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Paladin Pivots: Turning crisis into opportunity

Last updated September 16, 2020

By Tina Underwood

It isn’t the crash course in agility training anyone would have wished for, but for all its chaos, COVID-19 has produced masters of the entrepreneurial pivot. In a new virtual speaker series, “Paladin Pivots: Stories from the Furman Network,” Furman alumni share secrets from their playbooks to help other enterprises navigate the pandemic.

The free webinar series is presented by Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship (FU I&E) and sponsored by The Class E Podcast collaboration with the Department of Communication Studies.

chick-fil-a logo

Leaders from Chick-fil-A describe the unique challenges they face amid social unrest and COVID-19.

A cohort from one of America’s largest fast-food chains and king of customer service kicked things off this month in “Driving Thru to Success: Adaptive Leadership at Chick-fil-A.” The live podcast featured alumni Clayton Dyson ’05 (political science and communication studies), senior director of Chick-fil-A’s corporate leadership development program, and franchised operators Rodney Johnson ’03 (health and exercise science) and Steven Bryant ’92 (physics).

Anthony Herrera, executive director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and communication studies media specialist and instructor Mary Sturgill co-hosted. Dyson spoke about the efforts of the Chick-fil-A Support Center and its role in bolstering franchise operators, whom he calls the “secret sauce” of the brand. Amid the challenges of COVID-19 and social unrest, Dyson’s responsibility at CSC is to help alleviate the pressures operators face as they work to keep team members safe in their communities.

Zach Johnson

Zach Johnson ’03, president and partner of Metropolitan Properties.

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 4:30 p.m., Zach Johnson ’03, president and partner of Nashville-based Metropolitan Properties, will offer his insights in “Managing Change: Shifting Business Priorities in a Post-COVID World.” He says rather than a full pivot from any practice, he and his team doubled down on core deliverables – ramping up their responsiveness to clients and focusing on courtesy and expertise.

“We became more aggressive about reminding our clients that we are working hard during this time – that we aren’t using the pandemic as a reason to slack off,” Johnson said. “Once (COVID-19) passes, you want to be the company they remember.”

Herrera says alumni have much to offer through their rich, diverse experiences. “This series is a way to engage our most successful innovative and entrepreneurial alums and inspire students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and the greater community,” he said. “We want to foster a culture of creativity and innovation, a bold spirit of failing forward, and bring the Furman family together.”

Elizabeth Marron '20

Elizabeth Marron ’20.

Elizabeth Marron ’20, now a post baccalaureate fellow with Innovation and Entrepreneurship, agrees the series is a great platform for engaging Furman alumni and sharing valuable stories. Marron, a psychology graduate who wants to one day manage her own counseling practice,  said she’d like to help redefine what an entrepreneur is.

“The stereotypical entrepreneur is a business major or maybe super tech-savvy,” she said. “This series features alums from all types of backgrounds who have forged their own paths and careers

Other sessions include:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 4:30 p.m., details above.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 4:30 p.m., “Embracing Disruption: Investing in the Next Generation of Startups,” with Ginger Rothrock ’00 (chemistry), senior director, HG Ventures
  • Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 4:30 p.m., “Impact Investing: Seeking Profit and Community Good,” featuring Libby Phillips ’11 (business administration and history) and Andrew Phillips ’14 (business administration), managing partners of Phillips Family Office
  • Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 4:30 p.m., “A Lasting Legacy: Innovative Growth in Family Businesses,” with Kemmons Wilson, III ’98 (business administration), Furman Board of Trustees member and principal of Kemmons Wilson Companies
  • Wednesday, Nov.18, at 4:30 p.m., “Connecting With Your Customer Faster and More Efficiently,” with Ford Blakely ’97 (accounting and finance), founder, senior vice president and general manager of Zingle at Medallia

Register online or contact Elizabeth Marron ’20 for more information at Recordings of the sessions will be available to the public in future episodes on The Class E Podcast.

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Clinton Colmenares
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