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Spartan Profiles

  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Spring 2012

SHIRLEY WEIS: Reforming the Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic boasts perhaps the top brand name in health care. Today, with 56,000 employees, more than a million face-to-face patients and $9 billion in revenue a year, the Mayo Clinic continues to hum under the leadership of Shirley Weis, ’75, chief administrative officer since 2007—the clinic’s eighth CAO in its 140 years. Weis took charge at a time of a national financial crisis, so she spearheaded a monumental effort to contain costs and reinvent health care management, sagely winning the cooperation of employees. “We were able to cut expenses dramatically but we didn’t lay anyone off ,” says Shirley, who notes with pride that the Mayo Clinic has made Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for eight straight years. “We continue to ride that wave,” she says. “Our surveys show that we’re the most trusted name in health, worldwide, and we guard our brand jealously. We do very little advertising—it’s mostly word of mouth.” She is working on a strategic plan for the next five years, trying to “take our knowledge and deliver it to people. Our motto is touching people here, there and everywhere.” Shirley notes that besides the three campuses in Rochester, MN, Florida and Arizona, the Mayo Clinic has a number of affiliates, laboratory systems as well as, through which they touch some “20 million people” a year. Winner of an MSU Distinguished Alumni award, Shirley joined the MSU College of Nursing Advisory Council in 1999 and served as its chair for the past three years. She has also established an endowed scholarship fund to honor her parents, Charles E. and Harriet L. Bader, of Howell, and was instrumental in getting university endorsement for the college’s Life Sciences Building Campaign.


For 30 years, he was one of the nation’s top innovators in the area of sports broadcasting—helping pioneer such things as wireless cams on umpires’ masks, which, ironically, was first put into effect in Little League games. In retirement, he continues to make use of his sports background—as the chairman of the Little League board of directors. Dennis Lewin, ’65, longtime ABC Sports and National Football League executive, is now volunteering his vast expertise to help run Little League and its more than two and half million participants in 70 countries. “I played in Little League when I was a kid, and my parents were involved in coaching,” says Lewin. “This is coming full circle.” Indeed, Dennis remembers that his first day at ABC’s Wide World of Sports—which he eventually ran for 15 years—he attended a meeting involving the editing of the Little League World Series. A native of Forest Hills, NY, he chose to attend MSU because he had followed MSU’s football success in the 1950s.

“So much for the idea that athletics is not important to a university,” he says. At MSU, he became manager of the hockey team. “(Then hockey coach) Amo and Mary Bessone mean more to me than anyone outside my family,” says Dennis. “They became my surrogate parents.” At MSU Dennis also discovered his interest in sports broadcasting, and parlayed that into a 40-year career during which he headed ABC’s Wide World of Sports, covered eight Olympics and produced Monday Night Football.In 1997 he worked for the National Football League and ran their broadcast operations and scheduling. During his career he was credited with numerous innovations, such as putting horse names on saddle cloths—an idea inspired by Secretariat’s triple crown run—and the use of the footage of skier Vinko Bogataj whose crash became ABC-TV’s iconic image for “the agony of defeat.” Today he is very happy helping run Little League. “It’s my opportunity to give back,” he says. “I never had the time to volunteer since sports broadcasting essentially took up every weekend of my career.”


Last year, the fastest growing restaurant chain in North America was Which Wich?, a casual sandwich chain headquartered in Dallas, TX. Founded in 2003 by restaurateur Jeff Sinelli, ’90, Which Wich?Began franchising in 2005 and grew to 158 locations by the end of 2011—ranging across 22 states. “We took on a crowded market,” says Sinelli, the company’s founder and CEO. “We took ordinary sandwiches and made them extraordinary. We did it in two ways—with the ordering system, and with the product itself. We also stepped it up with superior service. We elevated the sandwich, the experience and the environment.” Indeed, consumers at Which Wich? Use a simple markup system—checking off choices on a brown paper bag— to place their orders. “In a digital world, we’re using a unique analog system that should survive the test of time,” he says, noting that the ordering system can work well in any country. “This idea came from my mother, who used to pack lunches for my brother and I in grade school and she marked the brown bags with our names,” says Jeff. A native of Detroit, Jeff learned about the restaurant business from his father, an Attorney who also owned a number of nightclub bars in Detroit. Jeff was recruited to play lacrosse at MSU by then coach Rich Kimball.
“MSU was an awesome experience, the fastest four years of my life,” he recalls. “I came in as an adolescent and left as a man. I learned a lot about life. In sports, I came in as an amateur and later played some professional lacrosse.” Jeff later developed the Genghis Grill, a chain of Mongolian barbecue restaurants, among other concepts, and won the prestigious Hot Concepts! Award by Nation’s Restaurant News—a feat he later repeated with Which Wich? Ironically, Jeff was featured on the cover of QSR magazine as a “branding phenom.” “That was before we even sold one sandwich,” he muses. “We had to succeed just to live up to that headline.”


When he led MSU to the 2000 NCAA basketball championship, he studied a lot of  film. Now he’s doing it again, as an emerging basketball analyst who boasts both game knowledge and on-air charisma. Mateen Cleaves, Pistons analyst for Fox Sports Detroit, has gone national as a studio analyst for CBS Sports Network, appearing every Wednesday on Inside College Basketball with Wally Szczerbiak, Jon Rothstein and host Adam Zucker. “I approach this with the same attitude I had when I played at MSU,” says Cleaves, who has received positive reviews so far. “I try to get better every day.” Mateen says he received some coaching and now practices in front of a mirror and does self-criticism. “Just as when I was a player, I am 10 times harder on myself than anyone else,” he says, adding that occasionally his wife and two boys will also join in the critique. “I want to be one of the best, and I have a long way to go. You also want to have fun.”  e native of Flint still lives in his home city and spends a lot of time mentoring kids at community centers. He says sports broadcasting is not something any athlete can do just by winging it. “There’s a lot of work involved,” he explains. “You have to study the teams, the stats, the players, how to pronounce their names and watch a lot of  film.” A three-time All-American, two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player in the 2000 Final Four, Mateen retired from pro basketball in 2009 and has since made many guest appearances on ESPN, the Big Ten Network and other television outlets—including On Gameday last fall prior to MSU’s Homecoming game against Wisconsin, when he commented on football. He has studied fellow Spartans like Magic Johnson, Steve Smith and Eric Snow, who also tried broadcasting. So what is his opinion on this year’s Spartan cagers? “MSU is right at the top and they’re getting better,” says Mateen, adding with a chuckle, “ the national guys are beginning to  figure out that Tom Izzo knows what he is doing.”


In 1976, Philip Glass’ revolutionary opera Einstein on the Beach made its world debut in Avignon, France. Created in collaboration with director Robert Wilson and choreographer Lucinda Childs, the opera was hailed as one of the century’s masterpieces.the five-hour tour de force is now being revived by the same creative team—Glass, Wilson & Childs. A year-long international tour will begin in Ann Arbor and one of the cast members is emerging American soprano Lindsay Kesselman, ’06, who is “ridiculously excited” at the opportunity. “It’s such a unique opportunity,” says Kesselman, who lives in Ann Arbor but had to make several trips to New York during the audition process. “The caliber of people involved is really, really special and it’s a privilege to work with them. My generation will be introduced to this opera live for the first time.” A native of Chicago, Lindsay comes from a family of musicians and chose MSU because, she recalls, “MSU was renowned for music education and all my friends who went to MSU couldn’t say enough about how wonderful it is, an opinion that I now share as well.” Lindsay touts many in the faculty for helping her, including voice teacher Melanie Helton and choral professors David Rayl, Jonathan Reed and Sandra Snow. She also credits former faculty member Patricia Green for steering her interest toward new and contemporary music. “I am really grateful for having had an opportunity to be the lead in three opera productions as an undergraduate,” she notes. Lindsay will spend a year performing in Montpellier, London, Amsterdam, Toronto, Mexico City and Berkeley. “Einstein on the Beach was a powerful turning point because it caused people to think of opera in a completely new way,” says Lindsay. “It is a very dramatic and compelling combination of theatre and dance and it’s completely captivating.”


Atop Forbes’ list of America’s 100 “Most Promising Companies” is Smashburger, a gourmet burger restaurant chain based in Denver. The company was founded in 2007 by Tom Ryan, ’79, MS ’82, PhD ’85, who serves as its Chief Concept Officer. Despite the recession, the company has grown meteorically to $54 million in annual revenues at 143 locations in 20 states, with another 450 franchise agreements on the books. “We aspire to become the No. 1 global better-burger brand,” says Ryan, who headed McDonald’s marketing operation and previously worked at Proctor & Gamble and Pepsico. “We are highly differentiated not only from other burger places but from a broad spectrum of brands that we compete against.” The biggest difference is that Smashburgers, made from Angus beef, are smashed on a buttered griddle so that the bottoms are seared and Caramelized. “Our 1/2 and 1/3 pound burgers cook in their own juices and have a tremendous amount of flavor,” notes Tom. “It takes us just three minutes to cook them.” Smashburger also offers fried veggie sides, Haagen-Dazs milk shakes, and beer and wine. Toppings include avocado, fried eggs and garlic mushrooms, and sauces include chipotle mayo and spicy brown mustard.“This is a modern brand serving the next generation,”Says Tom. “We have a concept that’s on trend and passionate, fabulous people.” A native of Grand Rapids, Tom fell in love with MSU during his visit and never regretted his decision, earning three degrees. “I loved my experience,” he recalls. “(Retired Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies) Ian Gray was my major professor and he was instrumental in shaping my life and in putting me on an entrepreneurial path.” Although he is busy with business expansion, which includes international franchises in the Middle East, Canada, Latin America and Asia, he still follows his beloved Spartans. “I was on needles and pins watching the Outback Bowl,” he says. “What a fabulous ending.”