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Innovation a Key Theme for Speaker Series
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Jon Gertner and Paula Kerger
Innovation a Key Theme for Speaker Series

It’s no surprise that the first two guests of the 2012-13 Merrick School of Business Speaker Series featured one who understands the entrepreneurial nature of nonprofits and another who focuses on innovative companies. After all, entrepreneurs and innovators are the kind of folks we celebrate every day here in the School of Business.

PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger, B.S. '79, and The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation author Jon Gertner appeared at the University of Baltimore on separate occasions this fall.  Both explored topics within the scope of their experience, while also challenging their appreciative audiences to consider things like the role of the individual in the new economy and how people can bring innovation to the fore in all kinds of businesses, large and small. Taken together, Kerger and Gertner delivered powerful messages about the potential for entrepreneurs and innovators to transform modern business.

At her September appearance, Kerger discussed the nuances of nonprofit organizations that are working to create profitable social enterprises to perpetuate a nonprofit's mission. Her talk, "Managing Nonprofits in the New Economy," drew widespread praise for its thoughtfulness and applicability in a changing economy.    

A Merrick School Dean’s Business Advisory Council member, Kerger joined PBS as its sixth president and chief executive in 2006. Since her arrival, she has made a particularly strong commitment to the arts, news and public affairs, delivering high-quality content for education, diversity and the introduction of new technology in bringing public media into the lives of all Americans. PBS is the nation's largest non-commercial media organization with more than 350 member stations throughout the country.

In October, Gertner shared the story of Bell Labs and highlighted its unparalleled role as an incubator of innovation and birthplace of many of the 20th century's most influential technologies.

Bell Laboratories thrived from the 1920s to the 1980s. Long before America's brightest scientific minds began migrating west to Silicon Valley, they flocked to this sylvan campus built and funded by AT&T in the New Jersey suburbs. At its peak, Bell Labs employed nearly 15,000 engineers, designers and scientists, 1,200 of whom had doctoral degrees. Thirteen would go on to win a Nobel Prize. The firm was a citadel of science and scholarship as well as a hotbed of creative thinking. It was, in effect, a factory of ideas whose workings have remained largely hidden until now.

In The Idea Factory, Gertner explores the forces that set off this explosion of creativity. Bell Labs combined the best aspects of the academic and corporate worlds, hiring the brightest and usually the youngest minds, creating a culture and even an architecture that forced employees in different fields to work together, in virtually complete intellectual freedom, with little pressure to create moneymaking innovations.

Gertner is currently editor-at-large at Fast Company magazine, where he writes—and, on occasion, edits—features on innovation and technology. Between 2004 and 2011, he wrote for  The New York Times Magazine, where he focused on science, business, society, and economics.

Learn more about the Speaker Series, and stay tuned for announcements about our speakers for next spring.

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