Dr. Joby John of the B.I. Moody College of Business Administration talks with ultoday.com about growing up in India, living in Lafayette, UL, and the future of his College.

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Trivandrum, Kerala, near the southern tip of India. When I was 3, we moved to Coimbatore in the state of Tamilnadu, also in southern India, where I grew up.

My father was an aeronautical engineer. His first job was with Indian Airlines, flying cargo planes. Soon after the Indian Republic was founded in 1951, my dad was in a group of people who were chosen to organize civil aviation in Independent India. So in 1953, he was sent to Switzerland with the rest of the group, where they trained on different aspects of aviation. He came back worked as the Asst Chief Engineer at the Madras Flying Club and later helped start the government flying school in Coimbatore, and ended up as Chief Engineer until retirement.

I studied in northern India, at BITS-Pilani (Birla Institute of Technology & Science), a private university, where I received a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. I received my MBA from Madras University in Coimbatore. I worked for British American Tobacco for about a year. After that, I served as a professional service officer (detail man) for Pfizer for about 2 years.

Then I lost my mother. I was an only child, so I left Pfizer and spent 6 months looking after my Dad. But finally Dad sent me to look after myself, so I went to Bombay and stayed with some college friends from Pilani, and I worked for about year with a consulting firm there. The guy I worked for had been with a Fortune 500 company in the US, but came back to India because his parents were getting old. He encouraged me into continuing graduate school in the United States. I had applied to some US schools, but I wasn't really serious about it. Bombay is the New York of India, and I was having a blast.

About 8 months into the job, my Dad called to say that I had received all these letters from US graduate schools. Arizona State, Oklahoma State, UGA, had accepted me. OSU was the only one with assistantship available, so I took their offer. In India, family relations and traditions are very different. For instance, in traditional Indian culture, if you live with your parents you ask them for permission to leave the house for anything, including simple errands, even if you're in your 40s. Anything that you do reflects on your family. And one of the biggest things is, single children don't leave a single parent. It's just not done.

But my father encouraged me to make my own path. He may have been ostracized for this. In retrospect, I know what he may have had to go through, to allow me to do what I needed to do. I was a typical 20-something young guy. In your 20s, you don't realize how valuable your cultural heritage is, but in your 30s you start to see it. Not until my 40s did I begin to recognize the impact of my cultural heritage, and to see that for him to allow me to come to America -- to urge me to do it, in fact -- was a very loving and courageous thing to do. My dad died of Lou Gehrig's disease, and I regret not having been able to recognize and express my gratitude for what he did for me.

Anyway, I got my PhD in Marketing from OSU, and was hired on at Bentley College, a highly respected private business school in the Boston suburbs. I was there for 21 years, the last 8 of which I was the Department Head in Marketing.

So what prompted you to apply for the Dean's position at UL?

My wife is from Broussard; she went to Comeaux High, and her dad worked at PHI. She studied music for two years at UL, then went to LSU, where she got her PhD in Marketing. I met her at an American Marketing Association's doctoral consortium.

Lafayette is a big transition from Bombay and Boston. How do you like it so far?

Lafayette is a well-kept secret. Everybody says it, and it's so true. It's so full of life. It reminds me of the Mediterranean, of Spain, Italy. People in those places work to live; but in too many large cities, people just live to work. You can be very active in New York and be busy 24 hours a day... but your life could still be empty, your soul could still be lonely. And Lafayette is so rich, culturally. The arts are the flow of life... and the family, the sense of community here are so strong. And people are so friendly. Perhaps it's just because of my position, but I have met a lot of people in a short time. People have been very open in that regard. In a larger city, you see a lot of people, but you don't get to really know them.

We just don't do a good job tooting our own horn. And we're hamstrung, because we're seen as the same as the rest of South. But there's a lot of potential here.

What do you think of UL and the Moody School of Business?

I think this University has not even begun to realize its full potential. President Authément has brought us to a position of strength from which we can really take off. UL really is ready to evolve into a new level, a new level of recognition, not just in Louisiana, but nationally & internationally.

Our College has done very well financially because of our benefactors, and the role Mr. B.I. Moody III has played. But what is most unique in this University is the potential for cross-disciplinary collaborations, within the College, and across the campus. Because collaboration just doesn't happen that easily at other schools. So this is an area where it will be easy for UL to stand out. The world doesn't exist in silos, and innovation happens in the cross-disciplinary areas. The more interesting things are at the cusps of disciplines. So I think in the near future, you will see more synergies emerge across our campus.

For instance, I’ve been talking with Dean Gordon Brooks in the College of Arts about collaborating on projects involving design & creativity. We're thinking of expanding the petroleum landman program to expand into smart biofuels & renewable resources encompassing a program that includes the economics, finance and policy in energy. I'm also pulling in the Wetlands Director, Greg Smith for collaborations with our College. I’ll be working with Dean Clark of the College of Science and Dean Zappi of the College of Engineering.

We have a tremendous group of faculty at the college who are hard working, dedicated and committed to the students and to the community.

What are your goals for the College?

We can't be all things to all people. We need to pick spaces of unique, or unusual, distinctive strengths, where we can become nationally renowned. Also, we need to be locally relevant. UL is the primary engine for workforce development in Acadiana. As a College of Business, we need to be asking the stakeholders, "What we should provide?" One example is small business support. Lafayette is about 80% small business; so we want to work with the UL Small Business Development Center to enhance their business development workshops and seminars. In that vein, we want to explore the possibility of putting together student management consulting teams. We'll pull in different disciplines under a faculty supervisor. The group will work with businesses that need support but can't afford much, and who want us to help them with a business plan. The students get great experience, the small entrepreneur gets a business plan, and the local economy benefits.

I will also be doing focus groups at IberiaBANK, and asking - what are the needs of Acadiana? Either through credit or non-credit courses, we want to begin addressing those needs.

We've also started a CFO Roundtable hosted by the Moody College of Business, and we had our first meeting in February, the first such meeting in Acadiana. We invited in 35 CFOS of Acadiana's largest companies into LEDA. We want to talk about the hot, pressing issues in our companies, and exchange ideas about them. My goal is for the group to produce cooperative efforts, opinion pieces, economic & government analysis. Gregg Gothreaux of LEDA opened the conversation. It went extremely well. We will begin holding quarterly meetings. The next one is May 13, we have Tim Barfield, the Louisiana Secretary of Labor, coming in as the speaker.

I want to start a Dean's speakers series, invite in people to speak who can have an impact on our College and the local economy.

I have started a teaching and research series with the faculty, we meet a few times a semester to talk about teaching and research. We look at issues related to syllabi, lectures, etc. One thing we're looking at is student attitudes and behavior toward learning. This is not unique to UL, but, it concerns me that we're seeing students who aren't as engaged in learning, they seem more interested in getting a degree toward a paycheck. So there are no deep questions being asked, they just want to know how they're going to do on the test. We're not seeing enough interest among our students in consciously reflecting on their own personal growth, and we want to address that. So I put together a task force to look at this. They're looking at curricular activities, co-curricular activities-- business organizations, internships, that sort of thing-- & extracurricular things. They'll come up with recommendations in the Fall. Then we’ll look at execution. In the research series, faculty make research presentations, test ideas and present papers they're preparing for conferences.

There will be many more interesting things coming down at the Moody College of Business. Stay tuned.


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