New PSU class inspires future business leaders
Author: Crista Tappan, The School of Business
Posted: April 1, 2020

Many business owners and executives develop their leadership and management skills through trial and error. Others discover early on the benefit of asking advice from those with more experience.

During Winter Term, a new 12-week class at The School of Business at Portland State University gave students the opportunity to directly learn leadership skills from a variety of local business leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors and coaches.

Portland-based investor and adjunct instructor Frank Reppenhagen (“Repp”) created the class, titled Contemporary Leadership Issues (MGMT 464) to teach the things he wished he knew when starting out in business.  He believes that leadership is a learned skill, not an attribute people are born with. Through teaching fundamental leadership characteristics and offering students access to community leaders, they can learn skills that could impact all areas of their lives.

“My leadership journey started as a 26 year-old community college student and finds me now as a partner in an investment fund, investor and board member of multiple businesses, and a strategic partner to CEOs,” said Reppenhagen. “What I learned along the way was that leadership can be developed just like any other skill. Every area of life offers opportunities to step into leadership, and my mission is to develop the next generation of leaders.”

Reppenhagen’s first experience teaching at PSU exceeded all expectations. He finds the students hungry for opportunity, introductions and tangible skills. Seeing the quality of the student leaders that are coming out of PSU gives him a lot of optimism for the future.


A New Generation of Leaders

Business student Sasheen Turner sat front and center most weeks. She looked to each speaker as a potential opportunity to network and learn entrepreneurship skills.

“Being in the room with industry leaders outside of their office was an integral part of my growth as a young professional and has opened my network,” Turner said. “Our in-depth conversations circled around grit, commitment, vision and next steps.”

Guest speaker Carmen Rubio, executive director of Latino Network, described how personal grit enabled her to overcome challenges during her journey from a granddaughter of migrant workers to becoming a Portland City Council candidate. Like the other guest speakers, Rubio learned through doing.

“I’m here today to show you that not all politicians look the same or have the same journey,” Rubio said.

“As a fellow second-generation Mexican American, Carmen’s story really touched me,” said student Manuel Talamantes. “I found her purpose to be very powerful. I think so many other PSU students could relate to her.”


A Large Variety of Advice

The students shared their biggest pieces of advice from each speaker. Below is a summary of their responses:

Jordan Allen (CEO of Stay Alfred; PSU Alum): The power of vision and being able to start from the bottom.

Kali Ladd (Founder of Kairos Charter School): Be enthusiastic and commit to your values. When faced with imposter-syndrome, keep your eyes set on what you're there to accomplish.

Lou Radja (Founder of Be More Give More; Executive Coach): Take responsibility for all your actions. It is never the mountain you conquer, it’s only yourself.

Graciela Cowger (CEO of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt): Being true to yourself is important in fulfilling your vision.

Patrick Criteser (CEO of Tillamook Cheese): You can compromise points without compromising your goals. Even if you don’t reach the heights that are possible, you’ll get somewhere new and find out more about how you got there.

Peter Stott (Market Express, Columbia Investments): Every step of your journey matters. Work hard and look for new opportunities for growth. 

Michael Strasner (Author & Leadership Coach): Tell stories to engage your audience. Plan for failure so you can avoid or minimize it.


The Power of Caring

Damian Lillard, the final (and surprise!) guest speaker, told the class about his leadership journey to become an NBA all-star.

“How do you create leaders out of the young basketball players you coach?” one of the students asked.

Lillard contemplated his answer for a moment, before stating: “When they have a bad stretch, practice or game, I’ll text them and let them know, whether you play good or you play bad, I care about you and I’m thinking about you.”

Lillard also spoke about the power of being humble, accountable and consistent. See the good in people and say it to them, he added, and don't make excuses.

A Deep Impact

The class had a deeper impact on students than they initially anticipated.

“On the last day of class, I cried,” Turner said. “I wish it never had to end! It gave me the confidence I needed when I walked into informational interviews during the last week of my term.”

With the diverse range of guest speakers, Reppenhagen demonstrated to students the power of leadership and the many different paths to success."  Each of the 26 students accomplished a quarter-long leadership project where they led a team of at least three people and worked in the service of others.  

“When people step into leadership, they have the potential to change their lives — and the world — for the better,” Reppenhagen added. “The quality and variety of leadership projects, from working with student groups, to homeless services, to environmental cleanups, show the high ability and diverse interests of the students.”

 All of the guest speakers created positive change in the world that would have otherwise not existed. Whether it is on an individual, community or national level, Reppenhagen believes that’s the definition of leadership.”