Dr. Martin Lindenburg, Director of the McNair Center for Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship, joins us in a Profiles in Leadership segment to talk about the center and how it is shaping the entrepreneurs of the future at St Thomas University.

Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.


Matt Register: Welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio. Texasbusinessradio.com is the Web site. We’re talking about entrepreneurship and we have a segment I really, really think your going to enjoy. I’m pretty excited about it. At the University of St. Thomas they have started a program that is a minor and I don’t want to give it completely away, but bottom line is, they’re giving all kinds of kids coming out of St. Thomas an education on how to take their expertise and turn that into a business. Which is something I think, is sorely has been missing in the college experience for a lot of folks. And we have the guy doing that right now for St. Thomas here in the studio. I’m your host Matt Register. Jay Curry sitting over there grinning in the co-host chair. What do you think sir?

Jay Curry: I got to tell you, this is, this is good stuff. And, you know, we’re, as a nation we’re losing our edge because we’re forgetting what America is all about and how you get there. And that’s the ability to be entrepreneurial and to make things happen. And the kids need to learn this early and they need to learn it often. And this is the start of a great program for that. This, this is really good stuff.

Matt Register: Yeah, no doubt. Martin Lindenberg is here in the studio. He is the director of the Robert and Janice McNair Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at St. Thomas University. Welcome to the show Martin.

Martin Lindenberg: Thank you. It’s really a pleasure to be here.

Matt Register: So tell me about the Robert and Janice McNair Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. Tell me about that program.

Martin Lindenberg: So the center was set up a couple of years ago. The mission is essentially to bring to as many people as possible, both within and outside the university, an understanding of what makes America great. And what that really boils down to is the, understanding the insight of our founding fathers. What they created, the structure and the institutions in our society, with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and all of the powers and amendments and things that have evolved from that.

Matt Register: See I don’t believe you because every single thing I hear about universities now days is they are burning down statues associated with that. They are going the opposite direction. And you’re telling me that, One they had to bring in a South African to teach this. Right? And two, that you are giving these kids a foundation in this at a university. Now granted it’s St. Thomas, it’s conservative Catholic University. But I think this is remarkable. How long has this been going on?

Martin Lindenberg: So, a good few years. What happened a few years ago was, as Jay mentioned, some people started realizing America kind of lost its mojo when it comes to creating jobs and entrepreneurship. And the McNairs were talking to a bunch of friends of theirs and decided to do something about it. So, they established the McNair centers. And believe it or not, there is one or two in places that you might consider more liberal universities, such as Rice. The one at Rice is different, it’s not a hands on teaching program like mine and most of the others. It’s a think tank public policy center doing research and influencing decision makers. But I think that shown that, you know, if you bring together a concept, people listen. Even, even in a liberal setting. Now there isn’t one at Berkeley yet.

Matt Register: Right. Yeah. We haven’t gone that far but…

Jay Curry: In time, in time.

Matt Register: I think that’s remarkable because, you know, especially in some of the more technical fields, they come out of school very, very technically inclined, yet they don’t have a prayer of doing anything except in a large corporation. Right? I mean, that’s, that’s the setting in which they’ll succeed.

Martin Lindenberg: Absolutely.

Matt Register: And now this gives them options of not only going there, to larger corporations. But, you know, when they identify a shortcoming of a major corporation, they now the ability to step out and do something about that. Right?

Martin Lindenberg: That’s exactly right. And in fact some of the most successful venture capitalists from the 80’s, 90’s and the early 2000’s, have said “For someone who wants to build a technology company, the best thing they can do is go and learn at one of the greats. You know, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, whatever.

Matt Register: Sure.

Martin Lindenberg: Get the basics and then go become an entrepreneur and get the right kind of additional help or backers that you need. And that’s been the formula for some pretty successful businesses.

Matt Register: Well for one, you identify, you learn everything you can from them. Right?

Martin Lindenberg: Yeah.

Matt Register: You’ll get to learn from the best. But nobody does everything well. I promise you, the best companies in the world have pieces of them that they are below average at. Right?

Martin Lindenberg: For sure.

Matt Register: And those are always opportunity to step out and do it better. Right?

Martin Lindenberg: And there will always be the case.

Matt Register: So how many of your students are, are business majors versus how many are majoring in other things?

Martin Lindenberg: So it’s an interesting mix. The first year or two, it was majority business majors. It’s starting to shift. For instance, the new entrepreneurship club that we have on campus called the Game Changes Society. So five people on the Executive Leadership, two of those five were in my small business management and entrepreneurship class last semester. And they’re both in the business school, majoring in, one in entrepreneurship general business and the other one in marketing and entrepreneurship.

Matt Register: Okay.

Martin Lindenberg: Two are from the Arts and Science Faculty, studying things like biology. And they understood intrinsically that there was value to be had here because of their growing up experience like you and me.

Matt Register: Sure.

Martin Lindenberg: Family connections and inside real estate or investing or whatever else, that those kinds of skills are going to make a huge difference. And so now we starting to spread the net and address much more broadly. And not just university students, we have been planning a program, we’re not sure when it’ll get kicked in, that basically is open to anybody and everybody. So if an individual doesn’t have a degree, let’s say they own a corner dry cleaner or whatever else, they’ve been in business for a few years, enough for us to know, looking at the track record that they’re going to benefit from the course. Then we want them to be able to come in on a part time basis and take their game from here to there by learning the skills of entrepreneurship. And what is now understood today, that is highly teachable, whereas before people thought you had to be born with it.

Matt Register: Well you know it’s, it’s, we were talking during the break about, you know, different organization. Organizations you don’t think of as business even, even theology, you know, areas. You know, we were talking about the Lutheran seminaries. Where these guys come out and they’re in charge of, you know, middle to large businesses and have not taken a single, you know, business course. These, this type of instruction is applicable to everybody, to theater majors to everybody. Right?

Martin Lindenberg: That’s exactly right. And we’re starting to see some of that on the campus at the moment. Not just myself, a few other faculty members realize that for these youngsters to succeed in their lives, they may not work in the same corporation for more than a few years. They’re going to have multiple jobs, maybe multiple careers. And in the process they got to be equipped with the adaptability and the ability to take what is in their heart and in their imagination and their real world experience and combine those and pivot to do different things as the world changes.

Matt Register: Well I think it’s remarkable. I think it’s a message that every single one of our students needs. Now I’m looking at your Web site here. I’m not even going to try to get anybody to type it in in their car on their phone as they’re driving. We’re going to have it linked from the Texasbusinessradio.com and you can learn more there. But this is, you know, 18 credit hours if you’re not a business major, 12 credit hours if you are a business major. And if you just look through some of these courses. I’m blown away that I’m actually seeing this at a, at a you know a institution of higher learning, you know, based on some of the things we’ve seen. It’s absolutely beautiful thing. And this has been going on for several years and funded, well funded through the next several. What do you see you guys expanding into beyond this. Besides the small business, kind of, you know, continuing it, kind of stuff.

Martin Lindenberg: So we will have, eventually I think, an MBA in entrepreneurship. Right now we have our MBA students can do a concentration and entrepreneurship. That’s a bit like a minor in an undergrad degree. So that’s in place already. But I see that expanding and then I see the potential for joint programs. Where people can come out with a degree. Let’s say a masters of liberal arts. We’ve already got that in the system with a minor in entrepreneurship or a mix of healthy balance between let’s say that we’re really in the media business or their artistical, their writing, whatever else. So, a the bunch of these courses are being cross listed, so that they can do those. And eventually I would love to see this actually in everybody’s curriculum. So whether you’re a premier or a political science major or theology or whatever else, you’ll understand how to be more effective in the world and how to create value.

Matt Register: No doubt. You’re not going to find any argument here. Guys, we have Martin Lindenberg, who’s the director of the Robert and Janice McNair Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Thank you very much for joining us. Speaking of economics, we got to go pay a couple of bills of our own. We’ll be back right after this. Guys don’t go anywhere.

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