After more than 17 years of “visionary” service, Dr. Joseph C. Picken retired in December from the Naveen Jindal School of Management.
Picken founded and played a major role in developing the Jindal School’s academic program in innovation and entrepreneurship and the University’s award-winning Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“Joe had the vision to see that entrepreneurship isn’t just a business discipline: It touches everything across the campus. His unstoppable desire to reach for excellence has really paid off,” said IIE Executive Director Steve Guengerich.
Picken was honored Dec. 13 during a retirement reception in front of a large group of family, friends and co-workers. His colleagues praised his integrity and candor, as well his tireless work ethic.
“He’s been a real bulldog in terms of pursuing his vision for the IIE,” said Dr. Rajiv Shah, a Jindal School clinical professor. “He’s also been a great mentor and friend.”
Picken’s academic career at UT Dallas capped a long, unpredictable path that began with a Naval ROTC appointment and scholarship to Dartmouth College, where he received an AB in economics in 1965 and an MBA in 1966. After graduating, the Iowa native served four years in the U.S. Navy, where he became a lieutenant, served two tours in Vietnam and completed his service as commanding officer of a minesweeper.
After the military, Picken spent nearly 30 years in industry and consulting, working in technology, engineering, manufacturing and aviation services companies in various executive positions, including chief financial officer, COO and CEO.
“My wife complained, ‘You can't hold a steady job,’ but I like to say I have an ‘eclectic’ résumé,” Picken said with a laugh. “They say young people today should expect to have eight to 10 jobs in their lifetime, but I did that years before anyone said that. I was ahead of the curve.”
He enrolled in the PhD program at UT Arlington in 1991 and earned his degree in 1995, teaching at UT Arlington and SMU before joining the UT Dallas faculty.
“Joe was so smart and insightful, your main job was just to stay out of the way,” said Dr. Gregory Dess, his dissertation supervisor at UT Arlington. Dess is now a Jindal School professor who holds the Andrew R. Cecil Chair in Applied Ethics.
Picken and Dess later teamed up to co-write two books, Mission Critical: The 7 Strategic Traps That Derail Even the Smartest Companies (Burr Ridge, Illinois: Irwin Professional Publishing, 1997) and Beyond Productivity: How Leading Companies Achieve Superior Performance By Leveraging Their Human Capital (New York: AMACOM Books, 1999).
After teaching for three and a half years at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, Picken joined the Jindal School in 2001. He founded and helped build a nationally renowned academic program in innovation and entrepreneurship at UT Dallas, with more than 1,600 students enrolled annually. Among its multiple awards and accolades, the graduate program was ranked 11th and the undergraduate program 23rd in the nation in The Princeton Review’s Top Schools for Entrepreneurship in 2019.
The program would not exist if not for Picken, said Dr. Varghese Jacob, vice dean at the Jindal School. “Joe was the one who went to the dean with the idea and figured out how to start it and how to set everything up. … He’s accomplished a lot for us,” Jacob said.
Jacob also announced that, as a parting gift to the school, Picken had contributed funds to endow a Distinguished Professorship. That endowed post has been named in his honor, the Dr. Joseph Picken Distinguished Professorship in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Picken also donated three paintings to the school’s art collection. Two are landscapes by Marjorie S. Garfield, who, Picken said at the reception, chaired the department where his mother taught at Iowa State University.
In his remarks, Picken called the innovation and entrepreneurship program’s success “a team effort. … We figured it out together,” he said, flanked by his colleagues at the podium during an emotional speech.
Dr. Diane McNulty, the Jindal School’s associate dean for external affairs and corporate development, presented Picken, an avid golfer, with passes to attend the PGA’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth in May.
“I really appreciate everything you’ve done for this school,” McNulty said. “I’m a better person for having known you.”
Picken praised a long list of colleagues, but he singled out Caruth Chair and Jindal School Dean Hasan Pirkul “as the reason this school is unique. He’s made this an open environment where there are no second-class citizens. He’s a wonderful guy to work for.”
Picken said his career at UT Dallas has been guided by a strong sense of disciplined risk-taking, which he thinks is key to successful entrepreneurship.
“I’ve ruffled some feathers and made some mistakes, but you don’t accomplish anything if you don’t know what you want to accomplish and keeping pushing ahead,” Picken said. “Rules were made to be broken. … You just have to be judicious about how you go about it.”