Faculty Highlight: Joel Whalen

By Amanda Blumeyer

Throughout the year, KMG will be featuring interviews with various faculty members in the Marketing department. Their guidance, professional experience, and educational support is valued by students in all concentrations. Learn more about our first Faculty Highlight with a professor who’s been at DePaul University for 32 years: Professor Joel Whalen.

How long have you been with DePaul, and what courses do you teach?

I started at DePaul in 1986 and have been with the University for the past 32 years. I lead a team of 12 professors, all of whom teach “Effective Business Communication”. The course is required at the undergraduate level and is offered as an elective to MBA/MS students.

How did you come to be a Communications professor?

I began my career in Broadcast TV/Radio at the age of 15 when I took a position as a disc jockey in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I continued that career path into my college years until I took a break to work with my father selling cars at his dealership. From there, I got a call from the #1 radio station in Miami, so I returned back to on-air broadcast management until I decided to pursue a graduate degree in Advertising.

In graduate school, my goal was to earn my PhD so that I would have the credentials necessary to be an advertising consultant. Various detours along the way included a stint as a VP of Marketing at a structural engineering company as well as working at my childhood friend’s real estate development company.

Finally, one thing led to another, and I got a call from DePaul University – they were in need of an Advertising professor. I had never planned to work in academia, but my background in advertising caught their eye and they recruited me. I am lucky to be at DePaul because we value our students, have a broad network of passionate teachers, and work closely with the Chicagoland business community.

How did you go about developing the course on “Effective Business Communication”?

Our goal was to develop a class that would improve students’ ability to communicate in real-world contexts. We wanted to teach skills, not just knowledge - things that could be practically applied in the workforce. So, we put together a network of alumni and developed ideas on how to best communicate in different scenarios. We analyzed what went well and then applied that to a classroom context. That was in the mid-90’s and the class has been growing and evolving ever since.

In your professional life, what has changed the most in the field of communication?

Communication has had three major evolutions over time:

  1. First, the focus was solely on the words the presenter said. These were the days of Aristotle and Plato. It was all about logic and rhetoric, and how you went about crafting your story – very “ethos, pathos, logos.”

  2. From there, it evolved into a more complex communication based on your behavior. It was all about your tone of voice and your body language. Words became secondary to the behavior you exhibited while communicating.

  3. Today, we’re in a stage where communication is driven by attitude. This is the basis of the “Effective Business Communications” course. It’s about feeling comfortable and confident while you’re presenting. Speakers should be able to feel like themselves, that way they can pause and think throughout their presentation.

And of course, technology plays a role in various forms of communication. You’ll craft your message entirely differently if you’re writing a post card vs. writing online.

What changes are you noticing in the business world that affect how people do business?

In recent years, senior management at Fortune 500 companies have begun being compensated based on stock options, not cash flows, which means their focus is entirely on quarterly earnings per share. Financial acumen is more important than anything.

This means that people are being promoted into leadership roles based on their knowledge of financial policy, not because they have the communications skills and leadership sensibilities to truly belong there. The focus is on corporate acquisition, not building talent, and companies are losing their desire to innovate or develop new products.

The other effect this is having is that lower-level employees are getting fired more frequently so that the company can save money on salary expenses. In some cases, management views their employees as disposable, and employees are reacting in kind by not trying as hard.

We need to change the way senior managements are coming into being so that the focus switches back from office politics to advancing employees who are relationship-builders.

What are the most critical tools/capabilities MBA/MS students need to learn?

I would say there are three critical capabilities that all MBA students should have:

  1. Managing their attitudes and anxiety

  2. Understanding how different people receive information– what frightens and excites them – and how to use that knowledge to communicate more effectively

  3. How to package your message across different mediums

What is one marketing class you don't teach that you'd recommend a student take?

  • Professor Zafar Iqbal has a course on “Analytical Tools for Marketers” that is excellent. (MKT 534)

  • The Sales Leadership team also offers a course on “Monetizing Marketing Strategy” that shouldn’t be missed. It covers advanced evaluation of sales in order to translate into financial decision-making. (MKT 583)

 D. Joel Whalen PhD - Associate Professor, Marketing

D. Joel Whalen PhD - Associate Professor, Marketing