LEADING QUESTIONS: Marian prez rocks get-it-done mantra

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Leading Questions

Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.

Growing up in football-crazy Nebraska, Dan Elsener played quarterback on his high school team and receiver during college. Tall as corn in August, the imposing Elsener now brings the same hard-charging, go-long attitude to his post as president of Marian University.

“You know ‘ready, aim, fire’? Some people accuse me of ‘ready, fire,’” said Elsener, 58, whose urgent, get-it-done approach has driven fundraising at Indianapolis-based Marian to stratospheric levels. “I don’t want to dilly-dally.

“I don’t promote being a fool. There is rational analysis that you want to do, and there’s experience to draw from. But I find a lot of leaders are frozen, writing one plan after another. I think you get in the game and you learn a lot.”

Elsener has been quarterback of Marian’s drive to recreate itself since joining the small Catholic liberal arts school in August 2001. Its enrollment has doubled to about 2,550, and the average SAT score of incoming freshmen has climbed about 90 points. Elsener has launched a variety of initiatives, including an adult education program, an entrepreneurial group within the school of business, and the Marian Academy for Teaching and Learning Leadership. To help underline the school’s growing ambitions, it upgraded monikers from Marian College to Marian University in 2009.

But, in particular, two radically different schemes have dramatically raised the profile of the school and created rallying points for students and donors. In the fall of 2007, Marian debuted a football team that this season boasts a 9-0 record and No. 2 ranking in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics competition. And in 2010, the university announced plans for a $100 million college of osteopathic medicine, which will be just the second medical college in the state.

None of this would be possible without Herculean fundraising, and Elsener’s prowess in generating excitement for new projects and attracting big donations is nothing short of miraculous. With Elsener at the helm, annual fundraising grew from $2.4 million in the 2002 fiscal year to $6.8 million the following year. In 2007, the school launched a hail-Mary, $68.2 million capital campaign; now, a year before scheduled completion, the campaign has generated more than $140 million.

About $82 million of that total has been earmarked for the school of osteopathic medicine, dubbed the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Studies for a $48 million gift from AIT Laboratories founder Michael Evans. (Expected to open in fall 2013, the center also will house Marian’s existing nursing school.)

In the video at top, Elsenser outlines his damn-the-torpedoes attitude toward leadership, fundraising and executing aggressive growth plans. “People say, ‘Well, you might waste some money or you might make a mistake.’ I say, ‘Yeah, you’re right, and we’ll still do it. We’ll learn from that too.'”

In the video below, he recounts the initially fatalistic reactions to suggestions that the school start a football program. These indicated to Elsener that Marian needed to prove to itself it could meet a seemingly unachievable goal. “It told us that if we say we can do something big, we can do it, we’ll do it fast, and it will be excellent,” he said.



  • Go
    Go President Elsener!
  • No Dilly-Dallying
    Marian is Indiana's number one Liberal Arts school...by far. The quality learning and independent thinking instilled in Marian students, contribute to making the collective community better. President Elsner's focus on the project, rather than raising funds, inspires people to join his vision for MU. No "dilly-dallying".
    • Interviews with Daniel Eisener
    • Top Notch
      Marian University is the best school in the state...bar none!Top quality nursing program that only teaches the best of the best! Most hospitals hire Marian graduates as nurses before any others...oh yeah they have a GREAT football program too!

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    1. Great article and post scripts by Mike L (Great addition to IBJ BTW). Bobby's stubborn as a mule, and doubt if he ever comes back to IU. But the love he would receive would be enormous. Hope he shows some time, but not counting on it.

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    4. Jim, your "misleading" numbers comment is spot on. This is the spin these posers are putting on it. News flash, fans: these guys lie. They are not publicly traded so no one holds them accountable for anything they say. The TV numbers are so miniscule to begin with any "increase" produces double digit "growth" numbers. It's ridiculous to think that anything these guys have done has awakened the marketplace. What have they done? Consolidate the season so they run more races on consecutive weekends? And this creates "momentum." Is that the same momentum you enjoy when you don't race between August and March? Keep in mind that you are running teams who barely make ends meet ragged over the summer to accomplish this brilliant strategy of avoiding the NFL while you run your season finale at midnight on the East Coast. But I should not obfuscate my own point: any "ratings increase" is exactly what Jim points to - the increased availability of NBC Sports in households. Look fans, I love the sport to but these posers are running it off a cliff. Miles wants to declare victory and then run for Mayor. I could go on and on but bottom line for God's sake don't believe a word they say. Note to Anthony - try doing just a little research instead of reporting what these pretenders say and then offering an "opinion" no more informed than the average fan.

    5. If he's finally planning to do the right thing and resign, why not do it before the election? Waiting until after means what - s special election at tax payer expense? Appointment (by whom?) thus robbing the voters of their chance to choose? Does he accrue some additional financial advantage to waiting, like extra pension payments? What's in it for him? That's the question that needs to be asked.