Professional Development

The power of two

How embracing a network of supporters can help you rise to the top

By Nate Garvis and Tom Wiese — with Kolina Cicero

We are of the belief that when it comes to pursuing an idea, two heads are better than one. It’s why our program has an entire day’s worth of curriculum to focus on what we call Enrollment, or the practice of incorporating people into your idea by identifying their self-interest in it. As dean of the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas, Studio/E member Stefanie Lenway is a master at this practice. It is her job to identify the skills students need in order to be successful in the business world, and package them into offerings that will be attractive to prospective students.

St. Thomas isn’t the only school for which Stefanie has had this role. She was formerly business dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as dean of the Broad College of Business at Michigan State. While Stefanie has been in academics since the early 1980s, she has also dipped her toes into health care by creating a passion project called the Health Care Roundtable — an opportunity for folks from different sectors to come together to discuss health care issues and ideas.

We sat down with Stefanie to hear about how she keeps abreast of students’ needs, her climb to the top of academics and her advice for women looking to be immersed in business.

Studio/E: Your desire is to bring out the best in people. How does that show up for you?
I do it every day if I’m doing my job. I help bring out the best in people by providing students with a big picture, so they know why they’re doing what they’re doing. The more we help students understand their business and their competition, the better decisions they’ll make on their own.

Studio/E: Tell us about your Studio/E idea, the Health Care Roundtable.
Health care is too expensive and we all know it, so I started a roundtable where people can come together to discuss issues and ideas. I’ve brought in physicians, insurers, consultants, people in IT, investors and others to discuss new ways of doing things. Two people are better than one and three people are better than two, and you’re going to do better with a team than by yourself, so I brought a team together.

Studio/E: How do you keep the Opus College of Business relevant?
By offering things students can actually use, like digital skills, for example. When choosing classes, we think about how the new skills will affect the community. I also talk to people working in business almost daily to see if what we’re doing aligns with what real businesses are currently doing. It changes by the moment. St. Thomas has a social justice mission so we do our best to connect all that we do to the common good.

Studio/E: What’s the big need right now?
Business analytics. People need to know how to extract insights from big data.

Studio/E: How do you enroll students?
We stay very close to the market to learn what skills employers are hiring for, then we figure out what we can do to equip students with those skills.

Studio/E: Did you face any hardships being a woman in business?
Yes. Some people assume you can’t do the job. When I look back at issues I’ve faced, some people assumed I didn’t know what I was doing. But I kept going and I did so purposefully. I think women need networks. First, they need to understand their opportunities, then they need to get reinforcement.

Studio/E: Where do you see business and academics intertwine?
Historically, academics has been buffered from market pressures, but with technology, virtual teaching, YouTube and all of the different ways to access skills, we have had to figure out how to compete. Doing things the way we did them in the 1980s isn’t working anymore.

Studio/E: What advice do you have for women interested in pursuing a career in business?

  1. Get the skills. If you want to be a business leader you should get an MBA and gain experience in the trenches. Start with an internship, then move up to entry-level, then learn the business.
  2. Build your network. This includes finding mentors. I’ve always had very good networks, and you build them by talking to people. You can’t do it by yourself.
  3. Build confidence. You can know what you’re doing but not feel confident doing it. Build confidence by learning from your mistakes. Not everything will go right. I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I’ve learned from them and gained confidence along the way.
  4. Find a place that matches your values. Most people don’t fit just anywhere. You have to find a place that matches your values. That was hard for me — I thought I could plop down in any school and I would know what to do and it would be fine, but it’s not like that. Success requires aligned values.

Take it from Stefanie, whose resume bears the letters AB, MA, MBA and Ph.D. and who was the first female in her role as dean at the Opus College of Business — a climb to the top is possible. It takes persistence, alignment in values and a network to lean on, but the ascent is yours for the taking if you have the drive to get there.

More about Stefanie

Name: Stefanie Lenway, dean of Opus College of Business, University of St. Thomas
Headquarters: St. Paul
Inception: 1885
Description: A Catholic university that fosters a tradition of service to the public.
Stefanie’s Desire: To bring out the best in people.
Studio/E Competency: Enrollment: Bringing people on board with your idea because they have identified their self-interest in it.


Nate Garvis and Tom Wiese are founding partners of Studio/E. They are both Senior Fellows at the Lewis Institute’s Social Innovation Lab at Babson College, as well as co-owners of Earn Influence, a consulting firm that helps its cool clients profitably travel into the unknown with clarity and confidence.