Riverside Awards La Sierra's Thomas for Innovation
BY DARLA MARTIN TUCKER
John Thomas, dean of La Sierra University’s Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business defines innovation as thinking outside of the box, of seeing things that others miss. It is a mindset he strives to instill in students.
Innovation defines Thomas’s own life, including his 15-year leadership of the business school which last fall moved into a $16 million, 60,200-square-foot facility recognized for its architectural design. On Feb. 11 Thomas was recognized for his creative thinking, integrity, compassion and entrepreneurship by Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey as the Mayor’s Innovation Honoree for that month. The ceremony, held during a Riverside City Council meeting was attended by La Sierra University President Randal Wisbey, Provost Steve Pawluk, and Thomas’ family and friends.
Thomas learned of the award by way of a letter from Bailey who cited Thomas’ “tireless work to challenge today’s business students to understand the importance of creativity, innovation, and leadership [as] a key element to strengthening our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Thomas said he was “appreciative for the recognition and thankful to all those who help me think outside the box.”
In a statement the city described Thomas as an “effective administrator, teacher and scholar” who radically redefined the business school’s mission “to incorporate a focus on global service and entrepreneurial creativity and identifying distinctive market niches ideally suited to its traditions, commitments, and capacities.”
Thomas spearheaded fundraising efforts for the new business school over 10 years. The new, spacious building includes an Innovation Lab with Makerbot 3D printers, the Troesh Conference Center, which will host a TEDxLaSierraUniversity event on April 24, and two startup garages where students can incubate their ideas and pursue new businesses.
Thomas, who holds a doctorate in political economy from Claremont Graduate University, has been a member of La Sierra’s business faculty since 1988. He has taught courses in entrepreneurship, management, economics and finance. Presently he serves as the Basshir Hasso Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and teaches a senior capstone class in entrepreneurship in which students start new ventures and seek funding. He also sits on the boards of at least ten businesses and organizations including Genelux, Family Services of Riverside, Loma Linda Broadcasting Network, 89.7 KSGN Christian radio, among others.
Thomas took leadership of the business school in 1999. Under his direction the school’s mission emphasized entrepreneurial creativity and social change captured in the motto, “Create Value. Make a difference.” Thomas established centers in philanthropy, conflict resolution and finance, and led an increase in enrollment with off-campus delivery of the MBA program at multiple locations. Additionally the school’s Students In Free Enterprise team (now Enactus) captured four national titles and two world cups. The school of business posted record enrollment in fall 2012 with more than 500 students in total. Over the next decade Thomas foresees the Zapara School of Business achieving accreditation with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and an enrollment of about 1,000 students.
Thomas’ own experiences in entrepreneurship took root in 1986 when he took over management of the local Cash & Carry, a failing drive thru, and turned it around to make a profit allowing him to graduate debt free.
Thomas said he enjoys competition and “being an underdog and or a misfit. It motivates me to try harder and work longer. I also enjoy inspiring possibility.”
“My definition of innovation is doing things differently. I enjoy taking ideas to market and most of the courses I teach are focused on helping students think about the possibilities,” he said. “Business students need to learn to create, collaborate and compete and not accept the world as it is.”
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