Derek Stemen ’04, MBA ’14


Bluffton MBA alumnus finds purpose through relationship building

Relationships led Derek Stemen to choose Bluffton University as an undergraduate student, relationships brought him back to Bluffton for a career opportunity, and relationships led him to earning his MBA at Bluffton.

“What sets Bluffton apart is the relationships formed during your education,” said Stemen. “When we interact with people they hold us accountable, they bring out the best in us, and we bring out the best in them which helps us learn from each other,” said Stemen. “I think relationships were absolutely invaluable to me when I was getting my MBA, and they continue to be so today.”

Stemen, a father of three, appreciated the one-night-a-week cohort model used at Bluffton, where students enter the program with a set of classmates and continue with them through the two-year program. Other members of his cohort worked in factories, health care industries and non-profit agencies. Because of this, he was able to build a network of contacts from a variety of industries.

“I can’t imagine doing the MBA program completely online without those face-to-face interactions we had at Bluffton,” said Stemen. “The reality is you can learn things in a vacuum, but it’s difficult to have those lessons sink in deep because you can’t practice them. Bluffton puts you in an environment and creates dialogues that are sometimes challenging to talk about, but you’re learning because you’re around so many different people, with so many different perspectives because they are from so many different industries.”

Stemen, previously director of admissions at Bluffton, has been the executive director of the American Red Cross of West Central Ohio since Sept. 2015. In his current position, Stemen oversees 15 staff members and 360 volunteers from 10 different counties. The non-profit agency’s mission is preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies.

At the office, he routinely refers back to the lessons learned and practiced at Bluffton, including the concept of time tellers versus clock builders from the book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.”

In essence, time tellers are dynamic leaders who understand how to make the right decision at the right time for the companies they lead. However, when leadership moves on, the organizations stagnate because there was no mentoring of leaders.

The American Red Cross recently celebrated its 100-year legacy in West Central Ohio, and Stemen believes clock builders, not time tellers, are essential to keep the agency thriving. “I believe the judge of a good leader is someone who is building structures, who is essentially building relationships and building up the people around them to help them lead as well.”