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INTO THE BREECH: Jack Stack began a six-month term as interim dean of the Drury University Breech School of Business Administration on Jan. 1
Tawnie Wilson | SBJ
INTO THE BREECH: Jack Stack began a six-month term as interim dean of the Drury University Breech School of Business Administration on Jan. 1

Remanufacturing Education: Jack Stack takes a turn in the great game of academia

Posted online

“I hope you don’t expect anything academic.”

Those are the opening words from Jack Stack when he sits down for a Springfield Business Journal interview in the conference room of Drury University’s $27 million Enterprise Center that holds the Breech School of Business Administration.

Stack doesn’t talk like an academic. He refers to the professors as teachers and the students as kids, and in an environment where people have been trained to weigh all aspects of an issue, he gets straight to the point. His directness is at home in the board room, but it can clank like a monkey wrench against the walls of the ivory tower.

Stack, 74, is CEO and president of SRC Holdings Corp., an employee-owned remanufacturing corporation working in the agricultural, industrial, construction, marine and automotive markets. Since its founding in 1983, SRC has spun off 60 businesses and now employs 2,000 associates with a combined 4.4 million square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space.

Stack is also the originator of The Great Game of Business, an approach to business that encourages transparency and financial literacy through an open-book culture, and he has authored three books on the subject.

On Jan. 1, Stack began a six-month term as interim dean of Drury’s business school, where he oversees 16 faculty and staff and some 355 students. He brought with him a philosophy that embraces openness, integrity and fun.

“Why in the world are we afraid to be talking about business?” he said. “I mean, there’s a few of us who really like it. It’s a hobby to some people. If you like fishing, you talk about it. Why do people who love business not talk more about business? Let’s make it a hobby – let’s make it a sport.”

This is the crux of the Stack philosophy: Business is a game, and a great one at that. By treating business as a sport, Stack says, people can come together and figure out how to use the assets they have instead of fighting amongst themselves.

In his temporary role, Stack said his goal is to come up with a formula to propel the school and the university to success as its leaders go about hiring a permanent replacement, who will start in the fall.

“All I want to do is leave them with the formula,” he said.

Stack thinks he is uniquely positioned to take on that task.

“I came from the ground floor,” he said. “I was the guy the boss went by and never said hello to, and it just pissed me off. I thought if I ever got in that position, I wouldn’t do that. I’m very blessed to bring a piece to the table where I’ve been on both sides and I understand both sides. Hopefully, I can use some of that expertise to get everybody where they want to go much faster.”

He also hopes his love of business is infectious.

“To me, business is music,” he said. “It’s a composition of putting all kinds of notes together so you come out with a beautiful song, and you get to sing it every day, and it kind of pumps you up. It gets you excited.

“I know it’s crazy that I try to get people excited about work, but there is something about achievement, incentives and awards and celebrations and taking the high road of successes in business. And then the low road you can obviously handle because everybody knows what to do.”

In addition to spreading his enthusiasm for the field of business, Stack will cover normal dean tasks during his time at Drury, like overseeing learning and curriculum assessments and conducting faculty evaluations.

Stack plans to work with the previous dean, Jeff Zimmerman, who stepped down to focus on teaching and on the school’s regular reaccreditation process through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

The school offers a Master of Business Administration, plus programs in accounting, economics, cyber-risk management, finance, integrated business and management and marketing.

Unless someone invites him to give a guest lecture, Stack is not slated to teach any classes during his time as dean. Even so, with Stack, class is always in session.

Continuous improvement
Drury Interim President John Beuerlein invited Stack to take on the dean role. He said he has known Stack for a lot of years, including shared service on the DU Board of Trustees, where Stack served 2004-13. Stack is also serving on the search committee to find a permanent president for the university; Beuerlein stepped into the temporary role after the 2023 resignation of Tim Cloyd.

Beuerlein is enthusiastic about what Stack brings to the table.

“He’s just such a unique talent,” Beuerlein said. “If you want to work with someone who can cut to the chase of what the real heart of the matter is, he’s the man to have on your team.”

Beuerlein said Stack is a listener.

“He’s always focused in on constant improvement and understands that the way to do that is by paying the highest compliment you can pay someone, and that is asking for their opinion,” Beuerlein said. “He knows fully well that two heads are better than one, and if you’re closest to the work, it’s likely you’re the expert.”

Upon SBJ’s request, Stack provided a list of some of the professors he had spent time with so far in the business school. One of these was Darren Page, assistant professor of economics since 2021.

“One of the first things that stood out is that he is very direct and to the point,” Page said. “I don’t know if this is a feature of just not being employed in academia, but he asks a question and thinks we should get right to the root of the answer rather than giving a long, meandering story.”

Page said Stack asked for a list of qualities that made Drury and the department special in comparison with other universities.

“Most of those suggestions he brushed off right away, saying, ‘I’m not sure if that’s truly special,’” Page said. “That’s not exactly the way most of us discuss things in meetings. There’s something unique about that approach.”

Something special
Stack said he believes Drury can be something special.

“Drury differentiates itself by the connection that it makes with the students,” he said. “What I’m able to see in just this relatively short period of time is that the faculty have got a lot of talent, and they develop that talent internally. We can utilize that internal talent to drive an outrageously successful institution.”

A step toward this success is the 2022 opening of the O’Reilly Enterprise Center, where the school is housed. It features sleek finishes and contemporary furnishings – though Stack said it could use some blankets and throw pillows and maybe a houseplant or two.

Beuerlein said Stack is a breath of fresh air – “the kind of energy we need in the Breech school,” he said.

“He’s such a humble guy,” the president noted. “Jack believes that he succeeds only if you succeed. He invests everything he can in people.”

Stack admits it: He likes people.

“To actually believe in people is kind of rare. As a society, we’re getting to the point of expecting them to fail, which is scary,” he said. “I love exceptions to that, when they realize maybe it’s OK to be creative. Maybe it’s OK to speak out, or maybe it’s OK to get my feelings on the table rather than to keep them inside, so maybe I can do something about it.”

Stack said high schools used to help guide students in the direction of their skills to the areas where they could be successful. That’s not as much the case now, he said.

“College should be about curiosity,” he said. “Eventually, what it comes down to is them saying, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ Why waste money? Why waste time?”

Drury can stand out as an institution of higher learning by helping to guide students along paths that will benefit them professionally, according to Stack.

“Right now, it’s a discovery on their own,” he said. “You can get the certificate – OK. But the certificate, if it ties into a business or a profession or an opportunity, boy, that’s really, really beneficial.”

Stack said he sees education going through a renaissance as people in the field try to determine what is expected of them in the future.

“It’s a pretty scary period of time, but all of a sudden, if you’re not sitting back trying to figure out if you’re relevant, you’re going to be left in the dust, because the competition out there is getting brutal,” he said.

Students can’t waste their time, he said, and in his half-year in the business dean’s chair, he hopes to craft a course of action to ensure that they won’t.

“They have a lot of tough sledding ahead,” he said. “They’ve got to be able to figure out how to utilize resources effectively, efficiently and quickly, and that’s what business does – it brings those kinds of skill sets, and it also brings out the optimism.

“There are always going to be problems, and we’d better have the solutions to those problems.”

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