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Retiring professor helped build nationally recognized business programs at UW-Eau Claire

| Judy Berthiaume

When Dr. Robert Erffmeyer joined UW-Eau Claire’s College of Business faculty, the university was phasing out its MBA program and it offered just one undergraduate class in sales.

Three decades later, UW-Eau Claire’s MBA program and its professional sales program both are considered among the top programs of their kind in the nation.

Erffmeyer, who will retire in February after 30 years of service to UW-Eau Claire, is a big part of the reason for the programs’ success, campus leaders say.

“Bob has a talent for thinking creatively as well as for bringing people together to work collaboratively toward a shared goal,” says Provost Patricia Kleine. “His leadership was instrumental in building both the MBA and sales programs into the highly respected programs that they are today.

“Thanks to his leadership, graduates of those programs are finding success in businesses and industries across the United States and beyond.”

Erffmeyer credits his colleagues, as well as supportive administrators, for the success he’s found at UW-Eau Claire.

“The past 30 years has been a wonderful experience,” Erffmeyer says. “I’ve had the good fortune to have worked with many talented faculty and staff. Together we’ve created programs that helped advance the College of Business’ mission, while bringing local, regional and national recognition to our college and university.”

Erffmeyer was in just his second year of teaching at UW-Eau Claire when he was asked to co-lead a team charged with developing a new and distinctive MBA program.

“We were asked to re-imagine the MBA program and to create one that was different from other traditional programs in the country,” says Erffmeyer, a professor of management and marketing. “We were encouraged to think big and to think outside the box.”

Meeting the challenge, the team designed a thematic, multidisciplinary, team-taught modular curriculum that was very different from traditional MBA programs at that time, says Erffmeyer, who first served as a coordinator and then as the MBA program’s director.

While the innovative program was successful, a decade later, advances in technology created new opportunities for online learning, inspiring College of Business faculty to again re-imagine the MBA program.

Erffmeyer and his colleagues got back to work, this time collaborating with business faculty from other UW campuses.

“We all recognized the need for an online MBA program, but none of our institutions had the resources to meet that need on their own,” Erffmeyer says. “Instead, we worked together to establish the UW MBA Consortium, which involved College of Business faculty from several institutions teaching MBA students via interactive television. Each campus also began offering a full complement of pre-MBA courses.”

The UW MBA Consortium program — whose members include UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse and UW Oshkosh — is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 online MBA programs in the nation.

Erffmeyer teaches classes and is the consortium's director. During his time at UW-Eau Claire, he also has served as an advisor to more than 1,000 MBA graduates.

Currently 50 faculty members from across the U.S. teach in the program.

MBA students, who have come from 40 states and several countries, work in a variety of positions including engineers, physicians, nursing professionals, pharmacists, military leaders, entrepreneurs and business professionals and managers.

This spring, the consortium will celebrate its 600th MBA graduate.

“According to U.S. News & World Report rankings, our program has grown into one of the 10 best online programs in the nation, which is even more impressive when you see that we’re in a highly competitive field of more than 330 online MBA programs,” Erffmeyer says. “We work hard to create and deliver an exceptional program, so it’s satisfying to see that others also are recognizing the quality and value of this MBA program.

“With multiple universities involved in our online program, our format is different from many others, but clearly what we are doing is working.”

While already successful, the UW MBA Consortium continues to evolve as technologies advance and student and employer needs change, Erffmeyer says.

That evolution will continue this fall, when the UW MBA Consortium will launch an updated curriculum to provide a more streamlined experience for students. Students, who have always valued the opportunities for flexibility and personalization that the curriculum offers, will now be able to focus their elective offerings in areas such as health care management and project management.

In addition to his work with the MBA program, Erffmeyer also has been a leader in helping UW-Eau Claire develop a professional sales program, a program that has earned national attention in recent years.

“When I first came to UWEC, the undergraduate marketing program initially offered one course on ‘salesmanship,’” Erffmeyer says. “Since then, we have become one of the top sales programs in the country.”

Thanks to the work of Erffmeyer, who serves as director of the Center for Sales and Sales Management, and his colleagues, UW-Eau Claire’s College of Business now offers a professional sales track and a certificate program, has the national professional sales and marketing organization Pi Sigma Epsilon on campus, and has a dedicated sales center where students can work on their craft.

The College of Business also created an award-winning 40-member student sales team, which competes successfully at numerous sales events throughout the United States.

UW-Eau Claire now hosts the annual Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up, an event that brings hundreds of students and others to campus each year.

Often described by students, faculty coaches and corporate sponsors as one of the best sales competitions in the country, the Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up attracts more than 300 participants, including students and faculty coaches from some of the top collegiate sales programs in the country.

The dozens of sales reps and sales managers from corporate sponsors who participate, along with campus volunteers who donate their time, help to make the event a success, Erffmeyer says.

In addition to his teaching and leadership roles in the MBA and sales programs, Erffmeyer has been involved in student-faculty undergraduate research, written textbooks, taught in Japan, written multiple grants to fund various initiatives, and has been active in regional, national and international professional organizations. 

“All in all, it’s been a very rewarding career and a pretty great run from my perspective,” Erffmeyer says. “It’s now time to pass the torch to some wonderful and talented colleagues who will continue to build on our successes.”

Photo caption: Dr. Robert Erffmeyer helped UW-Eau Claire build nationally recognized MBA and professional sales programs during his 30-year tenure.