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The Shareholder Online The alumni magazine of Auburn University’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business

Harbert’s new assistant professor in management has love for corporate strategy, golf

Michelle Zorn played collegiate golf at Southern Miss and now works as an assistant professor at Harbert College.

Harbert College’s golf handicap just got lower. Michelle Zorn, a new assistant professor in Management, played competitively at Southern Miss and served as the Lady Golden Eagles’ assistant coach in 2007.

“My dad introduced me to the sport as an 8-year-old,” said Zorn, a Lincoln, Neb., native who comes to Harbert after recently completing her Ph.D. at Florida State. “Once you play and you get good in it, you take pride in it. It’s been a lifelong valuable skill. I teach my students, ‘join the conversation at the office whatever that conversation may be – make yourself involved and relevant. For me, golf has been that.”

After transferring from Southern Miss to Virginia Tech, Zorn proved her athleticism didn’t end on the 18th green. As a member of the Hokie women’s track and field team, she tossed a personal best throw of 47 feet in the shot put.

At Harbert College, Zorn will teach the college’s Corporate Strategy Capstone course, where students complete “competitive corporate simulations” through project work.

“It gives them a rounded view of firms,” Zorn said. “Here’s what we’re learning from other firms and here’s how you apply it in the simulation. It’s where all the other disciplines come together. Any firm, from the time it started until later asks itself ‘What is it that we do?’ ‘What is our strategy and how are we going to accomplish this strategy?’ All of the disciplines within the College of Business help with that strategy. How are we going to fund this project? How are we going to fund this investment? How do we market our product? We’ve got an idea. We’ve got a strategy, but does anyone know about it? I see it as the nexus of all the disciplines.”

What’s the difference in coaching golf and teaching management classes?

“There’s a lot of emotion in golf,” Zorn responded. “You practice really hard and then you get emotionally involved in it. When you teach classes, it’s a little bit more straightforward. I believe in a research-based approach to teaching. The way I try to make my classes relevant is through using research. I say, ‘Here’s what we know about this topic area. We know that having a strong ethical culture can lead to productivity, our research shows us.’ Golf is, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘How are you hitting it today?’

Zorn, who earned her undergraduate degree in finance at Virginia Tech before earning an MBA upon her return to Southern Mississippi, believes, “you have to show students the right way and then they have to make their own choices.”

“You can’t fix every student who is going through a tough time,” she said. “I believe you have to be compassionate. I’m maybe too compassionate sometimes on certain issues and maybe I should be a little firmer, but all I can do is say, ‘here’s the right thing to do, get yourself on track now and start thinking about the future.’ I try to make them think about the future and their careers and hope that the rest works out. You can’t drag someone through a program, but you can show them why they are doing that.”

Zorn said she expects her students to keep up with current events in the business world, which helps them retain a better understanding of corporate strategies.

“I try to take a practical, real-world approach. We learn from firms and their past and try to apply it,” Zorn said. “My expectations are that they are up to date, they stay relevant and they benefit from those discussions.”

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