The Influence of OLAB
by Christina Franks
July 14, 2017
A total of 34 high school seniors sit in the front rows of Korb classroom, overwhelmed by a crash course in marketing, finance, and production. They’re starting to figure out exactly what they’ve gotten themselves into by signing up for Wabash’s week-long summer OLAB program (Opportunities to Learn About Business).
The man standing on the stage in front of them knows exactly what these students are about to endure over the next week, and he knows it could easily change their lives.
Greg Shaheen is the current athletic director at Wabash College. He spent more than 10 years in high-level positions at the NCAA, working with media and marketing rights, overseeing planning and operations of Association’s 89 national championships one year, and managing the Division I Men's Basketball Championship for 10 years.
He was also an OLAB participant himself 32 years ago, and he’s been a part of the program ever since.
“I remember staying in Martindale Hall, which at that time was not air conditioned,” Shaheen said. “I remember our team being in the Fine Arts Center and working on our advertising campaign. Now retired Professor Tobey Herzog ran the advertising part of the program, and I remember him distinctly. And I remember how impactful the program was for me, and that’s really why I continue to be involved.”
This year is OLAB’s 45th consecutive year at Wabash, and Shaheen’s family has been around the program since its inception. The program, during which teams of students create mock businesses with a product and compete to be the most successful, was originally a partnership between the College and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, with which Shaheen’s father was involved.
Shaheen’s sister Diana was the first Labbie of the family, participating in 1981. She later went on to become the highest-female in the Procter and Gamble company for many years.
Shaheen became a Labbie in 1985.
“For me, and in the case of a lot of these kids, OLAB was my first time going away for a week-long program,” Shaheen said. “I was working part-time jobs, and I wasn’t really the person who was going to go to a summer camp for three months. So this program gave me the chance to meet people outside of my own high school and kind of start anew, which was great for me, and it’s fun to watch kids go through the same things today.”
When Shaheen finished the week and went back to Carmel, IN, he knew he wanted to come back. Former head of Career Services and then-OLAB director Robin Pebworth helped him become a counselor for a few years, allowing him to guide students using his past experience.
Now Shaheen is known as the “Game Master,” and is in charge of the week’s overall competition: “The Game.”
“The competition is pretty fierce,” he said, “and there are all kinds of juices flowing. But I’m available to help. I’ve given them a number where they can text me questions after hours, but I explain to them that the key is to be patient. Our experience is that students will look back and really marvel at how much they learned given that they aren’t as familiar with these concepts going into it. They just have to hang in there long enough to get it, but once they get it they’re fine.”
Shaheen also tries to help students by sharing the stories of his team’s product and business…by telling them not to do what they did.
“As I remember, it was unremarkable,” he laughed. “We were not high-functioning, but we were all trying to do our best.”
Yet, he left that year with his head held high – something he had a hard time doing coming into the program.
“I would say it’s a life-defining experience for me, without a doubt,” Shaheen said. “When you’re growing up, you just don’t know what’s going on if you haven’t been away from home. Is anyone ever going to want to spend time with me or think that I’m a decent human being? Can I survive out there?
“You can see it as the week starts – there’s a fair number of them who are scared to death. And there are others who think they know everything. So the goal is to have everybody walk away with a slightly evolved perspective. There’s a lot to learn.”
“Greg brings such special gifts to OLAB, and it goes all the way back to his own participation as an introverted, shy teenager from Carmel,” said OLAB program director Jim Amidon, who’s worked with Shaheen on the program for 25 years. “OLAB literally changed his life. It showed him the possibilities of what he could achieve with his life, and if you look back at all he has accomplished, it really is quite impressive. I am in awe watching him work with the students … he connects them with them so deeply; he inspires them to be more than they think they can be, to do more than they think they can do. And the result is that when students leave OLAB, they take with them confidence and maturity that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.”
To this day, Shaheen said a week does not go by when he doesn’t run into someone who’s connected to OLAB in some way. He still keeps in touch with several fellow Labbies from his own class, and, thanks to Facebook, is able to keep in touch with several students he guided through the program over the past 32 years.
“I don’t have any kids of my own, so it’s a bit like having about 2500 kids,” Shaheen said. “I’m really proud of it. And I think, when life winds down, this will always be one of the things that I remember most centrally in terms of what influenced me.”
OLAB would not be possible without the annual sponsorships provided by Indiana businesses. For 44 years, their generosity ensures that students pay nothing to attend the program, removing any financial obstacle that may hinder a student's participation. OLAB Sponsors traditionally visit on Labor Negotiation Day, this year on Wednesday, July 12.
Representatives of each sponsor are invited to campus to meet the OLAB students and the OLAB faculty. The sponsors “shadow” alumni volunteers who play the roles of “Labor” in negotiations, observing the interaction with the OLAB students who role play as “Management.” It is an exciting opportunity to observe the OLAB program in action.
The 2017 OLAB sponsors are:
- John B. Goodrich Charitable Trust
- D.J. Angus-Scientech Educational Foundation
- Rotary Club of Carmel