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Fortune 100 CEO and possible Bernanke replacement to give KU School of Business’ 2013 Sutton lecture

A current Fortune 100 CEO and possible candidate to replace Ben Bernanke as head of the Federal Reserve is set to speak about business ethics this evening at the Kansas University Edwards Campus.

Roger W. Ferguson Jr., president and CEO of the not-for-profit Teachers Insurance Annuity Association - College Retirement Equities Fund (or TIAA-CREF), a retirement services provider for those in academic, research, medical and cultural fields, will give the 2013 KU business school's Walter S. Sutton Lecture at 6:30 p.m. today.

Ferguson has served as vice chairman of the Fed's Board of Governors. While at the Fed he helped develop rules for large multinational banks. This summer he was listed by the Wall Street Journal as a "potential replacement" for Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman. His name was listed with seven others, including headliners Janet Yellen and Lawrence Summers, who recently withdrew his name. If tapped by President Barack Obama, Ferguson would be the first black Fed chairman.

Ferguson's lecture, titled "Ethics and the Financial Services Industry," will be free and open to the public. More details are available at the business school's website.

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    Cerner co-founder Cliff Illig shares his startup story with KU MBA students

    Talking to a crowd of suited and pantsuited M.B.A. students, the biggest laugh Cliff Illig got Wednesday evening at the Carnegie Building came after a simple description of how he has fared in the risky, failure-filled world of entrepreneurship.

    “It’s been OK,” he said.

    OK? To the KU business students listening to Illig speak, that was riotous stuff — hilarious.

    In 1979 Illig, who received his bachelor’s in accounting from KU, co-founded Cerner Corp. along with Neal Patterson and Paul Gorup. If you’ve heard of Cerner at all (and many haven’t, given that it is not a consumer company), you probably know that it has done quite a bit better than OK during its nearly 35-year life.

    The healthcare IT giant has grown at a furious pace since its founders conceived it on a picnic table in Kansas City’s Loose Park. Cerner licenses its technology to thousands of hospitals and healthcare facilities worldwide. Of its 13,000-person global payroll, Cerner employs 9,000 people in the Kansas City area who make a combined $700 million in income, and the company has a planned expansion on the way.

    Forbes recently put Cerner at the 13th spot on a list of the world’s most innovative companies. And federal incentives for doctors and hospitals to switch to digital recordkeeping systems promise strong growth for at least the near future.

    Much of Illig’s talk was devoted to tracking his own and Cerner’s arcs of success. Today Illig is vice chairman of a major tech company's board. Decades ago, before he even started college, he was smart and lucky enough to get into computers before they had a hand in nearly facet of the economy.

    As a teenager, Illig was drawn to computers because they had a physical, tactile side to them in the punchcard days of the late 1960s. “My dad was looking for child labor when I was 13, 14 years old, so very early on I learned how to stuff cards in the computers he used for his business,” Illig said. As a high school student at Shawnee Mission East, he took one of the first computer classes ever offered in the district.

    After his time at KU — which Illig glossed over with more understatement, saying he was mostly interested in “getting on with it” — he joined the consulting division of accounting firm Arthur Andersen, now Accenture.

    Illig and Patterson started at Andersen within two weeks of each other. As Illig tells it, the two agreed on little. But they both knew they had no interest in advancing to their bosses’ jobs. So, on yellow ledger paper, they started brainstorming business models together.

    At the time, the software industry was in its infancy, and healthcare recordkeeping was more or less in the Stone Age. They saw a role for themselves in bringing it into the future.

    The Cerner story makes for a sort of startup fairytale. Neeli Bendapudi, dean of the KU business school, was among the rapt in Wednesday's audience, saying “my heart soars” every time she hears Illig’s story.

    Along with co-founding Cerner, Illig is one of the owners and brains behind soccer team Sporting KC, which, similar to Cerner, is wildly successful in an industry that doesn’t exactly have a wildly visible public profile.

    Bendapudi said in an interview that she hoped having Illig come to Lawrence to speak with business graduate students would help them see that large-scale success can come to people sitting where they are now. “We need to showcase our own,” she said, “to inspire the students of today.”

    Illig himself put out a small plea for the potential future entrepreneurs in the audience: “The environment won’t necessarily be hospitable” for starting a business, he said, but added, “You can't be an entrepreneur without being fundamentally optimistic.”

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  • Cliff Illig (in the plaid blazer) talking with audience members at Carnegie Building on 9th Street

    Cliff Illig (in the plaid blazer) talking with audience members at Carnegie Building on 9th Street by Ben Unglesbee

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    Four years later, auto-parts company follows KU business students’ suggestion to open plant in KCK

    A newly reported move of a manufacturing facility from Missouri to Kansas is at least partially thanks to a group of one-time KU business students.

    Back in 2008, a mix of graduate students and undergrads in a KU School of Business course had a real-world class project, according to Wally Meyer, the school's director of entrepreneurship programs, to determine which of about 100 General Motors parts suppliers might benefit most from moving closer to the company's Fairfax assembly facility.

    After some analysis, they picked Flex-N-Gate, an Illinois-based company that supplies bumpers to the Fairfax plant. The students met with GM, Flex-N-Gate and the Kansas City, Kan., mayor's office, also recommending incentives the different parties could offer to one another as well as a potential building for Flex-N-Gate.

    Any action resulting from that process was delayed for a while by GM's subsequent bankruptcy and reorganization, but last week the Kansas City Business Journal reported that Flex-N-Gate is preparing to move into the very building those students recommended. It had leased another location in Kansas City, Mo., last year, announcing that a new facility would create about 300 jobs.

    So, Meyer says, the students not only got some authentic real-world experience; they also, in the end, helped out the economy of their home state.

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