U-M’s corporate partners say that it’s the people of the BEC that provide the biggest benefit to working with UM. That definitely starts at the top, with the Executive Director, Stella Wixom.
Having served as the University and Campus Manager for Nortel Networks, Wixom brought industry experience in technology, sales, and marketing when she joined U-M. Her experience and expertise sitting on the industry side of collaborations represented a valuable perspective in building the newly structured BEC. A core part of the BEC since nearly its inception, Stella played a pivotal role in developing some critical industry/university partnerships before taking the helm five years ago. Over the years, she’s been witness to – and often the impetus of – great change.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen since we started was that we really evolved this model to something that is truly the gold standard of corporate engagement. We started with the idea of what we wanted it to be and have taken it to the next level. Our leadership understood the role we can play with the corporate voice and the impact that can have on our university overall.”
The turning point in making that impact was Mcity, U-M’s massive industry collaborative in connected and automated mobility. “We were at the table. We helped the U-M leadership be realistic with strategy and tested the model with companies. We were viewed as a key strategic advisor on this large initiative and as trusted experts in the corporate world. Now, when something at all related to industry arises at U-M, the first question people ask is ‘have you talked to the BEC?’”
Wixom acknowledges that the BEC’s successful model didn’t develop in a vacuum: “Companies have really helped us. We’ve achieved so much with corporate help because our trusted partners have been able to articulate this role in the way others are still trying to figure out. We started with U-M leadership behind us and with that foundation, the place we’ve been able to take corporate engagement with the state of Michigan and our corporate partners, has wildly exceeded our expectations.”
Connections through talent, research and philanthropy are the cornerstone of the BEC’s offerings. Wixom shares, “It is critical for our students to have the opportunity to work with real world applications on real world problems. It helps them find their place in the university, one that they can’t get solely from the classroom. It’s a win win: companies see that it works, see they can get involved at the university and benefit.
She considers corporate engagement a key component in the research institution, providing that critical connection between concept and application, between academic creation and economic impact. “We can have all the inventions we want but if don’t have commercialization to take it forward, it won’t make a difference. That’s something the university needs in a corporate partner. We need to get advances out to impact people’s lives, and it’s our corporate connections that help make that happen. We’re helping companies like the Ford Motor Company and Procter & Gamble work in strategic business areas; our faculty can take autonomy to the next level and corporations can provide them that avenue and really still differentiate a strategic advantage at the same time. It is pretty amazing.”
The first decade of the BEC is rich with examples of deep student support, collaborative research initiatives and generous corporate philanthropy. Still, Wixom says, the secret sauce at the BEC is its people. “Our team is so talented, so collaborative, so smart, so unselfish in the way we do our work. We help each other and others inside the academy. The fact that our staff has been here for so long speaks to the fact that they love what they do, they find it challenging and rewarding and don’t need to go somewhere else. If we don’t have a good team, we can’t do the things we’re doing. We work so hard at it, and that made us the success that we are.”