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Former CEO gives corporate leaders a good name


January 10, 2003

To read today's headlines, ethics, moral character, and good deeds aren't associated with many of today's corporate executives.

Don't tell that to Bob Stauth, retired CEO of Fleming Cos., one of the nation's largest grocery distributors. The Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness Advisory Board member exemplifies the ethical business leader through his volunteer activities with Arizona State University East and ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business.

In addition to his Morrison School advisory board role, Stauth teaches a class on responsibilities of CEOs to 48 second-year MBA students; works with the National Agricultural Marketing Association student group; guest lectures on both campuses; serves on the School of Business's Dean's Council of 100 and the Dean's Board of Excellence; and mentors Business Honors students, undergraduates and MBAs.

"Not all CEOs are bad," he said. "With all the bad things you hear, there are 50 good ones for every bad one."

Ray Marquardt, dean of the Morrison School, would agree.

"Bob Stauth brings the unique experience of a former CEO to our students," said Marquardt. "His real world stories let the students know the types of decisions they will likely face in the business world.

"He gives them examples of decisions he had to make, asks them what their decision would have been and then tells them what his decision was and whether it was probably right or wrong. This creates a great learning environment."

But Stauth admits that actions from such executives at Tyco, Enron and Worldcom, have rightfully raised eyebrows about corporate malfeasance.

"This is really a crisis in America, and I'm almost at the level of being appalled at the headlines today," Stauth said. "I used to tell people I am an ex-CEO. Now I say I'm a former grocery store executive."

He sees an end to the crisis though, and an opportunity to clean up the executive offices and boardrooms of American business by starting with students.

Retired corporate executives are a "huge untapped resource" for universities, he said. Marquardt agrees, noting that Morrison School faculty involve executives in their classes whenever possible.

Business School Dean Larry Penley said "Bob is a tremendous asset to the School of Business. He is one of the very best examples of those who give back to the community."

Stauth says his goal is to show students that their education is about more than getting a degree and getting a job. Students need to develop values, passion and skills to move up the ladder - at the appropriate time.

"I take some seasoning and real-world experience and apply it in the classroom," said Stauth. "Students have no connection to what life is like in the corporate world and (corporate executives) can help guide them through the maze."

Stauth got his start at age 14 in a Kansas grocery store, later becoming a supplier with Fleming and working his way steadfast up the ladder to CEO. He retired at age 55.

He now volunteers 30 hours a week at ASU.

"I kind of think of this as the giving back portion of my career," he said.