The faculty at Claremont McKenna College, in conjunction with the Kravis Leadership Institute, voted Pamplin Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, Steve Markham, as their outstanding alumni for the year. Claremont McKenna College is a very selective and highly rated liberal arts college in California, and this prestigious award honors one of Pamplin’s longest tenured management professors.
This Q&A highlights some of Dr. Markham’s accomplishments while at Pamplin. These range widely from contributing to the entrepreneurship program, extensive research and training of doctoral, masters, and undergraduate students, and it ends with some advice from a distinguished professor to the student body.
Could you tell me a little bit about what you do here in Pamplin?
“Over the years I have tried to contribute equally to our teaching, research and service missions. I have been somewhat of a utility ball player from the curriculum point of view. When I came as an assistant professor, I taught organizational behavior, and I started the first mass section in the Management Department for the introductory course, “Management Theory and Leadership and Practice”. While I was delivering this course, it occurred to me that our management students needed to have a better set of skills to offer businesses. That is when I was inspired to push for entrepreneurship. I was convinced that it going to be extremely important, so I was able to get together a group of faculty together to lay the grounds for an entrepreneurship program. This was back in the late 1990s. -It took a long, long time to build this program, but once the ball started rolling among the faculty, it has really taken off. I really wanted to help our students answer the inevitable question that a recruiter will ask: ‘What can you do for my organization?” The answer is: ‘I can help you start up a new business, improve an old business, and then help run it.” — Since that time this, simple concept has grown tremendously during the tenure of our last three department heads and our current Dean, and it has become a real “jewel” for Pamplin.
I then became involved in teaching in the doctorate, MBA, and Executive MBA programs with a special emphasis on leadership and change management. Most recently, I have been the champion for our Managerial Analytics course. This is another example of important technical skills that management majors can bring to their organizations, especially within the Management Consulting and Analytics track. Our goal is simple: to increase the numerical literacy and critical thinking skills of our students and to make them more competitive in the marketplace.
What was your reaction when you found out you were awarded outstanding alumni of the year?
“I was amazed. It is a very high-powered and talented group of students coming out of CMC. Because it’s small, it’s not known as well on the East Coast as it is out west, but there are some great folks that have gone to CMC over the years.”
Recently you’ve published a string of articles in Leadership Quarterly, which clearly caught the attention of the faculty at Claremont. Do you mind telling me a little bit about those articles/how they relate back to your studies at CMC or Pamplin?
“Yes, I have published in LQ a series of articles over the last decade. Some of these try to answer the question, “Should we trust groups of raters that are trying to tell us about a single leader?” (By way of background, generally, you would average those scores, but in many cases, you should not, and these articles lay out the research methods for doing it.) A second type of leadership article is one that talks about the history of leadership thought, going back to the ancient world. While you might think that leadership is the same in the ancient world as it is now, that is not the case. There are some surprising implications of this article, especially when analyzing the leadership style of President Trump.
The interesting thing is that I started writing this article when I was at CMC; it was a great place to do some real learning and deep thinking. I knew back then that the study of leadership within the context of formal organizations would become a passion of mine. The bad news is that I am probably the slowest academic writer on the planet because it took me almost 35 years to finish it.
What does it mean for you to be a part of Pamplin and Virginia Tech?
“It has been a real honor to be part of this organization. It has been great to see Virginia Tech change over the years. Similarly, being a part of something like Pamplin, you watch the college change and grow under the stewardship of the different Deans. The real pleasure comes at the departmental level with the colleagues and students with whom I have worked; that has really been special.”
Do you have any advice for students who are about to start their careers?
“You need to be like a double-edge sword. One side of the blade represents the technical skills and professional qualifications for your entry-level job, and you need to work hard developing these skills. The other side of the blade has to do with the learning and intellectual commitment you make to become a full-realized, mature person and citizen. This second set of skills and interests will pay off in 20 or 30 years when you are running business organizations, participating civically, and contributing to your social and religious organization. Answering the “big questions of life” is what will make you a good citizen and leader in the fullest sense of the term. Then you can give back to society and return everything it has invested in you. What is the bottom line? I recommend you get a double major. The first one provides a broad, cultural background, and the second focuses on very clear technical skills.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
“Absolutely. I want to thank my wife, my family, and all my fellow faculty and students who have been so very gracious to me over the years.”