Meet the Faculty: MBA Professor Joe Kirby
New Assistant Professor Believes in the Importance of a Strategic Foundation
Joe Kirby is an Assistant Professor in the College of Business at Bellevue University. He teaches in the MBA program and focuses on business analysis for decision-making.
I know you’re new to full-time teaching and academia. Can you tell me about your background?
I landed my first “real” job while studying for an MIS degree during college. This was a part-time programming job at a manufacturing/industrial services firm with only one computer for accounting at that time. I was the only programmer and developed all the business applications for the three existing companies. Over the next 10 years, we added eight companies across five states. Developing the key systems provided me a knowledge of the business at the process level, and over time, I transitioned into a senior financial/accounting role while retaining oversight of systems. This first job provided unique experiences and opportunities; I could not have designed a better experience for gaining a broad set of business skills and the confidence to tackle a variety of business problems.
Since this first job, I’ve held leadership roles in finance, IT, and operations, as well as having been a partner in a business for 14 years. Across these roles, I’ve leveraged the power of systems and information to enhance a firm’s capabilities. As an employee and business owner, I’ve found that a clear business stratJegy must be at the center of technology decisions. I’ve found success applying these concepts across manufacturing, aerospace & defense, and retail automotive.
I’ve always wanted to teach and began as an adjunct in an MBA program in 2018. I enrolled in the Doctorate in Business Program at Creighton to prepare me for a transition to full-time academia and completed this program earlier this year.
What program areas or courses will you be teaching at Bellevue University?
I will be teaching in the MBA program with an initial focus on business analysis for decision-making.
Will you be involved in curriculum development? If so, can you tell me more about that process?
Leveraging data and information to drive efficiencies and develop business insight was at the core of most of my business experience. These skills are considered essential for students and current employees in the workforce. I’m looking forward to working with the College of Business faculty to assist in the integration of these concepts into our programs at Bellevue University.
How do you ensure that curriculum and coursework matches the speed of business today?
This is an ongoing challenge in today’s rapidly changing business environment. All businesses need to continue to listen to their customers and assess new/developing trends; universities are no different. It is important to evaluate the critical skills needed in the market and assess how well the curriculum serves these needs.
What attracted you to join Bellevue University?
Since moving back to Omaha in 2020, I’ve run into several people associated with Bellevue University and all of them enjoyed their work. Each conversation described a thriving school seeking to create relevant learning experiences to meet the changing needs of students.
You’ve held hands-on roles in a number of different business areas and across different industries. Are there business maxims that you’ve seen hold true throughout your career?
Developing a strategic context across the various business environments has always served me well. One of my favorite sayings comes from the book The Borderless World: “Without a plan, everything makes sense.” This is a common trap across organizations, where individuals get focused on the tactical and lose sight of the strategic realities. For me, it is important to develop and communicate a strategic foundation, at whatever level is possible. With this foundation, guiding principles can direct more operational decisions or trade-offs as needed.
Beyond the specific discipline studied, graduates need to possess strong oral and written communication skills, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, computer/data literacy, and the ability to work with others.
Sound, fact-based decision-making is another key differentiator in business. In his timeless book The Effective Executive (1966), Peter Drucker suggests that decision-making is “the specific executive task,” and outlines how effective decision-making can be learned. An effective decision-making process is rooted in facts and looks for broader patterns, resulting in fewer more impactful decisions as opposed to many independent decisions.
In your opinion, what kind of knowledge or skills are the most important for today’s and tomorrow’s business leaders? And why?
In my opinion, organizations are looking for graduates with a combination of hard and soft skills. Businesses are looking for individuals that can solve a variety of problems. Beyond the specific discipline studied, graduates need to possess strong oral and written communication skills, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, computer/data literacy, and the ability to work with others. This is important in a competitive environment where organizations need individuals that can identify and solve problems better than their competitors.
How big a deal is data for business success?
Data is necessary, but not sufficient. There is a lot of hype around “data” and “analytics” today, but success generally starts with a strategic business goal, with data and analytics in a supporting role. Most technology initiatives fail for reasons that have little to do with technology; unrealistic expectations is the number one reason for failure. Success involves factors of senior leadership, developing a data-driven culture, and identifying opportunities to leverage data in support of key business initiatives.
What’s your impression of Bellevue University over the first few months?
I’ve enjoyed getting to know my colleagues in the College of Business. Everyone has been very welcoming, helpful in getting me up to speed, and willing to share their knowledge and expertise. I’m very happy to be part of the College of Business team.
What motivates you each day?
Making an impact is a primary motivator for me. In teaching, helping students navigate a course and develop skills provides motivation. Additionally, I enjoy bringing structure to undefined problems. As it relates to data and analytics, organizations and universities are struggling to define exactly what “data analytics” means. The opportunity to work within the College of Business faculty to demystify and develop a common framework that leads to gaining traction for data analytics energizes me.
Any observations you have about how businesses of all shapes and sizes have responded to the global pandemic?
The challenges related to the global pandemic were not distributed evenly. Some organizations were devastated while other organizations saw an immediate surge in demand for their products and services. Within each of these spaces, one could see how businesses adapted to the abrupt and dramatic changes presented. As markets return to their normal competitive realities, it will be important for businesses to continue to examine their key strategies, processes, and capabilities to ensure long-term success.
I see you have your commercial pilot license. Do you pilot/fly on a regular basis?
Historically, I’ve flown about 120 hours per year, but COVID impacted this considerably last year. Most of my flying involves trips to Iowa, Colorado, Missouri, or Texas to visit family and friends, but I also use my plane for charity flights for organizations such as LifeLine Pilots.