "I don't need bobblehead strategy meetings," Greene said, where everyone nods yes to everything he says. "I need divine ideas."

Then there's the "Sunk Cost Effect" where someone has too much invested and "is so goal-oriented, they're only thinking about the finish line.

"What you've invested is not what matters," Greene said. "It's what you're able to produce." Referring back to Everest, he said, "It's difficult to turn someone around on a mountain." Despite the possible dangers, they think they've come too far to turn back.

Overconfidence, he said -- again referring to the Everest disaster -- "can put us in the jaws of defeat." The parallel to marketing is when someone is more focused on the product they want to create and less on the business plan. "When I start hearing 'everybody (wants one),'" Greene said, "I think 'nobody.'"

Greene believes accountability is frequently lacking in the marketing realm. He has years of experience in this field, having developed marketing and advertising strategy for more than 1,000 clients including McDonald's, Stanley Steemer, and Jiffy Lube. He referred to what he calls "spray and pray" -- when companies flood the market with ads and promotions in hopes that customers will respond.

Then there's the "Recency Effect" where companies consult the most recent information available and rely on short-term history. "The half-life of marketing thought," Greene said, "is shortening; it's about three years. The Internet changed everything." Returning to the mountain analogy, he said, "Everest was not benevolent because it was (benevolent) for six years" prior to the disaster. "We can be fooled by hot streaks," like the guide who expected to reach the summit safely. "They don't predict the future."

So what's the "Way Forward for Marketers"?

  • Take better care of current customers.
  • Maximize your CRM (customer relationship management).
  • Be bold enough to challenge "that's how we do it here." (There's nothing wrong with being a thinker, Greene said.)
  • Develop and own your own metrics -- your way of measuring results.
  • Prove your ROI -- your return on investment.

Alumni and friends left the luncheon with plenty of food for thought, lessons to apply to their business lives, and in some cases, no doubt, an urge to read Into Thin Air.