David B. Thorud Leadership Award
Michael Verchot

Michael Verchot

Director, Consulting and Business Development Center, Michael G. Foster School of Business

Nominated by Christina Fong, Associate Dean for Inclusion and Diversity, Foster School of Business

Awarded 2021

It is an honor and privilege to support Michael Verchot’s nomination for the David B. Thorud Leadership Award. As the director for the Consulting and Business Development Center (CBDC), Michael’s leadership in bringing attention, support, and development to small and minority owned businesses demonstrates the very best of the University of Washington. In the past year, the CBDC and Michael have drawn upon decades of leadership and commitment to meet the unique challenges of 2020. Michael’s leadership is inclusive, innovative, and impactful and deserves our recognition and gratitude!

First, Michael has been a driving force for diversity, equity, and inclusion for over a quarter of a century. Michael’s life purpose is to use the power of business to create opportunities for those who need them most- people of color, women, veterans, LGBTQIA and others. It is incredibly powerful to hear him describe how he approached his MBA studies at the University of Washington with the intent of building his business acumen to support underserved individuals. From this humble beginning, he worked with Emeritus Dean Bill Bradford to create the Business and Economic Development Center, now named the Consulting and Business Development Center. Over the last 25 years, Michael’s vision of business as an empowerment tool has resonated with and positively impacted the lives and careers of countless students, small business owners, corporate partners, faculty and administrators. He has been a consistent advocate for women and minority owned businesses and has used his privilege, education, and authority to amplify the needs and voices of those with less. Particularly in this year, as popular attention has shifted towards issues of race, social justice, and equity, I feel it is important to recognize Michael’s steady and unwavering commitment—the investments that he made decades ago allow us to better answer today’s calls for change in authentic, educated ways.

Michael also takes an innovative approach to solving difficult challenges. The CBDC offers a staggering portfolio of types of support to a myriad of recipients, from scholarships to under-represented minority students, to internship opportunities for students, to training and consulting support for small business owners, to curricular support to business school faculty around the nation (through the Ascend network). The diversity of the types of services offered by the CBDC mirrors the diversity of the communities that they serve; Michael and his team have shown a great deal of ingenuity in finding new ways and modes of delivery to identify, support, and connect to audiences. To deliver on these ideas requires persistence, creativity, and grit to navigate complicated legal, administrative and social challenges. For example, Michael identified a need for supporting minority business owners around the state through the Business Certificate Program- therefore, he worked with faculty to design a ‘mini-MBA’ that highlighted the most essential components of running a small business, and created a series of classes that were held in community colleges in Yakima, Tri-Cities, and Spokane. As another example, Michael recognized the importance of creating a strong pipeline of scholars of color to provide a greater diversity of faculty teaching in business schools. To address this issue, he worked closely with our Dean to create and establish a new research award, the Bradford-Osborne research award which will be annually rewarded to scholars who are advancing academic research that supports minority owned businesses. Again, this required creating a relationship with UCLA’s Anderson School of Management to co-fund this award, establishing a faculty committee to review papers, soliciting philanthropic support, and working across a wide network of academics and practitioners to publicize the event. To help our MBA students learn more about the importance of diversity in the supply chain, Michael conducted live video interviews with industry leaders during a national conference on supplier diversity—years before the rest of us moved to virtual classrooms! From signature events (such as the Annual Impact Awards) to groundbreaking initiatives (such as his work with the Business Roundtable) to development of innovative, award-winning coursework (such as the Business Consulting Program), the number of programs, solutions, and opportunities that Michael has spearheaded feels infinite—and certainly are too numerous to detail in one letter!

Perhaps most importantly, Michael’s leadership has resulted in positive, large-scale impact in advancing access and opportunities. Michael thinks big and makes it happen. Perhaps the most powerful example of Michael’s leadership is the Ascend Network, which is a program that connects universities, businesses, and institutions to provide support (in terms of money, markets, and management training) to businesses owned by people of color, women, veterans, and inner-city businesses. Michael led the development of this “3M” model, and leveraged his existing relationships to create a network that provides support in an exponential way to businesses across 11 cities. Each educator, institution, and donor’s contributions into this program are multiplied and spread through the network…and the result is real, measurable change. For instance, small businesses connected to the Ascend network are experiencing economic growth at 11-34%, in contrast to the national average of 3% growth. It is so inspiring to have the UW be at the center of this network.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a powerful ‘stress-test’ to the power of the Ascend network and it was wonderful to see the CBDC rise to and exceed expectations. Once again, Michael stepped in to lead powerfully as we saw so many small businesses, and particularly minority owned businesses, struggling under the weight of COVID. Michael spearheaded the creation of a series of classes taught by Foster faculty and offered for free to small business owners on how to survive through the pandemic. Moreover, the CBDC’s student consulting courses pivoted to researching how to support small businesses through COVID. The result of the student work is a COVID19 Recovery Playbook that was distributed through the Ascend network to many small business owners to help them when they needed the most guidance and support. To be able to provide insights, education, and support to these businesses almost immediately speaks to Michael’s ability to lead through uncertainty and ambiguity. Despite the massive challenges, he inspired students, faculty and community partners to rally together.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge the human side of the impact that Michael has made. Michael is a warm, supportive leader who develops and encourages the growth of those on his team. In his time as CBDC director, he has been an active champion and supporter of many CBDC employees. Many associate directors within the Center (Wil Tutol, Geri Rodriguez, Jen Bauermeister) have spoken to me over the years about how Michael has quietly encouraged them to further their education, take on stretch projects, and supported their leadership through many personal changes and challenges. As an Assistant Professor, I remember the gentle, caring ways in which Michael invited me into his work. Michael makes it easy to get involved, and makes it easy to decline participation -which is just as important, particularly when supporting young, female faculty. I will always be grateful to Michael for being the type of leader who is generous with his support, expertise, and character. I have learned so much from him.

In closing, I am proud, humbled and grateful to call Michael a friend, mentor, and leader within our UW community. I know that the University of Washington has many excellent and dedicated leaders and I don’t envy your task of choosing between them! I hope that the University of Washington will recognize Michael Verchot’s sustained leadership and commitment to use business education as a force for equity.

Thank you,
Christina T. Fong
Associate Dean for Inclusion and Diversity
William D. Bradford Endowed Professor of Management
Michael G. Foster School of Business

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