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Oles and the economic crisis

By Kari VanDerVeen
March 24, 2011

St. Olaf students have read about the global financial crisis in the news, studied it in courses ranging from economics to political science, and felt its impact on the economy as they search for jobs.

But how, exactly, does a St. Olaf education prepare you to lead an organization through the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression? And what has that experience been like?

Students will soon have the opportunity to aim those questions — and many others — directly at alumni who have had front-row seats to the financial crisis in their roles with organizations ranging from the Securities and Exchange Commission to the Federal Reserve Bank to a variety of American corporations.

Hayman

As part of the 2011 St. Olaf Economic Summit: Crisis, Reform, and the Future, a number of alumni will return to campus April 15 to share what they've learned from the recession and what the business and economic climate looks like going forward. They will be joined by keynote speaker Eugene Ludwig, founder and CEO of Promontory Financial Group and former comptroller of the United States Currency. The summit is open to the public, although registration is required and must be completed by April 5.

Jeffrey Hayman '82, CEO of global consumer business at Chartis, Inc. and one of the alumni participating in the summit, says the event should provide an interesting combination of insight from financial experts who have guided the economy and business leaders who have dealt with the on-the-ground issues of the recession.

"I hope students take advantage of the chance to ask questions and gain perspectives from people who have seen the recent financial crisis up close, perhaps from a different angle than they might otherwise have considered," he says.

Lessons learned on the Hill
Lisa Tiedje Carlson '90 knows the value of hearing about the realities of the business world. As a student at St. Olaf, Carlson — now the senior director of strategy execution for Best Buy's Geek Squad — regularly attended the meetings of a group led by Associate Professor of Economics Mary Emery that brought alumni to campus to share their experiences in corporate America.

Carlson

"It made the business world seem more realistic and helped me recognize that my skills and experience were relevant and needed in the job market," she says.

Now she's preparing to return to the Hill to participate in the summit and tell students about her own experiences as an executive at a Fortune 50 company during the global financial crisis. "They will learn that many of the case studies and situations they've studied in class do happen in our daily work, and that they'll be ready to handle those situations," she says.

And better understanding the economic challenges of the past few years will help students prepare for the challenges that they will experience as they develop their own careers, notes Janet Olson Estep '78, another of the alumni participating in the summit. Currently the president and CEO of NACHA – The Electronic Payments Association, Estep has also held positions with U.S. Bank and IBM.

Estep

"At St. Olaf I 'learned to learn,' which was absolutely the best lesson," Estep says. "My career has taken me into three entirely different industries, and in each one I have had to step back and learn the basics first, before becoming more proficient in a way to lead others. Being able to ask 'Why?' and listen is key to learning, but also key to changing — which is critical in today's environment."

Mark Hewitt '74, chair and CEO of Northwoods Bank of Minnesota, hopes the St. Olaf Economic Summit will also remind students that there is more to business finance than Wall Street.

"Although the media continually focuses on Wall Street and big business, much of what has made America economically strong and successful has come from the entrepreneurs and business people on Main Street," says Hewitt, who will also be participating in the summit. "Many of these people are the products of a liberal arts education."

A wealth of insight
With prominent economists and business leaders from across the nation slated to speak at the summit, students are looking forward to the opportunity to get an insider's view on a series of events that has had a significant effect both on the economy and U.S. policy.

Hewitt

"I will be particularly interested to see how speakers' perspectives on the financial crash differ given their various backgrounds," says Rod Hubbard '11, an economics major with a concentration in statistics who is also president of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the economics honor society.

Hubbard also noted that the event would be a perfect opportunity to network with alumni in the business world. He met James Overdahl '80 when the former chief economist at the Securities and Exchange Commission and current vice president of National Economic Research Associates gave a talk on campus last year about the SEC's controversial move to briefly ban short selling during the financial crash. Overdahl will return to the Hill to participate in the summit, and Hubbard is hoping to connect with him again.

Carlson says she learned early on at St. Olaf the importance of relationships and networks — and notes that events like the Economic Summit are a great way for students to expand their network. "You never know when you'll meet another Ole," she says. "There are 34 at my company alone!"

All proceedings from the Economic Summit will be streamed live and archived online.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.