David Bowen: Helping Managers Manage

David Bowen was a country boy from a conservative home in the Central Valley, married to his high school sweetheart and with a young child when he arrived at UC Berkeley in 1967 to pursue a doctoral degree. It was the Summer of Love, Cal was the hotbed of student protests and hippies were everywhere. He recalls taking a final exam when a tear gas canister was tossed in the window, driving students out of the classroom.

 

"That time formed my personality, affected my thinking, made me more intellectual as an interpreter of current events," Bowen recalls.

Bowen also found his professional calling when he took a class in organizational behavior, which he thought was far more engaging than finance or other dry subjects.

"I knew I found a business discipline I was interested in, and that was managing people," he says. "How do you get people to do what you want them to do? Why are some organizations so successful? I wasn't interested in the balance sheet. I was interested in the people."

That interest led to a long relationship with the California Public Employee Relations Project at the Institute of Industrial Relations at atCal, where he published many articles and was also an editor. In 1975, he was still trying to finish his thesis when two men in suits knocked on the Institute's door and asked if he'd be interested in helping start an executive MBA program at Saint Mary's, and then teaching in it.

"I made a joke: where is Saint Mary's?" he says with a smile. But he quickly agreed to help set up Northern California's first executive MBA program, developing the curriculum and teaching the first cohort. He taught in the program part-time at first, and then as a full-time professor since 1983.

"I loved it, I absolutely loved it," he says, recalling the thrill of teaching professional business people who brought years of experience to the classroom. "When I was here with people who had met a budget, people who were engineers, it was a challenge because it was hard to snow them. It was hard to waltz in with a bucketful of theory and make them happy."

Over his three decades of teaching in the program, he's seen career strategies shifting from remaining with one company to changing jobs, so students want to be more versatile. People are more jealous of their time. They are also more demanding. "In the classroom, people look at me like what are you going to do for me?"

He's adapted his teaching to spend more time showing how theory works in the real world, and adapts it even more when he teaches at the Silicon Valley campus in San Jose because engineers "don't like soft stuff, they want numbers."

Bowen knows what's going on in the real world because he not only studies it, he gets out in it. He's lectured at and conducted workshops for many Bay Area and national organizations, including Kaiser Health Plans, the California Teachers Association and Brown and Caldwell. He also gets involved at Saint Mary's, serving many years on the Rank and Tenure Committee and undertaking projects such as a faculty survey on part of the business curriculum with colleague Michele Zak.

"I didn't see my future at Saint Mary's" when those two men knocked on his door at Cal, he says, but he's since glad it ended up that way. "I love teaching here. I love coming to campus."

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