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College of Business and Economics
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS3161
Moscow, Idaho 83844-3161
Phone: (208) 885-6478
Toll free: (800) 960-3033

John Lawrence

Keeping One Foot Grounded in the Real World

College of Business and Economics Professor John Lawrence likes to keep one foot grounded “in the real world,” as he puts it. He finds that staying grounded helps him to make his teaching more relevant to his students – both at the undergraduate level and in the college’s Executive MBA program.

“Helping businesses and nonprofits address real world challenges or take advantage of real world opportunities forces me to think critically about how the academic concepts can be effectively applied in organizations,” Lawrence said. “When I then go to teach these concepts in the classroom, I know how they can be applied and I have concrete examples that I can share with my students.”

Lawrence works with businesses and nonprofits in a variety of contexts. Lawrence currently serves on two boards. He is the president of the board of directors for the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute, a local environmental nonprofit active in environmental education, watershed restoration, and the placement of AmeriCorps volunteers in environmental work. In this role, Lawrence has helped the organization with strategic planning, financial management, and marketing. Lawrence also serves on the board of directors of a small, privately held coatings company.

“The last year and a half has been tough on many companies, and this company is no exception,” Lawrence said. “In addition to regular board meetings, I have provided advice to the company’s president on a range of issues, from managing cash flow to the protection of intellectual property to developing strategies to address excess production capacity. On some of these issues, I’ve had the benefit of advice from my colleagues within the CBE who have specialized expertise in the particular area.”

Another way Lawrence keeps one foot grounded in the real world is through researching and writing teaching cases. There are two parts to a teaching case. The first is the case itself – a detailed description of an organization and its environment, a particular situation that it faced, and information about the options available to it in that situation. The second part of the case, which students do not typically see, is the instructor’s manual that lays out a detailed analysis of the situation described in the case and presents a plan for using the case effectively in the classroom to teach specific business concepts. Lawrence and fellow CBE professors Michele O’Neill and Heidi Connole are finishing work on a case on Backyard Harvest, a local nonprofit looking to extend its impact beyond the local level. This type of work is a win-win situation for Lawrence and organization. Cowgirl Chocolates, Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute, and the Palouse Ice Rink are examples of other local organizations about which Lawrence has written cases.

“Writing cases allows me to work on real world business issues and gives me a way to bring that experience into the classroom in a comprehensive way. Further, when the cases are published, students from around the world benefit from my work. The organization that the case is based on also benefits because it receives the advice of one or more business professors through the process.”

Lawrence has also consulted with local and regional organizations. In the fall of 2009, Lawrence met with the leadership team of the Lewiston Tribune on several occasions to help them think through several strategic decisions that they were facing, including how to respond to the changing dynamics in the newspaper industry. More recently, when the Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Hospital decided to hold their 2010 board of director’s strategic planning retreat in Moscow, they asked Lawrence to help them plan and organize the retreat and help facilitate the meeting for them.

“Both of these examples were incredibly interesting to me because the organizations operate in industries that are facing major changes,” Lawrence said. “In the newspaper industry, advances in technology and changing social dynamics are changing the way people receive news. For the Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Hospital, the challenge was one of planning in the face of significant uncertainty due to the possibility of federal reform of the health care system. I don’t envy the managers in industries like these, and just hope that I was able to contribute something to their efforts to help their organizations thrive in the face of these changes.”

Does keeping one foot in the real world really help Lawrence in the classroom? It appears so. In May of 2009, when the CBE graduated its first Executive MBA class, the graduating students picked Lawrence as the outstanding EMBA faculty. Lawrence also presented in the University’s recently launched “Lunch and Lead: Sustainable Business Practices” monthly brown bag lecture program in Boise, where he spoke about how businesses can create value through sustainable product design. Soon Lawrence will begin working with a north Idaho company that is considering introducing a new, sustainably designed product line to its product portfolio.