Conversations on business strategy, corporate culture change and organizational leadership have been among the highlights of CEO-in-Residence James B. Adamson’s weeklong visit to Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics (CBE).
The theme of Adamson’s weeklong residence is “The Science and Art of Doing Business,” and he has participated in a series of conversations around the many facets of diversity and inclusion in the corporate world. Adamson also visited Lehigh in September
for a lecture that chronicled his work on diversity and inclusion at Denny’s and several other retail and restaurant companies.
“It has been a real honor to host Jim Adamson as CEO in Residence. I truly appreciate his sincere willingness to share insights from his successful business career with our students in classes, group meetings and individual session,” said Tom Hyclak, the CBE’s interim dean and a professor of economics. “This was a tremendous opportunity for our undergraduate and MBA students to learn a bit about the art of business from a proven leader."
A special CBE faculty presentation, led by the Ernst and Young Inclusiveness Recruiting Group, was among the highlights of Adamson’s visit. The presentation, “How business schools can better prepare its graduates for a diverse environment,” was led by Ken Bouyer, EY’s Americas director of inclusiveness recruiting. Bouyer reflected on his first years at EY after completing his undergraduate studies at Manhattan College, and said that while he was excited about joining the company, he faced challenges being one of just a few African Americans among his cohort.
“Recruiting diverse people is important, but it doesn’t necessarily address the environment, which can present challenges around retention and advancement,” said Bouyer, who emphasized the important role faculty can play by celebrating diversity in the classroom, as well as the value of having different people from a wide array of perspectives working together.
Bouyer said that in order for business schools to cultivate inclusive leadership, faculty must emphasize the business imperative of diversity, work with students on developing interpersonal skills that will help them navigate new environments and different cultures and increasing personal awareness of one’s own diversity and biases. Both he and Adamson also emphasized the importance of embedding these concepts throughout an entire organization for true impact.
“We went through enlightenment by force at Denny’s,” said Adamson. “That’s what it took to do what we did in five years, to go from being the poster child of racism to being named one of the best places to work for women and people of color.”
When Adamson became chairman of Advantica Restaurant Group, Inc. in 1995, he led Denny’s through a total cultural transformation in the wake of two class-action race discrimination lawsuits, which were settled for $54 million. His work at Advantica was recognized by the NAACP, 60 Minutes
, and Fortune
, which ranked Advantica number one in its list of “America’s 50 Best Companies for Minorities” two years in a row.
Throughout the week, Adamson has discussed best practices in articulating and implementing corporate diversity strategies with CBE faculty, visited a real estate class and discussed corporate decision making and value creation, and participated in a reception and dinner with Lehigh’s CBE student organizations. He has also met with members of the Lehigh Board of Trustees’ committee on equity and inclusion, and on Friday, he will meet with local CEOs, as well as college and university presidents for a roundtable discussion on corporate diversity and inclusion.
“He has given us much to consider as we craft an action program to better prepare our students for success in organizations with increasingly diverse workforces and corporate commitment to diversity management strategies,” said Hyclak. “After just a few days, I consider Jim to be a trusted colleague who we can rely on for sound advice and good counsel.”