Dr. Don Capener, Jacksonville University’s new dean of the Davis College of Business, is planting roots and looking at ways to branch in the future.
For the last 11 years, Capener was Monmouth College’s vice president for strategic planning and a member of its political economy and commerce department, and even though Dr. Don Capener wasn’t looking for a career change, the offer Jacksonville University made was too tempting not to take.
“I was happy where I was,” says Capener. “I was a vice president, had responsibilities, extended family in the area — lots of reasons to stay — but for my development and for the opportunity for my family to grow and experience what we felt was a great part of the country was too tempting. When the offer came in, we accepted.”
The same day this interview took place, Jacksonville University (JU) held a press conference to announce its new president, Tim Cost.
“In a way I feel personally responsible,” jokes Dr. Don Capener. “Jacksonville University was so pleased with the search consultant that found me; it hired them to find the new president.”
Capener isn’t like some who have been in academia or higher education his whole career; he spent the first 18 years of his career working as an entrepreneur.
“I’ve had a payroll and I’ve had those responsibilities for the livelihoods for the people who work for me,” says Capener. “It was both a great responsibility and a great honor because it gave opportunities to a lot of folks who otherwise would be working in an area that maybe they didn’t want to work in. It also gave an opportunity to be with a high-growth company and to get to do some of those things they always wanted to do.”
Capener’s business background blended with his higher education experience makes for a unique background, and a better understanding of what is needed to move forward.
“I see a great future for Jacksonville, and that was one of the things that attracted me,” says Capener. “When you are a dean of a business college, you want to know there’s going to be business opportunities for graduates, guest speakers, internships and possible support for the business college and for the business school — and all of these things were in place here.”
Up for the challenge
From the time Capener was hired to the time he started at JU, was a span of about eight months. In that time, he was able to do a lot of thinking about his vision for the business college and planning for the future.
One of the things he finds “wonderful about JU, but also challenging” is the competitive market with other colleges, such as Florida State College of Jacksonville (FSCJ), that have similar degree or program offerings in business and aviation and a great cost advantage over JU.
“We can’t just be a little bit better; we have to be a lot better to attract more students,” says Capener. “We have to have a great value proposition, and I recognize that.”
Looking to small businesses
With about one-third of JU’s graduates working a few years in the industry where they want to start a business and then go out on their own, or immediately go out and start a new business, Capener feels it is very important to integrate the small business community at Davis College.
“I would be hesitant to tell small business owners how to run their businesses, except I’ve been a small business owner,” says Capener. “I understand entrepreneurs on a very deep level and it’s one of the reasons I love having them in my classroom.
“I am able to relate to them and ask them the kind of questions that I think bring out stories that help students figure out their bridge to what their calling is and why and what it is they want to enjoy doing or love doing.”
In just his first few months of starting, Capener has already had several small business owners speak in some of the classes he teaches, including Liz Grenamyer of Catering by Liz, Carole Poindexter of Baker Distribution Co., Matt Kane of Greenshades Software, Ed Burr of GreenPointe Holdings, and Jim Dalton of the Dalton Agency.
“These owners have spoken in class and talked about their challenges and issues,” says Capener. “I’ve offered both myself and the ‘faculty’s intellectual capital’ toward helping our alums and friends of JU to be successful.”
Networking and beyond
“We see all these things as being integral to being involved in the small business community,” continues Capener. “We want to be a forum for seminars, events and workshops, and provide other opportunities for people to network.
“We are involved in a number of different organizations that do that sort of thing and we support those organizations and with both human capital and in some cases, sponsorships,” says Capener.
These organizations, alums, friends and the like form a very strong network, mostly because they believe in what JU did for them individually and they want to give back.
“They want others in the network, as well as Jacksonville, to grow to the prominence that we believe is possible in a tightknit business community with thought leadership and, of course, a lot of enthusiasm and energy,” says Capener.
Measure and achieve success
With a tagline like, “We measure success in terms of our graduates and their ability to not just earn that first promotion, but a lifetime of promotions,” you know they are looking to their students’ success.
“We help you find your ‘calling’ in life —your purpose; why you get up in the morning and go out and do the things you do beyond earning a paycheck,” says Capener. “We help you find and discover that, and then we nourish your aspirations and passions to the degree that I feel like we are the ones fanning the fire so to speak.”
Capener says one thing that helps people achieve success is its culture of helping one another and helping others. “We do that on an individual basis,” says Capener. “We try to help our folks be successful — not just in their education, but through a network of supportive folks who are interested in mentoring others and have the experience.
“Yes, they need a paycheck, and all of us do, but it’s what motivates and inspires them to do more than satisfactory or more than the minimum,” says Capener.
Looking to the future
Even with 30 successful years of the executive MBA program, JU and the Davis College of Business still look ahead. One of the new things they are exploring for 2014 is a program which will help those that may have gotten their MBAs 20 years ago get reeducated.
“They didn’t have all of the computer-based and statistical modeling, analytical tools and business analytics that we have today,” says Capener. “This will help someone who wants to refresh his or her education and not have to go backward to achieve it.”
And Capener will be around to make it happen. In the last five years, JU has had three deans at the college, but Capener isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“We’ve had three deans that have all served less than two years, and the college has had a lot of turnover. “The deans maintained a home outside of Jacksonville and never really fully became a part of the Jacksonville community,” says Capener. “I’ve done completely the opposite. I’ve built a house, my wife is working, my kids go to Duval County schools — so I’ve really jumped in to both our community and to the area.
“We’re making new friends and doing all that the things that you would expect someone to do who is not just dipping their toes in the water but making a commitment,” says Capener. “I think for the success of the business college we need committed leadership at all levels.”