Published on 07/31/2017
The man behind UWF's College of Business
Dean Timothy O'Keefe
Dr. Timothy O'Keefe - Dean of UWF's College of Business - is a passionate person with the grand responsibility of bringing such a respected academic institution into the new age. He has lived all over the southeast of the United States, mostly, plus some time in California, the Central Florida area, and Europe for a big portion of his life. He worked as a CPA for several years, to return to FSU to obtain an MBA and a Doctorate, and ultimately, arrive to Pensacola to lead UWF's College of Business. Improving people's lives is what got him into higher education, where he now sets the framework for others to be able to do the same. This is Dean O'Keefe -the man behind UWF's College of Business- and his perspective on Hospitality, Travel and Tourism and the Department of Global Hospitality & Tourism Management (GHTM).
[GHTM] Who is Dean Tim O'Keefe, the man behind UWF's College of Business?
[Dean O'Keefe] Well, I don’t think we have time for my life story but I have lived all over the southeast of the United States, plus some time in California. My high school and undergrad university years were in the Central Florida area. After working as a CPA for several years, then returning to FSU for a MBA and Doctorate, I left the State of Florida for the next 22 years, only to return just before the turn of the millennium. Now, I have spent 19 years in Pensacola - the longest period of time I have lived in one place - in my entire life, which I think is kind of a testament to this place and a reason why people come to this area and to the University of West Florida. We came here from Europe, from The Netherlands, where I was the Director of the Executive MBA program at Nyenrode University. I was looking at 3 areas when I was planning to relocate. I was looking at University of Nevada Las Vegas, as the director of their MBA program; University of Texas Dallas; and Emory University in Atlanta. I ended up with offers from all three, but a friend suggested I should look at UWF, because they are doing a lot of things, and so I did.
Pensacola reminded my wife and me of the Florida that we kind of grew up in before Mickey Mouse, which by the way, were some of my first clients in public accounting. I am a CPA, and accounting is my area. I got to see Disneyworld build from the underground up. So, despite already having a deposit on the purchase of a house in Atlanta, we chose to come to UWF and Pensacola. It’s been a great decision.
[GHTM] Morning or Night person?
[Dean O'Keefe] Whatever is needed! I am comfortable either way and I think it changes from period to period, maybe even from season to season. There are periods of time when I can get up early and get many things done but I can’t do both any longer (laugh). When I was a young guy, I could burn the candle at both ends but not anymore.
[GHTM] Bourbon or beer?
[Dean O'Keefe] Yes! (Laugh). I like beer, particularly craft beers. I enjoy craft beers and fine bourbon. I used to have a picture around here somewhere of a nice bourbon bar in Shanghai. It is one of my favorites. It is bourbon and cigars. I may still have… no, that’s right! I didn’t pay for my locker so I no longer have a membership there, but I do have friends still in Shanghai.
[GHTM] How does the Dean of the College of Business spend his free time?
[Dean O'Keefe] Free time? There is no free time (laugh). If there is, you will find me enjoying time with friends, with family or on the racetrack.
[GHTM] Racetrack? Do you race cars?
[Dean O'Keefe] It is not actually racing cars, not door-to-door racing. Instead, it is what we call time trial. Everyone is on the track together but it is very orderly. You are not racing against each other, you are racing against the clock. It is also very gentlemanly in terms of when passing occurs and the like, and as long as it meets the mechanical standards and safety, you can bring whatever car you want. It is a lot of fun!
[GHTM] Favorite travel experience?
[Dean O'Keefe] It depends on what you mean by favorite. If you mean interesting, then it was this time, well a couple of times actually, when I traveled through China because it is such a different and interesting culture. In terms of memorable, it is traveling with family through Europe, on various trips, and the things that happen when you are with family and you can’t agree on certain things; it is fun.
[GHTM] Favorite travel destination?
[Dean O'Keefe] Whatever my next trip is, or any place in Europe. I always like going back to Paris and always want to go to Prague.
[GHTM] What is the first thing you do, every morning, when you walk into work?
[Dean O'Keefe] I don’t do the same thing every time. No ritual. Part of my problem; no consistency there. Maybe coffee, although I am not drinking coffee so I can’t do coffee now. Maybe email, but that is always a bad way to start the day as you may get trapped in emails very early.
[GHTM] What's the best professional advice you have ever been given?
[Dean O'Keefe] I don’t tend to remember specific kinds of things. If it is good advice, I incorporate it and it becomes part of the fabric of my life, and stays like that forever. If it was advice that I didn’t care for, then I ignore it and never think about it again, even though it may have been good advice. When you become a parent or even if you think about your parents, that’s probably the same way, because I have given advice to my kids, which they have ignored for years. Then, all of a sudden, they come home from the university one day and they say they've got this idea, this great advice, and I say well yeah, I have been telling you that for years. Therefore, it is not what you hear necessarily but where you are in your season of life so, if it is something that I am receiving, I put it into practice.
[GHTM] How does it feel to lead a College of Business, positioned to gain so much popularity in the region in the next few years?
[Dean O'Keefe] Well, it is a big responsibility. It is also a great opportunity. It is a responsibility because again, the reason why I got into this profession in the first place was to make a difference in people’s lives, to get them excited, to get them motivated about what my particular discipline was, which is accounting and financial management. It was to create opportunities, and I think that as you move higher in the administration, your responsibilities for doing that shift because now you are not the day to day person that has influence on your students’ lives. Now, you are the person that puts the framework in place so that others can effectively be able to do that, and the whole idea still is about providing opportunities for our students to have successful careers and to be successful in life; that is a big responsibility. But it also is an opportunity, because I now get to create other more important aspects in the big picture, which I was not able to as a Director of the MBA program for example or as a professor; things others look forward to in an effort to making education meaningful.
[GHTM] In 2016, Travel and Tourism contributed US$7.6 trillion to the global economy and 292 million jobs worldwide. What does this mean to the College of Business and the Department of Global Hospitality and Tourism Management?
[Dean O'Keefe] I think that one of the early things as dean, as you may know, that I wanted to do was to get the hospitality program into the College of Business. When you look at our area, tourism is one of the top three industries -it is the thing that determines whether we thrive of not- and because of the fact that this is one of our biggest businesses -one of the biggest industries in the area- seemed appropriate for the program to be housed in the College of Business. We were able to accomplish that, and with the leadership of Dr. Lisa Assante and bringing in great folks -including this guy named Hugo Reyes Duran (smile)- we are changing the flavor of that program so that it is more consistent with the changes that have taken place in the hospitality, travel and tourism industry. I think that we are positioning ourselves to be a big player in that industry, both locally, nationally and hopefully internationally as well.
[GHTM] Currently, there is a lot of buzz in the Emerald Coast community about Tourism and Hospitality. How is GHTM capitalizing on this opportunity?
[Dean O'Keefe] There are a couple of ways. One, with the restructuring of the program to reflect the management techniques that have to be employed in the hospitality, travel and tourism industry, in order for our students to be successful. Not just when they get out of our program but in 5 years from now. They get to be exposed to things that are going on in the industry right now, and be engaged with the industry as much as possible. I think one of the best things about our program is the willingness of the faculty and the people of the program to keep our students engaged with our business community in as many ways as they can. When I think about the department, one of the things that I am most encouraged about, is the multiple ways in which they embrace what we commonly refer to as 'high impact practices in teaching and learning'. That includes the internships; it includes the simulations where you have active learning opportunities; and the live-case interaction, where you are getting out into industry and attacking real problems which the students come up with real solutions for. We have had great examples of that. For example, I have sat in on a couple of opportunities where our students have presented to industry and the difference from when I sat in those presentations 2 years ago versus sitting in this past year is phenomenal. Having people coming back to me and saying that we need to get our students involved in this and that, because the students have been extremely impressive in terms of how they have come up with solutions and ideas, and how they have delivered those effectively to the decision makers in companies, has been very impressive.
[GHTM] What are the proudest moments for you as leader of the College of Business, when you are asked about GHTM?
[Dean O'Keefe] Well, I think I probably said some of that already. A couple of things come to mind. When I was at one of the meetings where we had several of students involved with our Scenic Hills enterprise. The students had various responsibilities in the project and had to come up with solutions and innovations. What was so impressive is that if we had turned them loose on this project years ago, we would probably be making money. The big contrast was the established leadership or management and the creativeness of our students in terms of managing a hospitality type operation. The project didn’t give me a lot of confidence that we were going to be successful with Scenic Hills, and that we should probably sell it, but it certainly gave me a lot of confidence in our students being successful in their future career. Another moment of pride was when our students presented to Wyndham Worldwide. The students were extremely professional. They were knowledgeable; they had great ideas and could communicate those ideas effectively. They were well organized and Q&A with the industry folks went well. Again, another indication that we are doing things right and our students will do well. They are well prepared, well engaged with the community and they are making a good impression as well.
[GHTM] As you may know, the Tourism and Hospitality industry has become one of the world's top innovators and disruptors. How is Global Hospitality and Tourism Management leading innovation?
[Dean O'Keefe] The department is leading innovation in a way in which they have the best chance in having influence, and that is the education of people going into the management of the hospitality, travel and tourism industry. Given that the industry is innovative, and that they are facing a lot of disruption in terms of the way things are being done, you can’t be teaching students the same way you taught them even 5 years ago. The fact that the department is willing to embrace innovation in teaching and learning, leads to new ways to get students exposed to the things going on in today’s industry. This is one of the things that the department recognizes it has to do, and has embraced that responsibility in a big way, which is the case with everybody in the department; everybody is on the same page moving forward.
[GHTM] What do you think are the biggest challenges for higher education in the next decade?
[Dean O'Keefe] It is the cost-benefit equation. Education’s cost has continued to go up and evidently, a decade or so ago, we thought we had solved the problem by having low-cost easily available loans. Now, we are suffering the consequences of not thinking that through completely. Just look at the effects of continued debt on folks that are in the prime of their working lives and how they are incapable to move forward. That is our biggest challenge; finding out how to be more cost-effective in delivering education.
[GHTM] Any wisdom you would you like to share with our students and alumni?
[Dean O'Keefe] I can’t remember specific quotes but something that always comes to mind and is about innovation and success in general is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It might be more like 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration (Thomas Edison). Motivation, perseverance, and grit go a long way toward being successful. You need to take responsibility; don’t blame others for what is not happening in your life; and step up, persevere and climb your mountains.
Interview by Hugo Reyes Duran