Jeff Barden loves college towns, the Pacific Northwest, a business climate that emphasizes value creation and sustainability, and a workplace environment defined by friendliness, respect and cooperation.
Putting all of that together, there was only one destination for him: Oregon State’s College of Business.
“I’m really excited to be here,” the assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship said.
Barden grew up in North Carolina, where his father was an ecology professor at UNC-Charlotte, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at the main UNC campus in Chapel Hill. After graduation, he worked for five years as a market researcher, focusing on business-to-business sales, and then returned to school for an MBA in information systems and international business at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
“Three or four weeks into class, I was the guy in the front row with his hand up, and I realized I wanted to be doing what the professor was doing,” said Barden, who sought out the teacher, strategy professor Idalene Kesner, now the Kelley School dean.
“She said, ‘this is the greatest career in the world,’” Barden recalled.
Completing his MBA at the height of the dot-com boom, Barden eschewed six-figure consulting opportunities for the Ph.D. program in management at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham -- just eight miles from Chapel Hill and his undergraduate school’s chief athletic rival.
“There were a number of social exchange theorists there, so it was a good fit,” explained Barden, who admitted that he “got very good at wanting my students who were athletes to do well in losing efforts.”
Barden’s first stop after Duke was the University in Washington in Seattle, which he describes as “a great city to visit” but one whose size, traffic and expensive cost of living were not consistent with his and his wife Teresa’s desires. So the family – the Bardens have two children, 9-year-old Thaddeus and 7-year-old Cameron – headed south when the opportunity at OSU presented itself.
“We fell in love with the Northwest, and we love college towns,” he said. “We wanted to live in the best college town in the Northwest, and Corvallis is it.”
Barden started at OSU in September 2013, and his research focuses on inter-organizational relationships, exchange, entrepreneurship and technology. He feels at home with colleagues who strive to create “a strong sense of community. Laid-back but professional, and not just collegial but friendly” – to the point of having a COB faculty bowling team, which Barden plays on.
Barden also revels in “the Pacific Northwest approach” to business, citing winemaking, local farming and craft brewing as examples.
“Value creation and sustainability are supposed to be what business is all about,” he said. “The culture is deeply rooted in finding ways to provide special value, not in a mass market kind of way, but in a value-differentiated sort of way, thinking carefully about what customers want. That cultural lens gives Oregonians and Oregon State Beavers a chance to see entrepreneurial opportunities that others might not see.”