In late 2004, Dr. Bruce Schooling, then Dean of the Fermanian School of Business, asked me if I would consider teaching the second half of a management course for MBA’s. At the time, I was the CEO of my own agricultural company near Fresno and while the thought of teaching was appealing, I had serious questions regarding my capacity to be able to succeed at teaching, let alone the 640 mile weekly round trip from my home. Preparing a syllabus and laying the theoretical foundation for a class was completely new to me, as were all of the many other things needed to teach. At a deeper level, I wondered if I could translate my own experiences in business and entrepreneurship to the classroom level.
The course turned out to be exhilarating (at least for me!), and even the long solo drive provided a respite from the burdens of the company and its many functions, initiatives, and burdens. At the completion of the course, I had built some excellent relationships with students which inspired me to seriously consider the possibility of joining PLNU full time, leading to a decision within the next year to move to San Diego. Since then, I have been busy with many tasks and responsibilities, but I have also taught a significant number of courses at both the MBA and undergraduate level.
This past Wednesday, I arrived at my office at PLNU and the flashing red light of my office telephone was informing me of a voicemail. Entering my code, the steely mechanical tone of the automated system was replaced by an exuberant voice of an MBA that I quickly recognized. She proceeded to report in enthusiastic terms how she had taken the principles learned from our Negotiation Strategy and Value Creation MBA course, and applied them into an employment setting. She explained that these skills had enabled her to successfully negotiate a new position that met or exceeded her personal and professional goals and expectations. In a most gracious and affirming way, she thanked me for the knowledge learned.
I recall coaching Little League many years ago when our son was young, and my initial year our team, despite our best efforts, went 0 and 16. Every time we were near a win, the opposing team, not wanting to be the first to lose to us, would quickly shuffle their lineup late in the game and bring in their ‘Ace’ to overpower our young hitters. With two close friends as fellow coaches, we worked hard to keep our boys encouraged and build skills throughout that long season. Morale remained high and the following season we won many games and finished second overall in the league tournament. The memories of those boys and coaches and the mutual encouragement we provided each other stay with me to this day.
There are days when I wonder why I teach, for I may be very busy or tired or stressed out (or some combination of all of these.) I question my effectiveness and after the class is completed I have doubts if I have been able to provide to the students information, knowledge, and skills that are of use to them, both now and in the future. Like my Little League team, I know that we often do not see an instant uptake, but with time the opportunity for a positive result increases. The unexpected phone message this week, just like the regular cups of coffee and conversations I have with a number of alums, or the visit I had last week in L.A. with a couple of young entrepreneurs from my class in 2006, are all examples of what provide me the continued energy to stay in the classroom. At the end of the day, they are all reminders to me of why I teach.