Teaching business leaders about politics in an 'Occupy' world

December 15, 2011

From “Occupy Wall Street” to presidential elections, it’s becoming more important than ever for business leaders to understand how the business world and the political arena intersect.

Gerry Keim, professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, has been teaching business executives and students the importance of getting involved in the political process for years. He will now carry his messages to an even larger audience as the newly named chairman of the board of The Washington Campus, a nonprofit university consortium in the District of Columbia. Professor Gerry Keim Download Full Image

“Many businesses fail to engage in Washington until they get into serious trouble,” explains Keim, who is also chair of the Management Department at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “They’re not proactive until they get burned, and then they start to think ‘now what should we do.’ I want to change that.”

Keim says the Occupy Wall Street movement has brought the connection between business and politics into sharp focus. For example, he notes politicians have become more sensitive to issues like executive salaries, distributing big bonuses and outsourcing jobs.

“Businesses now need to explain what they’re doing and why,” says Keim, who has consulted for major companies, including Bayer AG, Exxon, Pfizer Inc., State Farm Insurance and Sears, Roebuck & Co. “Layoffs to reduce costs, big salary increases at the top and other major business decisions are under scrutiny. High unemployment and concern that the distribution of wealth in this country is becoming more unequal are driving attention now directed at business practices.”

Keim says companies shouldn’t just monitor activity in Washington. They should actively participate, mobilizing employees, retirees and even business rivals with similar interests in public policy issues.

“It’s been said democracy isn’t a spectator sport,” says Keim. “Even U.S. presidents can’t get many major policies through without help from Congress. Therefore, businesses should engage politicians from all of their company-location areas to make an impact. They can even invite political candidates from both parties to speak to employees, demonstrating their voting power and interest.”

Keim, who has been recognized by Businessweek as one of America’s outstanding business school professors, teaches a popular course on “Business and Public Policy” to executive MBA students at the W. P. Carey School of Business. It includes exercises where students create a mock state budget on the actual Senate floor in Phoenix, as well as a trip to Washington to meet key political players. His work with The Washington Campus, a nonprofit university consortium, is an extension of this interest in business and public policy.

The Washington Campus was founded in 1978 by former FDIC chairman and CNBC commentator L. William Seidman, among other major public policy leaders. The organization is aimed at getting business leaders more involved in national policy debates. More than a dozen top business schools are consortium member schools, including those at Georgetown University, Emory University, The University of Texas at Austin, Indiana University, University of Michigan, Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley. Both MBA students and business executives can participate in programs.

For more information about The Washington Campus, visit washcampus.edu.  For more information about Keim or the W. P. Carey School of Business, visit wpcarey.asu.edu. Business leaders who are interested in learning more about the political process can enroll in the W. P. Carey executive MBA program in which Keim teaches, currently ranked No. 13 in the world by The Wall Street Journal.

Arizona Solar Summit group examines needs for solar cluster

December 15, 2011

Recently, the Supply Chain and Workforce Development group from Arizona Solar Summit visited three solar sites in Gila Bend, Ariz. Gila Bend is currently leading the way for solar development projects in Arizona.

The Supply Chain and Workforce Development group is one of four that formed after the Arizona Solar Summit, held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in August 2011. This group is dedicated to determining the supply chain and workforce needs of the overall solar industry in Arizona. The group consists of representatives from the solar industry, universities, and state and local governments and is led by Bud Annan of the Annan Group, and John Fowler and Glenn Hoetker, both professors in the W..P. Carey School of Business at ASU. Download Full Image

During the site visit, the group toured several different facilities: the Paloma Solar Plant, a 17-megawatt photovoltaic facility built by First Solar, and an 18-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant developed by the Solon Corporation, both owned by Arizona Public Service (APS). They also toured a 280-megawatt Solana Concentrated Solar Power Project from Abengoa.

“The purpose of the trip by the supply chain development group was to gain greater understanding of the planning, construction, and maintenance requirements involved in large renewable energy grid installations” said Bud Annan. “That understanding was enhanced not only by on site observations, but also by briefings from APS representatives, the project owners, and Gila Bend town officials. We learned that by focusing on the supply chain and workforce, we can build opportunities for Arizona businesses.”

Rick Buss, town manager of Gila Bend and member of the group, said, “As we all know Arizona is uniquely positioned to benefit the most in solar energy development. However, the mere fact that the sun is Arizona's greatest natural resource does not translate into an industry full of new jobs and prosperity. To fully realize the economic benefits of the solar industry, we must understand the makeup of the supply chain. By doing this, we will arrive at a comprehensive inventory, targeting the recruitment and retention of solar industry companies in Arizona.” 

The group used these solar site visits to identify actionable next steps directed toward developing the Arizona Solar Cluster. One key finding was that data attained during project construction and operation phases could play a vital role in developing actionable information for future innovation across the supply chain. Having a better understanding of the role of the supply chain in large cluster projects, the group will now turn its attentions toward implementing these next steps at the smaller level, focusing on defining the essential elements for a robust industry in Arizona, identifying core needs of players in the supply chain, and facilitating collaborations to meet those needs.

The 2011 Arizona Solar Summit brought together more than 120 people, from 70 different organizations, to advance the solar energy industry on a regional, state, and national scale. Unlike traditional conferences, the Summit was guided by audience participation, which led to more than 40 people volunteering to be a part of the working groups that came out of the Summit. Sponsors for the event were Arizona Cardinals, Salt River Project, and ASU LightWorks.  

Lauren Azar, special advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy and keynote speaker at the last Summit, stressed, "Do not let this moment pass by Arizona."

The next Summit will take place, March 26-27. The conference will be hosted by the Program on Law and Sustainability and the Center for Law, Science, and Innovation at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in conjunction with ASU LightWorks, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and ASU SkySong. The summit will report the progress of the four groups as well as put a spotlight on the critical legal and policy questions surrounding making Arizona the solar energy capitol of the nation.

For more information about the Summit or the working groups, visit solarsummit.wordpress.com.