December 15, 2022
By Logan Sweet ’15
Graduates of the Sigmund Weis School of Business leave Susquehanna prepared for exceptional careers. They become corporate presidents, vice presidents, CEOs, CFOs, partners in major firms, successful entrepreneurs and more.
Sometimes, graduates like Tim Murray ’94 and Darrell Wilson ’78 are drawn back to Susquehanna by a desire to help prepare the next generation of business leaders, which allows students to learn from both scholars and practitioners alike.
“It is crucial that business students have classes by professors who are researchers, as it helps them learn how to think through problems in a scholarly manner,” says Matthew Rousu, dean of the Sigmund Weis School of Business. “It is also equally important that students learn from professionals in the field. Thankfully, we have dozens of alumni who come back regularly to help students by guest lecturing, judging Global Business Perspectives Presentations, and mentoring students. Some of this teaching occurs more formally when business professionals also serve as adjunct professors.”
Adjunct professors are not full time — they usually teach a class or two per semester. In the Sigmund Weis School of Business, adjunct professors are expected to meet AACSB’s Instructional Practitioner criteria, which indicates that they bring professional skills into the classroom.
“We’re lucky to have many great adjunct professors who have amazing professional experiences and see value in teaching the next generation of leaders,” says Rousu. “They are an asset as they bring their professional experiences into the classroom and provide students with some different perspectives.”
Using Experience to Introduce Sales Curriculum
“I returned to Susquehanna in 2018 for my 40th class reunion,” recalls Darrell Wilson ’78.
While on campus, Wilson connected with Dean Rousu and mentioned that he was finishing a part-time teaching commitment at Salisbury University, after having retired in 2017 as vice president of sales and marketing for Yuasa Battery USA.
At Salisbury, Wilson co-led the launch of the Mid Atlantic Sales and Marketing Institute, a research and academic center for professional selling. He also helped launch the university’s sales minor.
“Dean Rousu expressed interest in having me teach a sales class at Susquehanna and, after some discussion, I agreed to teach Professional Selling in the fall of 2019,” says Wilson.
The class quickly became popular and in May 2020, the Sigmund Weis School of Business and the Department of Communications launched a professional sales minor.
It provides students with a comprehensive understanding of the sales function in an organization and prepares them for a career in sales through a mix of business and communication classes.
In Wilson’s classes, students typically participate in role playing exercises to actively practice things like planning sales calls, developing meeting agendas, navigating potential pushback from senior leadership, and handling objections.
“As a class, we critique each other on how a mock sales call was conducted and what improvements could be made,” says Wilson, who is known to often play the role of a difficult buyer.
Wilson hopes to convey to students that the basics of selling — relationship building, identifying needs, presentation skills, qualifying customers, handling objections and closing the deal – are standard and transferable from industry to industry. Wilson’s own career spans 40 years and traverses several industries and customer types.
“We have fun with the exercises and always debrief on how the seller could improve their next sales pitch,” he adds. “I also try to stress that regardless of discipline — whether it be finance, marketing, IT, human resources, management or something else — everyone sells.”
Coaching Future CEOs to Navigate Workplace Pressure
“Being the former CEO of multi-billion-dollar corporation, I had never really given much thought to becoming a professor,” says Tim Murray ’94, who served as chief executive officer of Aluminium Bahrain for seven years until his retirement in 2019.
Located on an island in the Arabian Gulf, Aluminium Bahrain — commonly called Alba — is one of the largest producers of aluminum in the world. Prior to becoming CEO, Murray was its chief finance and supply officer, during which time he played a major role in Alba’s 2010 initial public offering.
“In 2019, as I was finishing a long career with Alba, Dean Rousu approached me about becoming an adjunct professor,” he says. “The offer was intriguing and I knew that bringing more real-world experience into the classroom could create tremendous value.”
Now, Murray leads the CEO Challenge course, which teaches students what it is like to be a corporate executive and how an executive team operates in a board room environment. Students are divided into groups and each week the group has to form a new executive team led by a new CEO — ensuring that everyone gets to be CEO at least once. The groups in his class are given real-world cases to analyze and then must prepare formal presentations along with recommendations to the company’s board of directors.
“Once the teams are done presenting, I critique each person’s performance and then give them their grade,” he says. “This approach greatly accelerates the learning process, as students immediately apply what they needed to improve in their next presentation.”
In his corporate experience, Murray recognized that many employees fall short in preparing presentations and delivering them effectively under pressure. He explains that the cases are not intended to have a right or wrong answer, but rather to challenge the students to think critically in uncertain situations.
“In my view, how a group delivers and defends its presentation is far more important than the presentation itself,” Murray says.
Preparing Tomorrow’s Business Leaders
“Wilson and Murray offer our students a phenomenal opportunity to learn from global leaders in their fields,” says Emma Fleck, department head of management and marketing. “We are incredibly fortunate that they are willing to bring their knowledge and networks back to SU, and we are already seeing the impact of these alums through the internships and jobs our students are securing.”
Wilson and Murray both believe that graduates of Susquehanna’s Sigmund Weis School of Business are well prepared for success. They also credit Susquehanna’s small classroom sizes and its caring and supportive community as reasons for student and graduate success.
“Students want more than just a classroom experience,” Wilson adds. “The opportunities we have as faculty members to mentor them are enormous and can last a lifetime.”
“The classroom environment really allows professors to build a relationship with their students, which is critical to coaching them,” adds Murray. “Our success as professors may not be known for many years, but I am confident that we are preparing students for success and perhaps even some future CEOs.”