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Buying and Selling Online Schools: The Unusual Career of Michael Clifford (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, Aug 26th 2009

SM: Take us back to your beginning to give us some context about who you are.

MC: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. My father was a musician and started a radio station, so I grew up around a radio station and music. I never went to college and yet went on to be a catalyst for and founder of six universities. About 13 years ago, a spiritual mentor of mine named Bill Bright, the president of a group called Campus Crusade for Christ International, challenged me to take a look at spending my life in post-secondary education.

I told Bill, who was a great friend and someone whom I respected immensely, that I had never gone to college and knew absolutely nothing about running one. He told me that was a good thing because education was going to be a very large business in the future, and he knew that I loved being an entrepreneur in business as well as helping people. He thought it would be something that would fit my personality. That was 13 years ago.

SM: Bill gave you this lecture 13 years ago because he had already figured out you had entrepreneurial instincts. Where did your entrepreneurial instincts manifest themselves?

MC: I went from being a musician to working with charities. I went to work at an advertising agency that helped charities raise money. Those were places like World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, and a lot of religious charities such as Catholic schools. During that time, I worked with a lot of major donors who gave millions of dollars.

Those donors would always tell me that I should look at being in business. I started buying and selling small businesses while working with those charities, and then stumbled into a Six Sigma consulting business and ran that for a while. I don’t know how to do Six Sigma, but I would get the contracts and the academics would do the work. I had known Bill since 1981, so he saw all of that. He knew me, my personality, and thought education would be a good fit.

He wanted to buy a school, and I volunteered to help him. His large charity bought a bankrupt school in Briarcliff, New York called King’s College and got it out of bankruptcy. I volunteered in that process. During the same month in which Bill challenged me to enter post-secondary education, I called another business mentor friend in Phoenix. He had been on 30 of the Fortune 100 corporate boards in his life and was very well connected. I explained what was going on, and he told me that I needed to meet some people, so he set up a luncheon for me where I met Roy Herberger, who was president of Thunderbird.

At the time, Thunderbird was the Rolls-Royce of higher education. They were the best international business school six years in a row. I volunteered to do consulting or problem-solving just so I could learn the business, and told him I would cover all of my own expenses. Roy gave me three projects that day, so I started working for Thunderbird right away.

The next day I had another luncheon with Dr. John Sperling. I told him I wanted to learn the business, and John told me that he would never pay me a dime but that he thought he could teach me over the Internet. Ultimately, I got to volunteer at the University of Phoenix and learn a lot about online education.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Buying and Selling Online Schools: The Unusual Career of Michael Clifford
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Nice interview sm. Keep up the great work michael. Steve cooper

steve cooper Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 9:01 PM PT