Faces: Michael Pacanowsky
Value through Innovation
Promoting and extending the legacy of Bill and Vieve Gore
by Sebastian Hooker (’14)
A new center is currently being developed at Westminster College, and Michael Pacanowsky, professor in the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, has been tapped to champion it. Focusing primarily on organizational culture, the center will be a valuable resource for the college and businesses alike. The official name for the new center has not yet been decided, but it will be housed in the Gore School of Business—adding a distinctive capability to the school. As of now, the standing title for the new center is the Center for High-Performing Organization Cultures. It aims to help organizations thrive by unleashing the passion, talent, and potential of people for good purpose.
Organizational culture is a very important, yet often underrated function in the corporate world. Michael has dedicated his life to understanding and teaching about the benefits that a strong culture provides in the workplace.
Michael began his career in the corporate world and soon realized he didn’t fit in. He went back to graduate school, started teaching at the University of Utah, and took a sabbatical in 1984 to consult with one of the world’s most innovative companies: W.L. Gore and Associates.
Though he was in the process of building his identity around professorship, Michael soon realized that his passions lay elsewhere. It was now 1995, and he had a young family, enjoyed a tenured teaching position at the University of Colorado, and maintained his consulting position with Gore.
Knowing that he couldn’t tackle all three, something had to go. He wasn’t going to give up his family, which put him in a quandary. Many long conversations with his wife resulted in one question, “Where are you having more fun?” The answer was obvious.
While it was harder than he had ever imagined giving up a tenured associate professor position to become an employee, he took the plunge. Michael made the transition to work for Gore full time and has never looked back.
“If I hadn’t had the opportunity to work for Gore, I don’t know if I would have found my passion,” he said. “They genuinely lived what they professed. They believed it. They wanted to share that with associates, and I’m forever grateful for that.”
Seventeen years later and approaching retirement, Michael learned about a unique opportunity that lay ahead at Westminster. “I knew when I finished at Gore I wanted to give back, teaching about the Gore culture,” he stated.
Michael joined the Westminster community in August 2013 as the Gore-Giovale Chair in Business Innovation. Transitioning back into the world of higher education was an interesting experience for Michael. “Westminster in some ways is a very congenial place for someone who is coming from a company like W.L. Gore, because it’s small,” he explained. “Regardless of policies and rules and departments, which have their place, a lot of what happens here happens through networks and personal relationships.”
Michael’s primary goal is to create a center that will help organizations act more like Gore from a cultural perspective. “I’m a fuzzy front-end guy; I’m somebody who gets excited about ideas,” he said. “When something gets to a sustainable level, it’s time for someone else to be taking care of it.”
As Michael champions the new center on campus, the goal is that it will be financially self-sustaining or generating revenue for the rest of the college. He is building a team of professionals who are helping shape the center and will eventually run it.
The center exists for businesses whose leaders genuinely believe they would like to do something different culturally, but don’t know how to do it. “Many companies have a phrase like, ‘People are our most important aspect,’ yet don’t act like it,” Michael explained. “What they don’t realize is, they are actually right when they say those things! However, they still treat people like they are replaceable cogs in a machine.”
With its distinctive capabilities, the center will teach these leaders to adjust their cultures, build stronger teams, and answer difficult questions. “Building a strong organizational culture is a puzzle that keeps growing. It’s organic; it’s dynamic,” he said.
As the center is developed, it will also bring in visitors to Westminster’s campus who will provide insightful lectures, enriching the conversation around organizational culture. These discerning talks will aim to attract current and prospective students, business or those with other majors, who would like to learn about innovative cultural practices.
In addition to the work that Michael is performing with the new center, he is also teaching undergraduate and graduate courses. Just last semester, he wrote a book with his graduate students in “Management Practices through a ‘Gore’ Lens,” to define how Gore would approach unique business situations. In the future, he hopes to use the book as the foundation for the course and, with Gore’s permission, publish it.
Michael also has a blog where he discusses his current projects. You can stay in touch with the new center and follow its progress online at www.michaelpacanowsky.com.
Favorite movie: Casa Blanca, seen over 50 times
Favorite music: Classical (Mozart, Bach)
Favorite food: Pierogies and borscht, Ukrainian dishes that Michael has yet to find in Utah outside of his own kitchen.
Best piece of advice for success: Do something that you love, that you have a passion for, and the money will follow.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.