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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Kreisman

Challenges of a VUCA World

“We have witnessed heartbreaking and unacceptable events over the past days. Until today, I have not mixed social issues in corporate meetings, driven mostly by Desmond Tutu's words; if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." "I encourage my friends, colleagues, and everyone who reads this to engage in this difficult topic by listening and learning, asking yourself what you can do to change it, and then act now and forevermore.” – Ben Hinnen, EMBA Cohort 54 Editor’s Note: Never did I realize the timing and title of this publication would be so appropriate. The concept of creating a newsletter for our EMBA alums, clients, friends and colleagues has percolated in my mind for many months—actually ever since I stepped out of my role as Associate Dean of the EMBA program and into the role of Emerita Professor at Daniels. It was then that began to ponder “what’s next?” As my dear friend and (also Professor Emeritus), Buie Seawell, would say, retirement isn’t all that terrific if one’s sense of value, knowledge and community are diminished. The question then becomes, “Who am I, and where am I?”  Two months of isolation during the pandemic gave me plenty of time to think. Scott and I had already created our websites VUCA Thrive ( and Intergistic Solutions ( years ago. VUCA, is a military term short for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous circumstances. He (Scott) teaches Leadership using these concepts. We came up with the word “Intergistic”, which is a combination of Integration, Energy, and Synergy and named our consulting company Intergistic Solutions. In the two weeks since my first issue of our newsletter, aptly named “Intergistic Intel” was distributed, I have heard from over five hundred individuals, many of whom were also hungry for information, camaraderie, renewal and intellectual stimulation. I hope we can provide that for you here.   Barb and Scott



Albus Brooks, EMBA Cohort 64 Denver Mayor Michael Hancock named two individuals, one of whom is former  City Council member Albus Brooks, EMBA Cohort 64,  and the other,  his chief of staff Alan Salazar, as co-chairs of a new committee that will oversee the long-term coronavirus recovery strategy once the city’s emergency operations response disbands.  Read more: As an alum of the EMBA program, and as a good friend, I asked Albus to provide some perspective on the events of the last couple of weeks.  Below is his response. It can also be viewed at:


As A Black Man – Life After the Public Lynching of George Floyd By Albus Brooks, EMBA Cohort 64 alum A question I’ve been increasingly asked over the last two weeks is, “How are you processing this moment, as a black man?” It’s a question that paradoxically doesn’t get asked enough. The question leads me back to the moment my late father, Perry Brooks, Sr., sat me down and gave me The Talk. No, it wasn’t about “the birds and the bees,” marking the gradual passage from childhood into adolescence. It was the talk that white parents never have to give; dissipating the shroud of innocence from black childhoods and propelling them into adulthood. The day was March 10th, 1995, and I was getting my driver’s license. My father worked in law enforcement and understood racism and white supremacy firsthand. His voice seemed to echo an ancient yet familiar past -an ancestral chorus of pain and wisdom- as he said to me with weight in his voice, “Son, we need to talk.” He told me that I would be pulled over simply because I was black, and that there was a certain way I needed to act so I, “wouldn’t end up like Rodney King.” I was told that my life would depend on remaining passive in the face of aggression, and meeting disrespect with calm respect. I was in middle school when the officers that mercilessly beat Rodney King on camera were acquitted. The people rioted, the city burned. The ever-present embers of racial pain and trauma ignited in justified anger. Centuries of brutal oppression were never caught on camera, yet we bore the scars in our hearts and on our backs. This felt like a bitter betrayal, one that would become a familiar pattern: modern day lynchings captured on video, often live-streamed to the world, and ending in disheartening disappointment. So, how am I processing this moment as a BLACK MAN? I’m not entirely sure why, but these recent protests feel different. Perhaps it is because we are in the midst of a global pandemic that threatens to reorder the rhythms of normal life. But I think it is because there is a great awakening to the true virus that has been plaguing our nation since before its founding: brutal institutional racism that’s expressed in brutal violence against black bodies. As a recovering ordained minister, I can’t help but approach this moment from a spiritual perspective. Although conversations will drift to debates over policy, our starting point must be internal first. Below I share four points that will begin the transformation for us to become a truly just society. Think Differently. The biblical notion of repenting is about literally turning away from wrongdoing, but I think this is impossible without thinking differently. The time for white America to think differently has come. The sickening atrocities of over 400 years have been well-documented. A friend recently told me, “Life is like an open note test, and white America is failing.” Invest Differently. Reparations is simply equity in action. Reconciliation is impossible without repairing what was broken, and making sure it won’t break in the same way again. Without a meaningful system of reparations that fix the brokenness in every sector of life (from housing and education, to justice and health care), we are doomed to perpetuated cycles of oppression and brutality. Police Differently. The accountability, authority and funding of every single safety department must be re-examined immediately. I keep hearing people talk about there being “some bad apples,” but we forget that the saying is: “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” As long as the thin blue line is protected more than our scarred black skin, no progress will be made. Build Differently. The time has come to rebuild the American city, and to do so with the guiding principles of equity and inclusion. This is the greatest challenge of our time, because it is a physical, outward manifestation of everything that is internal in the hearts, minds, and charters of our society. Brooks is the vice president of business development and strategy for Milender White, an Arvada-based construction firm. He served on City Council, representing northeast Denver from 2011 to 2019, including two terms as council president. Videos of albus brooks



Bouncing Forward By Scott McLagan, June 8, 2020 “Chance favors the prepared mind, and opportunity favors the bold.” - Louis Pasteur During the unprecedented crisis we are currently experiencing, it is easy to get drawn into survival mode and only operate day-to-day. However, it is important to set aside time to plan for the future—whether you are thinking about yourself/family, your team, or your organization as a whole. One thing is fairly certain, we will not “bounce back” to the normal we knew pre-crisis. We will more likely be evolving into a new normal and need to consider how we will “bounce forward.”  I like to think about the future in phases as depicted in the figure below. As we move forward, the future becomes more and more unpredictable, thus the wider set of possibilities. My brother asked me recently, “don’t you wish we could go out a year and look back to find-out what happened?” Obviously, nobody can accurately predict how things will unfold, so we need to plan for multiple scenarios as opposed to a single view of the future.

I suggest these following steps to do your “Bounce Forward” planning (this works for personal/family, team or organizational planning):  1. Pick a timeframe—are you planning for the medium or longer term?

2. Identify the major unknowns that will have a significant impact on you. For example: When will schools be open and what will the schedule be? When will we go back to work and what will the schedule be? When will we be able to travel? How will our employees operate? How will our customers behave?

3. What are the range of possibilities of these unknowns? It’s a good practice to have a diverse set of external sources to help continuously inform this item

4. Develop Best, Worst and Most Likely Scenarios using the range of unknowns Create a short narrative for each of these scenarios to bring them to life

5. For each scenario, identify the implications—key risks and opportunities Prioritize/rank the risks and opportunities Identify the critical actions and timing required to address the key risks and opportunities Look for opportunities to innovate!

6. Set goals and accountabilities for completing the critical actions Note: I suggest you revisit this exercise at least monthly Two great sets of resources to keep-up with the latest thinking:



Speakers in the DU Voices of Experience “Lessons on Crisis Leadership” Included two EMBA Alums: Sean Menke, EMBA Cohort 36,  President and CEO of Sabre Corp. and Adam Contos, EMBA Cohort 66, CEO of RE/MAX Holdings, Inc.   You can hear their presentations by going to:

Sean Menke, EMBA Cohort 36 

Sean Menke is president, CEO and a board member for Sabre Corporation, the leading technology provider at the center of the business of travel. He leads more than 9,000 colleagues across a global network of development, sales, operations and corporate teams. Sean was promoted to president and CEO in December 2016, bringing his wealth of travel industry knowledge and experience to Sabre’s C-suite. As both a former customer of Sabre and now its chief executive, Sean introduced and reinforced Sabre’s strategy to deliver the next-generation of retailing, distribution and fulfillment solutions. He is deeply committed to helping customers operate more efficiently, drive increased revenue and offer personalized traveler experiences through imaginative technology solutions. See: Sean joined Sabre in 2015 as president of Sabre Travel Network. As Sabre’s largest line of business, Travel Network processes US$120 billion of global travel spend annually by connecting airlines, hotels, rental car companies, cruise lines, destinations and travel services to more than 425,000 travel agents and corporate travel managers worldwide. Under his leadership, Sabre Travel Network won major new business opportunities, increased global market share, secured Sabre’s position as the leading global distribution system in three of its four major operating regions (North America, Latin America and Asia-Pacific), and led innovation to enable the sale of more customized fares and ancillary products that help drive the changing travel industry landscape. His career in the airline business spanned more than 20 years in executive leadership roles. The former CEO at Frontier Airlines and Pinnacle Airlines also held senior level marketing, operations, customer experience, strategy, planning, sales, distribution and revenue management roles, most notably with Air Canada and Hawaiian Airlines. Sean also served as executive vice president of resources at IHS Inc., a global information technology company.

Adam Contos EMBA Cohort 66

In the first episode of the mini-series, Voices of Experience, Adam Contos, EMBA Cohort 66, discussed leadership and brand-building during the pandemic. As CEO, Adam leads a global network of more than 125,000 sales associates in over 110 countries and territories, making his perspective on this global crisis relevant and timely. He is passionate about leadership, communication, and the importance of being authentic and present. He has been part of countless roundtables on these subjects with other business leaders, consulting firms and research organizations. Adam shared his insights on effective crisis leadership, and on how the pandemic will shape the future of business in general and the real estate industry in particular.  See: Following a successful career in law enforcement, Adam came to the RE/MAX organization in 2003 as an independent contractor presenting a safety training program he created specifically for real estate professionals. He introduced his highly regarded S.A.F.E.R. (Safety Awareness For Every Realtor) program to RE/MAX Affiliates and other agents across North America. In 2007, soon after RE/MAX, LLC acquired the formerly independent RE/MAX California & Hawaii Region, Adam was named its Region Vice President. In 2010, he moved to the RE/MAX Florida Region, which under his leadership was named Region of the Year for both 2011 and 2012. He was promoted to Vice President, Region Development, in 2013 and shifted his focus to Business Development in February 2014. Adam was promoted to Senior Vice President, Marketing in February 2015. In January 2016, he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer and in May 2017 he was promoted to Co-CEO. Adam was named Chief Executive Officer in February 2018.



For the past 12 years, the University of Denver, has hosted a Public Safety Leadership program, that takes place twice a year for five full days.  The premise is that police and firefighters need a place to gather, collaborate and communicate around leadership principles beyond the badge, and beyond the basic training provided to public safety officials. Under the leadership of Daniels Professor of the Practice Kerry Plemmons, DU is currently hosting Zoom based seminars for the 650 alumni who have gone through our leadership program to support these front line public safety officials. They are going through turbulent, dangerous and impossible situations every day.   Read more: A couple key points from Kerry: “We have to change the paradigm of the current language. This is not a war. The protestors are not the enemy. We are all living and working in the same community, and at the end of this turbulent time, we will all still be living and working in the same community. We all need to start with empathy.  The protestors have been isolated, have lost their jobs, have been overly impacted by COVID, and have a lot of pent up anger. Statistically, COVID has had a much bigger impact on minorities, especially African Americans. Many are out of work, they have lost loved ones, and the future is more uncertain than ever. So let’s all take a breath and, build our emotional intelligence even when we are dealing with those that have little of it.” suggests Kerry.  



Katica Roy EMBA Cohort 67

Katica Roy, EMBA Cohort  67, founded Pipeline Equity three years ago with the belief that “using the tools of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we can achieve gender equity in this lifetime”. According to Katica, “We don’t have to wait another 257​ years to close the economic gender equity gap; nor can we afford to wait another 257 years.”  Katica is a gender economist, author and public speaker.

Her company’s original research revealed that organizations can increase their revenue 1 to 2% for every 10% increase towards gender equity. “Therefore,” she says, “we designed our AI-powered platform to do just that: help organizations close their gender equity gaps and unlock the subsequent financial gains.” Katica claims that in founding Pipeline, she leveraged her 22 years of experience in human capital management, programming, and data science to attempt to “make this world a better place.” When COVID-19 struck, she asked herself how she could use her platform and unique position as a female CEO and founder to help others?  In response, her team brainstormed ideas and within 10 days, launched two campaigns. First, they created a campaign to support gender-based budgeting. “We launched this campaign because women of all colors, are bearing the economic brunt of the coronavirus, and yet, the fiscal stimulus doesn’t account for gender differentials.”  According to Katica, “Women represented 55% of all jobs lost in April, yet carry the burden of unpaid labor—i.e. the backbone of the American economy.”   Read more at: The second campaign her team launched was to support female founders. “We focused on female-led companies because they are especially cash-strapped right now. We know that from the data. In 2019, less than 3% of venture capital funding went to companies founded by women,” she says. Katica reports that both of these two initiatives provide step-by-step instructions for people to contact their elected representatives in Washington to request that they practice gender-based budgeting in all forthcoming stimulus and that funds be allocated equitably for female-founders. The campaigns also provide ample data to support each request. She also published a series of articles across the following news outlets to raise awareness of the increased importance of acting on gender equity: Fast Company: Women will play a critical role in the U.S. economic recovery World Economic Forum (G20): Here’s how to achieve gender equality after the pandemic Fast Company (B20): This is why a gender-sensitive approach will be essential to the future of work after COVID-19 NBC: Gender economist Katica Roy: Female-owned business' access to cash is mission-critical to save our economy Fast Company: I’m a breadwinner mom and this is why helping women in the sandwich generation is good for the U.S. economy NBC: Gender economist Katica Roy: If we don't act fast, women will bear the brunt of the financial crisis caused by coronavirus Fast Company: Why women will be hardest hit by a coronavirus-driven recession ThriveGlobal: Why Empathy is Lacking in Our Response to COVID-19 (and How We Can Fix It) Katica believes strongly that “If we want to bounce back stronger and faster from this economic crisis, we need to ensure that companies put  gender equity at the core of the crisis management strategies.  The data tells us that if we take the right action now, we can build back a better, more inclusive economy tomorrow.”    



Wheezie Stephens by Jennie and Kent McGlincy, EMBA Cohort 69 Winner of the 2018 University of Denver Daniels College of Business Social Capital Award, “Bubbles Can’t Hold Rain” is a children's picture book that explores isolation and the necessity that Wheezie Stevens feels to seek support beyond her comfort zone. “Intended to depict the struggles of a child with cystic fibrosis (with which the author is also diagnosed), the narrative has a more universal theme of reaching out when help is needed.”  - Kirkus Reviews Cohort 69 classmates Glenda Aragon, Alex Gordon, Kent McGlincy and Peter Tripp were able to fully-fund the project through a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $7,000 to produce 700 books for newly-admitted patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado and Children’s Hospital Pittsburgh. Following a sold out first print run, the book is currently available as a digital download for Kindle. For more information, visit or follow @wheeziestevens.

Homeless Seniors and Covid-19 by Ted Pascoe, EMBA Cohort 44 Senior Support Services is a Denver day shelter for hungry and homeless seniors where each day, 250 seniors obtain a broad range of services including three meals per day, and comprehensive, individualized case management.  Or that was us prior to the Pandemic. On March 16th, after consulting with an epidemiologist, we came to the painful conclusion our clients should no longer be congregating inside our building.  The health of our clients and staff were the primary concern. Instead, our clients cue up each day on 18th Avenue.  We ask them to Purell their hands and then provide them with two meals.  We have placed a piece of tape every six feet on our sidewalk to help with social distancing. Clients also cue up at a window on the Emerson Street side of our building.  More than 500 of them use our address as their only address.  We check to see if they have any mail and then pass it through the window.  We also provide used clothing by size, new socks and boxer briefs, hygiene items, batteries, Tylenol and allergy medicine, blankets, sleeping bags, tents, and canned goods.  One hundred of our clients have a personal storage bin at our center.  We pass their bin out the door, they grab something out of it, and hand it back to us.  Case management services are provided through two additional windows. Providing case management and other services through a window is stressful and exhausting for both our staff and our clients.  But we may well be consigned to operate in this manner until everyone has been vaccinated. I have served as executive director for 17 years.  Believing I needed help understanding financials, among other things, I enrolled in the EMBA program at the Daniels College of Business, graduating in 2006.  The work at Senior Support has been and continues to be challenging and rewarding. For more information, please visit our website:  Thank you!



Pete Strom, EMBA Cohort 56 credits Verizon CEO Hans Vestburg, as providing a great example of leadership during the pandemic.  According to Pete, “As soon as the pandemic hit, the executive team took action to take care of employees.  We moved 110,000 employees to home offices in 1 week!!   He goes on to say, “They changed the child care credit to expand to include family members that might be stepping in to help employees when day care centers closed.  They recognized the impact to employee vacations and increased the amount of vacation employees could roll over (a balance sheet obligation).  They started a daily live webcast with the CEO to all employees to talk about the situation and his first words were always that Verizon's first priority was to care for employees.” Pete continues by saying, “With the protests and emotional response to racial injustice over the past two weeks,  Vestburg  made a live and very emotional statement about being committed to the value of every person, no matter what background, and we backed it up with a $10 million commitment to outside organizations that are focused on eradicating racial injustice.  Pete is Strategic Client Partner, Verizon Connect.


The alums of EMBA Cohort 69 want to honor the memory of their former classmate, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel N. Rouse, who passed away on April 18, 2019.  During his 22 years in the military, Dan served in many countries around the world, including two tours in Iraq. He was awarded numerous medals, badges, ribbons, along with a Bronze Star.  After retiring from the Army, Dan spent a year in Abu Dhabi working as a military consultant for the United Arab Emirates. Dan decided to spend the rest of his retirement in Denver, and was working on his EMBA at the time of his passing.  He was the father of three daughters, all of whom live in MN. See:


Bakhrom Salakhitdinov, PhD & EMBA Cohort 49, in Uzbekistan: Bakhrom writes:  “My best time with most progress was with Newmont, which is no longer in Uzbekistan. I am looking for opportunities along major western international companies. The pandemics have impacted us all, for sure. Lots of things have slowed down. As my focus is on foreign investment projects where I assist new investors in navigating and developing their businesses, lots of them have put things on hold or delayed. However, crisis often creates opportunity, so I am staying ready to seize an opportunity. Wishing you all the best!”


Dave Anderson, EMBA Cohort 42 provided the following update: “I've been consulting in the healthcare and senior living market since leaving GHX in October.  I'm currently doing work with Meritech, which is led by David Duran, another Daniels alum.” (Meritech will be featured in our next newsletter). “They have an advanced technology for hand washing that can wipe out 99+% of pathogens with a 12 second wash using 75% less water. Needless to say their business has been booming in the current times. They're focused on the food production industry but I'm doing work to determine feasibility in the senior living and healthcare markets. On the surface the answer should be a resounding "yes" but we want to test our assumptions and really dig into use cases. To that end we're trying to connect with folks in the industry to collect VOC and dig into where the challenges are and where we may be able to apply the technology to help.” Read more about Meritech and David Duran at:


Reopening of Bruz Beers, brewery and tap room, co-founded and operated by EMBA Cohort 54 alum Ryan Evans. Pictured with him are classmates Angelo Chavez, Scott Mead, Ryan Evans. Scott McLagan (faculty) and Michael Thomas.


From the at safer-at-home desk of Lisa Grassfield

First, thank you Barb and Scott for producing this newsletter as a way to keep our Executive MBA community meaningfully connected during a time of great uncertainty and change. I’ve been with the University for over 20 years now, recruiting for the program, immersing myself in the student experience, connecting dots and staying in touch with our alums. The program itself has been in full swing since 1973. We have 2,000 proud graduates, with 51 students in progress now. I’m astounded to realize that I’ve crossed paths with about 1,000 of you over these many years, and am thankful that so many of you choose to remain in touch. I’ve appreciated all your many career and personal updates, and for consistently referring the program to others. “You should talk to Lisa about doing the program” is music to my ears, so please keep it up. This newsletter will expand our connection, and I look forward to bringing you regular updates. In the span of about three weeks, ~250 Daniels classes were converted from a deeply impactful face-to-face experience to a less familiar online learning environment. Our most recent Cohort 75 began the program this March just as COVID-19 began its sweep across the United States. Their orientation was virtual and their Team Sail experience postponed, but they have bonded in ways we couldn’t have predicted. As we slowly transition back to a thoughtfully distanced on-campus experience this summer, we see great opportunity for innovation and positive change.     Although these have been challenging times, I couldn’t be more proud of the University, the College and the EMBA faculty/staff for all their work in support of our students and the DU community.  

With gratitude, Lisa Lisa Grassfield Executive Director, Enrollment and Student Engagement Daniels College of Business, University of Denver M 303.748.1619 (preferred) | O 303.871.3419 |



Overview of the Accelerate Webinar Series: The Accelerate Webinar Series is powered by Daniels Executive Education at the University of Denver. The webinar series launched this April and so far has covered emotional intelligence, the brain’s reaction to stress, being a virtual team, artificial intelligence, coaching/feedback and team resilience. We hope to provide you with quick-hitting and immediately applicable business, leadership, and technical tips. These webinars will be less than 30 minutes, are free and open to all, occur every other week, and will accelerate your capacity to deliver positive results in this quickly changing and uncertain time. Please send us your input and ideas to: Upcoming webinars: June 18th – Accelerate Webinar Series: Demystifying Blockchain, Cryptocurrency and Bitcoin with Joshua Ross June 25th – Accelerate Webinar Series: The New Decentralized Workforce with Alvin McBorrough

June 30thThe Colorado Feminist Luncheon will be held on line from noon to 1:30 p.m. using zoom.  The book which will be highlighted this month is “Home of the Brave” written by prize winning author, Donna Bryson. Published in Jan. 2018. “The Home of the Brave”  features a small town struggling, like many communities, with the question of how to remain vital and vibrant in the 21st century following the difficult homecomings of Iraq, Afghanistan and other war veterans.  Register by sending Barb an email at

Donna is a local author who is housing and hunger reporter for Denverite, which is part of Colorado Public Radio. She has also been a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press, based in Johannesburg, New Delhi, Cairo and London and reporting on a wide range of subjects in Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Donna also wrote “It’s a Black and White Thing.”



Anywhere where the humanity of people is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust, there we will find our cause”--  Members of EMBA Cohort 62 had the opportunity to meet and share the wisdom of Reverend Desmond Tutu during their international trip to South Africa. This very special visit was arranged by Amanda Cahal, Director of Global Programs, Daniels College of Business. 


Contact Us

Send information to me directly via or and I will publish as space permits.

Barb Kreisman, PhD., Professor Emerita

Scott McLagan, Professor of Practice

Daniels College of Business,  University of Denver


VUCA Thrive

The acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) was originally introduced in the US Army War College in the early 90’s to describe the shift to asymmetrical and multilateral challenges for the military following the Cold War. Since then, it has been used more broadly to help describe the challenging context many organizations are facing today—one of accelerating change and disruption.

Intergistic Solutions

Intergistic Solutions is a unique Management Consulting firm. Our partners have extensive and diverse real-world backgrounds coupled with significant consulting and coaching experience. We have a broad range of tools and methodologies to facilitate more efficient and effective engagement.


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