Joe Collazo started the path to higher education later than most, but that path has led to five degrees and his current position as assistant director of graduate executive programs at Harbert College. Auburn was one of the stops on that path; Collazo earned an executive MBA here in 2010.
He was nearing 50, had served in the Army, and had built a private-sector business career when his son began considering education options as his high school graduation loomed. “That motivated me,” Collazo says. “I needed to model that rather than just talk about college. So at 48 I began my undergraduate career.”
He wasted little time adding academic achievements. As he was completing his bachelor’s degree, he applied to Auburn’s Executive MBA program. “I graduated on Friday and on Saturday I was in Auburn for the first residency,” he says.
Organizational leadership has always interested him. In his time in the Army and in his work as a defense contractor, he had seen the effects of the authoritative leadership sometimes required in military operations. He had seen the interactions of such leaders with creative employees. Eventually, that interest would lead to a PhD from Pepperdine, where his dissertation examined the impact of leadership on innovation.
In studying high-ranking officers who later held executive positions, he found that most were not “stuck in military-style leadership,” but were “basically ambidextrous” and adapted to become transformational leaders with shared missions and visions.
For Collazo, the lure of the academy grew stronger. He found a “sense of clarity” about moving from private-sector business to teaching. He wanted to teach organizational leadership and management courses, and his “strong affinity” for Auburn led him to begin teaching in the MBA programs as an adjunct. From there, he moved in 2017 into the assistant director’s position, which allows him to both teach in the executive programs and recruit students for them.
“What I tell people about the program is that business is complex, and if you know a small slice of it, a thin lane, so to speak, you can have a career for 25 or 30 years and be appreciated,” he says. “But if you’re guiding strategy or making decisions on allocating resources, knowing a small slice of your business is not enough.
“They need broader knowledge for an executive role. Our multi-disciplinary approach gives them a lens they never had before. What’s important is that they see more comprehensively. Then they may be asked to do more things.”
Harbert’s executive MBA programs not only impart that broader knowledge to individual students, but also allow them to gain insights from their fellow students and build lasting relationships that benefit them in their professional and personal lives.
“When you’re in a stimulated, facilitated conversation, the quality of education goes up dramatically,” Collazo says. “You only get that enhanced experience with the residencies. You end up with pro bono consultants and a bench that’s 40 or more people deep.”