Christian Perspectives in Leadership
For the first time in three years, the Christian Perspectives in Leadership trip through LCU’s School of Business took students to meet and network with CEOs and leaders in Forbes 500 companies like Southwest Airlines, Microsoft, and the Dallas Cowboys. LCU professors Laci Richardson and Haley Burton revived the experience after COVID-induced interruption, taking a new contingent of LCU students and staff to Dallas. While many of the students on the trip were business majors, the trip also included students majoring in communications.
“Bob Ward, a principal architect at Microsoft, where he’s worked for 30 years, came to share with our group,” recounts Dr. Richardson, who also acts as Program Director for Accounting and the Master of Accounting. “He is a great Christian man and leader, and he shared lessons he had learned in his career about how faith intersects with work and how to live that out in your workplace. He was incredibly engaging.”
Professor Burton added, “He shared some really practical examples by giving students tips on how to not just be good employees, but also good people.”
The following morning, the group visited Elbit Systems of America, an Israeli-owned defense company that creates technology for the United States armed forces. The group toured the manufacturing plant and portions of the facility where students were able to see where the company manufactures hardware for the Apache Helicopters, as well as the helmets for the F-18 fighter jet pilots.
After the tour, the students visited with Billy Parks, accountant for Elbit Systems of America who also works full-time as a pastor at a local congregation. “Our students took the opportunity to ask really good, tough questions,” Professor Burton offered. “How do you balance being married, having young kids, and pastoring a church while working in this other full-time job? What kind of boundaries do you put in place?”
From there the group headed to Traders Village, a massive flea market located in Grand Prairie. The facility, which opened nearly fifty years ago, attracts over three million guests each year and has since opened additional locations in El Paso and San Antonio.
“Ken Garner, who graduated from LCU with an accounting degree, is the Chief Accounting Officer for Pace Industries, the company that owns Traders Village,” Dr. Richardson explained. “It’s an enormous flea market where they rent space for people to come and sell their items, but they also have food vendors and amusement park rides.”
Garner gave the group a private tour of the Trader Village facilities. After treating the group to lunch, Sales Manager Grecia Martinez, Amusement Manager Steve Thomas, General Manager Mark Kane, and the organization’s president, Tim Anderson, shared about their specific roles and responsibilities within the organization.
The students learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship, Professor Burton shared. “The company leases out thousands of vendor spaces, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to start their own business, and some of them stay for years and years. They actually have some vendors who have been there 10 or 15 years, and they are set up next to others who might have just started. They were really proud of that—to give small business owners a chance to get started.”
“They had recently bought a roller coaster from California, and we got to hear from the consultant whose job had been to disassemble the coaster and ship it to Texas, and then lay it all out in the parking lot here and reassemble it,” Dr. Richardson added. “And then they opened up the roller coaster and bumper cars and another ride for us—the students just loved that part.”
The next day, the group met with officials from Southwest Airlines. “We had been there on previous trips, and it was once again fantastic,” said Dr. Richardson. “Our students were able to experience the flight simulators, and we toured the corporate office to see how they have it structured.”
Students learned about the importance of company culture at Southwest and were able to hear from CEO Bob Jordan. “Mr. Jordan talked about leading Southwest and the students asked him specifically, ‘How does your faith impact what you do at work?’ He was very genuine and gave some impressive answers, even for the fifteen minutes he had to spend with our students,” said Dr. Richardson.
Professor Burton recalls that as the group was visiting with Southwest's VP of Finance, Chris Monroe, he “mentioned weighted average cost of capital, which is a topic I teach every semester. I saw a student sit up and look at me—like, 'this actually exists!' It was good for our students to see how the topics we teach them in class are used every day in practice.”
The group next headed to Arlington to visit AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. It was there that they met with Dale Knox, VP of Accounting for the Dallas Cowboys. Dr. Richardson recalled “He met us and gave us a tour of the stadium. He took us to one of their nicest suites, where they often host executives and celebrities, and they provided popcorn, soft drinks, cookies, and snacks for everybody. While we sat in the luxury box overlooking the field, he talked to the students about his job—he talks in billions of dollars, which was just incredible for our students to take in.”
“A lot of people imagine business executives like that as just a suit in a building somewhere, but none of the people we met with were like that,” Richardson added. “Dale was just fantastic, answering lots of great questions as he gave us a tour of the facilities. He told us lots of interesting facts about AT&T Stadium, and because he was heavily involved in its construction, he knew the actual dollar amounts. He could tell us, ‘Oh, that thing cost this’ or ‘This thing took this long.’”
The students attended a dinner that evening held in conjunction with the LCU Office of Alumni Relations. Students had the opportunity to meet and network with over sixty regional alumni and professionals, including most of the individuals they’d been able to meet on their tours and visits.
On the final morning of the trip, the group visited the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. The museum features a dozen permanent exhibits, a 3D theatre, and a focus on the natural sciences and education. The students were allowed to roam the museum privately before opening hours, and then were escorted to the boardroom, where they met and spoke extensively with CEO Linda Silver, CFO Anne Woods, and Chief People Officer Lorea Seidel. These three top officials talked to the students about their roles and their faith. Since the Perot Museum is a nonprofit, its business structure is quite different than the others visited on this trip.
Because this was the first trip of this kind since 2019, none of the students in this cohort had attended the “in the field” experience before. Both Professor Burton and Dr. Richardson hope this will change going forward—and they’re planning to adjust the itinerary with that expectation.
“We’re planning this trip annually for each December, but we're hoping it'll change every other time because we want students to go more than once,” Dr. Richardson explained. “We may go to Houston one year; we may go to Austin one year; we may go to Dallas with different stops. The eventual goal is that someone could go for all four years, and it would be a different experience each time.”
“The whole purpose of this trip is to get students away from campus and the classroom to have a rich, professional real-world experience,” added Professor Burton, “to get new perspectives from business professionals. It’s also an opportunity to see their professors outside the classroom and to let students mentor each other and figure out what it means to be a professional in the real world.”