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Week of February 18, 2013

Faculty Spotlight

Business professor works social entrepreneurship into curriculum

Michael Gordon has a goal: to “research and teach about solving societal problems through enterprise and to create sustainable, impactful changes in society.”

It may sound ambitious, but Gordon is dedicated. As a social entrepreneur and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of business administration at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, he works with companies and social entrepreneurs all around the world and students here in Ann Arbor to achieve his goal.

Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.

“I am keenly interested in how businesses, both for-profits and nonprofits, can make a positive different in the world,” Gordon says. “I focus not only on information technology but also innovation in technology general, or in business processes, or in design — things that are less sexy, so to speak, but that can be used to address problems like the inadequacy of healthcare or education, poverty, or environmental degradation.”

Gordon is involved in many projects, from working with entrepreneurs in Kenya and South Africa to writing a book on Detroit’s comeback via entrepreneurship. He says that his students keep him inspired, and he works with several of them on social enterprises. One former student is the founder and CEO of a company in India that makes a rolling water container to more easily transport clean water. He supports other social entrepreneurs in Detroit and around the world.

“It’s extraordinary gratifying,” says Gordon of when his students decide to work to improve society after graduation. “I like to call myself the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage. I’m not going for the quick win — I’ll help them to go as far as they want to go.”

His students keep him informed, too. “My students were the ones to tell me about TOMS shoes,” Gordon says of the company known for donating shoes to children. “(The students are) the center of the educational experience, and they keep drawing me in.” Gordon keeps his classes interesting with Skype sessions from microfinancers in Kenya and start-up CEOs in India, giving his students a view into the day-to-day dynamics of social entrepreneurs.

Gordon also uses his computer science background to contribute to social enterprise. He’s in the development phase of an app that would help early-stage social entrepreneurs get started, providing them with advice and resources.

Gordon calls himself the “exception to every rule,” referencing his continuous study (he has a bachelor’s from LSA and Ph.D. in computer science from the College of Engineering) and employment at U-M. Ann Arbor “has been home for a long time,” he says, and he’s an ardent Wolverine sports fan. Football and basketball are his favorites, but a few years ago he became an avid U-M soccer fan, too.

His time here at U-M has contributed to his passion not only for Michigan football, but for social entrepreneurship as well. “As someone who works for a public institution, I think that looking at ways back to give back to the state, to the country is extremely important,” he says.

The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at


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Michael Gordon, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of business administration at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, on who had the greatest influence on his career path: "The late C.K. Prahalad, a professor here at Ross."


“The Skin of Our Teeth,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21, 8 p.m. Feb 22 and 23, and 2 p.m. Feb. 24, Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

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