DBA students Robert Barclay, James Jordan Jr. and James Xu explore solutions to real-world business problems

by | Nov 19, 2020

Though they work in different fields – information technology, financial operations and patent law – the program helped each expand his knowledge and enhance his career.
Robert Barclay, James Jordan Jr., James Xu

(From left) Robert Barclay, James Jordan Jr. and James Xu are set to graduate next month with the first cohort in UMSL’s Doctor of Business Administration Program. All three have defended their dissertations. (Photo collage by August Jennewein)

One weekend a month, students in the University of Missouri–St. Louis Doctor of Business Administration Program connect with cohort members commuting to UMSL from all over the U.S. and Canada. They share insights, talk through problems and arrive at solutions together under the guidance of highly skilled professors.

As the only AACSB-accredited program of its type in Missouri, the DBA program attracts students from a wide range of industries and career stages. The number of industries represented in the program provides a variety of lenses through which to view various problems and arrive at solutions.

The inaugural cohort includes, among others, Robert Barclay, an information technology program manager for Boeing; James Jordan Jr., the director of financial operations for Rural Development, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and James Xu, a patent attorney and CPA.

After all three students successfully defended their dissertations, UMSL Daily caught up with them to talk about their research and experience in the program.

Robert Barclay

Barclay’s career started in the U.S. Army, where he flew Apache helicopters – a passion inspired by his uncle, who took him flying as a child.

He joined Boeing in 2006 as a systems engineer for Apache helicopter simulations before moving to an IT role a few years later, then landing his current role as a program manager.

“I quickly learned that IT was interesting to me because there are so many facets,” he said. “If you look at IT as a core business enabler, it uses some of the same concepts as operations management or manufacturing. You have to create something, transport it and store it somewhere to be consumed by a user. But how does all that happen? My mind works in the details of how things occur and why they occur. Having that perspective allows me to be a better leader.”

Barclay is motivated by producing valuable results, which in part led him to the DBA program. He wanted an education that would bring value to his organization, and the DBA’s focus on combining theory with practice was a perfect fit.

He heard about the program before it was officially approved and immediately contacted the College of Business Administration to learn more. When he met with faculty, he became determined to participate in the program.

As part of the first cohort, Barclay appreciated his professors’ agility and willingness to adapt as needed.

“They were soliciting feedback, incorporating feedback and rigorously improving the program for us as we moved forward in time,” he said. “From the feedback they were receiving, you could tell they were implementing changes each time we would meet as a cohort. That, I thought, added significant value to the program.”

Barclay’s research interests centered on his passion for leadership. After conducting interviews with a sample of organizational leaders, he found that servant leadership has a positive impact on agile teams and their ability to deliver work on time.

“Program management is not just leading people in teams,” he said. “It’s more about understanding the value that you’re bringing to the business.”

James Jordan Jr.

On a yearly basis, Jordan coordinates the management of approximately $7 billion in receipts and $14 billion in disbursements. He’s spent more than 20 years working for the federal government, most recently in RD’s financial operations division.

The St. Louis native is no stranger to UMSL, where he previously earned a bachelor’s in accounting. When he heard about the new DBA program, he was eager to continue learning.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to expand my knowledge and develop a different approach to apply research tools to aid in addressing my organization’s high-level business problems through the application of theory to actual business issues,” he said. “Within the first year of the program, I was able to take an actual business problem and come up with a workable resolution based on academic theory.”

The DBA program provided a range of benefits, from exploring new cultures and enjoying new experiences to presenting at conferences and networking with other researchers from around the world.

The ultimate question Jordan explored was: How can the USDA retain talent? It became the focus of his dissertation, which looked at effective strategies to help federal agencies retain Generation X and Millennial employees. He ultimately offered seven low- or no-cost recommendations to increase talent retention in the USDA.

“The process involved reading and doing a lot of research to see what areas had been previously covered by prior research and determining what I could add to the body of knowledge,” he said. “I wanted to create a research topic that could benefit my organization. The process can be daunting at times, but I believe having passion about your research interest can compensate for those times when you may get discouraged and will get you through the toughest times.”

After graduating, Jordan is looking toward continuing research on organizational behavior and teaching government business courses. His goal is to encourage graduates to pursue careers as public servants.

“My passion is to pour into students as instructors have done for me,” he said. “I would have not been able to achieve the success that I have without my instructors. I want the community where I live, work and worship to be able to see that they can achieve their dreams, that a college education is obtainable and that they can succeed.”

James Xu

For Xu, the decision of where to earn a DBA came down to UMSL due to the program’s focus on scholarly research and quantitative analysis.

“I had been away from statistics for too long,” he said. “I understood the importance of statistical analysis in order for me to be a productive research scholar in the future. After a productive in-person visit to the UMSL DBA program, I decided to attend UMSL.”

It was a perfect next step in a career marked with surprises. Xu originally planned to be an electrical engineer and enrolled at the University of Mississippi. Before starting the program, he began looking at an MBA degree because of its marketability, and while pursuing his MBA he became interested in business law.

With guidance from law professors, he chose to combine his interests and became a patent attorney and a licensed CPA.

His work as a lawyer focuses on corporate transactions and litigations. He helps coordinate mergers and acquisitions, evaluating the tax impact, business impact and market impact of potential acquisitions. He also prepares patent and trademark applications and licensing agreements.

His dissertation, which examined the determinants of the financial success of large law firms, ties directly with his legal career. His research revealed that a firm’s racial diversity among management, the average employee salary and client satisfaction have a positive relationship with the firm’s financial performance.

Xu enjoyed his experience in the DBA program, crediting his success to the dedicated faculty and staff. One standout moment came from Professor Steve Moehrle, chair of the accounting department.

“I remember his passionate speech in class,” Xu said. “He was so involved in lectures. Once in class, his pointer did not work and he pulled over the table and jumped on the table so he was able to reach that area of the board with his fingertip.”

Xu highly recommended the DBA program for those who have selected their career path and are looking to increase their business knowledge.

“Find your passion first before going into the DBA program,” he said. “After you have a few years’ experience in your career and know what you want, then start the DBA program. It’s a place not just for you to learn but for you to get help to achieve what you seek.”

Karen Holman

Karen Holman

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