Professor K. Michael Mathews, “Mike” to everyone who knows him, earned his Doctorate of Business Administration from Louisiana Tech University. In addition to conference presentations, his research has appeared in Business Ethics Quarterly, Human Relations, the Journal of Applied Behavior Sciences and other industry publications.
But people who stop by his office or see him along Madison Avenue are unlikely to hear about organizational development and change phenomena (a specialty) or application of complexity sciences to human organization (another.)
Mathews is more likely to share thoughts on the up and downs of the marketplace. He’ll listen to someone with an idea for a business to start, improve or even walk away from. In a deep drawl reflecting his Southern roots, he’ll discuss how he got into business at 21, fixing and detailing cars, made good money and got out – making his share of mistakes along the way.
“On one hand, theoretical business literature sometimes appears to oversimplify the complexity of organizational life. On the other hand, textbook theory can be very detailed, complex, and difficult for students to comprehend,” Mathews said. “Both practice and theory are necessary. Practice without theory is just floundering in the dark; theory without practical application, while intellectually pleasing, is ultimately sterile.”
In 24 years at Saint Rose, Mathews, who retired in May, managed the MBA for 15 years and led the Huether School of Business on an interim basis. But he is perhaps best known as an educator and community advocate who worked hard to match theory to practice.
One example concerns StemCultures, a struggling local upstart that needed to improve delivery of its lifesaving technology. The company approached Mathews, who invited William Price and other promising students in his classes to fix what was wrong. The result: a 78-page report presented to StemCultures. The company hired Price.
“We have a chance to truly make a difference. We have the ability to fundamentally help change the world,” said Price ’13, G’14, who today serves as chief operating officer of the now-successful company.
Mathews also opened his doors to individuals beyond the College. Through the Center for Micro Enterprise Development and later in partnership with the Community Loan Fund of the Capital District, he taught a low-cost eight-week class to people eager to start or tweak a business. The goal: develop ideas into business plans. To do this, Mathews supplemented his presentations with visits from bankers, tax advisors, and other essential experts.
As a result, the Capital Region is now dotted with success stories.
“Graduates” have opened a craft brewery, small medical practice, ice cream cart, web design firm and home-cooked meal service. One, Mr. Painter’s Home Repair, landed a contract with GlobalFoundries. Another, the Chocolate Gecko, evolved from home business to thriving shop sold to new owners. The Cheese Traveler was named Hudson Valley magazine’s “Best New Specialty Food Shop.”
Many of the purveyors said they were frightened at first. But the small-business class helped break down the steps. And once a student enrolls, he or she was free to come back.
“One person came to my office a year after the class and wanted to write a business plan,” Mathews recalled. “If they need help, I am here. It’s no different than what I do for my own students.”