A Conversation with a Committed Leader
I believe Fuqua’s ambition to create “leaders of consequence” is best illustrated by showing a living example. Warren Farr (Daytime MBA ’93) is an alumnus who is making a real difference — not only in his everyday corporate setting, but also for generations of Fuqua students. Mr. Farr is President of the Refrigeration Sales Corporation in Ohio, and he regularly returns to Fuqua as a guest lecturer. Recently, he was kind enough to take the time to share some of his experiences and perspectives on business, MBAs, and Fuqua.
You run a family business in Ohio. How did your Fuqua experience shape you into a leader of consequence?
I decided to attend Fuqua after 7 years of work experience in new technologies. I had worked in several positions at small companies and had a feel for many parts of business. My Fuqua education connected these “dots of experience” into a cohesive web upon which I wanted to begin a new career. While most any top business school could have taught me the technical aspects of business, Fuqua’s team oriented experience really resonated with my entrepreneurial spirit and taught me many additional valuable lessons. For example, learning outside the classroom in problem solving teams taught me to be attentive to the strengths and weaknesses of others, and to be honest and open with them about myself. Difficult team situations taught me that the business world is imperfect, but with the right attitude and energy, even initially tough situations can be rewarding. I bring these lessons to the office with me every day.
Why is giving back to Fuqua important to you? Could you give us a specific example?
I value my Fuqua experience and I want others to benefit from the same advantages. However, I got involved with guest teaching at Fuqua because I wanted to bring something new to the already strong Fuqua curriculum. Years after graduating from Fuqua, I was introduced to the field of System Dynamics (SD) and found its application so useful to my business that I earned a master’s degree in SD and wrote a case study for use at Fuqua. The case study was a collaboration between myself and Fuqua Professor Peng Sun who was creating a new class (Strategic Modeling and Business Dynamics) in Decision Sciences. System Dynamics was to be a prominent part of the class, but teaching materials were lacking, so the case study helped to fill that gap.
For 5 years I have returned to Fuqua to present this case to students, and their reaction to SD and the case material is still terrific. I get to help introduce Fuqua students to a subject that I love, and I look forward to their productive use of SD in their future careers. I also learn something new about myself every year at Fuqua!
Having been in that class, I can testify that the way you illustrated the concepts behind System Dynamics was in a very tangible and practical manner. It was extremely helpful. Could you share some more insight?
First, SD is a fresh and valuable subject to be exposed to during a business school education. I give Fuqua lots of credit for stepping up and offering this subject when most of the top business schools do not.
Second, the case study integrates the theoretical with real business decisions that I made from 2000 through 2005. The case is engaging and my guest appearance makes the information very real for the students. I work hard during class to make the material relevant to the kinds of decisions students will make in their future careers. The guest presentation is highly interactive, and I encourage students to challenge me. They learn quickly that I will challenge them using the skills I learned in Fuqua teams when I was a student.
Great! So as CEO and President of a company, what do you expect from a Fuqua graduate?
There are a couple of things that I would expect from a Fuqua graduate because of the team-oriented approach. First, I would expect a Fuqua graduate to contribute their experience, but to remain curious and open to the experiences of others. Everyone comes with her or his own honest hard-earned experiences. The trick is integrating the best parts into a creative and productive solution. I would expect a Fuqua graduate to be able to facilitate the best from people. Second, I would expect a Fuqua graduate to understand the needs of the organization as well as they understand their own personal needs. Placing team goals first is a way towards personal growth and team success. Fuqua’s focus on teams gives its students a chance to learn these lessons.
What, in your opinion, is the big trend right now in the business world that MBA students should aim to be equipped for in the coming years?
I believe that in a broad sense, the business pendulum is swinging back from “bigger is better” strategies. I believe that new technologies are creating opportunities for small and medium sized organizations (in addition to big companies) to serve a customer efficiently and effectively as if she/he was the only customer on the planet. Students must understand the implications of these technologies, especially as they pertain to customer expectations.
Final question: what do you appreciate most at Fuqua, and what makes the school standout?
If it isn’t already obvious, I think the mandatory and tightly integrated team component of Fuqua separates it from other top business school programs.
Mr. Farr, thank you very much for this conversation!