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A real world MBA Featured

8:43am EDT March 31, 2003
To her former colleagues, it seemed Sandy Stark took a big risk when she accepted the George Herzog Chair in Free Enterprise at Baldwin-Wallace College. She had the prestigious position of vice chairman of small business services at KeyBank where she helped Key become the nation's largest small business lender. She earned the bank $250 million a year. Loans reached $2 billion. But when she was offered the lower-paying, less exalted academic position, she just couldn't seem to get it out of her mind.

"At first, I thought when I'm 70 years old and have my gold watch from Key, this would be the perfect job," Stark says sitting at a sprawling dark wood conference table inside of B-W's Kamm Hall. "But the more I learned about the job, the more I realized that this is the perfect job for me, so why am I waiting?"

Officially, Stark took a leave of absence from Key to take the Herzog Chair, which puts her in esteemed company at the bank. "Henry Meyer is the only other person at Key who left on leave of absence," she says. "He came back, but I'm not."

Stark will be busy with the fall 2002 launch of B-W's new MBA in Entrepreneurship program, which she helped design with Northeast Ohio business leaders and entrepreneurs. The program is designed to introduce those who want to own their own business to the realities and challenges they will face. She says will also help executives who have been working in a corporate culture to think like an entrepreneur.

"Entrepreneurship is a process," she says. "One of the first things we do in the program is shatter some of the myths of entrepreneurship. One myth is successful entrepreneurs are high risk takers; that's not true. They are moderate, calculated risk takers. We can teach them to assess an opportunity from a critical perspective."

Stark's time at KeyBank was the ideal preparation to design such a curriculum. In her time lending to small business owners and entrepreneurs, she knows why businesses succeed and fail. Mostly, she says, even great business plans fall apart because of poor management.

"What I saw was most business failures could be avoided," Stark says. "It's simply because of lack of knowledge and competencies on behalf of the entrepreneur. It's not that they had a bad business idea."

Stark previewed the program to CEOs of large corporations, like The Sherwin-Williams Co., to see if they would be concerned that if one of their employees enrolled in the program they would soon leave to start their own business. The CEO reaction was overwhelmingly supportive, she says.

"The people who can see change as an opportunity, do more with less, and instigate change, are the kinds of people they want in their company," Stark says of the corporate leaders. "So our approach is not so much new venture creation as it is the entrepreneurial process."

How to reach: Baldwin-Wallace, (440) 826-2196.