2018 Best EMBAs: Dustin Keith, Ohio State (Fisher)

Dustin P. Keith

The Ohio State University, Fisher College of Business

An ambitious, creative, life-long learner who is a family-oriented and people-first facilitator.”

Age: 37

Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Family Members: Muriel, my wife and Aiden, my son (3 years old).

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a semi-professional saxophone player and instrument collector.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Michigan State University – B.A. in Music Education (2004)
  • The Michael E. Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University – J.D. (2007)

Where are you currently working? I am the CEO of Hi-Way Paving, Inc., a concrete paving specialist for Federal and State construction in the Eastern half of the United States.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Chief Executive at Hi-Way Paving, Inc. – hiwaypaving.com
    • While this is my full-time job, at the time I started my EMBA journey, I was less than one year in to my role as CEO. During this time, I have continued my transition to this office, cultivated our family-centric culture, all while still leading Hi-Way to our safest year since the 1990s – zero lost time accidents and only one OSHA recordable.
  • Pelotonia – Bicycle Ride to Cure Cancer: Participant 2009-2018 (raising money for cancer research at the James Cancer Hospital at The Ohio State University) pelotonia.org
    • To Date, I have personally raised over $20,000 for cancer research at the James. I have also participated in every ride (including the inaugural ride in 2009) except 2016, having been a Peloton captain for the 2010 through 2015 rides where my peloton raised over $200,000 for the James. In total (as of April 23, 2018), Pelotonia has raised $157,615,566 for cancer research at the James Cancer Hospital at The Ohio State University since its first ride in August of 2009.
  • Lecturer at The Ohio State University in the College of Civil Engineering
    • Being in the construction field, I like to give back to the up and coming future of our industry. Therefore, since 2010, I have helped team-teach a Construction Contracts and Claims course at OSU during the spring semester. This is a course my father (also a lawyer and construction type) has been teaching since the early 1980s, and he brought me in to help and then take over after I had been in the construction industry a few years. While we do get paid, it’s still a little way we can engage in real world education and discussions with future engineers at The Ohio State University.
  • Saxophone Section Leader (2016-current) – Emerald City Swing Orchestra (Community Volunteer Jazz Orchestra) emeraldcityswing.org
    • I volunteer to run the saxophone section of a local jazz ensemble. I coordinate rehearsal schedules and subs for performances for this volunteer musical organization. We primarily perform traditional ballroom dance music, swing music from the World War II era, and contemporary jazz ensemble charts at local performance venues. I look forward to getting more involved in this organization as school comes to a close.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Simply put, I am most proud of finishing my MBA with a perfect GPA. I was not always the most studious of students in my younger years, so a particular GPA has never been a goal for me. Even so, when I began my EMBA journey nearly 10 years after finishing law school, I was terrified of going back to school and getting back into the grade culture again. However, as the true “art” of studying came back to me, I found my groove and dug in. After each completed module, I saw myself marching closer and closer to the finish line while retaining a perfect GPA – something I honestly never set out to do. At the conclusion of our last on campus session, my academic director approached me to tell me the wonderful (and surprising) news! I was, and still am, stunned. I can truly say that while it was not a goal of mine at the start, this academic achievement is something that I am so incredibly proud of and will forever cherish.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the transition of my company’s safety culture since 2014. In the winter of 2014, my company had a fatality at one of our projects on the East coast. Being a small company and personally knowing this employee, his death shook me to my core. After the fatality, I assumed full control of the safety program and instituted new requirements and accountabilities. During 2015 and 2016, our safety gradually, albeit slowly, improved.

Finally, in 2017, I instituted a new accountability chart with both forward facing and rearward facing metrics. I began the year at our management meeting, proclaiming that I would not stand at the head of a company that could not assure its employees that they would go home to their families in the same condition as they arrived to work. I offered to let anyone who was comfortable with the lack of the appropriate safety culture at our company walk out the door with my full support, but if my managers stayed, I expected full support for our new system and culture.

Since then, every conversation I have with my managers includes my new concluding question: How are your crews being safe today? If there are any answers I deem unacceptable, I will be at that jobsite the next day. This combination of accountability and visibility resulted the safest year for Hi-Way dating back to the 1990s: Zero lost time accidents in 2017 and only one recordable. So far in 2018, we performed more first quarter work than any previous year, and yet we are still sitting at zero recordables and no lost time incidents. I am VERY proud of our new culture and the way this has been embraced by my employees at every level.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite MBA course was actually two complementary classes. My favorite course(s) was both our core strategy course as well as our elective strategy course. These courses continually amazed me with their in-depth simplicity. In the first instance, it’s amazing that business strategy distills down to low-cost or differentiation. Yet, as you take a deeper dive, these seemingly simple concepts feather out into a complex cacophony of theories, matrices, rules, exceptions, and plain old luck. The biggest insight I gained from these courses is just how unique and niched my own company is. I already understood that my company has outperformed the expected market for some time, but I am just now beginning to understand some of the many and varied reasons for that. Because of these courses, I hope to more fully capitalize on our niche moving forward and provide stability and outstanding performance for years to come.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose the Fisher College of Business for several reasons. The first reason is because I am a Columbus native and already completed my law degree at Moritz (OSU). Second, I still live in Columbus and travel a fair amount for work, so I wanted to be at home as much as possible, especially when I knew I would have to spend so much time studying outside of my already busy work schedule. Finally, Fisher’s program is well-respected in the Midwest, offered a degree (rather than a certificate), and was ranked in the top 10 by US News and World Report at the time I was researching programs. All of these made this an easy decision for me, and I couldn’t be happier with how the program has turned out.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I can say without hesitation that I enjoyed learning from and getting to know my colleagues on whole, more than any other singular aspect of my MBA. While the facilities, professors, and courses were tremendous, the level of overall education I received was due in large part to the colleagues with whom I completed the program. These are truly life-long friendships and I am saddened that our program is over so soon. My team, in particular, is already planning continued get-togethers, and I know my cohort is planning a family gathering this upcoming summer. It was tremendous to be with other enthusiastic and talented adult learners.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Each spring, my wife, son, and I go to Arizona (or someplace equally warm) as family time, and to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Last spring, between school and work, I had a seemingly unrelenting amount of work to accomplish and it appeared like I should not leave town. Nevertheless, my wife convinced (coerced?) me that we still had to go together, and so we headed West for the week. While there, I woke up early (still on Eastern Time) to get work done, make calls, and work on my own delegation from the back yard, all before we made breakfast as a family (yeah for three hour time difference!). We then had a few hours of family time until lunch time, at which point my son would go down for a nap. While my wife tanned and napped by the pool, I worked on school work for several hours. I remember that I was my team’s lead on a cost-accounting project and completed our spreadsheet and our first draft of our paper while sitting under the awning in the warm Sonoran afternoon sun. After some late afternoon family adventures, my wife and I would sit outside under the stars and share a bottle of wine together before heading in for bed and starting over the next morning. While this wasn’t the most relaxing of vacations for me, I accomplished what I needed for work, school, and family by prioritizing and scheduling my day down to the minute. It worked out in the end because I actually seemed to get more accomplished in my limited time than when I was working and doing school work at home.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? The executive education programs are amazing, but to truly get everything out of the program as intended, you should realize that you can only get out what you put in. Another cliché, but this one is also true. The more effort you give to the program, the more that will be returned to you. Have faith, work hard, and trust in your teammates and the program.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That you forget how to study. Even having done an undergrad and law school, I was terrified that I wouldn’t remember how to study or would be lost or behind compared to everyone else. This was hardly the case. Rather, you get rusty and have to retrain yourself a bit how to study again, but, at least in my case, I didn’t completely forget how to study. It came back fairly quickly and I found my groove fairly early on. Re-learning how to study was definitely the least challenging part of the program.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I have a personal mantra and I will repeat it here: I do not regret anything that has happened in my life because I wouldn’t be who I am today if anything were different…You can’t change the past, so why “regret” any of it? Therefore, I can truly say that I don’t regret anything during business school. However, something that I learned during school that I feel sorry about were a couple times I let my work commitments overtake my full participation in various team assignments or case preparations. This happened a couple times, and my team helped me through those rough patches (because our team was truly amazing!), but I am still sorry it happened. Ultimately, our team still performed wonderfully, but I know my full attention/participation would have improved our overall experience. This experienced did help me learn how valuable and important my input (or any team member’s input) can be.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My own teammate Sharon. Sharon and I hit it off early in the program as the only two JDs in our cohort (on the same team, nonetheless!). During our team work, she and I always worked well together and I always admired her insights and outstanding level of preparation. However, during the twilight of our program, Sharon was dealt some seriously bad cards. She had multiple family and work issues drop all within a months’ time. She worked diligently to remain fully engaged, but I saw how hard it was for her to juggle everything on her plate. Despite this, Sharon continued her exemplary ways, continuing to provide outstanding work, effort, and contributions to our team and our cohort. She was completely candid with our team and even apologetic for anything she may have missed, despite not a single one of her issues being her fault. She truly cared more about not letting us down than her own work, even with everything she had going on in her life. That level of selflessness and team-first mentality is something I truly hope I can someday attain. For all I have witnessed and been involved with as it relates to Sharon, she is truly someone I will admire and look up to for a long time. I simply cannot thank her enough for her knowledge, efforts, and friendship during this program. Did I mention she is just the nicest and most pleasant person ever? She’s that too. A truly amazing woman.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my father unexpectedly took a medical leave of absence and left me in charge of our company with only 7 years’ business experience and a law degree. I felt I just needed… more.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…worried that I did not have enough business experience, knowledge, or self-confidence to adequately lead my company. Now, I better understand where my blind spots are and I know I work diligently to reduce those as much as I can.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate professional goal is to generate enough wealth for my family’s comfort and our charitable goals while preparing to transition out of my business and into retirement through an ESOP or other method that keeps the business intact for the 150+ employees who rely on our company.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would love for them to describe me as I describe myself: He is an ambitious, creative, life-long learner who is a family-oriented and people-first facilitator.

Favorite book: Ender’s Game

Favorite movie or television show: Scrubs

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Ride my Bicycle Across the Country, from California to Maryland.
  2. Perform with Joshua Redman (Jazz artist)

What made Dustin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“I have been involved in higher education for over 17 years and have rarely met a student with not only the genuine interest in learning but the ability to illustrate the mastery of that learning in the form of a 4.0 or perfect academic score for all of their classes. In my humble opinion, Dustin Keith’s drive and intelligence are only surpassed by his humility and desire to help serve and educate others.

In believe Dustin’s work ethic and strong leadership by example made him an invaluable addition to the class of 2018. Many students within the cohort commented on Dustin’s clear ability to find balance and how he always operated at a top level not only as a student but as a professional. Dustin’s five person EMBA team was a posterchild for efficiency, positive team dynamics and quality work. I asked each member of the team what they thought was the key to their positive academic and educational experience. I was not surprised to hear that Dustin was a driving force as he openly encouraged and promoted team discussions on areas that he often had domain expertise on.

His unselfish view that everyone was in the program to learn as opposed to hear themselves talk extended outside his immediate team to the cohort and was evidenced by his actions both in and outside of the classroom. Picking up his saxophone and joining as an impromptu addition to a professional jazz band that I had at an EMBA event at my home had a riveting effect on the students. The comment of Dustin being a “renaissance man” reverberated throughout the evening. Students who were already familiar with Dustin’s role as a leader (CEO of his company) were now able to witness another side of Dustin where he participated as part of a team and without hesitation took direction from the band leader.

In summary, I would characterize Dustin as a student with purpose who helped facilitate the EMBA program learnings not only with his team but with the entire cohort. As the CEO of a second generation company that is at risk to economic and political risk, Dustin was willing to openly share information, experiences, perceptions and feedback in an engaging and professional manner. He listened to others, was open-minded, yet could always be counted on to provide a candid and straight-forward answer especially when asked how the CEO of a company (his current professional role) would handle an event or issue. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Dustin Keith.

Daniel D. Oglevee, MBA
Academic Director, EMBA
Sr. Lecturer, Finance
Department of Finance

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