Walk into Professor Mark Frigo’s office and it is not unusual to see photos from his martial arts school, books on the philosophy of Bruce Lee and Sun Tzu's book "The Art of War," rows of thought-leadership books and framed covers of his articles from the Harvard Business Review and other leading business journals

Students in his graduate courses in the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business learn critical aspects of corporate strategy, risk management, and accountancy in unique and memorable ways thanks to the martial arts philosophy he blends with his classroom instruction. But Professor Frigo’s courses are more than just karate-infused lectures. This former corporate maestro injects a personal commitment to teaching that helps build a collaborative bridge between student and teacher. The result—an educational experience that’s richer and deeper than the norm.

Q: Tell me about your experiences here at DePaul. Why do you teach what you teach at DePaul and what has been some of your most memorable accomplishments?

Frigo: DePaul is a great university with motivated and driven students and a very talented faculty.   My “why” is to help my students to achieve greater success professionally and personally by changing the way they think in a positive and powerful way.   The research leading to the book “DRIVEN” was a pivotal milestone in my career and changed my way of thinking.  It inspired me to think about mountains rather than molehills and truly reshaped my way  of thinking and research agenda to develop myself as a top business school thought leader and, thereby, build the reputation and brand of DePaul.  A 2005 Crain’s Chicago Business article featured five top business school professors and I was fortunate to be one for those profiled.   The development of the Center for Strategy, Execution and Valuation was another milestone, which continues to drive value creation at DePaul and beyond.  Reflecting on memorable accomplishments, there are many I can recall and there are many more yet to create in the future.  

Q: You're well known for your good relationships with your students and alumni. Tell me why it is important that DePaul faculty have a strong and positive relationship with students and how do you foster these close ties with your students?

The relationship between student and teacher is based on mutual respect and trust.  I try to develop this mutual respect and trust in the way I interact with students and our alumni.  I really enjoy teaching (and learning) and usually begin my class sessions with the idea of “beginner’s mind” or Zen mind, which I must also adopt to be a teacher and learner.   I have directly taught thousands of MBA students and accounting students and maintain a close link with the alumni.

Q: Your use martial arts philosophy to relay the finer points in your courses is legendary. How did you come to incorporate martial arts philosophy into your courses and why do students embrace this approach?

My avocation in martial arts has helped me in my teaching.  I have been practicing and teaching martial arts for over four decades and hold a master level black belt in Shotokan karate and teach at the Jiu-Jitsu Institute.   I try to instill the wisdom, energy and philosophy from martial  arts in my courses to reinforce a learning and creative mindset.    The mutual respect and mutual trust, which I instill in my teaching at DePaul, is based on the way a Sensei (teacher) and student interact in a dojo (where the way is learned) and what I learned from my teachers over the years.  The symbols for the word Sensei means “one who comes before me to show me the Way.”  I try to live that philosophy as a teacher, learner and thought leader at DePaul. 

Q: Explain the Center for Strategy, Execution and Valuation (SEV) and how its existence connects DePaul and university students to the greater Chicago business community and beyond. 

 The Center for Strategy, Execution, and Valuation provides an engagement platform for thought leaders, business leaders and our Kellstadt Graduate School of Business community for co-creating and sharing leading practices in strategy and strategy execution.  The center was founded in 2004 based on a foundation of intensive global research on high performance companies. A 2004 article in the Harvard Business Review,  “Give My Regrets to Wall Street,” which I co-authored with Joel Litman, and my continuing leading-edge research on high performance companies and strategic risk management, numerous articles in leading business journals are just a few examples of the thought leadership coming from our center.

The Strategy, Execution and Valuation MBA concentration was developed to create a quintessential and innovative MBA concentration, which makes the connection between business strategy, execution and ethical value creation.  It prepares our students to make a significant impact on the future of their organizations and in their careers.   The program applies the Return Driven Strategy framework, which describes the pattern of strategic activities of resilient and sustainable high performance companies to our students to evaluate business strategy and strategic initiatives and develop the valuable skill of strategic thinking. 

Our innovative seminar courses in the program include presentations by executives and thought leaders to provide insight on the leading practices in strategy, execution and strategic valuation.  Our work has been presented at executive conferences throughout North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific and at other leading business schools; at United Nations agencies in Geneva, Switzerland and incorporated in executive education programs. 

Q: Tell me about your new books. Why did you write them and how are they related to your “DRIVEN: Business Strategy, Human Actions and the Creation of Wealth?” 

The book “DRIVEN,” which I co-authored with Joel Litman in 2007, was based on 10 years of intensive research of resilient high performance companies and has become a foundation of my research streams as well as my courses and executive seminars in our Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.   

During the last year, I published two books, “Integrated Reporting: Concepts and Cases that Redefine Corporate Accountability,” which I developed with an academic research team from Europe, and “The Balanced Scorecard: Applications in Internal Auditing and Risk Management,” which was based on an IIA (Institute of Internal Auditors) Research Foundation project I led.  The book on integrated reporting, which is an evolving area in corporate reporting and accountability, is a new and synergistic research stream in my portfolio of work.   The balanced scorecard book includes risk management applications of the strategy framework from the book DRIVEN.   I am currently working on a new book titled “DRIVEN Strategy: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance,” which features the latest developments and applications of research on high performance companies and will be published by Stanford University Press.  I am also working on a book, titled “Strategic Risk Management: A Primer for Directors and Management Teams,” co-authored with Richard J. Anderson, that will include the latest developments of our work at the intersection of risk management and strategy.

Q: You've been advising executive leaders and board members for quite some time. Tell me how you relate this executive leadership interaction in your research, books and the courses you teach in the Center for Strategy, Execution and Value to DePaul? 

My work with executive teams and board member is very synergistic with my research and teaching at DePaul.   I am able to integrate this work and my relationships with executives with my research and most importantly with my curriculum development and course offerings at DePaul.  For example, the courses I lead in the Center for Strategy, Execution and Valuation and new MBA capstone course were co-created with business leaders and academic thought leaders who are also engaged with executive teams.  The Center for SEV is an engagement platform for business leaders (and future business leader, our Kellstadt students) and thought leaders co-create content and a unique learning experience for our students. ​