It’s fitting as we honor Sam Walton this year with the Centennial Celebration of his birth that we also celebrate an anniversary that demonstrates the lasting impact of his legacy. It was 20 years ago that the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation made the largest upfront cash gift ever given to a public business college – $50 million – to establish the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas
In two decades, that gift his helped transform the Walton College into a business school of international prominence, enabling us to attract world-class faculty, upgrade our facilities and technologies, create programs that attracted new students, and place students with top companies in the U.S. and around the world. And the fruits of this gift for businesses and the economy figure to increase in the coming years.
The Walton College now is able to fund research and create endowed positions that enabled us to hire top researchers. We’ve also developed new outreach centers like the Center for Retail Excellence, the Garrison Financial Institute, the Global Engagement Office and a world-class Trading Center. We’ve expanded the student-managed investment funds from $1 million to $11 million, established the Walton College Honors Program, and provided scholarships and Walton Fellowships. We’ve established a state-of-the-art behavioral business research laboratory, created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and built nationally ranked departments of accounting, information systems, supply chain management and the MBA program. As a result, the college ranks first, worldwide, in information systems research, in the top 10 in auditing and accounting information systems research, and in the top 10 in supply chain management research.
Enrollment in the Walton College now stands at more than 6,100 undergraduates students and 500 graduate students, doubling the 3,300 student population we had just 10 years ago. And we’ve been able to place 87 percent of the undergraduate students by the time they graduate.
One reason for the high placement rate is that the gift allows us to invest in our outreach centers, setting in motion an unparalleled level of connectivity to industry partners. Last year, more than 2,500 managers participated in our thought leadership events. It seeded enhancements in our faculty ranks and curriculum that have made our programs competitive at the national level.
The increasing national and international prominence of the Walton College has also benefitted the university. Our enhanced connections and networks in the corporate community have been integral in initiating the UA’s sustainability programs. The new business analytics programs use these same networks and connections to bring important resources and external awareness to the university.
The Walton-initiated entrepreneurship programs, meanwhile, are having a significant impact on the commercialization of scientific and engineering inventions, benefitting of both the university and the state. Walton students have 22 victories in national competitions, almost twice the number won by our next closest competitor and almost four times the wins by schools such as Northwestern, Purdue, and Michigan. Our students have won more than $2.8 million in cash prizes through the Arkansas Governor’s Cup and other competitions.
The Walton College Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center has helped Northwest Arkansas clients start more than 70 businesses, create more than 300 local jobs and obtain $25 million capital infusion over the past three years. Almost 400 business leaders donate their time to advisory boards, signaling their belief in the impact on business that is created by the Walton College.
Our rising prestige makes us attractive to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, but we are not stopping here. We have innovative online programs, an internationally recognized faculty, and we’re continuing to develop information technology and processes for educating students and connecting with global thought leaders.
We aspire to cultivate an entrepreneurial environment and unique entrepreneurship programs that will create the next generation of business leaders. We know the path to get there, and many stakeholders in Arkansas are eager to partner with us to make this happen. It can be done. The Walton College is already considered a top entrepreneurial school given our student successes in building competitive business models that are attractive to investors and ready to implement.
A key next step is for the Walton College to develop programs that allow students to incubate and develop their ideas to commercial viability. We are developing strategies to accomplish this, including innovation spaces where students and faculty from across campus can conduct research, test emerging technology, build new business models and engage with the entrepreneurial community. One such space is the McMillon Innovation Studio, which opened in Fall 2016. It is the only university innovation lab focused solely on seamless commerce, health, and supply chain management.
Another opportunity to engage the entrepreneurial business community exists at the Fayetteville downtown square. There is a growing startup community in Fayetteville, and several organizations that support the growth of new businesses are located on the square (Startup Junkie and two initiatives by the Chamber of Commerce – the robotics training center and the fab lab). With the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, Walton students are adjacent to these important support organizations.
To compete with top schools, however, the Walton College must engage the entire Arkansas business community. Given our status as the flagship business school of the state, holistically engaging companies in Central Arkansas is critical. Little Rock is the home of financial powerhouses like Stephens, the state government and related business, major health care facilities and hospitals, public utilities, and successful businesses in communication, transportation, data, and retail.
While these companies already hire our students, we must increase the number of avenues through which we interact, and we cannot ask Central Arkansas to always come to us. So, we are establishing the Walton Executive Education Center in Central Arkansas to provide state of the art facilities that will deliver targeted programs and build a bridge between the vibrant entrepreneurial communities in our state. This is funded by the generosity of several of our benefactors in Central Arkansas.
This also will allow us to increase the access of underrepresented student groups throughout Arkansas to the resources and services of the flagship university. It will provide space through which we can deliver targeted executive education and certificate programs that focus on industries critical to the growth of the Arkansas economy, such as healthcare, banking and financial services. Access to world-class, customized executive education programs will help companies strategically invest in their workforce. It will be a hub that uses the newest learning and communication technologies to connect and leverage industry clusters of throughout Arkansas and the world.
The 20-year return on the gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation is hard to fully measure, but clearly it has improved the lives of countless Arkansans already and laid the foundations for decades of innovations and improvements that will impact not only our state but the world.
Matthew A. Waller is the Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair, and Professor of Supply Chain Management. As Dean he leads the Walton College, which has over 6,000 undergraduates and about 500 graduate students. He has been an active entrepreneur most of his life. He was co-founder of a software company which had over 100 employees as well as a consulting firm. He is an inventor on the following patent: Waller, M.A. and Dulaney, E.F. System, Method and Article of Manufacture to Optimize Inventory and Merchandising Shelf Space Utilization, Patent No. US 6,341,269 B1. Date of Patent: January 22, 2002. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. Dr. Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow. He is coauthor of The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain, published by Pearson Education. He received a B.S.B.A. summa cum laude from the University of Missouri, and a M.S. and Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University. He is the former Co-Editor-In-Chief of Journal of Business Logistics. Matt is coauthoring a book with Kirk Thompson, Chairman of J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. about strategy and how J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. applied various business strategies.