Internet B2B. Selling on the Web. The "dot-com" phenomenon. Whatever name one chooses to give it and "E-commerce" seems to be the one that's sticking it's THE hot topic of today, as the business community scrambles to adapt to and profit in the brave new world of cyberspace.
No surprise, then, that a capacity crowd packed the Radisson Conference Center in Champaign for "E Magic on Main Street." Held on May 5 in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of CBA's Executive MBA Program, the special symposium featured presentations across a wide range of topics by a roster of nine distinguished speakers.
Keynote speaker Rich Frank (at right) talking with a group of Chinese managers currently enrolled in an EDC program.
|Delivering the keynote address for the event, which drew
an audience of more than 250 EMBA alums and other members of
the business and university communities, was Rich
Frank (BS Marketing `64). Frank, whose high-
powered career in the entertainment industry has included
top positions with Walt Disney, Paramount, and C3, is president
and CEO of Food.com, a post that he's held for the past two years.
The company, which uses the Internet to facilitate home delivery
of restaurant food, is looking to move into other aspects of
food-service, including brokering for restaurant supplies and
services and offering consumer information. "Our goal is to become
the place on the Internet where you go when
you think about food," Frank said. For him, as for the
speakers who followed, old business models no longer apply. It is a "`go'
or `no go,' quick decision-making process that drives this new dot-com world . . ." he observed. "Investment in a decision becomes immediate and the end result is either `win big' or `lose it all.'''
While Web accessibility has created much drama on today's business scene, technology appears to have been driving the business revolution for some time. "Look at the way the business planning horizon has changed so dramatically in the last forty years," he continued. "In the `60s it was to be planning for ten to fifteen years ahead. In the `80s, it was five to eight years, the `90s was one to three years. Today, companies plan eighteen months out. Six months of those are tactical." For Frank, the key is flexibility and short response time, and those who win will be "those that can both throw away all that they've learned and adapt quickly to the rapid changes in the environment, while at the same time holding on to the fundamental rules of business." He offered a kind of guide to those fundamental rules, couched in a series of questions designed to profile available opportunities. "How large is the industry you're entering? How fragmented are the buy and supply sides of the industry? How inefficient are procurement, sales, and distribution? How much of a change in behavior does the marketplace require on the part of buyers or sellers? What portion of your management team is from the industry you address?"
"I've had to throw out many of my old habits and learn new ones," Frank admitted. "In some cases, I've had to change how I fundamentally think about things. It has been a challenge for me not only to run this new business, but to adapt in a world that requires new thinking that runs counter to many of the things that made me successful at places like Disney or Paramount. In the same respect there are also some things that I've held on to and that still help me in my day-to-day business life." Apparently, it's all working. In March, McDonald's acquired a stake in Food.com.
Also featured were presentations by officers from several
other Internet start-up companies, including Waverly Deutsch,
executive vice president of marketing and strategy for fob.com,
which offers wholesale procurement services to the chemical and
printing industries; John Yurko, vice president news and
broadband for drkoop.com, a health information Web site for consumers,
bearing the imprimatur of the famous surgeon general; Mark
Allen, general manager of NIKEid.com, the Internet arm of the
famous shoe manufacturer; and Ricky Brock, who is managing
of FedEx. Speakers at the symposium with ties to the
university community included Jim Bottum, executive director of the
National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Jay Kesan, a
University of Illinois faculty member whose specialties include law
and regulation of cyberspace and intellectual property. Also on hand to offer valuable business perspectives were Michael Oberholtzer,
a senior vice president at ABN AMRO, who discussed the banking corporation's Web-fueled drive for international expansion, and Jeffrey Olin, an Arthur Andersen partner, who mulled over the profound and perhaps unknowable tax implications of E-commerce. The program concluded with a panel discussion by Bottum, Deutsch, and Allen, moderated by CBA faculty member Mike Shaw, himself a specialist in information technology. "There is no E-commerce," asserted Deutsch (who holds a PhD in theater history). "There is no such thing. There is just commerce. In twenty years there will be no E- anything. There will be no `dot' anything. There will just be even better ways to do business."
During the last week in February, James Hill, Jr., paid a two-day visit as Executive-in-Residence at CBA, meeting with students and faculty members, and talking with classes on a variety of topics in accounting. Founder and managing partner of Hill, Taylor LLC, Hill has also served as deputy director of the Chicago Economic Development Corporation; Chicago staff auditor for Alexander Grant & Co.; and cost accountant with Union Carbide, New York. Hill, Taylor LLC is a minority CPA and consulting firm, providing a wide range of services in the areas of auditing, taxes, general accounting, and management consulting. The firm's clients have ranged from the federal government and local agencies, school districts and not-for-profit organizations to major corporations such as McDonald's and Sara Lee Corporation. Hill graduated in 1964 with a B.S. from Central State University in Ohio and in 1967 received an MBA from the University of Chicago. While on campus he met with members of the CBA chapters of the National Association of Black Accountants and the African American Business Society.