Visitors to Disneyland this April may have seen Dr. Gary Ewen, the newly named dean of Colorado Christian University's School of Business and Leadership
, wandering the theme park, handing out ride passes, and wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
What was Ewen thinking? Actually, the new dean, who currently serves as professor of management and leadership studies, was thinking all about the business school -- where he intends to introduce some new standards and Disney-style innovations.
Among the new: every Thursday, students must wear business attire (for men, coat and tie; for women, appropriate suits). Professors will tighten their emphases on the classroom as a training ground for corporate environments and real-world expectations, including a mandate for student papers written "with exacting attention to detail" and never submitted late. Just as in a well-run company, the school will also seek regular feedback from its "customers" (parents, administrators, stakeholders) to ensure that it's providing excellence in every way.
What's more, Ewen attested, even though it's a major goal to increase the school's enrollment of 114 students, "We are willing to lose students who can't keep up with the pace."
But what does all this have to do with Disneyland and Mouse ears? "Whenever anyone thinks of organizations that are successful, Disney comes to mind," Ewen explains. "Obviously, CCU isn't a theme park, but we can adapt Disney's principles and commitment to excellence in everything we do."
The springtime trip to Anaheim, Calif., with a group of business seniors, is one of the innovative ideas that Ewen has already brought to the University. The CCUers visited the Disney Institute, the acclaimed branch of the company which invites business leaders and the public to study its cutting-edge business culture and strategies, recognized as top in the world.
At the theme park, the group's probing questions to a Disney employee resulted in an invitation to Ewen to try out the Mickey role. Underneath the famous ears, Ewen chatted with passersby and experienced firsthand the Disney commitment to reflect competence in every way. Those are qualities he intends to drill home to CCU's business students: that every member of the organization is committed to excellence, attention to detail, and above all, customer service.
Ewen says the Disney-style model of competence also has a practical value for CCU in its unique mission to educate students who will bring Christ to the world.
"We're all called to be witnesses to Christ, but how can you witness if you're incompetent in your job?" he asks. "Don't try to witness to me if you come late to work every day, or you do sloppy work. Ultimately, it's all about competence."
Ewen concedes, good-naturedly, that the particular style he brings to the deanship is different from his predecessor, Dr. Chuck King, a former attorney and FBI agent who retired this year. Referred to among some of CCU's business students as their toughest professor, Ewen's demanding style of teaching and leadership is in a class all its own, which is saying quite a lot given King's esteemed reputation. Ewen recalled how their different styles led King to do some friendly ribbing one day, when he presented Ewen with a huge sledgehammer, a velvet glove, and the reminder "to soften up a bit."
"It made me aware of the issue," Ewen says, adding with amusement, "Now I'm known as the Velvet Hammer!"
He's earned a number of other titles, too, along with degrees that include a doctorate in strategic leadership from Regent University in Virginia. A Chicago native, Ewen was working in Colorado's aerospace industry in 1987 when he began volunteering his services at CCU and soon joined the faculty full time, happily taking a pay cut. In addition to teaching at the University, he's served as chief technology officer for 16 years, and has authored computer textbooks and won numerous business-leadership awards.
At first, "my in-laws said, 'Are you insane?'" Ewen laughs. Today, he's got full support from his family, which includes wife, Kim, and their three children, Kelsey, 25, Travis, 24, and Katelyn, 14.
Committed to family and campus, Ewen has also plunged into CCU's overseas missionary work as a member on several student trips, where he taught leadership principles to the unlikeliest audiences, including the oppressed Lahu tribesmen of Thailand. Caught in the cruel caste system widespread in Asia, the Lahu were shocked at first by the Christian concept of serving one's neighbor, and by basic leadership principles that relied on cooperative teamwork to do things like haul supplies -- during which Ewen sweated right alongside the students, a breach of protocol in a culture where a professor is revered just below royalty.
Ewen says such mission experiences, wherever in the world, are of great practical value to CCU's business students facing a global marketplace. There, they will confront many ethical challenges to their Christian sensibilities, including things such as culturally accepted bribery. He pointed out that, while secular schools have hurried to install ethics programs, ethics was a founding part of CCU and is an integral component in every class taught in the School of Business and Leadership.
He also intends to hone the school to serve the specific culture of today's generation -- the so-called "millennials" -- who are technology driven and favor small-group work. On the flip side, he plans to shore up areas of ignorance that seem increasingly widespread in the rearing of young Americans, such as not understanding the importance of appropriate professional dress, conduct, or etiquette. Ewen promises that anything that reflects negatively on the school's quest for excellence will not be tolerated:
"We have to remember that our students represent less than one percent of one percent of the human population: They're not just going to college, but a Christ-centered college. As it says in Luke 12:48, 'To whom much is given, much will be asked.' Well, we're doing the initial asking."
Dr. King has been named dean emeritus and will continue to serve the University in advisory roles. CCU president Bill Armstrong, who had coaxed King to hold off retirement for an extra year, said, "Chuck King's accomplishments, faithful testimony, and service are an inspiration to us all. We thank God for him."
After graciously bowing to King's departure, Armstrong turned optimistically toward Ewen, praising him as "an outstanding scholar, teacher, and proven leader." Shifts in leadership naturally come with challenges, but in Armstrong's opinion "great days are ahead."