For This MTSU Dean, Navy Lessons = Business Advice

By Lee Rennick

The Jennings A. Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University has been growing in reputation over time, but in the last two years since David Urban, PhD took on the role as dean, the college has seen rapid growth in students and national recognition. Urban, a Navy veteran, says that the strong foundations of business that are the basis of this growth came from his time in the service.

Dr. David J. Urban (Photo credit: Middle State Tennessee University)

Dr. David J. Urban (Photo credit: Middle State Tennessee University)

“As a Supply Corps Officer,” said Urban, “I was in the business part of the Navy. It was excellent business experience. I also learned a great deal about managing and dealing with people from many different backgrounds, and I developed a global perspective. The Navy shaped my management philosophy; there were some lessons that really stuck with me.”

One of the lessons Urban learned in the Navy was teamwork. He believes that people have to be able to work together in order to accomplish excellent results. No single individual has the knowledge, the skill, or the capacity to do everything well and be completely self-sufficient. He used this concept to rebuild the college’s MBA program into a Flex MBA.

“We formed a task force composed of a cross-section of our faculty to review the program,” Urban said. “Taking into account best practices in MBA programs at other universities, as well as feedback from our current students, our alumni, and from people who were hiring our students. The task force pulled together all of this information and developed a series of recommendations that were put into place in my second year as dean.”

Among the things they learned during the review process were the needs for more integration across subject areas, more professional development activities, the ability to finish the program in one year, and the ability to complete the program completely online.

To provide the needed technology to back up the increased online programming, the program made improvements like renovating classrooms, putting in a new video production facility, and upgrading their financial analysis center.

“We trained faculty in the use of new classroom technology, but the faculty drove the new program and used the technology to achieve the objectives that the market wanted,” Urban says. “The Flex MBA is truly a market-driven program.”

To answer the market’s call for more tech-savvy students, Urban and his faculty updated their Master of Science Program. In that program, Urban notes that students can be IT generalists or they can specialize in information security and assurance, IT project management, or business intelligence and analytics.

“In our program, the focus is on the acquisition, management, and analysis of information that is useful to decision makers,” Urban says. ”We also have opportunities for our students in other areas of business to delve into technology. For example, they can take training courses that will help them to achieve various Microsoft and other certifications.”

While technology has changed the face of business everywhere, the area most radically affected by this change is marketing.

“All of our marketing courses are different than they were even five years ago because of the impact of technology, and our faculty [has] to adapt those courses to keep up with the latest developments,” Urban adds. 

“Interestingly,” Urban says, “the advances in technology have not diminished the importance of basic skills in personal selling and sales management. Personal relationships are even more important now in sustaining marketing success than they were many years ago. “

Urban has also added a number of programs to ensure students have much-needed “soft skills” that employers are demanding.

“We heard many times from business people that students need better soft skills like the ability to write and speak effectively, think through a problem to a solution, work in teams, build and maintain personal relationships, network effectively, and maintain a positive attitude toward life and work,” Urban says. “So we did something no other business school in the country has done: All business majors are required to complete the Dale Carnegie Course.”

Students who have taken the Carnegie course, Urban has noticed, appreciate the applicability to their personal and professional lives. Most students see improvement in self-confidence and relationships. Several have traced internships, job offers, or promotions directly to lessons learned in the course.

“I find that a lot of the principles of good leadership and management are easily transferred across different types of organizations,” Urban notes. “I still use the basics of leadership and management that I learned in the Navy every single day.”

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