Been there, done that: Thunderbird faculty blend theory, practice

Thunderbird Professor Robert Hisrich, Ph.D., draws from firsthand experience when he teaches his entrepreneurship students about the importance of building credibility with potential investors and clients. He started with little of the elusive asset in 1969 when he and a partner launched a company selling lightweight, durable plastic pallets.

At the time, Hisrich had sales and brand management experience at Procter & Gamble and Ford Motor Co., but no proven record in entrepreneurship. The pallet enterprise made money, but Hisrich gained more knowledge than wealth before eventually selling the startup. Since then, he has launched a range of enterprises linked to hospitality, auto safety, contact lenses, locks, medical software and a variety of consumer goods.

His latest startup, La Bella Terre, produces natural foods and other products sold at AJ’s Fine Foods and other outlets. “I’m very good at taking products and services to market, and taking businesses to market,” says Hisrich, who has 40 years of real-world experience in sales, brand management, entrepreneurship and consulting.

He is one of many full-time Thunderbird professors who brings firsthand business experience to the classroom. Overall, Thunderbird faculty report an average of seven years of nonacademic management or leadership work. The same group also maintains high academic credentials, with 94 percent holding Ph.Ds.

“Having a Ph.D. does not eliminate real-world experience,” says Hisrich, director of Thunderbird’s Walker Center for Global Entrepreneurship.

His own career has focused on three pursuits, which Hisrich juggles simultaneously. As an academic, he has lectured at universities in Ireland, Hungary and the United States — including MIT and Boston College. As an author, he has produced 32 books. As an entrepreneur, he has taken two companies public and invested time and money in numerous others.

“I try to keep these three pursuits balanced,” he says. “I love them all.”

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