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Al Segars: Working at the intersection of technology and strategy

Al Segars is a family man from Appalachia. He appreciates the simple things in life, such as nature’s beauty – and a good tune.

Segars has played in a number of bands and recorded a lot of music over the years. One of his favorite genres is bluegrass, which he says, “takes him home.”

“I’m an outdoors guy who plays outdoors music,” he says with a characteristic big smile. “It was a big part of my family and my upbringing. We worked hard and played hard”.

Segars also is the PNC Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, chair of the UNC Policy Collaboratory and faculty director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

His passion for natural wonders might seem to be an odd juxtaposition with his work, which focuses on innovative, disruptive technology in business. He researches how technology and the rapid changes it produces affect environments. For example, he has examined map flood plans and disaster relief, health care and new models of treatment, and discovery and learning and how people arrive at new insights.
Segars’ research aligns with his teaching pursuits, including this MBA course Business Innovation. “The focus is on how advanced technology is changing the world around us,” says Segars, an award-winning teacher. “I teach a way of thinking that is packaged as a course – how to come up with an idea, how do companies and individuals discover things that are undiscoverable by everybody else.”

If his courses were roads, they would intersect at the corners of technology and strategy. How should these future leaders wisely integrate technology to maximize profit and efficiency? Students often say that a highlight of the course is harnessing new technology to develop innovative ideas and get a glimpse of the future.

Segars has another educational role as faculty director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise, which empowers business leaders in their quest for shareholder value while exercising environmental stewardship and promoting societal well-being.

Albert SegarsCommunicating this approach is what matters most, says Segars. “We do not preach or point fingers,” he adds. “We do not take the moral high ground. Instead, we engage and share best practices.”

UNC Kenan-Flagler was one of the first business schools to institutionalize sustainability as a curriculum and make it part of the School’s identity, says Segars. “Staying engaged in the community and demonstrating the benefits of sustainability have been the keys to its long-term success.”

The center regularly shares best practices with seminars and events, such the UNC Clean Tech Summit. It also plays a critical part in the programs’ curriculum, which includes an MBA enrichment concentration, to integrate subjects of sustainability and provide experiential learning experiences, as well as career support and alumni connections.

His hope is to have an impact on the practical world of business. He frequently teaches in UNC Executive Development programs and is also extending his reach in a new Fortune-UNC online program for executives called “Leading With Purpose.”

“Digital media and content that we are creating in this new project give your work a chance to live beyond the confines of traditional educational institutions,” he says. “It also allows for engagement between researchers and practitioners that is substantive and far reaching. We can extend the range of engagement between academia and business as well as the reach of the markets we serve.”

Segars is an active consultant for numerous companies. Many years ago, Apple used some of his research in the development of the iPod. He continues to work with the U.S. military, which he has helped with homeland security technology and making bases more efficient. Segars also worked on robotics with Disney and ways technology can inform media for Turner Broadcasting Systems.

Paul Fulton (BSBA ’57), then dean, recruited Segars from Boston College in 1998. “He wouldn’t hear me say, ‘No,’” says Segars. “He wouldn’t accept it. Then he brought my wife in for a visit and that was it, Carolina was our new home.”

Everything comes back to family for Segars. His daughter, a UNC honors graduate with a dual degree in chemistry and biology, is headed to Boston University to pursue medical and PhD degrees, and their son is studying accounting at Appalachian State University.

Before Segars said “yes” to Carolina almost two decades ago, he wanted to be sure UNC Kenan-Flagler stood for something more than just teaching students how to make money. He was seeking a sense of community on campus where colleagues want to make the world a better place. He found that at UNC.
“It’s been,” Segars says, “a wonderful ride.”

“I teach a way of thinking that is packaged as a course – how to come up with an idea, how do companies and individuals discover things that are undiscoverable by everybody else.”

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