Undergraduate students Dan Harting and Hannah Shraim, class of 2020, interviewed John Chickering, MBA ’85 as part of their 2019 Impact Ambassador Experience with the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Please tell us a bit about your background and how your experiences relate to social value creation.
Service is in my DNA. I’ve long held a basic credo that getting involved and helping out is the right thing to do. I entered the US Navy Reserve while I was studying at the US Merchant Marine Academy and supported the Navy professionally after graduating. My time at the academy, its motto is Acta Non Verba (Deeds Not Words), and in the maritime industry instilled a sense of duty to deliver. I studied for my MBA here at Maryland and brought my experience in industrial operations to make knowledge worker processes more effective. That work led to opportunities in financial services, where I was able to work in large-scale technology and operations environments
Along the way, I found both church-based and civic-based opportunities to help out and increase social value. For example, I’ve led over 15 storm recovery mission trips to Mississippi, New York, Vermont, and Florida. Moreover, I’ve led the formation of special education parental advocacy.
Perhaps the most important skills I’ve developed are the ability to hit the curveball and the ability to communicate. Whether it’s a mechanical failure on a ship, a promised resource that never materializes, or a sudden change in the business environment, successful business leaders are the ones that can adapt. And those leaders need to provide the right information to stakeholders. Shipboard life is nothing if not unpredictable and demanding. Similarly, storm recovery is highly situational and everybody is learning at the same time. Both my professional and volunteer work has given me the real world experience to process continual change while the Smith MBA experience gave me incredible tools to navigate this change successfully.
How did you decide to pursue your own business career? How have you integrated social value creation into your OPS?
One of the ways that I’ve been most fortunate is that I’ve almost always had many career options available to me. So, it’s been a matter of seeing the open doors before me. My first job after graduation from the Smith School was consulting to the Navy in their engineering operations. I developed expertise in various technologies and then led deployments at a small software company. That experience set me up for 20+ years in financial services where I held various roles in operations and technology.
My biggest social value creation professional win was a no-brainer program that wasn’t getting done. Because of federal regulations, my employer was sending tons (literally) of paper documents to customers who didn’t want them and never read them. By using email to fulfill via eDelivery instead of paper documents, the program has saved hundreds of acres of forest, delivered very high rates of financial returns, and increased customer satisfaction. Yet, the program needed a resilient champion to frame the opportunity for senior executives so the whole organization could move together. And that’s the role of effective communications in leading both business and social value creation.
What advice or insights could you provide to college students who are interested in pursuing their own business ventures?
Clearly, social value creation in business can be embodied in “do good” organizations that are focused on righting some social value like poverty, housing, hunger, etc. But there are more dimensions to think about because social value creation can help in less obvious ways. For example, when I was working in financial services operations, I saw my work as helping some single mother (that I’d never meet) send her daughter to college because my work made it easy for her to open a college savings account. Finding those connections helped give me daily motivation. Social value creation can also show up in everyday tasks. I’ve longed valued diversity and looked for socio-economic diversity in forming teams and making hiring decisions. Finally, I was able to take my professional skills out of the office and into the field when supporting organizations through my volunteer work too. This option is available to everyone.
We need to move beyond the stereotypical picture of social value creation as simply running a “do good” organization to something much, much broader: tremendous social value can be created by doing good everywhere in the mundane day-to-day tasks of everyday business.
What was your experience like at the Spring Convening?
I was really impressed with the business prowess assembled by CSVC for this event. I had the opportunity to facilitate the Q&A sessions after the opening and closing keynote sessions. Both speakers were powerful, candid, and compelling with their messages. I thought the questions from the floor reflected well on the Smith School. I was very glad that Dean Triantis attended and participated too as his presence helps affirm the importance of CSVC to the Smith School. Serious kudos to Kim Glinka and her team for organizing a great event.
What made you decide to stay active in the UMD Smith community?
Getting involved and helping out is just something I do. Clearly, the Smith School is (and has been) a great place for learning, so the cause is worthy. And I have no doubt that my personal Smith experience, from ~35 years ago, benefitted from the contributions of untold numbers of previous Smith alumni. While there is some sense of “payback” for me in staying active, I continue to benefit from staying close to the Smith community. The recent 2019 Spring Convening introduced me to several new business leaders and I saw first hand how social value creation can be embodied into the day-to-day of business in so many different ways. This was one powerful afternoon.