Interview with Dr. Stephen Rapier
What are some of your career or personal milestones that people should know about you?
"Serving as a professor at Graziadio is actually my second career. My first career was in corporate marketing as well as advertising in an agency and corporate setting. I began a company that makes drive systems, served as an executive vice president at an advertising agency dedicated to brand marketing, and worked with a specialized PR firm. While I was working for companies, I was also moonlighting by lecturing at universities. The combination of those experiences brought me to a point where I realized I was drawn to academia. About ten years ago, I decided to get a Ph.D., and found that my “second career” was even more fulfilling. And I’ve been able to call upon my life experiences in my “first career” to contribute real-life examples to what I teach in my classes."
What do you enjoy about teaching here at Pepperdine Graziadio?
"Teaching is a two-way street: its knowledge delivered with passion, fueled by student enthusiasm. When those two elements come together, it’s an opportunity to convey a lot of information to an audience that appreciates it. I consider myself lucky to have been the beneficiary of this type of experiential teaching while a graduate student and doctorate candidate. I hope to pay it forward. We as faulty members want to be accessible – to guide, mentor, and encourage – and one of the ways I hope to develop that is through a sense of community. A good example: a rotating team in one of my classes brings food and beverage to our class. That’s a real gift in a FEMBA evening class because students don’t have to go find food. I especially enjoy seeing students actively working to develop that kind of community."
What do students gain by taking your course?
"There are a couple of things that give me a sense of pride. First, I try to fuel passion in the field, because that’s critical to happiness and success. And second, I try to teach information in a manner that will is applicable in real life. For example, few decisions in business are made in a silo; they are impacted by and impact other factors. I try to teach that an integrated process will yield more viable results, both short- and long-term. I tell students to make friends with evidence and stay close to it. Data is a business person’s best friend. I hope that students learn in my classes that decision-making should be based in evidence, not popular culture."
Describe a rewarding project, class or academic experience that you are currently working on or have completed here at Pepperdine Graziadio?
"I’ve been working with our Global Programs office for the past year to develop a new, week-long intensive course focused on luxury branding in Paris. With its inaugural trip in April, the goal is to create a unique learning experience that students find both highly engaging and professionally fruitful. Working in partnership with ESSEC Business School, a renowned leader in Luxury Brand education, this 2-unit course is designed to integrate classroom instruction together with personal interaction with senior branding executives. The result is an itinerary in which students receive lectures by ESSEC faculty on a variety of topics, such as luxury retail management and doing business in France, as well as engage executives from a variety of luxury brands, such as Yves St. Laurent, Krug, and Van Cleef & Arpels, in discussions and workshops."
What are some of the trends and issues in business that we should be paying attention to?
“There’s a lot of buzz about “disruption” right now, but I have a different take on it. It’s really about an understanding that nothing stays certain forever; to stay relevant, businesses need to evolve and change. Think of brands that were once kings in their industry: Kodak, Blackberry, mySpace. They didn’t need to “disrupt,” but they needed to continue to innovate. My advice to business owners is to not get so caught up in what you are doing that you lose focus on the need to change and adapt to the marketplace.”
Is there a personal philosophy or "words to live by" that you like to impart on students?
“Be ethically driven. Sometimes that means you have to be willing to take a few blows at the risk of being honest. You have a choice: you can repeat what client wants to hear, or you can use evidence to tell them what they may not want to hear, but need to. Ultimately, they will appreciate it. Also, I encourage people to do what they love, and be enthusiastic about the experience.”
What do you think makes Pepperdine Graziadio unique?
“We’re not just “another business school.” Graziadio has strong criteria regarding who they hire and what constitutes a tenure track – that results in an environment in which faculty help students discover their own values, experience academic excellence and achieve professional know-how. That’s unusual, and it makes for a strong, affirming culture for students earning their MBA. Every student on this campus has earned their slot through hard work and academic success. They don’t need someone to read a book to them. They need someone committed to helping them grow as values-centered individuals and maximize their opportunities in business, their careers, and their lives.”