Professor's time in radio led to Ph.D. in Management

June 30, 2014
Jennifer Sexton

College radio changed Jennifer Sexton's life.

As a freshman at Vanderbilt University, she volunteered at the student-run WRVU, 91.1 FM, Nashville, Tenn. A disc jockey from 2000-05, she became production manager the next year and was general manager by her junior year.

It was sometimes tough, being a manager, especially with young people who had an attitude. "It was very difficult to manage people who say 'damn the man' when you are the man," she recalled.

Actually, she did not rise to be "the man" at the station because of her managerial skills.  "I was insanely organized, so I did well," she said.  

Majoring in pre-med for two years, she abandoned science finally and went with her minor, German. This led her to an MBA at Florida State University because, "there really aren't many jobs out there for German majors," she quipped.  However, Sexton does believe the German major was worthwhile. "It provided me with a different way of thinking," she said. "It has been helpful in my area, especially in writing."

With a freshly signed MBA degree, she almost had a job as an operations manager at an optical company, but Sexton began thinking about the issue broadly and decided that, despite the opportunity and the radio station experience some years ago, she preferred thinking about managing rather than participating in it.

She enrolled in Florida State's management Ph.D. program and wrote her dissertation on the role of control in knowledge transfer and innovation.  She received her degree in 2012 and joined the faculty at WVU in 2012

She continues research in knowledge, how firms acquire it, what they do, or don't do, with it, and how it leads to innovation, or not.  She has a proposal with the Strategic Management Journal for a review of innovation literature and will soon have published Acquisitions as an Instrument of Organizational Adaptation through Innovation in the Routledge Companion Series: Mergers and Acquisitions.

In the classroom, Sexton teaches the capstone Contemporary Business Strategies course that usually has from 40 to 60 students, and she makes a point of knowing every student's name. Once, she recalled, a professor called on her by name and asked her to pass out the semester's syllabi. "This happened on the very first day of class, and the professor had never met me. That was very powerful," she said. It made the entire course more relevant and caused her to have a good attitude toward the professor and course.

She has students analyze and explore contemporary management issues, often using examples from the day's news reports.  "I like for them to speak out," she said. "So, I try to have examples of business strategies and issues from topics such as sports."

Recently appointed to the editorial board of the Journal of Management, where she has been a reviewer, Sexton said the world is full of excellent examples of good, and bad, management.  One current example she used was the Apple Inc. patent lawsuit and feud with Samsung Inc., which ended in early May, or at least appears to have passed into a new phase.

An avid reader of news as well as fiction, Sexton enjoys TV and movies and teaches spinning (indoor cycling) at the WVU Recreational Center.  She is also interested in cooking, craft beer, the local farmers' market and enjoys living in a college town.