Lessons from the Oregon MBA: A Two Part Interview with Oregon Advanced Strategy Professor Dr. Michael Crooke

PART I: Interview with Dr. Michael Crooke, on sustainability, business, and the Oregon MBA. Conducted April 13, 2016 by Anna Raithel, Center for Sustainable Business Practices MBA, 2017.

 

How do YOU define sustainability?

 Sustainability is our ability to deliver the planet in its current state indefinitely into the future. We’re on a path to sustainability but we’re still moving backwards at an alarming rate. Sustainability to me is ultimately the Cradle To Cradle (Michael Braungart and William McDonough, 2002) type of a definition; that we’re consuming only what is grown. It’s like a sustainable forest – the board feet coming off are equal to the board feet being grown, and you can use it in perpetuity. I want people to think about how business has the power to turn things around. If business doesn’t get on board and start developing value chains that win in the competitive arena, then all is lost because that is where the power is. That is why it is so exciting to be talking about sustainability at a business school. Magnificent, off the chart changes happen when Wal-Mart changes packaging for two or three items, in regard to waste and CO2. Or the way Nike changes the way they knit a shoe, or the materials used like waterless dyes. The technology and these products are sustainably superior to what they replaced. That is what will turn things around.

 

How is sustainability integrated into business? What kind of value does it add?

At the University of Oregon we talk about sustainability as being embedded in the value chain of an organization. It’s not something you do “outside”, that after you do good you do well – it’s actually embedded. We feel that the differentiated companies of the 21st century, the ones that have a long term competitive advantage, they will have a rising tide of sustainability embedded in their value chain as part of their value proposition to the customer. Customers of today are becoming more and more sophisticated in terms of which brands they support and are loyal to. Every time the customer touches the brand it has to say the same things. Once you get that trust of the consumer you have a more valuable brand. The customers are willing to pay more and that creates a higher margin. It’s an interesting way to think about sustainability – that you do it because you want to have a competitive advantage, but you also believe in it, it’s part of your values.

 

What makes the Oregon MBA so special?

 We are using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. The people who come through our program are going out there and changing the world. They’re doing it one small step at a time but with impact. These are smart, hungry, and aggressive individuals. They’re on a career track, working in situations in which they are highly engaged. They want to be a part of the solution, and business is a big part of that solution. This is a very hands-on, experiential program. When our students step out the doors of University of Oregon they’re ready to go – engaged and contributing from day one.

I came here as a professor for the same reasons. After my business career I was teaching at Pepperdine University and I kept getting pulled back to University of Oregon, and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else. So it happens to the professors too.

 

What do you hope is your students’ main takeaway from their time with you?

 I hope they understand that I’ve made so many mistakes, and when they make mistakes they have to move forward based on their training and their gut. They have to move with their values and at the same time realize that if they don’t take any risks they’re not going to make any mistakes. You can pivot, and you don’t have to get that perfect job right out the gate. It’s going to be a curvy road and if you go with your heart, you have strong ethics and values, you can’t really go wrong. You try to align yourself with like-minded people, with mentors, with people that want to get you up the learning curve quickly. You just don’t know what you’re going to encounter on the journey.

Written by Anna Raithel

Anna is pursuing an MBA with a focus in Sustainable Business Practices, graduating 2017.