Learning from execs in the classroom

Joseph High speaking to students

Joseph High, an executive from Grainger Inc., speaks to students in the Management 495 course after hearing students’ thoughts on the company. ­(Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

What do a group of UIC students have to say about a company that did $10.1 billion in sales last year? Well, a lot.

As part of the Management 495 course, students must present on a major corporation’s strengths and weaknesses while also giving future recommendations. Not too bad, right? The catch is that a senior-level executive from that same corporation is in the crowd listening attentively.

On March 30, one group shared their thoughts on Grainger Inc., an industrial supply company that has 25,600 employees, 598 branches and 33 distribution centers. During their address, Joseph High, senior vice president and chief people officer, sat at the front table.

The group discussed the financial state of the company, market expansion and overall business practices.

“I thought it went great,” said senior Mike Alfirevic, who gave a presentation about Grainger. “I was really proud of everyone in our group. We put a lot of work into it, though. We practiced several times to make sure we had that flow.”

High seemed to agree. Throughout the presentation, he was laughing, smiling and nodding at PowerPoint slides that did everything from compliment the company on its family-oriented culture to offer suggestions on how to better compete.

Afterward, High spoke to the entire class.

“Let’s send them to our shareholders,” the executive joked.

The class, now taught by professor Michael Miller, has been bringing executives to UIC for 36 years. Past guests have included Jenny Zhao from Google, Sam Zell of E. Group Investments and former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

It’s formatted where students have the floor for the first 30 minutes, then they turn it over to their esteemed guest.

“It’s a very powerful learning experience,” Miller said. “I think it’s probably one of the more unique undergraduate courses…The power of the executive is instead of reading a case, [students] get to give a presentation and then they get the executive.”

The class was founded by former UIC professor Fred McLimore, who sought to give students an exceptional learning experience and allow them
to build strong relationships in the business community.

That objective remains in place as current students continue to finish the course with new contacts and practical training.

“The ability to have someone from a huge company like Grainger really puts UIC sort of on a tier above,” said Joe Gallina, a team member who presented about Grainger. “It really does show that UIC has a little bit
of clout.”

“It’s a really valuable class,” Alfirevic added. “It’s interesting because it’s kind of an overview. We’re already so far through our education that all of the core learning is just review of what we’ve done, but then it’s applying it to greater concepts.”

This year’s guest list wraps up with Best Buy’s Shari Ballard and UIC men’s basketball coach Steve McClain.

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