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Former Executive Imparts the Importance of Negotiation Skills

By Stella Connell

School of Business Administration Communications

Photo Caption: Keith Morris, (back left), adjunct instructor of management, and Kenny Gowen (front left), president of Charter Medical, negotiate with Quirin Wild over a land deal. Live negotiations are a component of BUS 322: Negotiation and Dispute Resolution, a business course available to all Ole Miss students. Submitted Photo

Let’s make a deal!

Negotiation can be thought of as an art or a skill, but it is a necessary component of many business transactions.

Keith Morris, formerly of Shell Oil, brought his skills of negotiation to the business school’s classroom when he joined as an adjunct instructor in 2020.

For over 30 years Morris’s experiences were in 38 countries providing commercial leadership, contract development and negotiations for Shell Oil and its global affiliates. BUS 322: Negotiation and Dispute Resolution is a junior-level class for business students majoring in management (and an encouraged elective in marketing).

However, the class is open to all students at the university.

When Morris discovered that Ole Miss offered this very specific class, he decided to use his experience in negotiation of commercial arrangements and take the class to a whole new level, providing students the opportunity to strengthen their skills in this important area.

“We learn in the course materials that the most dangerous negotiation is the one that you are in and don’t know it because at that moment you are willing to accept what someone else thinks you should receive instead of what you may require,” Morris said.  “The live negotiation requires preparation in looking at the opportunity from all sides of the transaction, including the counterparty, tactics and an overall aspired deal frame presented persuasively to gain the best outcome.”

Morris began the process of a live negotiation as part of the curriculum of the class, utilizing his personal and professional contacts, inviting them to speak to his classes and serve as the voice across the table in the live negotiation setting.

“Keith Morris represents what is best about Ole Miss,” said Rich Gentry, chair of the management department. “Upon joining faculty (during COVID), he recognized an important need for our students and built a marquee program to address that need while building stronger connections to local industry.”

In November, Morris orchestrated a live negotiation with Kenny Gowen representing the fictional Downhome Properties in the sale of a one-acre lot on West Jackson Avenue. Gowen, owns Charter Medical, LLC and other local businesses in the health-related field in the Oxford area.

“The case study itself was developed due to my prior business experiences and recognizing many people may not prepare sufficiently for negotiations, and therefore the advantage it can bring to Ole Miss graduates in the marketplace,” Morris said.

Four students participated in the negotiation with Gowen: James Alexander, a junior from Plainfield, Illinois, majoring in business management; Gregory Magone a senior from Naples, majoring in real estate, and Drew Weber, a junior from St. Louis majoring in finance, and Quirin Wild, a sophomore from Dresden, Germany, majoring in real estate.

Each student presented various scenarios for the purchase, being a combination of cash payments, owner financing, joint venture or retained economic interests following the sale. Gowen reminded the students that he did not have to sell the property, and he would not negotiate against himself.

“The purpose of Keith’s class is to impress upon his students that people who develop strong negotiating skills achieve more,” said Gowen. “His premise is that preparation is key to negotiating.

“I was asked to transfer the student into an uncomfortable area that exposed any lack of preparedness. Also, I wanted to apply pressure to simulate an actual negotiating event to see how the student responded. My goal was to help illustrate and reinforce all Keith was teaching.”

The deal Gowen ultimately accepted after much give and take was from Wild that totaled 2.6 million for the purchase of the property.

“Keith loves these students and simply could not let them leave without giving them his best effort,” concluded Gentry. “Beyond being a great teacher (which he is), he is a great example of all we hope to accomplish in the classroom. I’m going to miss him.”

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