PBS Host Teaches Management Students to Listen
Dennis McCuistion Takes on New Roles at Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance

Well-known as a speaker, Dennis McCuistion also crusades for better listening, a cause he takes to audiences from the corporate boardroom to the graduate school classroom.

A former bank CEO and host for 20 years of the nationally syndicated McCuistion program on PBS, he is a new associate executive director at the Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance, one of the centers of excellence at the School of Management.

“A case can be made that virtually every major problem in a business is either caused or exacerbated by poor, ineffective or no communication,” McCuistion says.  Often the problem is a failure to hear or understand, he says. Hence the need for listening skills.

He is taking that message this summer to his Business Communications for Stakeholders class for SOM graduate students.

But the message is just as important for corporate board members, he says, and he is working with the institute’s director, Constantine (Connie) Konstans, to develop conferences for directors of midsize public and privately held companies and nonprofit associations.

Often directors on these boards do not have the experiences or training of those who serve on larger boards, but they have the same responsibilities, McCuistion says. If board members can answer the questions of how executives communicate with the board and how members communicate with each other, they have gone a long way in solving the governance issues at a company.

McCuistion brings 40 years of experience in corporate governance, including serving on the audit committee and as chairman of the nominating and governance committee of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., a Fortune 500 company that was sold to Xerox this year. He became a loan officer two weeks out of college and by age 29 was the chief executive officer of a small community bank. In 1977, McCuistion formed his own company, McCuistion & Associates, providing financial consulting and teaching seminars on financial, management and self-improvement topics.

Since 1990 he has been host and executive producer of the  award-winning McCuistion interview program on PBS-TV.

In business, McCuistion says one communications method does not fit all. Business stakeholders include shareholders, customers, suppliers, employers, regulators, communities and competitors. Communicating with each requires different skills and methods, he says. He uses extensive practice and role-playing to help students address communication in a way that the receiver will best receive it.

The recent recession may have caused some companies to cut back on communications, but the enlightened ones recognize its importance. McCuistion believes that once a crisis, such as the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, occurs, it is too late to start to build solid relationships with stakeholders.

McCuistion says he was attracted to the institute because his passion matches the institute’s goals — to enhance the abilities of corporate directors, senior management and institutional investors to effectively and ethically protect and promote the interests of their stakeholders. He found the school’s entrepreneurial spirit refreshing, and somewhat surprising for a public university.

“A case can be made that virtually every major problem in a business is either caused or exacerbated by poor, ineffective or no communication,” Dennis McCuistion says. (Photo courtesy of Dennis McCuistion)

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