Assistant Professor of Management Peter Jennings said he learned the meaning of leadership, when he served in the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
“My class teaches leadership, something you can’t evaluate through a written test,” Jennings said. “It’s something learned through experience, whether on the battlefield or on the basketball court, only later recognized as impulse decisions that could forever impact lives.”
Coming from Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University in California, Jennings brought his experience and knowledge as a thrice-deployed Marine Infantry Platoon leader to Hillsdale College this semester, when he joined the expanding business department to teach what it means to be a leader.
“Management is not a technical subject,” Jennings said. “The challenge is handling people and politics within it. I agreed to teach leadership here because my experience at business schools taught the idea that business education is missing something.”
That human element shows in coursework and classes through engaging lectures and self-reflective papers, senior Kie Kababik said.
“Especially in a business setting, Professor Jennings stresses that the well-being of a company lies within the happiness of the employees,” Kababik said. “It’s more important to understand how to work toward a goal with people rather than coerce them with fear if they don’t hit that goal. That’s the difference between a leader and a boss.”
Having earned his bachelor’s in economics from Miami University, his master’s in business administration in supply chain management from Michigan State University, and a doctorate in management from Arizona State University, Jennings said he knows his approach to management training is unique.
“I can’t teach business like this anywhere else,” he said. “Michigan State University students will graduate with a lot of technical knowledge having read about Lloyd Blankfein, while our students will graduate with knowledge of Marcus Aurelius and what virtue is. Blankfein may be the CEO of Goldman Sachs, but Aurelius was the CEO of the Roman Empire.”
Jennings comes from a family of leaders. His three brothers were a CEO and chief financial officers of medical supplies and instruments companies, but Jennings made his mark elsewhere.
“The corporate life wasn’t for me,” he said. “My brothers always talked about prestigious positions and company events, but the idea of having a desk job terrified me. I was a lousy student and preferred engaging activities like hockey and lacrosse over academics.”
Instead, Jennings worked in hard disk drive manufacturing for International Business Machines in Asia and Thailand. After serving in the military, he was a research director for the U.S. Army Center for the Army Profession and Ethic at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York state.
He served in the Gulf War from 1990 – 1991, in Iraq from 2004 – 2005, and in Afghanistan in 2010.
When Jennings came to Hillsdale after applying for his position, he taught a class for a panel of judges, which included students and faculty.
“We were all impressed with his demeanor in how he handled the classroom,” business and economics department chairman David Paas said. “His teaching experience at West Point definitely gleamed through his lecture, and Dr. Larry Arnn specifically hired him to teach leadership.”
And those lessons are going to focus on the relational aspects of leadership, Jennings said.
“In business, life happens,” he said. “Strife, marriages, divorces, and ambition cloud the workplace, but you must get people to cooperate. That’s not taught in business school. Anywhere from Homer to ‘Beowulf’ is the essence of business. You must integrate life lessons taught by classic literature to win the game of business.”