Center for Innovative Cultures

Helping organizations thrive by unleashing the talent, passion, and potential of people at work

Acknowledgments 2015: 
A Brief Summary of Those Who Contributed to the Beginnings of the Center

The germ idea for the Center of Innovative Cultures grew out of discussions I had in the spring of 2014 with Jeanne Ambruster, a former colleague of mine at W. L. Gore & Associates, and now a member of the Board of Trustees at Westminster College, and with Tom Ellison, who was the President of Westminster’s Board. We were all part of the College’s strategic planning process, and although the Center did not strictly speaking emerge through that process, the challenges and opportunities that the College faced helped spark ideas about the Center.

At the end of March 2014, we had a lively discussion among a few former Gore Associates, faculty in the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, and three high-level administrators from the College.  Our purpose was to brainstorm ideas about what such a Center could become, and what it could offer the School of Business and the College. Participating in the discussion were: Lisa Actor, Jeanne Ambruster, Gail Avendano, Tom Ellison, Rex Falkenrath, Massimo Gilmozzi, Cliff Hurst, Mike Keene, Melissa Koerner, Brian Levin-Stankevich, Todd Scantlebury, John Sininger, Michael Sutton, and Vicki Whiting.

There was a consensus amongst us that the default cultures of most organizations left too many people dispirited because their potential to contribute to the success of their organizations was, at worst, suppressed, and at best, left untapped. Those of us with experience of W. L. Gore & Associates also believed that its innovative organizational culture could be truly transformative. We saw that the Center that was beginning to take shape could promote and extend the legacy of Bill and Vieve Gore and aptly fulfill part of the mission of the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business at Westminster College.

In May 2014, Brian Levin-Stankevich gave the Center a significant start-up grant from his Presidential Innovation Network funds. Ginger Giovale matched those funds so we could reach out to people outside the College who might resonate with the idea of the Center.

In July 2014, we held our first event to consider the ecosystem of start-ups and the early growth stage of organizations. We began with the premise that the best time to start building a transformative culture is from the outset, and that it is much more difficult to change a culture already in place. Our keynote speaker was Heinrich Flik, recently retired from the Board of Directors of W. L. Gore & Associates after a 45-year career with the Enterprise. Heinrich spoke about the lifecycles of organization, and how Gore, as a learning organization, was able to defy the trend of vibrant start-ups moving through growth and maturity into bureaucracy and senescence.

Cliff Hurst, Michael Keene, Vicki Whiting and I served on a panel after the talk facilitated by Rex Falkenrath.  Some additional people integral to the success of the event were: Lisa Actor, Gail Avendano, Michael Sutton, and Emily Rains.

In August, we held a retreat to shape the Center with 42 participants eager and willing to help in thinking through the Center’s objectives and offerings. The participants were: Lisa Actor, Jeanne Ambruster, Scott Beck, Robert Bell, Francine Berkey, Rod Collins, Benay Dara-Abrams, Preston Chiaro, Karen Davies, Charlie Ehin, Tom Ellison, Craig Emter, Bing Fang, Bob Frankenberg, Rene Freudenberg, Danny Giovale, Massimo Gilmozzi, Scott Gore, Bob Henson, Sebastian Hooker, Cliff Hurst, Doug Kirkpatrick, Melissa Koerner, Jason Knott, Brian Levin-Stankevich, Catriona McCarroll, Robert McCracken, Anna McGrath, Niel Nickolaisen, Michael Pacanowsky, Daniel Pandza, Baptiste Prevot, Paola Pillon, Tim Raban, Emily Rains, Kevin Ricklefs, John Sininger, Michael Sutton, Chee Lung Tham, Jin Wang, Jeff Whiting, and Vicki Whiting.

Judy Fang, from the Westminster Development office, did an extraordinary job of organizing all the logistics for the meeting.

Prior to the Retreat, Michael Sutton did a preliminary search to identify universities or other organizations that had Center’s that focused on entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership, or culture. His search turned up significant numbers of Centers on the first three terms, but none that focused on culture. The key takeaways from the meeting were that there was a lot of enthusiasm for our Center and its potential to help organizations understand the positive impact of culture—both on the people who work for, and make up the organization, and on the success of the organization itself. Furthermore, the time was right for such a Center felt, with many converging trends suggesting a broad but still untapped interest in organizational culture.

In September 2014, Lisa Actor became the organizer extraordinaire for all of the upcoming Center events—like the SLC Evening of Cultural Discussion and the pilot Tools and Practices Workshop. She also developed the donor strategy (along with Jeanne Ambruster and Safia Keller) for individual and corporate sponsorships. 

In October, we received a significant matching grant from Ginger Giovale that allowed us to continue with the various events we had planned.

In October, we held our first Evening of Cultural Discussion (ECD) in Salt Lake City.  The original idea of the ECD was to invite members of the business community to hear a speaker talk for a few minutes on some topic related to culture, and then continue the conversation in small tables over dinner, with maybe 12-16 attendees in total.  In reality, Our SLC ECD strayed far from that mold. We had about 40 attendees and began with a Poster Session where eight different Center activities and events were showcased. Poster presenters were: Lisa Actor, Jeanne Ambruster, Scott Beck, Bob Henson, Sebastian Hooker, Jason Knott, Michael Pacanowsky, Todd Scantlebury, and John Sininger. Assembling all the posters, and getting them in good order, was the work of Sebastian Hooker, Sam Lawes, and Autumn Thatcher. Lisa Actor and Diane Chadek managed the logistics, and Judy Fang helped with details at the ECD itself. What we learned from the ECD was that there was considerable interest among a number of business leaders in Utah in the idea of culture. More importantly, we learned that many of them were already fairly active in developing a high-performing culture in their organizations, and that they were all eager to learn from each other.

In November, we held a second ECD in Boston, hosted by Dan Hawthorne at his home in Beacon Hill, which followed the intended format. Deborah Ancona, Seley Professor in the Sloan School at MIT, spoke about distributed leadership to a group of 12, largely organized by Jeanne Ambruster.

In November, we also held our pilot Tools and Practices Workshop. The idea was to offer a variety of tools and practices, proven to contribute to the performance of organizations, in short one-hour or one-and-a-half-hour modules. Attendees chose four modules (out of 11) that most met their organizational needs. Module presenters were: Jeanne Ambruster, Rod Collins, Massimo Gilmozzi, Cliff Hurst, Doug Kirkpatrick, Anna McGrath, Niel Nickolaisen, Michael Pacanowsky, John Sininger, and Vicki Whiting. We had about 60 workshop attendees—a few were business leaders from the SLC ECD, and most were alumni of the MBA program at the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business.

In November, the Center hired its first Associate: Joe Manship joined us as a student worker.

In January 2015, we officially launched the Center for Innovative Cultures.  Also in January, our second Associate, Susan Arsht, joined as Executive Director.

In February, we launched the Center website. The website was designed by Sophia O’Brien, and content was copy-edited by Sophia along with Autumn Thatcher.

As you can see, we’ve come a long way in our first year!  The Center would not have come so far without the help, ideas, and energy of many.  My apologies to anyone I have inadvertently overlooked.  I want to thank each individual for their different and important contributions to making the Center a reality.

Michael Pacanowsky