The Wizard of Oz

While many, including this paper, tend to fixate on the legislative and executive arms of the ASSU, not much attention has been levied on the ASSU’s lesser-known financial arm, Stanford Student Enterprises. This lack of attention is no mistake; it has been well earned.

Founded in 1996 to “ensure the long-term financial viability and independence of the Association,” SSE has competently and effectively provided the services necessary for the ASSU and student groups to operate, as well as fulfilled its objectives to “afford a premier entrepreneurial experience on campus.”

Consider – the entire operating budget for the Undergraduate Senate, Graduate Student Council, and ASSU Executive come from an annual payout from the SSE endowment; though this endowment started as a large donation, it has been supplemented significantly by operating profits from SSE’s divisions.

Divisions such as the Stanford Store and Stanford Ad Agency see $1.7 million dollar annual revenues, and have generated millions of dollars in profit. Capital Group provides and supports the banking and funding platforms necessary to distribute over $7 million in student funding every year, while staying in accordance with 501(c)3 documentation and taxation requirements. The managers of these divisions invest their lives into their work; 40-60 hour weeks for the General Managers of these divisions are not unheard of.

To the incoming ASSU – SSE has a strong tradition of collaborating, and sharing their knowledge and skills, if reached out to. For instance, as of last year student groups can rent tables from SSE Capital Group for free – instead of paying exorbitant rental fees – a pilot project started through the collaboration of the Dorsey/Harris executive administration two years ago under my tenure as Director of Capital Group.

Furthermore, when the ASSU Undergraduate Senate was looking at reducing group reserves, they turned to SSE Capital Group once again to create a formula that fairly and gradually result in a decline in special fee reserves. The elections website has in some years been created by SSE. But this is just the tip of the iceberg; everything from the ASSU Shuttle to the ASSU Green Store has been a direct result of collaboration with SSE.

SSE alumni often move onto important leadership positions around campus, using many of the team-work and execution skills learned in their previous posts. For instance, the Executive and Opinion editors of this paper, the previous Chief of Staff for ASSU President David Gobaud, countless financial managers of student groups and row houses, and various varsity athletes – swimming, wrestling, and soccer, to name a few – can all claim SSE affiliation.

Under the tenure of outgoing CEO Matthew McLaughlin, SSE has had to navigate the troubled waters of this recession. Advertising revenue, which historically made up the majority of SSE’s profit, was hurt significantly by an industry wide dip. To adapt to this changing environment, SSE is making the switch to online advertising revenue, as well as pursuing innovative advertising opportunities with campus publications, such as the Daily and the Review.

Other divisions have had to step up – the Stanford Store was transformed from a break-even enterprise to a critical part of the SSE revenue stream in recent years, through the hard work and leadership of Bennett Hauser and Nick Weaver (and subsequent successors). Furthermore, significant costs have been cut on everything from phone lines to headcount reductions.

Looking forward, SSE is looking to expand upon its entrepreneurial focus through the recent launch of SSE Labs; this services seeks to “provides a multitude of educational entrepreneurial services” during the summer months, fostering the Stanford startup spirit and creating opportunities for young entrepreneurs to go it alone (instead of feeling pressured to pursue “big name” internships). Combined with SSE Ventures, an initiative that provides angel investing to student ideas, SSE has a compelling entrepreneurial and educational portfolio. **
** It is comforting to know that behind the all to frequent headlines of scandal, intrigue, and general incompetence characteristic of the legislative and executive ASSU branches, there lies a stable bedrock; SSE (often thanklessly) provides the institutional memory, financial support, and core funding platforms the ASSU needs to operate. As the new Executives, Senators, and GSC members take their seats at the table, they would be well served to reach out to SSE. Here’s to another 15 years of getting right.

Matthew Sprague served as Director of Capital Group, which manages student group banking and financial services, during the ‘08-‘09 academic year. He served as a project manage and intern for Internet Solution his sophomore and freshman years. His opinions do not in any way reflect those of the ASSU or Stanford Student Enterprises.

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