From Corporate to Classroom: James Wetrich Shares 'Bridge' Experience
Longtime health care advisory leader and recent graduate from the AACSB Bridge Program, James Wetrich shares his inspiration for pursuing teaching, reflections on his experience, and plans for his future.
Longtime health care advisory leader James Wetrich recently graduated from the AACSB Bridge Program, designed to provide senior-level business practitioners the necessary skills and business school connections to transition to teaching. Wetrich now teaches part-time on the faculty of Texas Wesleyan University’s School of Business Administration, while still remaining involved in the operations of his consulting group. He shares with us his inspiration for pursuing teaching, reflections on his Bridge Program experience, and his plans for the future.
You’ve been very successful in your business ventures, with two of your own businesses that serve the health care industry through consulting and capital creation. What made you want to participate in the AACSB Bridge Program?
When I was in college, I used to work at my high school during the summers, teaching and tutoring in math. I have always had great passion for education, teaching, and working with students. I find the environment to be very challenging and rewarding.
What was the impetus for exploring this option after years of being in business?
When I reflect on over 35 years in business, having responsibilities for businesses in three continents, I feel that there are so many valuable lessons I have learned, and for me the key is weaving these experiences into the didactic setting. Providing practical lessons to current challenges in an academic setting is very invigorating for me.
What were your expectations from the AACSB Bridge program, and did your actual experience measure up to those expectations?
I really was not sure just what to expect initially, but my experience with the Bridge Program turned out to be phenomenal. The setting and instructional format were exceptional. The instructors who came from all over the country were fabulous, extremely helpful, and very well prepared. The staff did a fantastic job putting together the program.
What were some specific aspects of the program you found most useful?
We were provided a book to read that I found to be very powerful, Make It Stick, about current concepts of how we learn and how we do not learn. Further, one of the more valuable sessions for me was on “Managing the Classroom.” Classes today have evolved greatly in the past couple of decades and in many ways are both aided and made more challenging by technology. Additionally, the sessions regarding developing the syllabus and key university policies were very helpful.
How have your career endeavors changed as a result of participating in the program?
I am making time for teaching marketing at Texas Wesleyan University, taking on one class per semester. I am still consulting and remain involved in some business operations, but I am able to work the teaching responsibilities into my schedule. Someday, when I close my consulting practice, I look forward to dedicating more time to teaching.
Has teaching been a different experience than what you expected after leaving the Bridge Program?
Teaching today is different than what I once knew it to be, period. With the internet, so much is at our fingertips that pure rote memorization is passé. What I try to focus on is application of skills in real-world situations. For example, a question I ask my students is, “How would you test some packaging design changes if you were the marketing manager responsible for that product?”
Why do you feel it’s important for experienced business practitioners to be involved in classroom teaching?
Learning really is a lifelong process, and as the saying goes in medicine, so it goes elsewhere: “see one, do one, teach one.” There is no substitute for building competence through teaching a subject.
Do you think the faculty and students benefit from having your experience and knowledge in the business school?
I think there is widespread value in integrating real-world examples into the classroom. Throughout my business experience, I have made some good pricing decisions, and I have made some not so good pricing decisions. What were they, and what did I learn from those experiences? What happened to the sales of Abbott pharmaceutical products in Italy when the Italian Government de-listed non-Italian branded pharmaceuticals from its formulary in 1995? Why is/was that experience important? These are all lessons I can bring to the business education classroom. There is no doubt that the students find value in this expertise; they indicate that they do in formal feedback we request.
Did you make any meaningful connections through your cohort? How have they impacted your work, your life?
I am connected with several members of the cohort and some of the program instructors on LinkedIn, and that has been helpful to me. Mostly, the experience and the broadened network have been a source of encouragement for me and a source of support.
James Wetrich is CEO of the Wetrich Group and a marketing instructor at the Texas Wesleyan University School of Business Administration in Fort Worth.