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Banking on KC – Stephen Minnis of Benedictine College

 

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Stephen Minnis of Benedictine College: Shaping Leaders with Integrity and Ethics

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Stephen Minnis, who is the President of Benedictine College. Welcome President Minnis.

Steve Minnis:

Well, thank you Kelly for having me.

Kelly Scanlon:

Thanks for being with us today to talk about the Byron G Thompson Center for Integrity and Finance and Economics at Benedictine College. Before we discuss the center, tell our listeners about your path to Benedictine.

Steve Minnis:

Well, sure. I have a kind of interesting path to a college presidency. I went to school here. After I graduated from Benedictine in 1982, I went to Washburn Law School and became an attorney. After that, I moved to Kansas City, and my wife and I got married. We met here at Benedictine. And then I was an assistant district attorney in Johnson County, Kansas, and then worked for Sprint for 14 years and now T-Mobile and I did litigation and regulatory work for them. And I worked for them for 14 years. 12 of the last 14, I was actually on the board of directors of the college.

Steve Minnis:

And so when my predecessor decided to leave, I went to the chair of the board, who at that time was Tom Hoenig, the former President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City. He was the Chair of the Board at Benedictine and I told him, I said, "Hey, I don't have any experience with this job. You guys would be crazy to hire me." And they did it anyway. That was 17 years ago. And we've been pretty blessed he here in these last 17 years. But that's a kind of an unusual path to being a college president.

Kelly Scanlon:

Important thing is that you have obviously very, very deep roots. You're a graduate, you were on the board of directors for many years, and now you have been the president for several years as well. Tell us about the Thompson Center and the values that it represents.

Steve Minnis:

Sure. We're always trying to find ways to incorporate our mission in everything that we do, our mission to educate within a community of faith and scholarship. And so as part of that, we're looking at ways to partner with different groups and to create new centers, one of which is the Byron Thompson Center for Integrity and Finance and Economics. After Byron's death, the family members, many of whom work at Country Club Bank came to us with this idea of creating a center of trying to find a way to celebrate the life of Byron Thompson, but also to make a dent in the future, to make an impact on young people so they will become leaders of integrity, especially business leaders of integrity just like their dad, like Byron Thompson.

Kelly Scanlon:

Obviously, he is a graduate of Benedictine. So talk to us about how the Thompson Center builds on Benedictine's overall mission.

Steve Minnis:

Sure. Yeah, so first off, you have to understand what the center's all about. The center's really created to shape and inspire a new generation of financial leaders who follow in Byron Thompson's footsteps, who will do well and do good. Okay. And so integrity was extremely important there. Byron Thompson was a true believer in free markets and virtue, that free-market system was the best financial system ever created, but it only works if there's virtue. And so having that virtue, having that integrity was critically important. Of course, this matches right up with our mission. We're a very mission-driven place here at Benedictine College. And so having a center dedicated to integrity in finance and economics, really dedicated to free markets and virtue just really played well with our mission. We've been really blessed Kelly the last 15 years or so, our enrollment's doubled and we've built 10 new residence hall buildings, and six academic buildings, we've started new programs like the center, the Byron Thompson Center as well as engineering and architecture.

Steve Minnis:

A lot of people ask me, "Okay, what's the secret? Why all this success and why now?" And our answer's pretty simple. We embraced our mission, our mission to educate our students within a community of faith and scholarship. So every decision we make, everything that we do is critical to that mission. In fact, Kelly, we have a monk that always says, "Are you willing to go bankrupt for your beliefs?" Are you willing to go bankrupt for your beliefs? And we kind of think that if your beliefs are true and the answer to that question is yes, that in fact, you'll never go bankrupt because your beliefs will carry on to success every time. And this is what's happened with us. And so when the Thompson family approached us with this idea, creating this center, to create the next Byron Thompson's for this area, we jumped on that and we said, "This is right in line with our mission." So it was perfect.

Kelly Scanlon:

I understand working with the Thompson family and establishing the Thompson Center actually elevated the business school in another way. Can you tell us about that?

Steve Minnis:

Yes. We're the only business school that I know of in the country that requires our students to take ethics from the philosophy department and Christian moral life from the theology department. We believe that business ethics is really ethics in a business setting. And so it was Byron Thompson's how he lived a life and the Thompson Center, which really committed us to seeing business ethics and business morality in a broader sense. We wanted our business majors, business school majors to learn from the experts. That's why we added a requirement to get a business degree at Benedictine College to take ethics from the philosophy department and Christian moral life or morality from the theology department, which is pretty unusual. And I think it's really helped our students a lot.

Kelly Scanlon:

The Thompson Center features the college's Thompson Trading Room. What do students learn there?

Steve Minnis:

Oh, it's a fantastic opportunity. We've created what we call the Caw Fund, C-A-W, our mascot is the Ravens. And so we have our students caw like a Raven many times. And so anyway, we started the Caw Fund and this is a fund actually that is money from our endowment, actual money, and we have students apply. They pick eight to 12 every year and they invest that money into the markets and try to get a return for that just as if they were investing it for a company. It's a great training ground for them and it's a wonderful opportunity not many young people get when they're in college.

Kelly Scanlon:

Absolutely. To get real hands-on trading experience like that. And then as they reap the benefits of those trades, how is that used?

Steve Minnis:

They like to think that they get to keep it, but actually, it goes back into our endowment and the ultimate goal is creating scholarships from the Caw Fund that will go to members of, we call them the Thompson fellows, people who are involved in the Caw Fund that invest that money are called Thompson fellows. The ultimate goal is to create scholarships for the Thompson fellows.

Kelly Scanlon:

The Thompson Center also sponsors a lecture series, which has really become quite popular. There's one in the fall and then there's one in the spring. Tell us about the purpose of those. And if you're willing, tell us about a couple of the speakers you've invited.

Steve Minnis:

We want to bring in speakers that will provide an opportunity for our young people to understand that there's more than just the nuts and bolts of business. A lot of times our kids will only read the headlines of things that go bad. And we want to bring in folks that understand that integrity and character are important to running a successful business. So we brought in people like Michael Matheson Miller of the Acton Institute up in Michigan, he's a research fellow and director of the Acton Media. And he has created these entrepreneurial solutions to eradicate poverty in the developing world. That's a great mission for our young people. Closer to home, we brought in Taylor Dorman, Jack Stack BBQ, and he incorporates integrity in his business. And it was great to hear from our young people that they can serve the good by becoming a fantastic business person.

Kelly Scanlon:

Absolutely. And such an important message to get across that you can still do great community work and serve the greater good at the same time you can be a successful business owner. You mentioned earlier that Benedictine has seen record enrollments and that there's new construction going on at the campus. You've also received some national recognition. Tell us about that and what it's doing to help the college?

Steve Minnis:

Sure. As our college has grown, a lot of great things have happened for us and people are noticing us nationally. We're a top 15 school in US News and World Report in our category. Also the Cardinal Newman Society has looked at all the 250 Catholic universities in America and they've come up with a top 20 list. We're on that list. And that has really helped us generate a national following among our students. It's kind of interesting at Benedictine, most state schools and small liberal arts colleges will have, oh, about 75% of their students are from their home state, for us would be Kansas. But at Benedictine, actually, 75% of our students come from outside of Kansas. And so we get students from almost all 50 states and from all over the country and they're coming because of the reputation that we have created incredible rigorous academics, also this sense of community that's needed so much in this world and a commitment to the faith.

Steve Minnis:

This is exactly how Byron ran his life, community, faith and scholarship. He understood how to build relationships. He understood that faith was extremely important. While Byron was alive one time in fact, I went and visited him. He was 75 years old at the time, he had clearly been extremely successful in his life, but on the back of his credenza were biographies of Washington and Lincoln. And I asked him about that and he says, "Well, you can never stop learning on how to be a good leader." And I thought, "Well, Byron, I think you've done your job." But it showed that being a lifelong learner was important to him and we want to instill that in our young people too.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes. You bring up a really good point because these days liberal arts education, frankly, gets knocked a lot of times that it's not relevant in today's society. And yet the leaders that you're talking about, many of them did have liberal arts educations. And so what is the importance of the liberal arts curriculum to leadership aside from just having a straight business education?

Steve Minnis:

Well, I think that's a fantastic question. It's really important. This is what I tell young people. I say that this generation especially is kind of information-rich, but analysis poor, that they're getting bombarded by tons of information every day. All of us can pull out our smartphone and get a website anywhere around the world. And the question is, is can they take this information? Can they analyze it and make good decisions? Well, if they have a liberal arts degree, well, all of a sudden now they have a foundation in art, in literature and theology and philosophy and math and science and English and language and culture.

Steve Minnis:

And now all of a sudden when they are bombarded by this information, well, now they have something to pull from, now a foundation they can pull from and analyze these issues, make good decisions, communicate those decisions well, and be ultimately curious the rest of their life. This is what the liberal arts does for them. And it's probably more important today than it's ever been in the entire history of this country for the liberal arts to be front and center of what we do with our young people.

Kelly Scanlon:

Every year, the Thompson medal is awarded in honor of Byron Thompson. What are some of the characteristics that the recipient must demonstrate in order to be considered for the medal?

Steve Minnis:

We're bringing leaders together to honor really a significant person who embodies virtue and integrity as a leader in finance or economics. The very first Thompson medal winner was Tom Hoenig, the former President of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. He's also the Vice-Chair of the FDIC. And he is a person that lived by his integrity. We always talk about, are you willing to go bankrupt for your beliefs? Well, it was Tom Hoenig during some really key votes was the only person to vote no in the governor's meeting to raise rates or not raise rates or print more money or not print more money. And he kept talking about inflation, be worried about inflation and he kept voting no, whereas everybody else voted yes. And he was a soothsayer, unfortunately for us. He was out front. So he truly had integrity. He truly was willing to go against the grain for his beliefs.

Steve Minnis:

And so he was a easy recipient of the very first Thompson medal. This year, we're going to give the Thompson medal to Ken Williams. Ken Williams is a CFO of Black & Veatch. But just as importantly, he left the secular world and he actually became the President, CEO of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas for a while. This is an organization that serves 21 counties providing services like food and housing assistance, refugee and immigrant services, hospice service. And so Ken really has lived out his faith. He's lived out his integrity. He's a man of high character and a perfect recipient we thought for the Thompson medal.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tom Hoenig is going to be speaking at that event as well.

Steve Minnis:

Yes. And part of our lecture series, we asked Dr. Hoenig to come back and give us a state of the economy address, which is I suspect will be, well, it won't be the feel-good discussion of the evening I'm sure, but it will be a very important time to hear about it.

Kelly Scanlon:

The center is also developing a symposium for transforming culture in America. Tell us about what that is, its goals and why an initiative like that is so important right now.

Steve Minnis:

Well, that's a great question. We have traditionally at Benedictine College in the spring had a symposium on the new evangelization, basic or now it's we talk about transforming culture in America. And so for the first time, business school with support from the Thompson Center actually had its own track at that symposium to talk about business and how business leaders can follow the model of Byron Thompson and have integrity in finance and economics and be persons of high character. That's when we brought Taylor Dorman on our campus and others to talk about what it means to support free markets and virtue. This is the key.

Kelly Scanlon:

President Minnis, thank you so much for all of the work that you do. Here in the Kansas City areas, it's so important to be developing good, strong leaders today. Always has been, but today more than ever. We appreciate all the work that you and your staff and associates are doing in that regard and a special thank you to the Thompson family as well, and appreciate your time here today.

Steve Minnis:

Great. Thanks so much for having me on Kelly.

Chris Thompson:

This is Chris Thompson, Executive Vice President at Country Club Bank. Thank you to Steve Minnis for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. On behalf of Country Club Bank and the Thompson family, we are grateful for the opportunity we've had to partner with Benedictine College to establish the Byron G. Thompson Center for Integrity and Finance and Economics. Benedictine College was a major influence in shaping the principle-centered leadership of our dad, Byron Thompson, and the center and its graduates will represent his legacy of business integrity and community-mindedness for generations to come.

Chris Thompson:

It is our hope that Byron's life serves as inspiration for all business leaders to be, first and foremost, people of integrity and to demonstrate principle-centered leadership in all their interactions. As dad instructed our family and his associates often, surround yourself with good people and good things happen. If we can all rise to that challenge together, we will make a lasting, positive impact on the world and enjoy business success too. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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