2013 Executive Excellence Awards: Overview

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Executive excellence is about good leadership and great execution. It’s about inspiring employees to put their best efforts into their work, whether they’re creating something completely new or serving customers in the best possible way day after day. Colleen Brown recalls that when she took over as CEO of Fisher Communications, the company had “great people and they just needed to be allowed to excel.”

Every great executive has his or her own particular way of eliciting excellence in others. For Inrix CEO Bryan Mistele, it’s about being transparency regarding finances, so employees feel like owners. For Dara Khosrowshahi at Expedia, it’s about uniting employees behind the mission of revolutionizing travel through technology. For Expeditors International CEO Peter Rose, it’s about hiring and training the right kind of people. For Columbia Bank’s Melanie Dressel, it’s about good communication.

Of course, building a great organization isn’t just about having a great CEO. Strong management means having great leadership at every level. When Sterling Bank lost its way and came close to bankruptcy, the bank was lucky to have Ezra Eckhardt step in as COO to help raise capital, cut costs and shrink bad assets so it could focus on what it does best: customer service. Marcia Mason, the vice president of human resources at Esterline Technologes for 19 years and now its general counsel, made sure culture and values remained intact even as the company acquired dozens of other firms. And as chief legal officer of F5 Networks, Jeff Christianson has played a key role in identifying and protecting the firms’s key technologies.

There are as many roads to great leadership as there are people. As evidence, we present the winners of our inaugural Executive Excellence Awards:

Jerry Lee, Chairman, MulvannyG2 Architecture – Lifetime Achievement Award recipient
Peter Rose, Chairman & CEO, Expeditors International
Megan Karch, CEO, FareStart
Colleen Brown, President & CEO, Fisher Communications
Steven Singh, Chairman & CEO, Concur Technologies
Dara Khosrowshahi, President & CEO, Expedia
Melanie Dressel, President & CEO, Columbia Bank
Bryan Mistele, President & CEO, Inrix
Mary Ellen Stone, Executive Director, King County Sexual Assault Resource
Ezra Eckhardt, President & COO, Sterling Bank
Kathryn Flores, Chief Administrative Officer, Child Care Resources of King County
Jeff Christianson, Executive Vice President & General Counsel, F5 Networks
Kathleen Philips, General Counsel, Zillow
Marcia Mason, Vice President & General Counsel, Esterline Corporation

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

Gamification software from a UW startup makes biz-school case studies more authentic.
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Imagine you’re the CEO of an airline in crisis. Customers and shareholders are unhappy. Your employees have just gone on strike. What do you do? Give in to union demands? Hold your ground and negotiate? Fire all the employees? 

It’s the first of a cascading set of decisions you must make in The Signature Case Study, a new interactive game developed by Seattle-based Recurrence (recurrenceinc.com) in partnership with the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST). Players take one of five C-suite roles and each player’s decision changes the options available to the others and affects their total scores based on employee, shareholder and customer satisfaction.

The Signature Case Study takes the case-study method, a paper-based system pioneered by the Harvard Business School, and uses game techniques to make it more entertaining and accessible while also giving students and teachers immediate feedback on the quality of their decision making.

Data on 19 variables derived from real airlines on things like lost luggage, fuel costs, stock prices and customer satisfaction are built into algorithms that drive the game and can result in thousands of academically validated outcomes.

CEO and co-inventor Brayden Olson named the company after Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence, the notion that all life will repeat itself through eternity. The interactive case study, he says, allows people to learn from mistakes and develop critical thinking skills that improve their judgment so they won’t make similar mistakes in real life.

While traditional case studies depend heavily on the skills of professors to engage students, The Signature Game Study’s software uses game elements to require interactivity, says co-inventor Bruce Avolio, a professor of management at the UW’s Foster School of Business and executive director of CLST.

The game shows players how decisions made early on can narrow their course of action down the road. They also learn the importance of teamwork to overcome the toughest challenges. “Great games can be both more fun and more challenging,” says Avolio, who sits on Recurrence’s board of directors.

The product, released early this year, has already been adopted at more than 30 schools, including the UW, Stanford, Penn State, Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas, to teach leadership, organizational behavior and strategy. The cases sell for $47.50 per student; Recurrence is looking to add cases in areas such as operations, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship. It’s also working with the University of Alabama nursing school to develop a case study to teach such skills as diagnosis and health care management.

With more than 15,000 business schools in the world, Olson says the market is huge. He notes that publishers of printed case studies are selling 12 million a year, but they recognize that the interactive case study is the future and are looking for Recurrence’s assistance in developing them.