Student Spotlight

Brandman’s Ed.D. program meets the needs of business leaders, too

April 01, 2016
Herb Callahan

Herb Callahan looks over Golden State Foods timeline at the corporate office in Irvine, California.

Herb Callahan knew he had to go back to school, he just wasn’t sure what degree he wanted. Maybe law? Maybe another business degree? Something that would tie into his role as senior director of human resources for Golden State Foods (GSF)?

As a retired Marine with 21 years in the military, he still had post 911 GI Bill benefits waiting to be used, even though he had already earned an MBA from Brandman University.

“I can’t not go back to school and tell my kids I was too tired,” he remembers thinking when he realized he had funds available.

His search for a degree program and Brandman connection led him to a Taste of Immersion, part of the School of Education’s Doctor in Education (Ed.D.) program. It introduced him to members of the first class of students, faculty members and guest speakers.

That’s all it took.

“You know how when you’re buying a house, they say the right house for you is the one that speaks to you? The Ed.D. program spoke to me. This is what I like to do,” said Callahan.

A military and business background

Earning a degree that sounds like an education degree may seem odd for someone with a business background, but the scope of the program in organizational leadership applies across multiple fields.

“I’m known as the business guy in my cohort,” said Callahan. As a member of the Beta (second) class to go through the program, he joined a group of 13 cohort members at the Ontario campus where 10 out of 13 are in education-related fields, but he found they had much in common.

“I was excited to be with a group of successful professionals. I engaged them, they engaged me,” he said. The common thread is the name of the program: organizational leadership. “I think that’s what excited me, that it was a bunch of leaders, not a bunch of teachers. … There are similar structures across all businesses and industries.”

His interest in leadership grew out of his military experience where the motto was “A better Marine means a better Marine Corps.” He’s carried that into his career in human resources, “A better employee means a better Golden State Foods.”

Transformational change

If anything surprised him about the Ed.D. program, it was the depth of the discussions and how quickly he could put it to use at GSF. “The company has been a great learning laboratory. Everything (he learned his classes and from his cohort) was immediately applicable.”

Like many Ed.D. students, Callahan also turned to his job for creating the required transformational change project. He had been asked to lead a project on succession planning for the company and he used that as a way to try a new approach.

“We went from a very paper-driven process and transformed it into a web-based solution. In the past if you had a critical opening, you had to go the three-ring binder and try to help the successor get up to speed. Now you get to the needs of the successor, to the needs of the company and can close the succession gap much more quickly. It’s changed the way it’s discussed,” he said.

He continues to be interested in developing future leaders, working with the company’s internal education program (GSF University) and partnering with Brandman through Premier Partners to design programs that help employees become grounded before moving into a new role.

“You don’t want to set up people for failure, but for success. Where we used to push it (advancement) out to folks with a lot of requirements, it’s changed to having more people asking, ‘How can I get into GSF University. What do I need to do to move my career forward?’”

A changing work world

GSF, an international food distributor and manufacturer to the quick service food industry – think McDonald’s, Chick fil A, Starbucks – has grown tremendously since its founding 1947 and is now a nearly $7 billion company servicing 125,000 restaurants in 60 countries on five continents.

“We are a value-based company. We have a values statement and a creed that we live by, from hiring to strategic partnerships,” said Callahan.

Every step of the Ed.D. program has helped Callahan, beginning with evaluating his own ways of working and communicating and how that impacts other processes. “Communication was one of the most crucial pieces, looking at what worked and what didn’t work. I could use that for my strategic plan,” he said.

His dissertation, which he defends later this month as the last step toward graduation and getting his doctorate hood in May, looks at emotional intelligence in leaders and how it impacts productivity in a distribution environment.

“There wasn’t much research for a distribution process where all components have an impact on a person’s productivity,” he said. He looked at how people respond and manage themselves in that environment.

It’s one of the many ways the Brandman Ed.D. program meshes with the business world. “Twenty-first century organizations urgently need highly skilled professions who are well trained in leading transformational change,” said Dr. Patricia Clark White, associate dean of the School of Education.

“The advantage of this doctorate is that the focus of the whole program is to develop transformational leaders who know how to engage their people in bringing about successful, productive, needed change that will produce breakthrough results.  Whether it’s business, government, non-profit, police, military, college or schools, these leadership skills are what will be needed for organizations to survive and thrive now and in the future.”

Looking ahead

While there’s much more that Callahan hopes to achieve in the corporate world, he also has his eye on eventually being in a classroom teaching and passing along the knowledge he’s gained. “It’s an environment that’s exciting and you’re always giving back.” 

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