University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 6: Anne O'Leary-Kelly Shares Her Passion for Student Success

January 09, 2019  |  By Matt Waller

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Anne O'Leary-Kelly is the Senior Associate Dean of the Walton College of Business. She received her B.A. from the University of Michigan and received her Ph.D. in Business Administration and Management from Michigan State University.

Episode Transcript


00:08 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today.


00:28 Matt Waller: Today, I'm talking to Anne O'Leary-Kelly who is the Senior Associate Dean of the Walton College and a Professor in Management. Thank you for joining me.

00:39 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Oh, it's a pleasure.

00:40 Matt Waller: And one thing that Anne has been working on... Many things over the past few years, but one of them that I wanted to talk a little bit about is student success. The entire university has been working on developing priorities. When Chancellor Steinmetz came in, he went around and talked to all of the departments on campus and then he got groups of faculty together. And in the end, we came up with eight guiding priorities of the campus, and one of them is student success. And as the Walton College, we want student success as well. In fact, our vision statement says that through our teaching research and service will be thought leaders and catalysts for transforming lives. And so, we want student success as well, and Anne has been really running with the ball on that. Anne, would you mind talking just a little bit about what you've been doing with that?

01:43 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: I'd like to. First, I think the Chancellor's challenge to us around student success is really interesting because when you first think about that, it's sort of a head-scratcher, because everything we do every day is about student success. So to say, "Okay, we need to focus on student success," it took me a while to really understand what a great challenge that was. And I think it's a great challenge because, essentially, it says you need to go back and look at the foundation of everything that you're doing around this key area. And so, that... Once I started thinking about it from that perspective, it helped me really envision how we can begin to make some progress here. I think one question that's important around student success, that I'm not sure I had really asked at such a fundamental level as I should have before, was taking a look at who are our students. Who is here and who is not here on campus with us. And that's very important to student success when we're talking about a land-grant university.

03:02 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: So, one of the things that we've been thinking about here in Walton is, are we reaching all of the Arkansas students that we can be? And we've undertaken a few initiatives to try to make sure that that's the case. To give one example, we have been reaching out to community colleges in the state and trying to make sure that we make it as easy as possible for those students, when they complete their degrees at the community college, to be able, if they're interested, to transfer into Walton and to come up and join us here and complete their degree. Or if they're not able to physically come up here, which is sometimes the case with family and work, and other commitments, to utilize our online degree, which we've created a number of years ago and can really bring that same power of the Walton degree and that same knowledge base to students regardless of where they are. And so, that's something we're putting a lot of energy into.

04:11 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Hoping to also raise some scholarships to help students overcome the additional financial challenges of moving from one tuition to a more expensive tuition. But we're really encouraged about the partnerships that we're developing with our partner schools around the state and feeling a lot of interest and enthusiasm for that initiative. So, I think that's one way that we started to think about student success.

04:42 Matt Waller: I think it's an important way. Reaching the right people in the state is so important because, of course, we have great brand recognition, we have great placement. So if a student comes here, we're helping them transform, we're serving as a catalyst for transforming their lives, if for no other reason than the brand.

05:06 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah, yeah.

05:07 Matt Waller: But Anne, one of the things that you and I've talked about, and several of us have is, when students transition here from high school or a community college, that can be a difficult time. And I know we're rethinking many things in the college to try to improve that transition.

05:33 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Absolutely. I think that's another key learning around student success, is that we need to really be thinking about the student journey in a very holistic way. So, when you think about a university campus, there's so much here that's a one-off experience. Every class you take is a one-off experience. Many times, that faculty member you connect with is a one-off experience. A club you join is a one-off experience. So, there's a lot here that's in the moment or in the semester. And so, that's good in that it brings a lot of opportunities to students, but it also can be a challenge for a lot of students, because they feel a little bit like their heads are spinning, and there's no sort of cogent experience across the entire time here.

06:28 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: And that begins when a student transfers in, for example, they're used to one culture and then they come here and boom, they've got a flurry of activities and lots of one-off experiences, and it kind of can be hard to absorb. What am I doing here? Who am I? How am I changing? What does this all add up to? And so, we've really been trying to give some thought to that as well. How do we make this experience feel like there's one set of things the student is working on at sort of a global level, and these classes and experiences are feeding those changes that they're going through. So I think that's a really great point. And I think it's true for all of our students, regardless of where they come from, but I think with students from community colleges, there's a particular challenge with that because it is very different.

07:21 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: One of the things we've talked about to alleviate that is to really work closely with these partners at the community colleges to help students from the very beginning envision, not just their life at the community college, but this sort of global sense of who do I wanna be and what am I working towards, and maybe even a little bit of co-branding early on when they enter their community college experience, so they begin to set their sights and expectations on Walton or whoever, whatever university they go to, just so they continue to think about their professional development and where they're going. So I think you're exactly right and it's so critical, and I don't think it's something that we've necessarily done well in the past.

08:09 Matt Waller: Well, I'm grateful that you have taken such leadership in bringing this about. It's so important, because we have so many great resources to offer here. When you really think about it, we've got financial crises, racial tensions, disruptions in industries. We need leaders, we need managers, and we have the resources here to develop students into leaders and managers. Now, not all students will take advantage of it, but I do view this as part of the student's success, because I know it's one thing, we wanna reach the right... We wanna reach... Cast the net broadly, so to speak. We wanna get students here and be catalysts for transforming lives, and I know we made a strategic decision early on, where we didn't wanna... One way we could have improved the college would be to just make it harder and harder to get into the Walton College. Right?

09:12 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yes, yes, yes. And a lot of places are doing that.

09:16 Matt Waller: A lot of places do it and it works. It's easy, actually. We decided to go the harder route and say, "No, let's not make it harder to get in. Let's do a better job of transforming the lives that are here, being catalysts for transforming lives."

09:32 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: And asking, "Who's not here in campus that should be?" So I think your point is excellent. And if you think about the history of Arkansas and what has made this state, it is people from some unlikely circumstances and places in life who stepped up and started something and grew it. And so I think it would be really arrogant of us to assume that the next great entrepreneur from this state or the next great business mind from this state is necessarily someone who started here as a freshman and ends their time here. We need to be asking how do we engage with everyone around the state and bring whatever content opportunities we have to people wherever they are, and that's partly what our online degree is about, that's what this community college opportunity is about, and it is very different than what some other really up-and-coming, rising in the ranks schools are doing. It fundamentally fits the spirit of Arkansas.

10:37 Matt Waller: It does, and it really fits our land-grant mission as well. And I think, as a leadership team, you and I both prefer this. Our jobs are so challenging. If we're gonna put this much time and effort into this, let's really make a difference. We both feel like that, I know.

11:02 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah, yeah.

11:02 Matt Waller: And the other thing that really occurs to me is that, again, a student gets here. They, all of a sudden, they're in a college that has alumni that are quite well-recognized. The CEO of Walmart, the CEO of Sam's Club, and Sam's Club would be the fifth largest retailer in the world if it were a standalone retailer, the CEO of Dillard's, the CEO of 99-Cent Only Stores, which is out in Los Angeles, California, the CEO of JB Hunt, the CEO of FIS, which is a Fortune 100 company. It's one of the most successful fintech-type companies in the world. And that doesn't even mention all the other great entrepreneurs that have been extremely successful from here, but these students come in from all kinds of backgrounds, some of which are quite poor, and they come in here and, all of a sudden, they have the opportunity to become an alum of a school that has alumni that are extremely successful globally.

12:24 Matt Waller: And I'm sure that's appealing. We're trying to do a better job of showing that to the students, that, "Hey, here's your opportunity." But at the same time, to your point, it could be pretty overwhelming because I think some people may feel like an impostor, but they also may have trouble making choices. Studies have been done that show that when people are given too many choices, sometimes they don't choose. There was a real famous study where they had, I think it was done from a professor at Stanford, where they had a stand and they had three different kinds of jam. And it was a stand right in the front of a store, so when people came in, they could see there's like three different... I'm not sure if it was three, it may have been more than that. But... I can't remember what percentage of the people stopped, but let's say it's around 50%. And they sold someone... They sold 30% of the people when they came in. But then they increased the assortment of jams. They started having jalapeño and blueberry, and I don't know. I think they increased it to say, 20 or something. Again, these numbers may not be right.

13:46 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: No doubt there was some bacon flavor in there somewhere. [laughter]

13:48 Matt Waller: Exactly, yeah. Bacon, definitely. Especially if they were a razorback. But the percentage of people that stopped grew dramatically, but the percentage of people that purchased decreased from 30% down to 5% or something like that. And sometimes I think, gosh, when a student comes here, there's lots of guest speakers that can come here. We have senior executives from companies here all, every single day, just about. There's something or other. Speaking in a class, they're speaking at an exec ed program or whatever the case may be, but there's so many opportunities to network. We have etiquette training so they can learn how to go to dinner with people in an interview. There's just so many options here in the Walton College and... We sent a questionnaire out to all 6000-plus students that said, "On a scale of one to 10, how likely would you be to recommend the Walton College to a good friend back home? One being 'I definitely wouldn't', ten being 'I absolutely would.'"

15:03 Matt Waller: The average score was like 8.5. But we then asked two other questions, open-ended. One was "What do you see as the greatest strength of the Walton College?" And then, "What do you see is our biggest opportunity for improvement?" We were just talking earlier about how one of the top listed things that would... Number one, I think, was faculty, number two was curriculum, these are strengths, and number three was resources. And I remember you said, "Well, what are these resources?" And we started looking through the spreadsheet. But when you skim down through the spreadsheet of answers, you see, "Oh, this could easily cause a problem 'cause we've got so many options, it could be challenging."

15:55 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah, yeah. Well, I wanna come back to that issue of too many options. But first, I would just want to really reiterate your point about the incredible alumni from this school and the people who come and invest in it, who spend time here in our halls. And you know I love the issue of identity, and I like to think about things in terms of identity. And I think what that does is, it says to a student, "You are in this group, you are in the same group as this incredible person that you're listening to, or you've read about, or you admire," and that has powerful effects on people. That can be really impactful in terms of thinking about who I am and what I'm capable of.

16:45 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: And so, that is an incredible opportunity that we have here for transforming lives. Because if you go to Harvard, or Stanford, or my beloved University of Michigan [chuckle] which I'm an alumnus of, those are places where you've got a narrower set of people who are in classes, and we have students from a broader set of backgrounds. And so, to say to that group of students, "You're in the same identity group as these amazing people that you've read about or that you've admired" is very powerful. So I think that's a real strength that we have going for us we need to keep really identifying and taking advantage of. You talked about too many choices and I think that's such an interesting issue. And that reminds me of something else around student success that we've been working on a lot, and that is career readiness. So we've been realizing that, when students come to campus, the first thing we have them do is go talk to an academic advisor, and they say, "Here are my career goals, what coursework should I take?"

17:58 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: And it's very clear what they need to do. There's a plan of study and there are some choices in there. But it's more like the three jams, not the list of 20, 100 jams. And, so that works pretty well and that keeps most students on track. But what we haven't done a good job, in terms of limiting choices or shaping choices, I guess, is probably a better way of thinking about it, is in the area around the curriculum. So, as you said, we have so many great opportunities for students while they're here. They can be in clubs, they can do internships, they can study abroad, they can participate in McMillon Innovation Studio, they can be part of Enactus.

18:46 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: There are just so many things that they can do. But these are all opportunities, just get thrown at them, and they don't know how to think through those, they don't even know what some of them are. It's overwhelming to try and go investigate all of them, and then make decisions when the meeting is tomorrow. And so, what we're trying to do at career writing is to give a lot more intentional thought to helping students have the structure for making those decisions. So, what we want them to be able to do is to say, "Hey, if you're interested in X, this is the career you're working towards. Maybe you wanna be a retail analyst. What are the activities that are recommended for you to participate in while you're here?" And what we've been doing is working with a lot of these great industry partners to identify what those opportunities should be.

19:38 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: So we're going to those industry partners and saying, "Hey, what are the competencies or skills our students may be lacking and... That are really important for this type of job, for the retail analyst, for example?" And then, we're trying to encourage students to go to those opportunities that help them build those skills. And so, the idea is to give them, really, similar kind of program and set of limited choices, like they would get when they're making choices about their curriculum, as a way of overcoming that paralysis that can set in when there are just too many choices. So we'll still have all these great opportunities available, it's just, we wanna help shape them and direct students a little bit more than we have in the past.

20:23 Matt Waller: I really think that kind of a path for students is gonna make a big difference. It's really exciting, I'm so glad that you've come up with this idea.

20:34 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah.

20:35 Matt Waller: The other thing that this reminds me of a little bit, when they're here, one is, I think, as they engage in all these things, they're more likely to finish in the long run, because they're committed. They get more and more committed. They feel like they're part... It gets back to your identity thing. One thing we haven't talked about before, regarding identity, 'cause I know you're an expert in identity, and you've convinced me over the years [chuckle] that it is a really powerful tool in business leadership and management.

21:07 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: I do hear you using that word more and more often, so that's very encouraging.


21:10 Matt Waller: I see it all the time, 'cause you've taught me about it, and I love it. But one thing I thought of recently, I forgot to mention to you, someone asked me a question. And for those of you listening, we have values as a college, and our values are excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. That's not just what we long to be, it's actually what we value. That's why we call them values. And it's really our culture, I think. Not to say that we're where need to be in all of those, but we value them, and we're moving in that direction. And we use the acronym EPIC, excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. And we talk about what that means, and we have it on the elevators.

21:57 Matt Waller: That was another idea, you had to put... To wrap the elevators in EPIC and other things. We often say, "Be epic." We have a logo that shows the State of Arkansas and the word "Epic" is in it, and then in front of it, it says, "Be," so, "Be Epic." And of course, Epic used to mean a poem or a story that's heroic in some way. And now it's come to mean in common parlance something great. And so, when we say, "Be epic," it's kind of neat, because it says, "Be a part of who we are." So, when you come to the Walton College, you are epic, you're a part of who we are, excellence, professionalism, innovation, collegiality. But someone asked me something interesting, and I've been wanting to talk to you about it. I was talking to a group of students, which by the way, we have a culture as leaders here of really reaching out to students. I'm constantly talking to students, every single day.

23:06 Matt Waller: When I'm walking from my car to the building, when I walk in the hall, any student that I have time to speak with, even if I don't have time, I start talking to them. And you learn all kinds of things. We've got over 6000 students, you've gotta constantly be learning from the students. And the other day, I went out in the hall and I was walking down the hall, and there were two people sitting on the bench by the Undergraduate Programs Office. They were just sitting there, and I said, "Oh, you two must be new freshmen here in the Walton College," and I introduced myself to them. And they said, "No, we're parents. Our kid's in there."

23:46 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Oh my gosh, [chuckle] oh my gosh. [laughter] Oh, man.

23:47 Matt Waller: Of course, I knew they weren't freshmen, I was kind of joking with them. But anyway, later that day, I was meeting with some students, and one of them said to me, "Okay, I do want to be epic. I want to be epic. I don't know, really, that I am epic." And we talked about it a little bit. And I said, "Here's one thing that comes to my mind." And this just came off the top of my head. I said, "If you wanna be epic, you must see epic. If you wanna be excellence, you have to see excellence around you, and figure out how to adopt it. You need to see excellence in other people and bring it out in them. So, if you wanna be epic, you must see epic." And I went through the whole list of our values, and as I was saying it, I thought, "That's so simple." But it's really true, and I think it reflects what we're doing. And I think, with your career readiness initiative, that really does that.

24:50 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah, yeah. Well, and I think, it's really interesting, I'd never thought about this before, but when you talked about the word epic originally meaning sort of a journey or a story, and now it means great. But I think the way that we use in the college, it means both of those things.

25:09 Matt Waller: It does.

25:09 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: I hadn't thought about it before, but... And that's what career readiness is. It says, "If you wanna be great, you need to think about your journey. You need to shape your journey. You need to be cognizant of your journey." And that's not just your academic program of study. It's personal kinds of competencies and skills and interests and investments and professional ones. And that's how that student who says, "I wanna be epic, but I don't know how to do it," I think that's how they do it. They shape their journey. And they're very aware of thinking about who they are in the academic, personal, and professional space.

25:51 Matt Waller: And I think one mistake students sometimes make is they think, "If I don't know what I wanna be when I grow up, so to speak, then I'm too late already." It's never true.

26:03 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: No. No.

26:04 Matt Waller: It's not true when you're 50.

26:05 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: No.

26:06 Matt Waller: It's not true when you're 60.

26:07 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Right.

26:08 Matt Waller: It's certainly not true when you're in the Walton College of Business. But there's this myth that you should know what you want to do. And how can you?

26:19 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah.

26:19 Matt Waller: And I think that's another thing about career readiness is it, it gives you exposure to so many different things that can... To your point, it's the journey.

26:30 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yup, exactly.

26:30 Matt Waller: And I think the other error is thinking that there is one best journey for me. I need to find that optimal journey, to get to that optimal job, to do... Have this optimal life that'll make me happy. And in reality, there's probably an infinite combination of things...

26:48 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yes.

26:49 Matt Waller: That could make you happy and fulfilled.

26:52 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yes. And I don't know... Well, I guess, we could find where we send those messages to kids. I mean... But clearly nobody lives that way. I mean, you go back to these amazing business partners who come in and work with our students. There can not be one of them who had a straight path. All of us curve and weave, and dodge sometimes. [chuckle] But that's just... That's the nature of life. And so, I love the idea of Epic being a journey and really helping students see that. You know, it kinda goes back to that issue of college also is a series of one-off things that are very constrained in time. But when students come here, this is the biggest life they've had to this point. So it's hard to envision how it gets bigger from here. And I think it's that context and that ability to see a longer vision that gives you more confidence that you don't have to get everything right in four years in your life or your life is over.

28:01 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: And you know, thinking back to our earlier conversation, I think that's where having this broader, more diverse set of students coming here really helps all of us. So, if we have more students who are non-traditional coming from the community college here to finish, that helps our student who's 18 years old and just moved here from across town or from a small town in Arkansas. They can say, "Look at this person, how amazing they are. And their path here has been circuitous. Mine will be too as I move through my life." 'Cause all of us go through that at some point.

28:36 Matt Waller: Yeah. There's so many examples in Arkansas. Sam Walton was 40 when he started Walmart. He didn't know when he was in college, he wanted to start the company that would become the Fortune one company.

28:54 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: But everything he was doing to that point is what led him to be able to do that.

29:00 Matt Waller: Exactly. So, the journey to your point is so critical.

29:03 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah.

29:04 Matt Waller: And that seems to be a theme that is coming up. I know, as we've been studying entrepreneurship, 'cause that's one of our primary strategic endeavors as a college. One of our three primary strategic endeavors is entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurs, it's... They need to think about it. Studies have shown more like a journey. When they think, "Okay, I'm gonna create a better mouse trap, I design a better mouse trap. I come up with a business model for a better mouse trap. And I just keep trying to sell this better mouse trap." That fails.

29:39 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah.

29:41 Matt Waller: Research shows that it's better to identify a problem, and then talk to lots of people about that problem. And then eventually come up with a product or service that solves that problem, after lots of discussions. But then once it's introduced, the product or service, the most successful entrepreneurs constantly morph and pivot.

30:06 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah.

30:06 Matt Waller: They find out the real goal, even before they optimize the business model to make money. The real goal isn't getting the feedback. As people try the product or service, they're constantly going back and forth, and eventually, they come out with something that works.

30:24 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah. You know that's funny. It reminded me of an experience I had a couple weeks ago. I took an introductory pottery class just on a lark. And so, you're spinning this wheel and you're holding this clump of clay, and I was trying to shape it, so it looked like one of the ones on the shelf, one of the easy ones, but I was trying to make it look like something on the shelf, and it kept just collapsing. It was terrible. I just couldn't get it to work. And finally, the instructor, who was a very patient woman said... She said, "Stop trying so hard to make it something. Just feel it. Just let it emerge in your hands." And so, I stopped even looking at it. I was looking up at the ceiling and just feeling it. And it emerged into something that I wasn't trying to force it to be. And I think that's what you just described with the entrepreneur journey. And it really worked. I was kind of amazed.

31:22 Matt Waller: Well, you know, the other fallacy is that people think you need to pursue your passion. Well, I'm 54 years old, and I'm Dean of the Walton College, I'm not quite sure. I've got a bunch of passions. And so you think if you're 18 years old...

31:43 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah.


31:46 Matt Waller: You're supposed to pursue your passion. You know, some people are fortunate enough to know what their passion is, but I think... I don't know what the statistics are, but I would guess it's rare. And that's another reason to pursue the journey. When they come here, they can try new things and say, "Well, that's not it. That's definitely not my passion." And they try something else, "Oh, I do like this." They can keep morphing. It's almost like they're an entrepreneur and their product is them.

32:16 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this generation, more than any other is recognizing that. I think they still feel pressure to make decisions and to pay back the investment that their families and the state have made in them. But I think they're more open to exploration. So, shame on us if we don't create an experience for them, where we help them do that, while also graduating.


32:48 Matt Waller: Yeah.

32:51 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: But it's really up to us to help them find a way to do that.

32:55 Matt Waller: It is and you know, I think that's part of... I mean, part of student success is students graduating on time. But I do think if they see it as a journey, a journey of exploration, a journey of joy, it really can be a great time in life.

33:14 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Well, and this is the great thing about the disruption in higher education. I think just in the delivery of education in general is that it's perfectly suited to help somebody with that journey. You don't learn everything you need to learn when you graduate. And so, we have great opportunities, online tools, executive education, lots of ways that colleges of business or universities in general, and really all kinds of educational institutions are bringing information and content to people. And I think that's another challenge that we have to step up to and think about a lot is how do we be that place where we can bring information to people on their journeys, not just in the first four years of their adulthood.

34:07 Matt Waller: It's a good point. So I met a student recently who's majoring in business, but not accounting, they're not majoring in accounting. But given their interest, he was... Well, he said to me, he said, he wished he would have majored in accounting. But to do so would take, I think, another year or something. I can't remember what he told me. I said, "Well, guess what? You can graduate on time and then enter our masters in accounting program. And you are going to be able to have an accounting career, if that's what you really want." So it really... We've got so many things in place to allow people to pivot as they go forward. They often don't know it, but we really do.

34:54 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah. Now there are a lot more portals into the university and a lot more portals out that can take people in different directions than we've ever had before.

35:04 Matt Waller: Well, you know... And one of the other things that you have been very involved in is the China supply chain management program that we've been working on. And it's been challenging for many reasons. It was a very... It's a very innovative program. Students are coming here from China. They've already been coming here, but they're coming here as cohorts from target universities in China. It's clearly beneficial to the Chinese students. Someone from the outside looking in might say, "Why is that beneficial to Arkansans? And why is it beneficial to Arkansan students in the Walton college?"

35:50 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah, I mean, I think it's a good question when you just look at it quickly. It seems like maybe we're putting energy into Chinese students, not Arkansas students. But Arkansas students need to know about China, right? Arkansas students need to know about the world. And it's just the case that a lot of our students have not had an opportunity to directly meet people from China and they haven't had a chance to go to China. And what we wanna do is to bring China here for those students. And I think this program is really successful in doing that. So, they'll be sitting in class, they'll be in a dorm room, they'll be in a student organization with students from other parts of the world. And that is tremendously helpful to breaking down barriers, to helping students get comfortable and with people from other cultures, just learning what questions to ask, and I think they just start paying more attention. So if you have a Chinese friend, you start paying more attention to tariffs in China or other current news events. And so, we feel like it brings tremendous benefit to everyone involved. Also brings a lot of benefit to some of our corporate partners.

37:21 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: So, students in China with Western training good supply chain skills are beneficial to American companies too, and so, they've been very interested in connecting with those students and having them for interns and hiring them when they return home.

37:43 Matt Waller: We don't... One of our former students Kurt Lind, who's the CEO and founder of Overdrive Brands, they import products from China. His company is extremely successful, and he does so much business with China, it's unbelievable. Another company a student started while he was in college, and he just graduated and this company is already doing great. It's a company called ScootTribe and the founder is Jonathan Kerr. He could not get major brands of scooters to sell to him 'cause he didn't have the finances for it, but he got a Chinese company.

38:27 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Ohh.

38:28 Matt Waller: But I could go through the list. There's a long list of students of ours that have had to or find it beneficial to deal with other countries, including China, which is a particularly large market. But I mean, when you think about it, one of the largest Sam's Clubs in the world, is in China. It's a big market. We have companies that sell too to China we have companies that buy from China. Our students need to be exposed to the world. It's another part of serving as a catalyst for transforming lives.

39:13 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Well, and one of the things that we work on all the time, is trying to get support for our goal is every one of our Walton students has a chance to study abroad somewhere, and as our support for that increases what we would love is for a student to say, "Hey, I wanna go to China and see what's going on over there. That would be so transformative to them personally, and also to their career opportunities, and that's much more likely to happen if they've had a friend here sitting in a classroom working in a group with them, who's from China. It's pretty daunting to think, I'm gonna go study abroad in China, when you know nothing about China. But if that world has been opened to them through friendships here that are comfortable, and a network has started to form and then we're able to come in with some scholarship support for a study abroad opportunity, that's... That is true transformation.

40:14 Matt Waller: You know, one of the Chinese students that I met from Shanghai, his father who's also a Chinese, is the Senior Supply Chain Executive for a US Fortune 100 company doing business in Shanghai China. And so, it's a well-known high tech company and his father is the head of supply chain for this really innovative company that's doing a lot of business globally, not just in China. But our students here in the Walton college, our Arkansan students, all of the sudden now have a friend.

41:01 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yeah.

41:03 Matt Waller: It opens up their network in a way that they could have never dreamed. Coming... You know, a student coming from a rural part of Arkansas comes to the Walton college, and then all of a sudden has that kind of a connection.

41:17 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: And I think it's not... It wasn't clear to me initially, but I've seen this so many times I get it now, that when you have a student who comes... An international student like that who comes to the US and has a good experience, they become a lifelong partner with that university. We still have people on the dean's executive advisory board who are tremendously influential in their countries. They were here as international students in the '70s.

41:47 Matt Waller: Good point.

41:48 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: And the power that they bring to the college and to future students is enormous. So that's another layer of it too.

41:55 Matt Waller: And the wealth they bring, I mean...

41:56 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: And the wealth they bring.

41:57 Matt Waller: Many of them are huge benefactors to us.

42:01 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Yup, absolutely.

42:02 Matt Waller: Well, Anne, thank you for all you're doing. Your leadership has just been phenomenal and we're grateful to have you on the team and thank you for taking time to talk with me.

42:14 Anne O'Leary-Kelly: Walton college is an easy place to love. We've got a lot going on and I'm excited to be part of it.

42:22 Matt Waller: Thanks.


42:22 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the "Be EPIC Podcast" From the Walton College. You can find us on Google SoundCloud, iTunes or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us, you can find current and past episodes by searching, beepicpodcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast and now Be Epic.


Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

Be Epic Podcast

We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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