Excellence In Leadership: Dr. Jeff Tanner, ODU Strome College of Business

by Ryan Miller

Dean, Old Dominion University’s Strome College of Business

By Barrett Baker

Dr. Jeff Tanner worked for Xerox for six years after graduating from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, then went back to school at the University of Georgia to pick up his Ph.D. From there he went to work at Baylor University in Texas, in several different capacities in his 27 years there, including associate dean for undergraduates, associate dean for faculty development and research, and professor emeritus.

He first came to Coastal Virginia in 2005 when he started working with an organization in Hampton called Lighthouse Outreach. They had a federal grant to serve at-risk adolescents in Coastal Virginia to reduce teen pregnancy. He was brought on the project because of his expertise on how an organization can use marketing to promote healthy decision-making among various populations but primarily in the teen pregnancy area. He still acts as an evaluator for the project today.

Ten years after he first arrived here, he was having dinner with a colleague from his University of Georgia days who told him that a dean’s position was opening at ODU. He was pretty settled at Baylor and thought he would continue there, but the colleague nominated him for the position, and the person responsible for the search knew Tanner from other previous opportunities and thought he’d be a good fit. He started his current position as dean in May 2015.

ODU Strome College of Business, Dr. Jeff Tanner, Excellence in Leadership SeriesPhoto by Robert Lamb

Tell us about your role as dean of ODU’s Strome College of Business.

I spend about half my time working with local businesses, encouraging them to participate in our programming so that our students get hands-on opportunities—allowing us to collaborate with them on projects—and persuading them to hire our students after graduating. I also spend a lot of time fundraising for the college. At the same time, I’m trying to build our capacity to serve, which means trying to develop our faculty so they can continue in their abilities to teach and to do research, to advance their scholarships. So, a lot of what I do internally is helping our educators to develop but also providing them with resources and opportunities to create innovative programs to better serve our students and the Coastal Virginia business community. Starting in January 2018, I’m also going to be doing a daily radio show with WHRV called “Strome Business Minute,” to raise more awareness about the college and what we are trying to do.

How would you characterize your leadership style?

I am committed to the development of the people I work with. I think the term “servant leader” may get overused or used inappropriately. But what I try to do is a blend of that with what’s called “positive leadership.” I really see my role as someone who articulates the vision of who we are and what we want to be, then making sure I equip everyone so they can carry out their roles so that we can reach that vision. At the same time, help them reach their personal professional objectives so they can grow in the direction they want to go. One theory of happiness is people need to do something that is meaningful, have someone to love who loves them back and have something to look forward to. So, as much as I can as a leader, that’s what really guides how I try to lead. I want them to recognize that what they are doing contributes to a mission, a purpose, that is far more important than any of us individually, and to do so in an environment that’s warm and encouraging. I often say, “You should try to have fun because time is going to fly by whether you’re having fun or not. Find ways to enjoy it.”

Any advice for future leaders?

My first area of advice would be to be constantly trying to develop your leadership. One of the things that I’ve done over time is to identify the characteristics of the people I have worked for, to see what works and what doesn’t, then understand why it worked or why it didn’t. Sometimes it’s not the person; it’s the timing. The second thing I think is important is, if you really want to be in a leadership role, you have to take on that role and earn the leadership aspect of it before you are promoted into it. In other words, if you want to be a leader, you have to exhibit it first, you have to be able to do the job first, then earn the right to the position.

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