When William “Bill” Ziegert, retired recently as Smoke Guard president and general manager, the company’s business leaders chose Boise State EMBA alumnus Curtis Gonzales as Ziegert’s successor and asked him to take on an even larger role and as CEO. In this role Gonzales has led enormous amounts of change for both his leadership team and the company as a whole. “We [have been] in a growth transition from a one product garage-type company to a sophisticated market leader with a large portfolio of products servicing Passive Smoke & Fire Protection Industry.”
Gonzales’ knowledge and experience in implementing change were reinforced and strengthened while attending the Boise State Executive MBA Program.
“EMBA taught me the importance of maintaining our customer intimacy as a competitive advantage though these changes,” Gonzales shares. “EMBA also taught me many things fundamental to business success; finance, economics, marketing, and creating a winning strategy. Luckily, I am not in this alone. I get great support from my team and reaching out to my EMBA network.”
For any kind of microfiber towel need, chances are The Rag Co, founded by Boise State EMBA alumna Carolyn Hennen, has a solution. So Hennen recently opened The Rag Co’s first retail store in Boise—the place to go for “all things towel.”
The Rag Co develops and sells microfiber towels to businesses and individuals. Its customers generally include hotels, spas, beauty supply stores, auto detailers, cleaning services, outdoor outfitters, restaurants, bars, and electronics manufacturers.
In its how-to videos, the company also provides advice on window cleaning, aviation and automobile detailing, paint correcting and drying, and related topics. And while her EMBA background has equipped Hennen with many of the essentials of running this successful business, some of the company’s secrets come down to its lighthearted approach to the business.
“While microfiber towels may not seem like the most exciting business to be in, we’ve actually made a strong name for ourselves online and around the world by having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously,” said Dane Hennen, creative director.
Quote and background info courtesy The Idaho Statesman.
We chatted with Carolyn and asked a couple of questions about her business and her EMBA experience, below is our conversation.
What were some of the biggest challenges you had when you decided to leave your career in health care and lead your business full time?
The first big challenge was….Fear of the unknown! My husband and I both took a big leap of faith, thinking that we could support ourselves and our team long term, with our new business. I’d been in healthcare for 20 years and felt confident with my expertise in echocardiography and management. I’d worked my way up to a good position with very solid pay and benefits. It was a big risk to make that career change at this point in our lives, but we thought the opportunities were worth it.
The second big challenge once I started to work in our business full time, was the new learning curve. The microfiber industry doesn’t sound complicated, but it is very detailed oriented and there are many facets to it. I had the basic overall knowledge, but didn’t have time to get into all the details while I was still working and managing the large department at St. Luke’s. There was a learning curve that was frustrating and unexpected to me. I thought to myself, “If can do echocardiography in open heart surgery, I should be able to figure out the details of microfiber and International shipping quicker!
How much has your business grown over the past two years?
Our business has doubled each year for the past two years. We believe we have the opportunity to double again this next year too, we’ll see. We’ve grown from being in our garage two years ago and just moved in to approximately 15,000. Sq. ft. warehouse and office space. Our processes are becoming much more stream-lined and efficient.
What were the top three things you gained from Executive MBA that have helped you lead and grow the company?
New Perspective – I gained a new perspective through the EMBA program. I can’t imagine any other environment where you will be exposed to and listen to so many experts in the field of business. I loved listening to their successes and failures and how they moved forward, with real life experiences.
Innovation – I heard someone say that, “Innovation is not the result of chance, it’s the result of action.” In our small business, we’ve been able to be innovative creating new opportunities, in a fairly traditional industry. There have been several people who thought we were a little bit crazy to leave our corporate careers and start this venture in our garage and they have been pleasantly surprised with our success.
Finances and Accounting – Even if you have experts that do your accounting and finances, you need to be able to dive into the numbers and recognize if there are any abnormalities or opportunities and what to do to stay on a positive course.
What is your next big challenge?
Greater expansion Internationally with large Distributors. We currently sell our products around the world, but are building a greater number of distributors in different countries, to mitigate risk. Our brand is becoming more well-known and we’re excited because many of these distributors want to sell our microfiber cloths under our brand name.
We will kick off the new year with a new Informational Session about the Boise State University Executive MBA Program on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 from 5:30-7 PM.
EMBA Informational Sessions are the best place for individuals and companies to learn about this unique program from those who are directly involved. EMBA Faculty members, current EMBA participants, alumni, and program administrators will attend. The sessions will take place at the Micron Business and Economics Building, located at the corner of University and Capitol Blvd in downtown Boise. Parking and logistics information will be emailed to registrants a few days prior to the Information Session. Beverages and hors d’oeuvres will be served.
For more information and to register for the session, please visit: https://cobe.boisestate.edu/emba/attend-an-informational-session/
Please welcome the new EMBA 18 cohort that started this September! Participant companies include: Idaho Power, Family Dental Care, St. Luke’s, Sensus, Micron, Medicaid, Hydrus Hydroponics, CTI Foods, Idaho Army National Guard, Idaho Air National Guard, Riverstone International School, Chobani, HP, Intermountain Eye Clinic, Select Health, Optimizon, Sew Boise, Hinduja Global Solutions, Boise Anesthesia, Ultra Solutions, and Eagle Law Center.
Shelle Poole is an assistant professor at Boise State University. Her main area of focus is Business Leadership. Shelle gained her business leadership expertise from her twenty years working for Hewlett-Packard and her doctoral research. During her tenure at Hewlett-Packard, Shelle worked as an executive for six years, led global teams for fourteen years, and had the opportunity to work in HR, Marketing, IT, R&D, Business Development, Manufacturing, Quality, and Training.
Shelle Poole’s doctoral research focused on women in business leadership and her passion continues to be in this area. Shelle has played an integral part in creating more programs to boost women in the workplace. This includes bringing NEW Leadership to Idaho. This is a national bi-partisan program developed by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) to address the under-representation of women in American politics. Shelle also opened the Go-Lead Idaho 2015 Leadership Summit with a presentation on how women impact the top 75 private Idaho businesses. She recently created a student organization titled, Women of the Workplace (W.O.W.), an organization used to mentor, educate, encourage, and strengthen female students at Boise State University.
Shelle maintains a PMP certification from the Project Management Institute and she is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt.
Eric Hicks leads global talent, learning, and organizational development for Cigna Healthcare, a health care insurance company operating in 30 countries. In this capacity, Eric leads a team of Learning and OD professionals who help create and implement all talent development strategies for over 45,000 employees. In addition to the U.S., his geographic focus is in China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia within the Asia Pacific region; Scotland, Belgium, Turkey, and Spain within Europe and the Middle East. Prior to coming to Cigna, Eric led learning and leadership development for JPMorgan Chase’s Credit Card Division in the US, Canada, India, and The Philippines. Before joining JPMorgan Chase, he led the national learning delivery function for PepsiCo’s KFC division.
In addition to his work on large organizational change and learning efforts, Eric also coaches both working teams and individuals in improving their performance and attaining their goals and personal life ambitions. Along with his passion for executive coaching, Eric also has a strong interest in helping people improve their cross cultural agility. Concurrent with his corporate work, Eric has also instructed at the University of Louisville MBA School where he delivered courses on Corporate Entrepreneurism, Business Communication, and Cross Cultural Agility.
Eric holds a Ph.D. in HRD and Organizational Leadership from the University of Louisville, a Master of Science degree in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Brigham Young University. When he is not focused on professional learning, Eric enjoys tying on a fly and tossing it into one of Idaho’s many beautiful rivers.
The EMBA 17 cohort has arrived back to Boise from their travels from Hanoi, Vietnam! Every year, we take an EMBA business Cohort to spend time and work on business projects in Hanoi as part of our International Residency Experience program. This year, the EMBA’s worked on projects for Cold Chain, Dykman Electrical Inc., Raw Pharma, and Vacasa. EMBA 17’s also took a tour of the MK Smartcard Factory, had a memorable dinner with the Vietnam MBA Alumni in Hanoi, and met with the People’s Committee of Son Tay.
For more information on our International Residency Program, please visit our Experience EMBA page.