Drexel, Bradley universities embrace entrepreneurial spirit

Robert Turner's career is a map for students seeking the non-traditional.
Robert Turner's career is a map for students seeking the non-traditional.
Posted: February 18, 2013

Can you teach creativity to business students?

Can colleges prep graduates to go out on their own, instead of Working for the Man? To be founders, innovators, industry disrupters - in a word popularized by 20th-century economist Joseph Schumpeter, entrepreneurs?

Two schools are trying extra hard.

In Philadelphia, Drexel University last month announced a new college, the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, backed by a $12.5 million gift from the late chairman of Compudyne Corp., a 1936 Drexel engineering graduate.

That followed Peoria, Ill.-based Bradley University's move last fall to set up the Robert and Carolyn Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, backed by $8 million in contributions from Robert Turner, a Bradley accounting grad (1977) and MBA ('78) who runs Berwyn-based Turner Investments. On Jan. 28, Turner was named chairman of Bradley's trustees.

Bradley president Joanne Glasser and Close School dean Donna De Carolis insist that neither university had heard of the other's effort when they began planning to add entrepreneurship colleges to their engineering, business, arts-and-sciences and health-related schools.

"The idea came about during our strategic planning," said De Carolis.

Close will teach family-business management, franchising, "global entrepreneurship," and other courses, with faculty backed by "experienced entrepreneurs," she said. "My e-mail has been crazy with people who want to come and teach."

Said Glasser, who has run Bradley since 2007, "Bob Turner was the catalyst for our entrepreneurial education. He has the ability to see around corners."

Though not everyone is ready to start a college, campus entrepreneurship departments and centers have proliferated, especially as corporate recruiting slipped after the 2008 financial crash.

"It's a big trend across the country," said Joseph DiAngelo, chairman of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, which accredits business curriculums in the United States and abroad, and who also runs the Erivan K. Haub School of Business at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.

"The economy has driven people to start their own businesses; with today's technology, you can start your own business in your garage," DiAngelo added.

Exposing students to real-life business founders, their stories and methods, universities hope for an edge cheap new online skills courses can't match.

But "the big question is, can you teach someone to be entrepreneurial?" DiAngelo said. "There's a lot of debate." Even if schools can't inculcate guts or innovation, he said, they can "nurture" founders to manage cash flow, debt and other business basics.

Avoiding the boring

Turner's glass-walled offices in wealthy Tredyffrin Township, on the sunlit south slope of the ridge that ends at Valley Forge, are a long way from Yates City, Ill., the farm-country factory center where Turner grew up the son of a union pipe fitter, and where kids aspired to lifetime jobs on the line at bulldozer-builder Caterpillar Inc. in nearby Peoria.

He earned an accounting degree from Bradley - and the dubious reward of a job offer in a windowless "hell on earth" at a Chicago utility.

Turner hadn't been a straight-A student. But the threat of a boring career motivated him to talk Bradley's MBA program director, John Wholihan, future head of Loyola Marymount University's business school, into taking him back as a graduate assistant.

Inspired by an investments course with economist and textbook author Kalman Goldberg and with an MBA in hand, Turner took a job as a business consultant for fellow Bradley grad and future Accenture chief executive George Shaheen, who had grown up over his immigrant father's store near Turner's home.

Turner took his first investment-industry post at a North Carolina firm, where he was exposed to the standardized-unexpected-earnings stock-picking model of Duke University scholar Henry Latané.

After his wife, Carolyn, urged that they move their growing family (two children who have since graduated from Notre Dame, and one from Bradley) back north, Turner moved to Philadelphia's Meridian Bank and its new mutual-fund group.

Restless, at the end of the 1980s, he applied for a job with investment manager Ted Aronson.

"He was so smart, and so driven," recalled Aronson. "I listened, I was fascinated, and then I told him, 'You don't want to work for me. You want to build a place of your own.' "

Aronson and Turner, like their contemporary Ira Lubert, now rank among the handful of Philadelphia-area investors who handle more than $10 billion in other people's money. Lubert specializes in real estate and private investments; Aronson is a data-tracking "quant"; Turner offers a research-intensive, sector-focused stock-picking regime for corporate, union and pension clients.

Morningstar rating agency says Turner Investments' mutual funds, as a group, tend to beat the market in years when stock prices are rising, and lose more in years when the market is weak.

After Glasser took over as Bradley president in 2007 with a mandate to defy falling U.S. college applications, she hired scholar Gerry Hills to expand entrepreneurial education.

"She asked me, 'If we're bold, what would we do to put entrepreneurship on the front burner at Bradley?' " Hills recalled. His answer: a program to help "engineering, English, nursing, hospital, and biology" students start businesses. And not just a program: "Why don't we create a school?"

Turner said he's tithed his income to Presbyterian Church causes and charity since he and his wife were youngsters starting with "$400 and a rattletrap" Plymouth Valiant. The new school at Bradley fit.

For Hills, Turner's career is a map for students:

"Someone who grew up in rural Illinois and ended up a big success in Philadelphia is quite an achievement."

Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, @PhillyJoeD

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