Michael Levens, Ph.D., New Leader at the Helm

Written by M.J. Galbraith

From business to academia, Walsh's new president and CEO's path illustrates what the school is all about.

Michael Levens, Ph.D., exemplifies the model that has made Walsh so successful. He started out at the college as a faculty member with real-world experience and world-class credentials — the same kind of gravitas that sets Walsh educators apart.

“Like many of our faculty at Walsh, I am both a practitioner and an academic in my field,” he says. “It’s one of the things that makes this school so special.”

Now that he’s become its president, Levens is excited about furthering Walsh’s mission to provide students with a level and type of education that will carry them to successful business careers.

Levens came to Walsh in 2006, starting as an adjunct faculty member with a career foundation that included international marketing, brand management and marketing at several General Motors business units, including Saab and OnStar. He went on to work on more than 100 research projects in 35 countries spanning five continents. A Fulbright Scholar, he earned a master’s degree, doctorate and postdoctoral diploma.

Somehow he found the time to teach marketing and brand management classes at General Motors University. That led to his adjunct position at Walsh. “Although my own journey started with a career at General Motors, I have a deep appreciation for academic research,” he says. “Sometimes practitioners dismiss academics as being too esoteric. Sometimes academics dismiss practitioners as too often shooting from the hip. At Walsh, we think differently, focusing on what’s being done — and why.”

Becoming a Teacher

Born in Flint, Mich., to parents who were K-12 educators, Levens would spend his formative years in nearby Fenton before beginning his post-secondary education at Kettering University. He earned his master’s from Bond University in Australia and a doctorate from Capella University, going on to complete post-doctoral work at Tulane University.

While working at GM, he realized how much he enjoyed teaching and learning from others. “Really, the happiest part of my day was teaching and learning and interacting with people,” he says. “There is a job path that embraces all of those things, and that’s higher education.”

Levens left GM to become a full-time professor at Walsh 14 years ago. He promptly became the academic chair of undergraduate business programs and, later, of the marketing department. Levens immediately started contributing to publications through exhaustive editing of numerous textbooks. He was not satisfied with editing alone and so he pitched authoring his own textbook to the publisher — a suggestion that was met with overwhelming approval.

“I felt like I needed to establish myself,” he says. “I just jumped in with both feet.” Originally published in 2008, Levens’ book, Marketing: Defined, Explained, Applied  is an onboarding manual for people getting into marketing. At its peak, the book was used in more than 200 schools and has been translated into four languages.

Levens has come to typify the very thing that he values about Walsh, where real-world experience meets academic thought. “What’s distinctive about Walsh faculty is that they are academically qualified and actually have held the job that students are trying to get,” he says. “The value of that is tremendous.” And so is the value of a Walsh degree. “We’re proud to be producing capable, educated and highly trained graduates,” he adds, “who are making their mark throughout the world.”

A Pivotal Time

Levens comes into the role of president at a significant moment in Walsh’s nearly 100-year history. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly all aspects of daily life, but Levens believes Walsh is uniquely positioned to come out of the pandemic even stronger.

“We’re still focused on expanding our programs,” he says. “COVID certainly has had an impact on our business, but not to the point of having to pull back. “We went from 60 percent remote courses to 100 percent remote courses, but it always goes back to creating great student experiences.”

Levens is committed to maintaining and building the strength of Walsh’s academic programs while continuing to foster diversity and inclusion for faculty, staff and students. His priorities include engaging alumni, building partnerships with other academic institutions and businesses, and enhancing the student learning experience.

“Walsh is very strong, and it will only get stronger,” says Suzanne Siegle, recently hired as Walsh’s new provost. “My conversations with Mike and with the faculty drew me in even more. You want to work for people who believe in the institution, have invested so much of their lives and careers in it and are excited to lead it into the future.” That’s Levens: invested in Walsh, optimistic about the future and excited to lead.

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