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Thursday, March 24, 2011 - Marketing professor expertise helps students, businesses succeed

John Henke Jr., professor of marketing in the School of Business Administration at Oakland University, has witnessed the fruits of his labor, perhaps poetically, in the produce aisle of his neighborhood grocery store.


A former student recently approached him by the apples to thank him for the impact he had on her. As a working professional, she expressed her gratitude for the practical knowledge she learned in his classroom.


Henke, who has worked at OU for 25 years, knows what it takes to thrive in business because he spent 15 years in sales and marketing before joining the academic community. He held managerial jobs at General Automation and IBM Corp., where he was a member of its elite 100 Percent Club, the top group of sales executives who exceed their sales goals.


The importance of relationships


Today he wears two hats – as a college professor and a business owner. As president of Birmingham, Mich.-based Planning Perspectives Inc. (PPI), a management consulting firm, he is considered one of the nation’s top authorities on buyer-supplier working relations.


His firm's annual automotive industry survey dissects the relationships between each of the six major North American car companies, including General Motors, Nissan and Toyota, and their Tier 1 production suppliers. Henke is often sought out by the media, as well as car companies and suppliers, because of this expertise. His reputation in the auto world reflects positively on OU, says Jay Baron, president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. Furthermore, Henke's research is invaluable to the car community, Baron states.


“John's work in supply chain is critical during this era in globalization and rationalization of our automotive OEMs (original equipment manufacturers),” he says. “Auto companies are dependent more than ever on their suppliers where two-thirds of each new vehicle comes from. Having an effective supply chain is strategically important, and John's work is at the heart of these relationships.”


Henke's students benefit from these relationships as well. Executives from Honda, Toyota and Ford, among others, regularly speak at his relations graduate course, serving as a bridge for the students to realities of the work world. “It's opened a lot of doors for my students,” he says.


Researcher, teacher


Henke is quick to share what he’s learned, too. One of the key points he stresses to his students is that even in a big corporation, they are valuable employees. “As I’ve studied purchasing activities in large corporations, I’ve learned that one individual can have a profound impact on a company,” he explains. “I want these students to realize they are not just a cog in a wheel.” 


Taking this to heart is Bob Socia, SBA (Management) '76, vice president of Global Purchasing and Supply Chain at General Motors Co., a PPI client and an OU alumnus. “John helped us understand the findings of his survey, which we are using to improve the relationship with our supply base,” Socia says. “We’ve made great strides over the past 12 months and appreciate his help very much.”


Former student Richard Burks, now president of R&R International, an importer and distributor of automotive aftermarket components in Rochester Hills, Mich., first encountered Henke as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where Henke worked for nine years before coming to OU. Burks followed Henke to OU for graduate classes, taking about five of his courses altogether. They now dine together once or twice each year.


“John Henke teaches a brain buster of a class,” Burks recalls. “I remember getting one of his syllabuses and seeing a new case study on there every week. John told us that, ‘In my class, you will be forced to learn time management,’ because of the intense workload.”


Recognized, renowned


Burks believes he is a better entrepreneur because of Henke’s intensity. “Before I pitch a client, I have a mock presentation where I come up with any possible question that might be asked and have an answer ready for it,” he explains. “John taught me to prepare and how to prepare well.” 


Henke continues the brain busting schedule for himself, working up to 80-hour weeks. He’s won more than 25 awards and receives multiple invitations to speak throughout the world. He recently received another “job well done,” but this time in the Big Apple, not the grocery store.


“They put up our 2010 annual supplier study results on the big screen in Times Square,” he proudly remarks.


It felt like yet another apple for the teacher.




By Rene Wisely