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Students looking to hone their sales skills and the companies interested in hiring them, please take note: The Sales Leadership Center at the Daniels College of Business is open.

What is the Sales Leadership Center? In short, it’s a place to bring students and employers together around the profession of sales. Students can earn a minor in sales leadership, and as corporate sponsors, organizations can meet and work with students, and both can learn more about sales in today’s marketplace via new research.

Yashar Atefi

Yashar Atefi

The center’s director, Yashar Atefi, PhD, said in addition to a lab for roleplaying and interactive practice, annual sales competitions for students and interview rooms for those interested in hiring students, the Sales Leadership Center has three parts:

  1. A sales minor: Offering courses in sales concepts, sales management and technology.
  2. Corporate sponsorships and partnerships: Collaborating with organizations to improve the profession and employ students.
  3. Research: Working with organizations and their data to better understand all elements of the profession such as compensation, reducing turnover, negotiation, training, etc.

Atefi said any University of Denver student, regardless of major, can take classes at the Sales Leadership Center and that 20% of the 125 students it currently serves come from outside the Daniels College of Business.

“The statistics are that about 70% of first jobs, no matter what the industry, include selling,” Atefi said.

The idea for the Sales Leadership Center emerged two years ago when Daniels’ leadership realized a gap in the Rocky Mountain region for sales training and created an exploratory committee to examine the concept.

“We began laying the groundwork for the center, deciding what it would look like, creating a budget, the requirements, all of it,” said Michele Cunningham, the center’s associate director and a Daniels associate professor of marketing, who worked with the committee.

Michele Cunningham

Atefi said about 100 sales centers operate on U.S. college campuses today—most of which began in the last 15 years.

“About 20 years ago a few colleges developed curricula to train undergrads in sales because it allowed companies to save money on training,” Atefi said. “The idea gained traction and now we have this trend of sales centers in business schools offering minors and certificates in sales.”

The idea made sense to Mark and Polly Lestikow, owners of the Closet Factory in Englewood, Colorado, who gave a significant gift this summer to get the Sales Leadership Center off the ground.

Mark (BSBA 1975) said he attended DU on an alumni scholarship that changed his life. “We both wanted to give back and support a university that has done a lot of nice things,” he said. “I’ve been in sales and marketing my whole life and it resonated with me. It’s a good profession and it’s good that DU is identifying something students should be learning.”

Polly believes the center will help the profession’s image. She said sales trainees at the Closet Factory often have a negative view of sales. “It shouldn’t be that way. The entire profession is about helping people solve their problems, about helping them make decisions and move forward,” she said.

The Lestikows also thanked former Daniels Dean Brent Chrite for his work in starting the initiative. “He was a mover and shaker on this … and we appreciate the vision he had and for asking us for the gift. He practiced what he preached—we value that,” Mark said.

“Participating in the Sales Leadership Center is a good way for students to network and become more market-ready, either in sales or non-sales roles. Whatever they do, they’ll have the skills to be successful,” he said.

For more information about being a Sales Leadership Center corporate partner, please contact Center Director Atefi.

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