The links to success

Darren D'Altorio

This past Friday I had the pleasure of sitting down with Robert B. “Yank” Heisler Jr., dean of the College of Business Administration at Kent State, to have a simple, midafternoon conversation.

He is an important man in the business world. Not only does he run the College of Business Administration and the Graduate School of Management, he is a retired chief executive officer of McDonald Financial Group and retired chairman of KeyBank. His initials were embroidered into the pocket of his shirt; that’s the caliber of individual we’re dealing with here. I was lucky enough to be penciled into a 20-minute time slot in his schedule.

And there I was, face-to-face with this accomplished dude. But I felt no pressure in the setting because the nature of the conversation wouldn’t permit that.

After I spoke with Heisler, I was surprised to hear from his administrative assistant: “Dean Stevens is waiting for you in his office upstairs.”

So I left Heisler’s office and took the elevator from the third floor to the fifth.

Sitting behind a stately wood desk in his plush-carpeted office overlooking Kent State’s main artery, the super-walkway spanning campus from Tri-towers to the Auditorium, was George Stevens, emeritus dean and professor of management and information systems at Kent State’s College of Business Administration.

I was greeted by his jolly voice escaping from an ear-to-ear grin.

“C’mon in,” he said. “You’re in between me and lunch.”

Now, I know when a 6-foot-2-inch man tells you he has food on the brain, you best get straight to the point.

And the topic of conversation with both men was this: golf.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to get the attention of or have a conversation with high-profile business types, golf is the best catalyst.

That’s why learning about, embracing and venturing onto a course to play the game is one of the best decisions any person who wants to succeed in business can make.

In fact, students should give thanks to the game of golf for bettering their education at Kent State – especially business students.

Stevens said various annual golf outings and business golf meetings with Kent State alumni have created open lines of communication and relationships and have led to major contributions to the university. These donations further the instructional capabilities of the College of Business, enabling the creation of interactive and digital classrooms students use every day.

Beyond Kent State, the vast world of global business incorporates golf into its corporate agenda.

Mark McCormack, deceased founder of IMG and author of “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School,” said more talk about business is conducted on the golf course rather than in a boardroom. And there is very good reason for that.

Would you want to sit through a six-hour meeting?

Hell no. But let’s say that meeting is taking place outside on a sunny day. And a cool breeze is ushering the sounds of birds chirping into your ears and the scent of fresh-cut grass into your nose. This environment is much better than being confined to a stuffy boardroom for six hours to discuss business.

Heisler said people are just more comfortable on the golf course.

“When you’re in a comfortable setting, you’re more likely to talk about things you’re thinking about,” Heisler said. “It’s just a more natural way for people to express themselves.”

The tranquil environment of a golf course allows the mind to escape rigors of the daily grind. Also, with professionalism in mind, people can relax, talk and get to know one another during a round of golf, which typically lasts four to six hours. This natural opportunity for bonding brings out subtleties in human nature that even the swankest high-rise office suite in Manhattan can’t conjure.

Having this access to human nature is the element of the game that has the biggest impact in respect to business. And that’s the reason execs will entertain prospects on the course.

“The behavior you see on the golf course tells you a lot about the person you’re dealing with,” Stevens said.” If you’re trying to identify people who are fair and who keep control of themselves, even when things go wrong, that’s the kind of person you want to work with.”

The parallels between golf and the business world don’t stop there.

Golf is a game of honor, respect and etiquette. And good business practitioners should hold those same core principles.

Both Heisler and Stevens said playing golf illustrates how people respond to stress, how they think critically, how they react to the successes or failures of someone around them, how they practice ethics, honesty and fairness and how they manage emotions. Also, golf provides execs and clients with the opportunity to have fun, blending business and pleasure in an acceptable way.

Essentially, the game can teach the same lessons as any upper-level business management class, but only if a person’s mind will allow him or her to acknowledge these nuances and incorporate them into a business-minded model.

But golf can also teach a person more than a classroom ever could. Golf can teach virtues such as dedication and patience.

As Stevens puts it: “Golf is not about power, it’s about using your brain. You’re sorting out a lot of stuff – hazards, positions, shots – not just hitting a ball.”

There is an undeniable relationship between golf and business. That’s why it is a cornerstone activity in the corporate world. Sure, having a solid background in pure business knowledge is instrumental. But having some golf skills or simply a good attitude and some interest in your arsenal will never, ever hurt.

Golf is an enriching game. It allows one to escape from reality for a second, to slow down and take a deeper breath. It puts the hung-over college kid and the world-renowned business executive on the same level, even if only for a brief conversation.

It opens doors of communication and friendship. And when the round is over, there’s the 19th hole to look forward to.

Darren D’Altorio is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].