Emory Report
January 24, 2005
Volume 59, Number 16


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January 24, 2005
One forward-thinking S.O.B.

BY eric rangus

The title of Benn Konsynski’s Great Teachers Lecture earlier this month was “Technology, Magic and S.O.Bs.” In it, he dissected technological advances and the “magic” that goes into them.

The S.O.B.s were an entirely different, yet no less compelling subject.

During his hour-long address, Konsynski pulled open several curtains revealing how many gadgets work—in the process dispelling, perhaps, some of the mystery behind them. Take the iPod, for instance.

“You take a small Winchester drive,” Konsynski told the Miller-Ward Alumni House crowd, which numbered more than 125, an impressive amount for a lecture given while students were away (Jan. 6) and on a bitterly cold night that made travel unpleasant. “Slap on a circuit board for processing and an ergonomically cool interface, link with a good, PC-based music asset management—done. Magic. You have all your music on your person.

“Thus science, when nurtured by imagination, application and design, reveals technology,” Konsynski continued. “Magic brings will, aspiration and purpose to conceive technology.”

And that was how it went. He discussed current technologies as well as possible waves of the future—such as the possibility that consumer goods could be delivered to drop points midway between work and home—wrapped around a narrative that was understandable by expert and layperson alike.

“My major task is getting students to challenge assumptions,” said Konsynski, George S. Craft Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Decision and Information Analysis in Goizueta Business School. “That’s a different pedagogy than what I started with 30 years ago. It’s changed from these past theories of adult learning where there are structured discipline modules with specific expectations. I view it more as creating experiences that will engage students in (hopefully) meaningful ways, but I can’t always predict what’s going to be a worthy takeaway.”

“I think he epitomizes what was so great about Goizueta,” said self-described “S.O.B.” Chris Dunn, ’02EMBA, senior vice president of BIOTA Brands America, a beverage company. “As he is fond of saying, ‘The future is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed.’ So it’s not often you have the chance to ‘hear it first.’ When my kids ask me what the future is going to be like, I think back on what Benn talked about in his classes. I’ll be better than 50 percent right.”

S.O.B. stands for “Student of Benn,” a moniker created several years ago when Konsynski found himself on a panel that consisted solely of his former students from Goizueta or Harvard. He doesn’t remember who started using it, the students or himself, but the name stuck and it’s a symbol both the students and the professor use with pride.

“Being an S.O.B. really connects you to the thought leadership in our field,” said Ben Taylor, ’00EMBA, director of the strategy group for UPS Chain Supply Solutions. “I am always dealing with how technology affects our business and how we can use technology to differentiate our services. Being an S.O.B. allows me to tap other thought leaders and helps me deliver business-transforming ideas.”

The whole S.O.B. idea also is a byproduct of the self-deprecating humor that colors Konsynski’s persona. During his lecture, he not only dropped the names of many foreign companies but referenced questionable ’80s musicians Culture Club and Wham! at least as much.

“Music is one of the best ways to create a time perspective,” Konsynski said, adding that he regularly brings up popular television shows in class such as Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” or VH-1’s “The Best Week Ever”—programs not necessarily high on his Executive MBA students’ radars.

“Part of that is to challenge them,” he said. “Don’t let your thinking be driven by the sense of, ‘That’s my kid’s world.’ It’s not your kid’s world; it’s your world as well.”

S.O.B.s are nothing if not tremendously loyal. Weekend MBA student Lauret Howard got home from work at 6:45 p.m. that night, saw an e-mail message advertising the Great Teachers Lecture, changed clothes and was on her way to Miller-Ward in less than 30 minutes. And she was not the only S.O.B. in attendance; more than 30 were there. The Center for Lifelong Learning, which co-sponsors the series, ran out of brochures.

“I still don’t know how he inspires this loyalty; it’s just tremendous,” said Howard, chief financial officer and vice president of shared services for NASCO, a company that provides claims processing to Blue Cross Blue Shield. She currently is working on an independent study with Konsynski. “He actively seeks knowledge and looks for ways to turn that around and share with others.”

Konsynski came to Goizueta in 1992 after six years on the faculty of Harvard Business School. Prior to that he taught at the University of Arizona for 14 years, where he built a business school department that dealt specifically with technology.

“When you are at Harvard Business School, you are in a large milieu and it’s tough to influence the trends going on there,” said Konsynski, who earned his doctorate in computer science at Purdue University. “I kept hearing about this up-and-coming business school [at Emory] that seemed like the same kind of prospect that I had worked on in Arizona.”

One of the ways Konsynski has fed his technology interests is through Goizueta’s Center for Electronic Commerce, which he has guided for more than a decade. Konsynski also has established strong ties to the Atlanta business community—both with large, international companies and small startups.

Konsynski has been a technophile most of his life; he started by tinkering with transistors as a Boy Scout in the 1960s. He then got involved in personal computing, taking his interest on several tangents. For instance, he and his friends wrote an early online-dating program based on the concept that opposite personalities (with similar physical attributes) attract.
“It was a poor attempt at getting geeks involved in the dating scene,” he said. (Konsynski no longer has such struggles; he and wife Cathy have been married more than 30 years.)

Konsynski is constantly applying his expertise in new ways. A few years ago, he was part of a technology conversation about what the world would be like 50 years in the future. Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg had asked some of Konsynski’s friends that question, and some of the answers he got found their way into the film Minority Report.

“I was particularly impressed with how the idea of individual marketing was handled,” Konsynski said. Although he's not sure the marketing of the future will be eyeprint based, as the movie vividly suggested.
That’s something any S.O.B. can appreciate.