Marquette Business

Executives-in-residence use industry knowledge to shape student experience 

Unique program adds value through mentorship, strategic direction

Illustration by Mike Austin

When Chris Swain walks into Dr. E. J. and Margaret O’Brien Hall, he remembers a time before he was managing director of investment management at Northwestern Mutual and before he was a well-respected financial manager. He instead thinks back to 1979, when he first arrived at Marquette from the 6,800-person town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, without any idea what lay ahead of him. 

“I came here and had a transformational experience, as did my son, so I think I should pay that forward to those who are going here today,” Swain says. 

Swain is part of the executive-in-residence program, an initiative designed to strengthen the College of Business Administration’s ties to industry. Seven executives spanning areas from human resources to supply chain work part-time in the college, using their knowledge to provide strategic direction to the college and to mentor students.  

“I believe that you can’t just be a mentor in name only; you have to roll up your sleeves.”

Linda Gorens-Levey, real estate executive-in-residence

The program carries special significance to Tim Hanley, acting James H. Keyes Dean of the College of Business Administration. He became the college’s first executive-in-residence when former Keyes Dean Dr. Brian Till hired him in October 2019; Hanley prioritized expanding the program when he was named acting dean several months later. 

“One of our primary objectives at Marquette Business is to produce students who are prepared to lead and create impact from the moment they graduate,” Hanley says. “Having people around our students who have done those things at the highest level is a crucial part of achieving that objective. The experience, connections and know-how that the people in this program bring to the table adds immense value.” 

While many business schools leverage industry connections, Marquette’s program is unique in that it allows for one-on-one relationships between 30-year corporate veterans and 19-year-old undergraduate students. Linda Gorens-Levey, executive-in-residence for the Center for Commercial Real Estate and partner at real estate developer General Capital, fondly recalls coaching a group of students through case competitions and reviewing resumes for internship-seekers. She came to Marquette to pursue her passion for helping students, particularly young women, through crucial periods of their lives.

“I believe that you can’t just be a mentor in name only; you have to roll up your sleeves,” Gorens-Levey says. “I have the benefit of both hindsight after going through a lot of learning opportunities over the course of my career. Before I meet with students, I’m constantly asking myself both what advice I wish someone told me as well as how the world has changed since I was in their position.” 

Mark Naidicz also believes that mentorship is part of the job. A 1984 Marquette Business alumnus, Naidicz has been a human resources leader at multinational corporations such as S.C. Johnson and Abbott Laboratories. Someone with that background wouldn’t normally make sitting down with undergraduate students for coffee part of the job description, but Naidicz feels compelled to do so for reasons similar to his peers in the program. 

“It goes back to my training here at Marquette and the whole focus on cura personalis — caring for the whole person. In my career, I had great mentors and guidance. As I grew in my career, I knew how important that was and I believe that the focus we need to try to have is on our students,” Naidicz says. 

“He wanted to learn more about me and what my professional goals were,” says 2022 graduate Carly Skrabak. “I told him that I’d never known what I wanted to do after college, but he talked me through some of it and he talked me through some of his experiences. You could tell that he just really wanted to help college students.” 

Some of the executives-in-residence are teachers, as well. Swain started teaching graduate-level night courses in 2013 and is now an instructor of practice in finance. Mark Afable, the newest executive-in-residence to join the program, co-taught a course with instructor of practice Lora Reinholz about insurance, and he hopes to do more in the near future. 

“The insurance industry gave me incredible opportunities and allowed me to provide for my family,” says Afable, an alumnus and former chief legal officer at American Family Insurance who was also Wisconsin’s insurance commissioner. “I feel like students need to know about what’s available to them. This university was great to me, as was the insurance industry. My role as an executive-in-residence allows me to give back to both.”

Interactions with students allow the executives to have an informed perspective on how faculty can tailor their teaching to offer the best chance of success. Swain, for instance, tries to limit PowerPoints and lectures in class, opting to design small group assignments. Afable and Reinholz use industry contacts for their insurance class, bringing in high-level guest speakers such as Church Mutual CEO Rich Poirier and Christy Kaufman, vice president of property and casualty risk and compliance for USAA. 

While the higher education landscape has changed since the executives were in college, many see similar qualities in today’s Marquette students: hard-working, conscientious and fully committed to “being the difference.” 

“There are still great young people in our building with strong foundations that were well-prepared to make the most of their time here, just like in my day,” Swain says. 

The executive-in-residence program is part of the college’s broader strategy to form tighter bonds with the Milwaukee business community. Since O’Brien Hall opened just over a year ago, the college has hosted dozens of meetings, offsite trainings, networking receptions, pitch competitions and guest speakers from external partners. Deloitte, Northwestern Mutual, Clarios, Baird and Uline are just some of the companies that have hosted marquee events in that time. The Business Career Center helps students further familiarize themselves with these companies through job and internship placements, setting them on the path to promising careers. 

Gorens-Levey sees her role as being at the nexus of those efforts, offering students guidance on how to find the best opportunity for them and approach it in the right way. 

“Helping students learn from real-world experience in a positive, constructive environment is really fun and I enjoy paying it forward,” Gorens-Levey says. “I’m looking forward to doing a lot more of it.”