The vision for the Butler University Lacy School of Business can be traced back to a drawing of a barbell on a crumpled-up napkin.
Instead of 25-pound weights on each side, there was the First-Year Business Experience and the Butler Business Consulting Group. Each side, then-Dean Dick Fetter would explain, represented a key aspect of what the school’s curriculum would be built around: real life experience. This, Fetter explained to anyone who would listen, was exactly what was missing. In fact, he felt, it was what was missing from most business school curriculums. Nearly 20 years ago and ahead of his time, Fetter thought that the key to taking Butler from a fine business school to a great one was to get students more exposure to the business world from day one.
A former fertilizer business owner, Fetter entered the academic world and saw a disconnect between what was needed in the business world and what students were getting on campus. So, he wanted to change it. And he took to napkins, whiteboards, scraps of paper, anything, to show people his ideas.
The ideas, explains Dan McQuiston, Associate Professor of Marketing and the man largely responsible for hiring Fetter, had been floating around Fetter’s head for years. But, once he was named Dean of the College of Business in 1999, he started to really put his vision into motion. He would diagram out what a revamped curriculum would look like to solve this dilemma—to turn a fine school, McQuiston explains, into a top-quality one on the cutting edge of experiential learning before it became the go-to-catch-phrase-every-school-touts-themselves-as-being.
About 20 years later, a $22 million Lilly Endowment grant, an overhauled curriculum, and a new building on the way, much of the progress behind the Lacy School of Business, and its national recognition as a result , can be traced back to Fetter’s trailblazing ways. And napkins.
“Dick is a visionary,” McQuiston says. “He really was able to see where education was going, what was needed, and how to get us there. He put into place the programmatic things that we are still doing today, the very things that give us a tremendous competitive advantage.
“We went from the school no one really knew about to a model school. Now, we cannot fit anyone else in here with a shoehorn. Because of the programs Dick put into place 15 years ago when no one else was thinking about experiential education, we have been able to attract students from all over the place. We would not be putting up a new building if it wasn’t for Dick.”
So, it is only fitting that the new building honor the man friends, co-workers, former students, and business partners say is largely responsible for it. When fundraising for the new Lacy School of Business building started three years ago, recognizing Fetter, who is now an Associate Professor of Marketing, in some way was immediately a priority, says Graham Honaker, Executive Director of Principal Gifts.
Fifty-five donors and $1 million later, the Dean’s Suite in the new Lacy School of Business building will be named in Fetter’s honor. Donations came from members of Fetter’s own family, from individuals representing seven different states, from Butler graduates from the class of 1962 to the class of 2016. There were several first-time donors, long-time donors, faculty members, former students, and some with no connection to Butler except Fetter.
“This was really a grassroots effort and the more people we talked to, it just took off and kept going because Dick has influenced and helped so many individuals,” Honaker says. “There were not a lot of no’s in the process. Everyone gave a different amount, of course, but it all helped us get to our goal. It shows the influence Dick has had and the power of every gift.”
And even more impressive, this fundraising effort was all kept a secret from Fetter the entire time. But those who know him best say that if he knew, he would have attempted to shut the entire thing down.
On a recent Friday evening, a group of Fetter’s family, former students, colleagues, President James Danko, and others gathered in Fairview House to reveal the $1 million surprise. Fetter showed up in a hardhat—he thought he was there to give a tour of the new business school building. He knew something was awry when he saw his four sisters from Ohio in the room.
“Rarely am I speechless, but I’m almost at a loss for words,” said Fetter.
About 95 percent of those who donated to the $1 million were there to celebrate—from Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, to name a few—Fetter’s vision and leadership, and to return the gifts he had given all of them.
Dan McQuiston first met Dick Fetter at the copy machine.
Let’s be clear. McQuiston had certainly heard of Fetter. Everyone at Indiana University had. McQuiston was a professor and Fetter was a star doctoral student. Professors would seek Fetter out to do their data analysis and research because he was so skilled, says McQuiston.
“I remember when I first actually met him he said, ‘hi, my name is Dick Fetter,’ and I just kind of laughed because of course I knew who he was,” McQuiston says. “But that is the kind of guy Dick is. He is the most humble, unassuming, deferential person you will ever meet.”
The two chatted and right then and there McQuiston was impressed. Shortly after that, McQuiston took a job at Butler and his first mission as department chair: hire Dick Fetter.
“I didn’t think we had a snowball’s chance in Haiti of getting Dick here, but I knew I was going to do whatever I could to try,” he says. “His older daughter was thinking of going to North Carolina for school and I knew Dick had an offer from Wake Forest, so I figured we were done.”
McQuiston was giving his daughter a bath when the phone rang. It was Fetter. He braced for the bad news. But, he will never forget the words on the other end.
“Dick said, ‘I am coming to Butler,’ and I nearly dropped the phone in the bath,” says McQuiston.
But what came next, he says, was foreshadowing at its finest. McQuiston asked Fetter why he decided on Butler and his answer was simple. Fetter told McQuiston that he is a builder and he wanted to build things. That, McQuiston says, is how it all started. For the next couple years Fetter commuted from Bloomington, often times sleeping in a bed in Robertson Hall.
Fetter became interim dean in 1999 and started to put into play many of the programmatic changes that the Lacy School of Business is known for today, says McQuiston. For example, at the time, first-year students didn’t take any business classes. He changed that by putting into place the First Year Business Experience, which gave students experience working with corporate partners. He implemented the Real Business Experience for sophomores, which is essentially a mini-Shark Tank.
“These were, and continue to be, tremendous competitive advantages for our school,” McQuiston says. “Coming in as interim dean, he could have just kept things status quo and made sure things ran smoothly. But that’s not Dick. He had ideas and knew how to make us go from good to great. He put everything together that you now see as cornerstones of our school.”
Then there was the Butler Business Consulting Group. This was Fetter’s model for how Butler could serve as a place to attract businesses, and in turn, get students more real-life experience. Butler received a Lilly Grant for this to the tune of $22 million.
“Every decision he made was about students. With him, it is always about the students and how to make their experience better,” he says.
Julie Hoffmann was set on Drake University. She had been to campus multiple times, her living arrangements were finalized, and there were only three days left before her decision would be official in April of her senior year of high school.
But, there was that scholarship offer from Butler, and she hadn’t visited campus yet, so she hit the road with her dad from Wisconsin just to make sure.
She went through her visit, took a tour, sat in on a class, ate lunch, and was unswayed, she says. The last thing on her schedule was to meet with Dick Fetter. She told her dad to wait outside, she would be out in 10 minutes.
An hour-and-a-half later, she walked out, and on the car ride home she told her dad she was going to Butler.
Fetter knew Hoffmann’s interests, he offered her a job as his student assistant, he gave her his home phone number, and he was well aware of what she did in high school.
“Nobody is better at subtle sales than Dick,” says Hoffmann, who graduated from Butler in 1998 and is now Assistant Director of the IT Help Desk at Butler. “At that age, hard selling wouldn’t have worked. He was a great listener, he remembered what I said, he made me feel like an adult, he read my file carefully, he never was in a hurry. I will never forget my first encounter with him.”
Her second semester on campus she was in a bad car accident and couldn’t get home to Wisconsin. She needed some time to recover and couldn’t use stairs, so the Fetters invited her to stay in their home for a couple weeks. It just so happened to be the exact same day a foreign exchange student arrived at their home, as well, but that didn’t matter to the Fetters, Hoffmann says. Dick’s wife, Peg, stocked the house with all her favorite snacks, like iced animal crackers, and made her grilled cheese sandwiches and mashed potatoes to make Hoffmann feel at home.
Hoffmann went on to work for Fetter for all four years she was at Butler. She roomed with their youngest daughter, Sara, three different times in her life. When Hoffmann needed surgery on her wrist her senior year, the Fetters took her. When a job opened at Butler in 2000 doing marketing research in the Office of Admission that initially brought Hoffmann back to campus, it was Fetter who told her about it. And when her dad died three years ago, it was the Fetters who drove 350 miles each way in one day to attend his funeral.
“The depths of how many different things I am grateful to the Fetters for is limitless,” Hoffmann says. “At every turn in my life when I needed something, they never hesitated. And my story is not unique. There are lots of Butler students who have lived with them for a summer. Their door has always been open, they have always been there for whoever needed them.”
Just ask J.J. DeBrosse.
DeBrosse first met Fetter when he was an undergrad and Fetter became his advisor his senior year. The two developed a relationship and Fetter was someone DeBrosse could go to for financial, personal, and career advice.
But, DeBrosse will never forget the day he lost his first child to SIDS, and the first people at the hospital were Dick and Peg Fetter. DeBrosse still isn’t sure how they found out, the day was a blur, but the Fetters were there when DeBrosse needed them most. The Fetters drove J.J. and his wife home, let their friends and family know, arranged for food at the house, and made sure their cars ended up back at their house.
“You are so helpless in that moment, and for them to drop everything and be there for us at our lowest moment and make sure everything was taken care of, and then just disappear, that is who they are. They are behind the scenes people who are so big hearted, but don’t want any attention,” says DeBrosse.
There isn’t a moment, DeBrosse says, in his life that Fetter hasn’t been a part of. DeBrosse is now the Director of Graduate and Professional Recruitment in the Lacy School of Business, a position Fetter pushed him to interview for.
He meets with Fetter weekly and can count on honest feedback, just as it was when he was an undergrad.
“Dick is so generous and never judges you. I know he will always give advice, and will push back on an idea I might have, but in a way that is thoughtful and smart and you know he is making you better and making you think differently,” DeBrosse says. “If there is one thing in life I fear it is disappointing people I care about and for me that is my parents, my wife, and then Dick is next in line. I have seen him help people in so many different ways, from personal matters, to helping with major business advice.”
Laura Yurs was frustrated. She knew something was wrong with the financials of her family business, but she couldn’t get a straight answer from her accountant. She knew exactly who to call.
“I knew I could trust Dick. I knew he wouldn’t beat around the bush about it, I knew he would be direct,” says Yurs, who graduated from Butler in 1998 and worked for a professor down the hall from Fetter as a student.
So, Yurs met Fetter for dinner, explained what was going on, and a week later, the two met at Barnes and Noble to go over the financials. Fetter kept asking questions as he poured over the papers, as Yurs fed her eight-month-old daughter. Fetter calmly asked for the weekend, and said he would be in touch on Monday.
Monday came and Fetter confirmed Yurs’ hunch. The financials were not in good shape. But, he also had a plan. He identified the problem, had steps to take to turn things around, and suggested Yurs sign on with the Butler Business Consulting Group (BBCG).
“He changed our lives,” Yurs says. “He could have turned and ran and said I cannot help you, but he stood by us. A lot of people would have run for the door. Now, 10 years later, we are still in business and it is because of that pivotal moment. If we hadn’t called him, if he didn’t help, I think we would no longer be in business.”
Laura and her husband, Kevin, signed up with the BBCG. Student interns sat in on their business’ meetings, their situation was used as a case study, and while the Yurs participated in MBA classes at Butler, Peg Fetter babysat.
“Dick understood what we were facing very quickly, and he had the desire to see us get through it,” Kevin says. “Whenever we have had something pivotal—kids, business—he has been the critical difference and been there for us. But if you ask him, he will say he didn’t do anything. He is really great at understanding a situation, analyzing it for what it is, but then caring enough to help.”
Butler has also been there for the Fetters.
Alli, Dick’s oldest daughter, got her master’s degree from Butler’s College of Education in 2002. Sara, Dick’s youngest daughter, graduated from Butler with a degree in Anthropology in 2001. Peg has taken many classes at Butler over the years.
“My dad’s students and peers have meant so much to our entire family over the years. We have met so many amazing people because of Butler,” Alli says. “My dad would say the advancement of the College of Business over the last 30 years has been the product of the work of so many.”
When Alli found out about the 55 donors, she broke down for about 10 minutes. She started thinking about all that has taken place. There was the time Bob Mackoy gave up his sabbatical so Fetter could be with his family during a really difficult time. There are the lifelong friends that she met when she was a teenager that stayed in their home over the summer.
“Butler instantly became family when my dad accepted the job and since then my dad’s colleagues and students have meant so much to our entire family,” Alli says. “We are so grateful and moved and feel humbled by the whole thing.”
When Steve Standifird became Dean of the Lacy School of Business, he had to go out of his way to track Dick Fetter down.
“I had to seek him out and convince him that I wanted his feedback,” Standifird says. “He didn’t want to be in my way, or impose his vision. He is so wonderful about stepping forward any way he can and supporting you however he can. It is a rare gift to have a colleague like him.”
And so, it made perfect sense to honor Fetter with the naming of the Dean’s Suite, explains Standifird. The pivot point of the school can be traced back to when Fetter served as dean. But more than that, Standifird explains, as Fetter exemplified, a dean leads best by supporting others.
In the new building, the Dean’s Suite is intentionally on the fourth floor in a back corner because it is not the star of the show.
“A leader is doing the best job when leading by developing others and that is exactly how Dick leads. He leads by empowering others. The Dean’s Suite is a support center for the rest of the school and that is exactly how Dick leads, out of the way, not on the main floor, supporting and developing others,” says Standifird.
And Standifird is not the only University administrator to seek out Dick Fetter. When Jim Danko became Butler’s 21st president, it didn’t take him long to understand the value of Fetter’s input and counsel.
“I’ve always appreciated the wisdom in his advice as I’ve worked to move the University forward. He’s been tremendously helpful to me, and I know the same is true of countless others at Butler and in the Indianapolis community,” says Danko.
Jeff Blade remembers the napkin. It seems to him like that was one of the first things Fetter showed him when the two met back in 1996.
Blade, who graduated from Butler in 1983, had just joined the College of Business’s Board of Visitors and Fetter was eager to show him the barbell model. A napkin was all that was available. So, Fetter got to sketching.
“Next thing I know, he is drawing his barbell, and explaining, essentially, the future of education on a napkin,” Blade says. “He’s graphically depicting experiential education, but at the time that was not the hot phrase that it is now. He was talking about getting students involved in real life projects and his vision for how the curriculum would work.”
Blade worked for Kraft Foods at the time, and he worked closely with Fetter to make real marketing data from Kraft available for Butler students. The two became close friends, and Blade turned to Fetter for career advice later on.
As a business person, Blade thought Fetter’s model made a ton of sense. He was energized by the idea of hiring students who had more real-life business experience during college and tailoring the curriculum toward that.
“I remember thinking then much of the same things I think today—Dick is a transformative leader and someone who thinks big thoughts and has a vision of where things should go,” Blade says. “But he also has the unique ability to draw people in and relate to people. At his core, he is an individual who wants to make a difference in the lives of everyone he meets.”