Professor Earhart on Always Learning

From sustainable investments to the AUP campus, Professor Robert Earhart has seen the world of marketing change dramatically throughout his career. We spoke with him about how big data is reshaping the profession and what the increasing adoption of private sector management techniques means for NGO and public sectors.

Professor Robert Earhart

What made you decide to move from a professional career to teaching?

I got into teaching somewhat by accident. I had been working part-time on my Doctorate at the Universiteit voor Humanistiek in Utrecht, Netherlands while consulting in sustainable investments, when the financial crisis of 2007-2008 happened. Most of my clients were financial institutions, so within the space of a few weeks my project portfolio went from completely full to almost nothing. I decided to pivot my activities to focus on completing my doctorate and research, which is when I was approached by some of my doctoral faculty advisors to teach courses at their institutions. I found that I very much enjoyed teaching and research. I still occasionally take consulting gigs, and I usually target projects that are related to my research areas or offer opportunities for student involvement. 


What has changed the most since you first started working in marketing?

Everything. While the fundamental concepts remain very much the same, the emergence of internet-driven technologies, big data, mobile communications, and mass customization has transformed the focus of what marketing professionals do. Big data has also transformed the profession in ways that have not been fully understood, specifically in relation to branding and customer relationship management. With pricing and behavioral factors so specifically targeted, it’s hard to establish a solid brand identity and build an ongoing relationship with clients without also competing on knowledge that only big data can provide. As we move forward, a broad base of knowledge, as well as creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills will prove critical. 

In the early years of your career, you worked in sustainability and corporate social responsibility. How can sustainability be understood in today's business landscape?

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) have matured significantly in the past decade. In the early 2000s, it was a much more niche area of professional practice, with a more activist-oriented approach, whereas now, almost every major company has a sustainability department, and there has been further specialization in the sustainability field as the area has evolved.

The broad deployment of sustainability systems to avoid irreversible environmental and social decline depends on coherent public policy but the solutions presented tend to be highly individualistic and consumer-focused. We are not going to consume our way out of our social and environmental problems, no matter how much better such forms of consumption make us feel. Robust political and public policy solutions are going to be necessary. 

AUP is such a wonderful environment for cross-cultural exchange. I routinely learn about different forms of management practice and ethical values in classroom discussions.

– Robert Earhart
Robert Earhart speaking

How does your professional background in the private, non-profit, and political sectors inform your teaching of business at AUP?

At the outset, having a broad-base of career experiences helps me to consider management and management-related concepts from different perspectives. It also helps me offer a wide variety of examples and cases in the classroom setting, so that students can see how management frameworks can (and cannot) be effectively transferred from one industry or organizational form to another.

It has also made me more critical of the increasing adoption of private sector management techniques into the NGO and public sectors. While this has brought certain efficiencies and innovation, it may cause public and mission-based organizations to lose sight of their overall mission and original purpose.   

What have you learned from your students?

AUP is such a wonderful environment for cross-cultural exchange. I routinely learn about different management practices and ethical values in classroom discussions. I often encounter a diverse set of value systems and cultural understandings in the classroom, as well as through advising and participating in extracurricular events. I feel very lucky to be in such a diverse and engaging environment – it ensures that I never stop learning. 

Do you have any advice for future AUP students?

Take advantage of the social opportunities that AUP offers! You are in a classroom with peers from all over the world. These are your future colleagues, customers, business partners, suppliers, and advisors. It’s very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of classes and to socialize with the same friends, so make a point of sitting next to someone new in each class, and joining the student groups on campus.

Likewise, it’s extremely important to cultivate a diverse base of knowledge and a variety of interests. Some of my students have landed very competitive positions not only because they have the skills for the job, but also because they have interests in common with hiring managers and prospective business partners.  Nobody wants to talk to the boring person at a cocktail party, so having interests that go beyond your career and your field of study is so important.