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Mosques, Munchkins, and Mandatory Minimums

“If you take nothing else from today’s talk, remember this: change is the only constant, and you had better embrace it.”  So says the noted business executive Robert “Kam” Kamerschen, who joined us this week for a session on crisis management.  (Kamerschen is the first of a series of speakers this semester to focus on crisis management; the others will come in our final week of classes.)  

A former CEO/President of Max Factor, Six Flags, ADVO, Christian Dior, and many other companies (and grandfather of one of our students), Kamerschen built his career on turning around businesses in crisis.  He was a leading force behind memorable business strategies like Revlon’s “Charlie” perfume and the Dunkin’ Donuts “munchkin,” and his efforts to turn around ADVO once earned him the label “the Junk Mail King.”

In addition to walking the students through a case study from one of his biggest turnarounds (at ADVO, the nation’s largest third class mailer), Kamerschen offered some advice for future leaders of all stripes.  Understand the difference between monetary and psychic income (to be successful you must at least have the latter), see crises as opportunities to embrace change, recognize that the pain of “stopping the bleeding” can be worth it in the long term, and consider the value that female voices (often thought of as more collaborative) can bring male-dominated organizations.  The conversation was a spirited one, with the speaker moving around the room and putting students on the spot.

Kamerschen is one of several speakers and visits we’ve made as we work on this semester’s capstone policy document.  For example, we also paid a visit to U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton to discuss judicial ethics.  Among other highlights in a long career, Walton was the Presiding Judge on the powerful and controversial United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (sometimes called the FISA Court), which “entertains applications made by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and certain other forms of investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes.”  (To sports fans, he is more famous as the judge who presided over baseball pitcher Roger Clemens’ perjury trial.)  In addition to talking about FISA, he discussed his hardscrabble upbringing, which included his own brushes with the law, and the challenge of judging young people in similar circumstances.  We also discussed the ethics of mandatory minimums, one of the key issues involved in the 1995 crime bill now being discussed by Presidential candidates.

And on Saturday, our “Saturday Academy” took us to the Islamic Center in DC, one of the earliest mosques to be built in the United States and a national center for the study of Islam.  The girls covered their heads in scarves; after hearing the call to prayer we entered and watched the noontime prayers.  Then we spoke with Brother Abbasi from the Center who answered questions about Islamic religion and culture.  (Later that night, the religious theme continued when our students chose to join a classmate at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a midnight “Greek Easter” service filled with candles and good cheer.)

Next up: two intense and rewarding presentations of our capstone policy document!

May 3, 2016

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