Category: Alumni Spotlight

Accounting Alum Links Extracurricular and Class Experiences to Success in Job Force

Rich Schalter, a graduate of the SBE and President of Spartan Chassis, talks about how knowing your brand plays a key role in success of a product.


Q: What was your major and concentration at MTU?

A: My major was accounting and my concentration was focus on being a part of the MTU ski team. I skied everyday and went to classes most days. Due to the strength of my accounting education at MTU, I quickly passed the CPA exam and then received my CPA certification.

Q: Can you link any qualities of being in a student organization to being successful in business?

A: Absolutely. At Spartan, we are an innovative team focused on building lasting relationships. We consistently improve ourselves, our products and our processes through learning, sharing and implementing ideas. Just like being a part of the ski team, we make commitments to each team member and we work together to improve each others skills.

Q: Did you have any experiences or classes at Tech that helped you compete in the work force against other students?

A: The intensity of the class schedule to graduate in four years provided a spring board for developing the necessary study and organizational skills needed to drive success in business. Additionally, the openness of the faculty to providing direct guidance regarding the subject matter and the application to career choices broadened my perspective for my chosen profession.

Q: What is your current position?

A: After starting as the CFO of Spartan Motors in December 1996, I became the president of our largest subsidiary, Spartan Chassis, Inc., in March of 2002 and additionally serve as the executive vice-president of Spartan Motors, Inc. and a director for Spartan Motors, Inc.

Q: What are you main job responsibilities? What do you do on a daily basis?

A: My main responsibilities are the setting of the vision and strategy for Spartan, establishing the brand of Spartan and creating the culture necessary for growth in our markets. As a supplier to body builders of motorhomes, fire trucks and military vehicles, it is necessary to establish strategic relationships given the integration and dependence upon our products and our people.

Q: What does your company do?

A: We design and assemble custom chassis for vehicles in the emergency rescue, motorhome and defense markets. The company was founded in 1975 on the design and assembly of custom cabs and chassis for fire trucks and shortly after going public in 1984 expanded into motorhome chassis. We are proud of our current involvement in the production of MRAP vehicles, which are proving to save the lives of our men and women in theatre.

Q: On your website you mention your main focuses which are motorhome chassis and fire truck chassis. What are some of the advantages of focusing on fewer product lines than several product lines?

A: Basically this type of focus allows us to attack our competition collectively. We have great builder recognition and a reputation where people are asking for Spartan Chassis in the products they purchase. That doesn’t happen very often, especially in the motorhome business. Usually a buyer tends to look more at the body and features of motorhome living.

With our fire truck chassis, we service 60 builders and meet annually with fire chiefs to address their changing needs.

Another part of our company not mentioned on the website is our auto integration for military vehicles. In the 700-800 vehicles we have produced, there have been no casualties reported.

Q: Do you have any advice for current students in the School of Business and Economics?

A: Starting with the first day you obtain a position with an organization, get engaged to understand the global perspective, purpose, brand and operational focus of the enterprise of which you are an integral part. Know your personal brand, who are you, what do you do, why do you matter.

Q: Is there anything you wish you knew as a student that you know now as a business professional?

A: I would have to say knowing how to discipline yourself is important. Staying on top of your commitments and recognizing what is important. Knowing when and how to study can create more free time for yourself.

I would tell students to understand their own personal brand. Students should live according to how they want to be perceived. For example, when someone mentions your name, do you want to be known as a hard worker and someone who is reliable or someone who cannot be counted on?

Finally, I could have learned more from my professors in and out of the classroom. I was a quiet student who didn’t get involved in class discussions and I wish I would have engaged more.

Accounting Students Team Up with Alumni at Kimberly-Clark

In an effort to give accounting students in the SBE more hands on and real world experience, Dr. Larry Davis has established an ongoing working relationship with Kimberly-Clark.

SBE: Tell us about the project in detail.

LD: Students interact with the Kimberly-Clark Tax Center of Excellence to gain an understanding of the business processes within the Center of Excellence. This is done via office visits and conference calls. Students then prepare graphic and narrative descriptions of those processes with the objective of facilitating improvements in those processes. Part of the process involves Kimberly-Clark personnel coaching students both on the actual work being performed and on general appropriate professional behavior.

What the students get out of this is exposure to a real business process and to professionals, a realization that the accounting that they study in school is the accounting that real professionals perform daily – albeit at much higher level. They gain an understanding of what is expected of tax professionals both from the perspective of the quality of work performed and interactions with other professionals.

SBE: Are we working directly with any SBE alumni at Kimberly-Clark?

LD: Dave Bernard, the VP of Tax, was the major facilitator for starting this. We also work with Rich Beauvais. Both are MTU accounting alums.

SBE: Who came up with the idea to start the project? Has this been done in the past? Do other universities work on a similar project or is this experience unique for MTU students?

LD: I did. I have been looking to start an accounting consulting group ever since I came here. We have in the past done work for some of the engineering enterprises and local businesses to ‘get our feet wet.’

I would not say it is ONLY done here – but it is not done at very many places. I would say that it is fair to say that it is a distinguishing characteristic of our program.

SBE: Are only accounting students involved? How many total students are on this project? How did they get selected for the project?

LD: There are always accounting students involved, but we bring in folks from other disciplines as needed to form cross-disciplinary teams. So far the Kimberly-Clark project has always involved both accounting students and information systems students given the nature of the work. It is not clear if IS students will continue on this particular engagement or not.

We have had about 40-50 students work on the project. Students are selected via application to the faculty supervisor.

SBE: When will the project be completed? What is the biggest advantage for students who are on this project?

LD: From one perspective…hopefully never. I would like to see this as a permanently ongoing relation as projects arise. On the other hand, our initial work documenting their Tax area systems should be done within a year, if not sooner.

Ronald Staley

Alumni Offers His Career Experiences and Advice for SBE Students

Ronald Staley has engineering and business degrees from MTU and gives advice and talks to students about what he does on a daily basis.


SBE: What was your major and concentration at MTU?

RS: I received my AAS in Civil Engineering Technology from MTU in 1977. Then in 1980, I received my BS in Business Administration with a major in Industrial Management. I graduated with honors in both degrees. While studying at MTU, I was able to work summers and during school, for several great engineering firms, giving me exposure to the construction industry which would be the direction I would ultimately take my career.

SBE: Did you have any experiences or classes at Tech that helped you compete in the work force against other students?

RS: What MTU offered was a very hands-on education. By having the combined technical and business degree, I look at issues related to construction with both a strong technical understanding of how buildings work and a business understanding on overhead, return on investment, balance sheets and income statements. Tie to that leadership skills learned from various associations, and I have been able to move into various professional organizations as board member and officer.

SBE: What does your company do?

RS: The Christman Company is a full service construction company providing Construction Management, General Contract, Design/Build and Property Development. Founded in 1894, the firm is owned by current management and implements institutional and commercial construction of educational, health care, and historic preservation projects. Projects range from $5 million to over $200 million in size with offices throughout Michigan and Washington, DC.

SBE: What is your current position?

RS: I am Vice President of National Historic Preservation and Mid-Atlantic Regional Office for The Christman Company.

SBE: What are you main job responsibilities? What do you do on a daily basis?

RS: In this role, I am responsible for executive direction and leadership for Christman’s Historic Preservation Group. I started this business unit in 1992 after managing the $58 million restoration of Michigan’s State Capitol. Since that time the group has implemented restoration on over $500 million of historic preservation work including work at the White House, Virginia’s State Capitol, Henry Ford Estate Fair Lane, Notre Dame’s Administration Building, and dozens of other high profile and historically significant Landmark structures. I have worked on projects in over a dozen states and on professional teams on 500 year old wooden churches in Poland and Slovakia.

I market our services to architects and owners and develop marketing and competitive strategy. I oversee the preconstruction and construction phase services on approximately eight projects from Michigan to Washington, to Georgia.

I develop fee proposals and cost estimates for each of these projects and oversee staff who manage the day to day construction operations. I lead development of the historic preservation training and quality programs for the company.

SBE: Do you have any advice for current students in the School of Business and Economics?

RS: Balance your business studies with a technical specialty. Too often I see students get a business degree but have no idea of the industry which they wish to use the degree. Understanding the business concepts of various industries give more depth to the educational process and ultimately to the value of the education received and the salary to be paid. Getting into leadership roles with university organizations is another great way to develop skills which are invaluable in the future.

It is said your university education will serve as the foundation for your future career. Make the foundation as large as possible with every opportunity you can experience. For, with the larger the foundation, the greater the career it will support.

Speaker Series: Jessica Gonzalez Kaiser, Owens Corning, Operations Support Leader


SBE distinguished alumna, Jessica Gonzalez Kaiser will be on campus to discuss the important topic of Leadership and Careers. The presentation will take place on Wednesday, April 18, at 11 AM in ChemSci 101. Students are encouraged to attend this lecture about this dynamic leader and ask questions you may have about leadership, careers and balancing careers with life.

Jessica graduated with a BSBA with a concentration in Operations Management in 1988, and has had a very successful career working in large and small organizations as well as her own consulting firm.

Kaiser has an extensive background in Quality Management and has led several organizations to successful ISO/QS registrations. She owned and operated her own consulting firm and has extensive managerial experience including Plant Manager, Regional General Manager and Marketing Manager, and Operations Support Leader.

Speaking Topic:

Which Behaviors Lead to Success?
Today’s corporate cultures demand leadership, peak performance and continuous improvement. With continuous improvement a requirement for peak performance, the bar is raised every year—yesterday’s peak performance for leaders is today’s norm for everyone. The key to succeeding in today’s business environment is to recognize that you need to focus not only on outcomes, but also on behaviors. What behaviors define you as a leader? What behaviors define your career path? You are in charge of your career and where you want to take it.

In addition to this lecture, she will be meeting with Bob Mark’s BA1700 class at 2 pm and Victoria James’ BA4770 HR class at 3:30 pm on the topic of work-life balance.

Hugh H. Makens Honored

Hugh H. Makens
Hugh H. Makens

Hugh Makens, a partner with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, has been honored by the State Bar of Michigan for his lifetime contributions to the legal profession.

Makens is one of the inaugural recipients of the Stephen H. Schulman Outstanding Business Lawyer award, which is given by the Business Law Section. The annual award seeks to honor Michigan business lawyers who, over their careers, exemplify “the highest quality of professionalism, the highest quality of practice, an unwavering dedication to service, as well as to the ethical conduct and collegiality within the practice.”

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