President Gillette’s “Current Topics” Economics Class

Students in Dr. Lynn Gillette’s senior level economics course on Current Topics, engage with guest speakers who bring their experience with business issues and entrepreneurial challenges into the classroom.  Students learn through asking questions based on their advance review of case materials and other readings.

Stephen Edelmann, the co-founder and former President of RONCO Consulting Corporation (now retired), built an international services firm that provided training, implementation and management services to developing countries throughout the world.

Under Edelmann’s leadership, RONCO applied entrepreneurial know-how to humanitarian relief efforts and economic growth programs often working closely with U.S. Agency for International Development.  Edelmann’s conversation with students drew from the experiences of over 300 company projects including development of agribusiness in Egypt and management of a massive land privatization effort in the post-Soviet era Ukraine.

Edelmann’s firm led the way in mine-detection programs in Afghanistan and subsequently in Mozambique, Rwanda and elsewhere.  In Afghanistan, RONCO successfully built a business infrastructure and trained local residents in mine-detection.  Edelmann expressed pride in essentially putting RONCO out of the job through the company’s commitment to developing local capacity; RONCO left the country with a fully functioning program in place including 92 trained dogs and over 300 highly trained local employees.  This local company subsequently grew to become the largest civilian employer in Afghanistan.

Students questioned Edelmann on the origins of his commitment to entrepreneurship and his interest in other cultures, sought advice on working in economic development outside of the U.S., and probed the notion of delivering humanitarian relief through a for-profit business.

Edelmann pointed to the strengths of an entrepreneurial mindset that allowed RONCO to rebuild thousands of kilometers of roads in formerly war-torn areas at $.31 per square meter, substantially below the UN standard of $1.50 per square meter.  He shared growing up in environment surrounded by family members who were entrepreneurs, but indicated that he launched his own business only after working for someone else and coming to believe that he had what it took.   He noted that in his experience, entrepreneurs were to be found across all cultures and around the world – all shared a common ability to see opportunities and tenaciously pursue their vision.

John Sherriff, former CEO of Enron Europe and currently Owner, Lake Tahoe Financial, made two guest appearances during the semester.  The first time around, he focused on the details of Enron’s business model, its operations, and its spectacular rise and fall.  In his second appearance, he answered detailed questions from students on his own decade-long business creating a capital financing network for plaintiffs in commercial lawsuits; thereby providing working capital during the often lengthy litigation process.  He explained his analytical framework for assessing opportunities and how he has created a unique niche for his business that positions him to secure projects that meet his overall criteria and appetite for risk.

Rick Mears, Vice President of Guest Services for the San Francisco Giants outlined how the Giants have built a unique fan-centered culture that pervades daily operations at AT&T Park and all aspects of the franchise.  Mears talked about the practical aspects of instilling this focus on the fan experience from the top to the bottom of the organization and involved SNC students in a mock new hire orientation to bring the point home.  Mears emphasized that “excellence is a choice” in business and personal life, and encouraged students to make that commitment.