Tag Archives: CEO


May 16, 2017 by

Years ago, my colleague Butch Ethington showed me a graphic he designed when he was the ethics officer and ombudsman at Union Pacific Railroad. I still use this graphic in my Creighton classes and the department uses it in our Business Ethics Alliance programs.

It is a pyramid. At the bottom are all the rank-and-file employees, the heart and soul of business. Their No.1 ethical issue, Butch says, is fairness. “She got more time off.” “He was given the opportunity for travel.” “She got to work from home.”

In the middle of the pyramid are the managers and directors. In between the top dogs and rank and file employees, managers and directors have tough roles. Their No. 1 ethical issue is accurate reporting. “How do I make my boss happy about the numbers?” “How do I showcase my subordinates?”

At the top of the pyramid are the executives and board members of the organization. They spend a great amount of time interfacing with government, the public, and all stakeholders. Their No. 1 ethical issue is conflict of interest.

Of course, conflicts of interest can occur at any level of an organization. Think about the conflicts that arise for salespeople, or the ones that occur in procurement. Executives have other ethical issues, for example, telling the truth or community responsibilities. Let’s focus on executives and board members and their conflicts of interest.

Three key questions arise. What is a conflict of interest? Why is it so hard to recognize our own conflicts of interest? What can be implemented to reduce conflicts of interest?

As for the first question, we all know that a conflict of interest can arise when someone is responsible for serving competing interests. But this is not, in and of itself, unethical. It is what a person does about the competing interests that matter. Classic examples of conflicts of interest focus on financial interests, for example, an executive who shares confidential information, thereby decreasing his firm’s assets and increasing his own. But a more nuanced definition of conflict of interest includes multi-dimensions and is not always about making more money. For example, what about a board member who provides a building to the firm at reduced rent? In this case, she provides a benefit because of her interest. Is this a conflict that is unethical?

It has been said that half of the battle in ethics is being aware that there is an ethical situation in front of you. Why is it so hard to see one’s conflicts of interest? Behavioral ethicists shine a light on this second question. We have psychological dispositions to think or act in certain ways, due to chemistry or socialization, which are unnoticed or disbelieved. Deeply entrenched and habitual dispositions can be healthy, like being confident. But confidence can become extreme and turn into a bias. Overconfidence bias can block one’s perception of a conflict of interest and when this happens we say a person has a psychological blindspot.

Overconfidence bias can be heard when an executive says, “This is not a problem. If anyone can handle it, I can.” But no one is immune to psychological blindspots and unethical conflicts of interest. No one. The best we can do is recognize our human nature and develop strategies to overcome our extremes. Which takes us to question three.

What can we do to reduce conflicts of interest? At the policy level, it is helpful to have executives and board members sign conflict of interest statements. But make sure the documents are multidimensional, addressing possible financial, as well as non-financial, conflicts. Most conflict of interest statements do not. Second, we can learn from something Bruce Grewcock, CEO of Kiewit, once told me. He says that the company has leaders who are willing to speak up and point out to him when he needs to examine a situation again. He’s expressing the old adage, “surround yourself with good people.” When we do this, we have the best chance of recognizing our overconfidence and reducing the chance that we will act inappropriately and wreak havoc on our world.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of Business Ethics Alliance, and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University.












This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.


Margaret Stessman

May 5, 2017 by

This sponsored content appears in the Winter 2017 edition of B2B. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/b2b_0217_125/56

The founder and chief executive officer of StrategicHealthSolutions LLC—Margaret “Peg” Stessman—followed a great role model into the health care field: her mother, who was a nurse at a time when many women never worked outside the home and career options for those who did were limited. Stessman started out as an oncology nurse, but as her career evolved, she observed problems with high costs and low quality of care, spurring her eventual move out of traditional nursing into the administrative side of the industry.

In 2005, she founded Strategic. Today, Strategic employs approximately 300 people, almost all of them with college degrees and with women comprising more than half of the corporate advisory team.

“We have a very educated workforce and I think that tends to define your organization at a level that’s fairly sophisticated in their knowledge,” she says.

As a company, Strategic helps set health care policy, recoup misspent dollars, and develop education and training products for health care providers and beneficiaries.

Strategic’s diverse employees also have a common goal they call the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of redefining health care as a sustainable resource and to protect the future of health care for generations to come. Their talented workforce has created systems and procedures to assure that quality outcomes are well-defined, repeatable, measurable and modifiable for continuous quality improvement, Stessman says.

Government clients may have come to them initially because they were classified as a woman-owned small business, but as Strategic has grown, clients return because of the service.

Stessman says, “Not only does Strategic have excellent quality, we can perform our services at a lower rate because most of our competition is in larger cities with higher costs of living.”

Although Stessman has built her business in an era where opportunities for women have increased, Strategic is still in the minority. 

“I was recently reading the 2015 National Women’s Business Conference Annual Report…Of all the woman-owned businesses—which there are significantly fewer than men-owned—only 10 percent of them actually employ people. Although that number is better than it’s been, it is still just a staggering few,” Stessman says. “Women represent 50.8 percent of the population and they have $11.2 trillion in spending power. When are we going to get caught up? When are we going to address the situation? I love that the government gave me a chance by giving me some set-asides for small women-owned businesses, but it’s not enough. Women-owned businesses continue to be underrepresented and continue to have the potential to significantly impact the financial well-being of the country, but only if we are given our fair share.”

Stessman says the time is ripe for women to seek leadership roles in their organizations and become entrepreneurs.

“I can tell you there’s only one sure-fire way you’ll never have a ceiling cap, and that is if you’re in charge,” she says. “We have power, we just have to use it.”

4211 S. 102nd St.
Omaha, NE 68127

Frequent Flyers

March 29, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

When the world’s elite horses (and riders) arrive in Omaha, an entourage of police and first responders—including mounted patrol—will escort them to the location of the Longines FEI World Cup. The international championship for show jumping and dressage begins March 29 and continues through April 2 at the CenturyLink Center.

European competitors depart from Amsterdam, Netherlands, aboard a chartered Boeing 777 cargo plane that takes more than nine hours to reach Omaha.

The flight requires horses to be loaded into specialized containers called “jet stalls,” which resemble an enclosed stable stall. Jet stalls can hold up to three horses. The charter flight includes a “pro groom,” nine shipper grooms, and a veterinarian—all provided by the company overseeing the transportation, the Dutta Corporation.

Horses at this elite level are well-seasoned air travelers, making the journey seem almost routine, says J. Tim Dutta, the founder and owner of the international horse logistics company.

“Horses are just like human beings,” Dutta says. “Some get jittery, some read the rosary, some like some gin and tonic, some go to sleep before the plane leaves the gate, and the rest are worried about life two days afterward. Everybody’s an individual, and we are ready for each and every situation.”

Any concerns or worries, he says, are the things that can’t be entirely controlled or predicted—such as poor weather conditions or a horse getting sick during transportation.

“You’ve got a couple hundred million dollars worth of horses on the plane, so that’s serious business,” he says. “You want everything to go smooth, and there’s always challenges. But for a guy like me who’s been at it for 28 years, and has done quite a few of them, it’s just another day at the office.”

Once the horses arrive in Omaha, they will be quarantined at the CenturyLink Center for up to three days while the USDA checks for diseases and other potential health concerns.

Veterinarian Mike Black—based out of his Nebraska Equine Veterinary Clinic just outside of Blair—says any adverse effects of a long journey would be the same for horses whether they traveled by trailer or airplane. It’s not unusual for humans and animals to struggle through temporarily weakened immune systems due to stress and long periods of confinement with other travelers.

“Whenever the animal is put under stress, it will compromise some of their ability to respond to infections,” Black says. “And a lot of horses are carriers of viruses and things. So, as they’re around other horses that they’re not normally around, then things can be spread.”

When the competition opens March 29, folks without a ticket will have an opportunity to get a closer look at all the horse-and-rider teams. The practice area will be free and open to all.

Mike West, CEO of Omaha Equestrian Foundation, hopes to create a fan-friendly and carnival-like atmosphere.

The World Cup is the first international championship of its kind to be hosted in Omaha, he says. Sure, there have been championship boxing bouts in the city. And the NCAA crowns the champions of college baseball in Omaha. But never before will so many world champions prove themselves on local grounds.

Back in 1950, when the College World Series first came to Omaha, nobody could have expected how the “Gateway to the West” would become a Midwestern sports mecca.

“They didn’t know about swim trials; they didn’t know about NCAA basketball or wrestling or volleyball and all the great events that we have now,” says West, a veteran Omaha sports-marketing professional. He previously held management positions with the Lancers, Cox Classic Golf Tournament, and Creighton’s athletics department.

The Omaha Equestrian Foundation is not only dedicated to putting on a good show. West and his colleagues are committed to continuing the city’s relationship with the FEI, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (aka, the International Federation for Equestrian Sports), the governing body for the sports of show jumping and dressage.

“We have an opportunity, but we also have an obligation as an organizer to do a good job. Because if we do a good job, we don’t know what it will lead to, but we know it will lead to something [positive],” he says.

A successful 2017 World Cup in Omaha could improve chances of the World Cup returning, along with its estimated economic impact of $50 million.

“We have to be better than anybody—by far—at listening and delivering on our promise to the fans of this sport,” West says. “And if we do, I think we’ll develop a reputation that if you want to be treated like a fan [of sports], go to Omaha, Nebraska.”

Visit omahaworldcup2017.com for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

The Silicon Trail

March 28, 2017 by

When United Airlines’ first daily nonstop service flight from Eppley Airfield to San Francisco International Airport eased away from the gate in September 2016, Randy Thelen made certain he had a seat.

The senior vice president for economic development at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce saw the importance of that 7 a.m. flight—believed to be the first regular nonstop service between the two cities in a quarter century. Shortly after 9 a.m., he was on the West Coast, in the fertile Silicon Valley, ready for business.

Despite Omaha’s firm footing in the Silicon Prairie—with tech giants like PayPal, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo all maintaining a significant presence in the metro—Omaha long struggled with a serious shortcoming when it came time to recruit more. The same shortcoming didn’t help local technology startups secure financial backing from the apparent over-abundance of thick wallet in the Bay area.

Getting from Silicon Valley to Omaha’s corner of the Silicon Prairie was more than a hassle. It usually required at least one connecting flight, stretching a three-hour nonstop flight into nearly a full day of airplanes and airports … and that’s the delay-free version.

“As much as we don’t want location to be a barrier, there’s a very real situation where Silicon Valley investors won’t fly somewhere if they have to switch planes,” says Dusty Davidson, the CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, an Omaha-based startup that builds and hosts WordPress websites. Davidson is also known for his role in creating Silicon Prairie News and one of the largest entrepreneurial tech conferences in the region, Big Omaha.

“It’s not the connection, it’s the time,” he adds.

The required connecting flights cast a pall over Omaha’s distinct advantage as a low-cost jewel compared to the Silicon Valley. Omaha’s lower cost of living and more affordable housing helps save companies on their largest expense: wages. Add in the various business incentives available from the state, along with a strong talent pool and sound infrastructure, and Omaha makes an attractive option for startup and established tech companies, with that notable exception.

“We came up short on the connectivity or on the flights in and out of Silicon Valley,” Thelen says.

Then United Airlines made San Francisco’s International Airport the nation’s 25th airport with regular nonstop flight services to and from Omaha. This spring, a 26th regular nonstop Omaha route will open between here and Houston via Southwest Airlines.

“Now, we’ve taken away that competitive disadvantage, and we’ve been able to promote it as an advantage,” Thelen says. “It really has changed the conversation as we try to continue to build that pipeline between here and Silicon Valley.”

“The ability to have direct service does have an impact on the businesses that choose to do business here,” says Nancy Miller, vice president of operations at Travel and Transport, a national travel booking company based in Omaha. “I think it helps Omaha businesses.”

That an airline would add a regular nonstop flight to San Francisco lends credence to claims of Omaha’s growth as a potential hub in the Silicon Prairie.

“The Omaha economy really seems to have been doing well over the last couple of years,” says Dave Roth, deputy executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority. “It’s just a really positive combination of Omaha and the airlines for those additional flights.”

Omaha has popped up on several national lists as a new hot spot for tech startups. SmartAsset named Omaha the best city in the nation to work in tech in 2015, and Nebraska has been No. 3 on Forbes’ list of Best States for Business for two years running.

Thelen used his first flight to the Silicon Valley to meet with a dozen tech companies, some who already have outposts in town, and few others he’d like see set up shop.

“For the cost of one hotel stay and a pretty simple flight in and out, you can get two full business days of work without the hassle of changing planes and the risk of getting delayed,” Thelen says. “The convenience of business travel just went up exponentially, and you can expect that connectivity to continue to grow.”

Executives headquartered in San Francisco can more easily visit and engage with their Midwestern operations. Or, employees based in Omaha can more efficiently meet with leadership in Silicon Valley. Officials at PayPal and LinkedIn—which employ about 2,800 and 300 people, respectively, in the Omaha area—say there is frequent travel between the Silicon Valley and their operations in Omaha, but exact figures were unavailable.

“To have firms like that, that now have much, much easier access back and forth, frankly it makes our location all that more integral to the operation because it’s a simpler connect now,” Thelen says.

He added: “That simple flight makes a big, big difference.”

And even homegrown startups can take advantage. They can get twice as much done on recruiting trips from the valley, whether they are looking for talent or financing.

Davidson, the CEO at Flywheel, says the increased connectivity will indeed make a big difference for local companies raising money. There still remains a lot of work to put Omaha “on the map” with more sources of local capital and slowing the export of the state’s top technology talent, to name a few.

“I don’t know that you’re able to look at [direct flights to San Francisco] and say, ‘Hey, look, we solved the problem,’” he says. “I think there’s 50 things that are contributing, and what you really want to do is, just one at a time, start whittling away.”

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

A Dream Interview

January 16, 2015 by

Mary Barra runs General Motors. She worked her way up and earned the title of CEO in January, 2014.

We all know what happened after that. In April, and three more times since then, Barra was called to Congress to testify about faulty ignition switches in GM vehicles linked to 13 deaths. What has become clear from these investigations is that the GM culture is bureaucratic, and to say the least, ethically challenged. There is no accountability built into the behemoth.

Any business ethicist would celebrate with chocolate-coated strawberries and champagne if she scored an interview with Barra to learn her plan to turn GM’s ethical culture around. Well, I can’t drink the champagne yet because I haven’t gotten that interview. However, I’ve decided to craft an imaginary interview to allow Barra to channel her plan through me.

Bev: Thanks for this opportunity, Mary. From seasoned business leaders to young professionals, we all want to hear you talk about what you are doing at GM.

Mary: Happy to be here.

Bev: Experts say that your challenge is to change GM’s ethical culture. What is culture, Mary?

Mary: Organizational culture is to employees like water is to fish.  It’s all around us, it keeps us alive, but if we don’t look for it, it is invisible to us. But once we recognize it, we realize it is essential to our lives and work.

Bev: How would you describe GM’s ethical culture when you took the role of CEO?

Mary: In a large firm, we need effective processes. But we had developed a culture where we have process for the sake of process. An issue would go from one committee to another to another. And we had no accountability. There was no resolution. The issue would just die. The buck didn’t stop with anyone.

Bev: How are you going to change that?

Mary: One of the best ways to affect ethical behavior is the use of moral words. Really brings intentionality to our ethics. So I’ve developed a tactic where I practice using the word “accountable” at least five times a day when I’m talking to staff, vendors, and the like. I even keep track of it on my calendar.

Bev: Really? That seems a little corny.

Mary: Corny is good when it works, Bev. And it works.

Bev: What else do you do to drive accountability?

Mary: Well, I love thinking out of the box. So I thought of having our creative group develop an accountability cheer that we can all do before team meetings. But that idea is really corny.

Bev: Yeah…even I think that’s over the top.

Mary: And there is another concept we are rolling out…it’s the mirror strategy.  Research indicates that the feeling of invisibility that contributes to acts of fraud and embezzlement can be mitigated when people are confronted by mirrors that are strategically placed. In order to focus on accountability, we are posting mirrors across our workplaces with the message “The buck stops here.”

Bev: Can’t wait to hear how the strategy works. Say, one final question before you go. Do you think GM’s culture would have been any different if you were headquartered in Omaha?

Mary: Well, I know that one of the identified Omaha core values is accountability. I think it would have been front-of-mind for us if we were headquartered here. So yes, being Omaha-based would have made a difference.

Bev: Thanks again for your time, Mary.

Mary: It was a pleasure.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Business Ethics Alliance, and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University.


Try to Keep Up 
With Deb Bass

November 19, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Deb Bass has essentially had three careers: She’s been an RN for 20 years, a startup entrepreneur for eight, and a CEO for about 12.

But don’t get the idea that Bass is calling this stage in her life anything like semi retirement. “I’m working harder than I ever have in my life,” she says with a laugh. As of 2012, she’s CEO of Nebraska Health Information Initiative (NeHII), a 501(c)3 dispensation with an ambitious goal to get electronic health records across the state talking to 
each other.

Health care has actually been a constant in Bass’ professional life. Specifically, the problems related to health-care information exchange.

“People don’t realize that someone who’s started a business has risked everything they own.”
– Deb Bass

“When I was a young nurse, I was in the operating room,” she recalls. “If a patient came in by ambulance, the EMTs would usually go to the patient’s medicine cabinet, empty it into a plastic bag, and bring that to the emergency room. And I would be there with the anesthesiologist, opening every bottle, looking at the pills, looking at the dates—people would put different pills in different bottles—and that’s how we put together   the pieces of what the patient was taking. That was our medicine query. By this time, we were doing surgery, and we were still trying to figure out if the patient was diabetic or if they had high blood pressure. And I remember thinking, there has got to be a better way to do this.”

Building Bass & Associates

That thought stayed with her even as she quit nursing to co-found Bass & Associates, a technology consulting business, in 1993. “February 2, to be exact,” she says. The date is firm in her memory. “We wrote the business plan, and I remember thinking, I sure do hope this works. You have to sign over your house, and…people don’t realize that someone who’s started a business has risked everything they own.” She recalls her 10-year-old daughter asking on family trips if they could please stop talking business 
for awhile.

Coincidentally, it was an aspect of health care that led Bass to reluctantly sell Bass & Associates just eight years later. “A 10 or 20 percent increase in health care every year.” She shakes her head. “You cannot build a business model that will absorb those kinds of increases each year, year after year.”

“The name has good brand value here… Throughout the years, she reiterated to me that you cannot afford to tarnish your reputation.”
Bruce Peterson, executive vice president at Bass & Associates

Eventually a business has to pass on some of that cost to its employees. “And believe me, you pay as much as you can before you turn a cost back to your employees,” Bass says with emphasis. “It just got to the point where we needed to be an even larger organization so we could get better insurance.” In 2001, she sold the company and her stocks, though she stayed on as CEO and Bass & Associates kept her name.

“The name has good brand value here,” explains Bruce Peterson, executive vice president of Bass & Associates. He’s worked with Bass in several capacities over the course of two decades. “Throughout the years, she reiterated to me that you cannot afford to tarnish your reputation.” Having her name remain on a shingle she no longer owns would suggest Bass might be on to something.

 Stepping Up with NeHII

In 2007, Bass connected with NeHII (pronounced “knee high”) as a contracted resource through Bass & Associates to solve a different kind of health-care problem: the one she struggled with as a young nurse in the operating room. “To make it simple, we’re the Expedia model of health care information exchange,” she says. The public/private collaborative nonprofit that is NeHII enables electronic health records (EHRs) to speak to one another, across hospitals and across the state. “A physician enters a patient’s first name, last name, date of birth, and then we send crawlers across all participating hospitals, identify all the matches, and pull them into view on a screen.”

“She is passionate, passionate about NeHII.”
Connie pratt, program director at NeHII

In an all but completely digitized world, it’s still not the norm for a physician to view a complete health record of a patient on a screen. Within one hospital, Bass explains, there may be as many as five or six different EHRs—one for the ER, one for the lab, one for the physician’s office, and so on. “Consumers get frustrated because they’re always asked to fill out the questionnaire with the  same set of questions,” she says. “‘You mean you don’t have this recorded somewhere?’ They don’t. Because they have all these siloed systems.” Benefits of a health information exchange (HIE), Bass says, include accurate data that doesn’t rely on the memory of laypersons; the ability to identify drug seekers; and facilitating consumer comparison by standardizing 
industry terminology.

“She is passionate, passionate about NeHII,” says Connie Pratt, the program director of NeHII. “She’ll go to the nth degree to make sure that it’s meeting people’s needs.” Pratt adds that the inevitable setbacks of such an undertaking don’t hold Bass’ focus for long. “She just keeps going—and that’s huge. Some people, when somebody says no, it’s done. Deb says, ‘Okay, that one said no, but we’re going to go over here now.’”

NeHII currently represents 51 percent of all hospital beds in Nebraska, on pace to represent 80 percent by 2015. The end goal, Bass says, is for all these state HIEs to connect to a federal architecture—a nationwide health information network, known in D.C. as The Healthy Way. Despite the fact that technology is ready for that scenario today, Bass says the industry is still a long way away from seeing Healthy Way work. “The challenges are the privacy and security policies and the politics.”

Maintaining the Pace

Pounding away at policies and politics means 7 o’clock mornings and 11:30 nights. “She is a doer,” Peterson says. “She was the pace car for Bass & Associates. Everybody that worked with her was trying to keep up.”

To cope, Bass sets another pace: twenty miles a week. “I really wouldn’t call it running anymore. It’s a run/walk.” And she lifts weights. “I have got to do it or my brain just goes nuts.”


Also keeping her grounded are her three daughters. “For all the working women out there, we always worry we’re spending too much time working and not spending enough time with our children. ‘Do they know who I am?’ And to see them all grown up and be talented and independent is…” Bass breaks off the sentence with a huge smile. Fittingly, one of her daughters is a doctor, and the other two are successful 
in business.

As for herself, Bass isn’t planning to leave the business world any time soon. Nebraska is recognized as the leader in the U.S. for HIE, and some EHRs are trying to give NeHII a run for its money. “The race isn’t done,” Bass says. “You won’t know if you’re on the right horse until you cross the finish line. And we’re all still 
riding in it.”

Joan Squires

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Joan Squires was living a cozy life in Arizona where she was president and CEO of the Phoenix Symphony. But when Omaha Performing Arts leaders called 10 years ago, she couldn‘t resist the challenge.

OPA wanted her help in operating two theaters in Omaha—the venerable Orpheum and the yet-to-be-built Holland Performing Arts Center. Who could pass up the chance to operate a theater built in 1927 that was undergoing a $10 million renovation? And who wouldn’t want to participate in the building of a $102 million performing arts center in Downtown Omaha?

Squires saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “There was a committed board and key leadership. Also at that time, no one in Omaha was bringing in shows.”

OPA’s new president arrived in 2002 to find a staff of one and a lone computer housed in the offices of Heritage Services; the philanthropic foundation was OPA’s fundraiser. The Holland Performing Arts Center was only a sketch on an architect‘s drawing board. The Orpheum Theater was still owned by the City of Omaha. And few people knew much about OPA. “One of our greatest challenges was branding the institution,” Squires says. “We had to go from not in existence to fully operational in three years.”

Her first action was to help set goals: 1) Assume management of the Orpheum from the city, 2) Prepare a strategic plan for the development of the organizational and administrative structure for OPA, and 3) Participate in construction of the Holland.

“In 2004, we opened Ticket Omaha [a local ticketing service for the arts]. Tickets were on sale six months before the Holland’s first performance in 2005,” Squires says.20130102_bs_8722 copy

A Decade Later

Today, the OPA president has a staff of 90 full- and part-time employees and 500 volunteers. She oversees the 175,000-square-foot Holland Performing Arts Center and the renovated 2,600-seat Orpheum Theater that reopened in 2002. And Omaha Performing Arts now is the largest nonprofit arts organization in Nebraska.

Seventy-five percent of funding is now from earned revenue and 25 percent is from contributions.

Rankings in two industry publications in 2011 gave Omaha bragging rights. The Orpheum was ranked No.1 in Midwest ticket sales by Venues Today and No. 16 worldwide by Pollstar. The Holland was ranked in the top 10 nationally by Venues Today, an impressive ranking for a performing arts center that didn’t exist six years earlier.

“There were those that said Omaha could not support the facility,” remembers John Gottschalk, OPA chairman since its formation in 2000. Squires has oversight of a $18 million operation. “And in six years she has never missed her budget. Never.”

Squires’ success in luring top talent has brought a financial benefit to the area, attracting visitors, creating jobs, and increasing tax revenue. A 2011 survey by University of Nebraska economists concluded that the two theaters had a cumulative economic impact on Douglas County of $128.49 million over five years and a $98.31 million impact on Nebraska.

The widely praised acoustics of the Holland bring out the best of the Omaha Symphony. Broadway shows now seek out the Orpheum. Performances have included Wicked, Jersey Boys and Disney’s® Lion King, which returns in March.

Check Squires’ iPhone and you’ll find an eclectic collection of music. But Broadway tunes rule. “From childhood on, I’ve loved Broadway musicals,” she says.

OPA’s mission includes presenting educational programs for all ages, from student matinees to master classes to workshops taught by professionals.

“An addition at the Holland designed for teaching dance classes was added about three years ago,” says OPA Vice Chairman Richard Holland. The performing arts center was named for him and his late wife, Mary.

10 January 2013- Joan Squires office is photographed for B2B Magazine.

Photo in Squires’ office of her with Debbie Reynolds (left) and Warren Buffett.

Squires has her finger on the pulse on Broadway theatre life and currently serves as a voting member for Broadway’s Tony Awards®. Active in Broadway League committees, she is a member of the Performing Arts Center Consortium and of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. She is an advisor for the Broadway Dreams Foundation.

The Life of Joan Squires

Joan was born and raised in Shippensburg, Pa., where her father ran a family business. Her twin brother, John, is the fourth generation in the business. Joan received her undergraduate degree in music education from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., and became a music teacher for three years. She loved her students, but teaching wasn’t her life’s mission.

She moved into arts management, earning a master’s degree in both business and music arts administration from the University of Michigan. She served as an intern for the National Endowment for the Arts and participated in a yearlong fellowship under the sponsorship of the League of American Orchestras.

Squires has worked in arts management for more than 25 years. Previous positions were with the Milwaukee, Utah, and Houston symphonies. She has received many honors including the Ak-Sar-Ben Court of Honor and the YWCA’s Woman of Vision. In 2012, she received a Governor’s Arts Award from the Nebraska Arts Council.

Squires has a short commute to work. She lives in a downtown condo about halfway between the two theaters that she oversees. Her husband, Tom Fay, was a vice president of the Arizona State University Foundation before they moved to Omaha. A native New Yorker, he played the oboe for 17 years with the Pittsburgh Symphony and held a second career in arts management and academic fundraising.

Fay and Squires have been married 22 years. She has three stepchildren and three grandchildren. Her husband has been supportive of her demanding career, says Squires. “He said he had his career, and it was now my turn.”

Squires said despite all the long hours she logs at work, it’s all worth it. “At the end of the day, standing in the back of the theater and watching the audience react, I think I have the best job in town.”

Jay Noddle

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“When people are relying on you, you better be prepared to show up with suggestions and a solution and go the extra mile. Leadership is about how you do when things are tough, not when they are easy.”

Tough was the word for 2008, adds real estate developer Jay Noddle. “I was wondering if every decision I made would turn out to be wrong when the economy crashed. We were working in a time of change. Suddenly, there were no experts in our industry…No one to ask because business hadn’t faced extreme economic challenges like those.”

Commitments were met and business improved, says Noddle, who believes his strength is strategic planning.

“Leadership is about how you do when things are tough, not when they are easy.”

“We ask, ‘What do you believe you need? Why do you feel that way? What are the differences between your wants and needs?’ We’re focused on helping organizations think through those decisions and develop a vision and a strategy that will help achieve that vision.”

After returning to his hometown of Omaha in 1987 following 10 years in Denver where he attended college and worked, he founded Pacific Realty. The company turned into Grubb & Ellis/Pacific Realty in 1997 when it became an independent affiliate of the national company. In 2003, he succeeded his father, Harlan Noddle, as president and CEO of Noddle Companies. The company has been involved in 125 office and retail projects coast to coast.

“All we have is our reputation built on what we accomplished,” Noddle says. “We make sure we work within our capabilities.”

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Think Big

Jay Noddle takes on the big jobs. The First National Tower that stretches 40 stories high. One Pacific Place. Gallup headquarters. But his most ambitious project sits in the middle of an historical Omaha neighborhood.

“Aksarben Village is probably as good of an example of collaboration and teamwork as I’ve seen in my career,” says Noddle. “City, county, state, university, neighborhood associations, and bankers came together and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

The 70-acre property near 67th and Center streets had been transferred by Douglas County to the nonprofit Aksarben Future Trust for development. Noddle was selected as the developer.

Omahans have an affection for the area that goes back to 1921, when the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben moved its racetrack and colosseum there. The finish line of the racetrack is now the lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott.

“Today, we have a vibrant, popular place woven into the community,” says Noddle, who looks out his office window and sees people walking, biking, and running.

The close vicinity of University of Nebraska-Omaha and College of Saint Mary encourages businesses to locate in the Village, he says. “The schools produce the workforce of the future.  Business and industry are always looking for the best and the brightest. Aksarben Village has opened a whole new world for UNO, which is aspiring to grow to 20,000 students by 2020.”

More development is underway in the Village.

  • Gordmans’ corporate offices will move into a new building near 67th and Frances streets during the first quarter of 2014. The retail chain is another example of why location near the university is a good match for business: Gordmans is active in the design of the UNO College of Business curriculum.
  • Courtyard by Marriott developers will open a Residence Inn in the Village in early 2014.
  • The first opportunity to own housing at Aksarben Village will happen in Summer 2014 at Residences in the Village.
  • More apartments—200—are joining the 400 already at the Village.
  • D.J.’s Dugout will have its own new building in March.
  • Waitt Company will relocate its headquarters to the newly built Aksarben Corporate Center, a joint venture with Waitt and the Noddle Companies.

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Jay at Play

When you look at what Noddle has accomplished, you ask, “When does he have time for a life?” As it turns out, he makes plenty of time for family and fun.

His youngest, Aaron, 13, attends eighth grade. Sam, 19, attends the University of Miami.  Rebecca, 21, is studying social work at UNO.

“I’m a soccer dad. And I like to cook.” Noddle also enjoys golfing, scuba diving, and running and describes himself as “a big car guy.”

With a busier schedule, the Husker fan has had to subdue his Big Red fever. “I was a road warrior for the Huskers…Never missed a game, home or away.”

“When we work creating places and activities, whether a park or a ballpark, people will come out of their buildings and interact.”

His wife, Kim, started a new business this year—The Art Room in Rockbrook Village. The former District 66 art teacher offers classes and workshops. “It’s been a dream of hers as long as I’ve known her. She’s loving it,” says her proud husband.

Noddle joins volunteer organizations by looking for a connection to his interests.

He serves on the UNMC board of advisors and supports the Eppley Cancer Center (“My father had cancer”). He has been president-elect and president of the Jewish Federation of Omaha (“That is our culture”) and is a trustee of the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Omaha by Design is a special interest. “People think of sustainability as a liberal thing. But it’s not just recycling and green buildings. Sustainability promotes healthy living…Promotes interaction between people. When we work creating places and activities, whether a park or a ballpark, people will come out of their buildings and interact.”

“We work around the country, and Omaha is a special place,” says Noddle. “Unless you get beyond our borders, you don’t realize that.”