Professor Hunsaker Creates a Leadership Legacy at the USD School of Business

Thursday, February 27, 2020TOPICS: LeadershipSpotlights

University of San Diego Professor of Management, Phil HunsakerPhoto of Professor of Management Phil Hunsaker in a 1978 University of San Diego yearbook.
begin quoteThe expertise he’s shared in his industry-leading texts has compelled executives from local companies to reach out to him for support in transforming their managers into inspiring leaders.

When he first joined the University of San Diego School of Business, there were only about a dozen faculty members, the dean was Jim Burns and the school had a lot to prove. Just 43 years ago, Professor of Management Phil Hunsaker came to the USD School of Business knowing he was here to help build something incredible.

“My values, what I wanted to achieve and what the university had to offer were all a perfect match,” says Professor Hunsaker. His vision when first stepping into a USD School of Business classroom was to develop ethical leaders in a student-centric environment -- pillars that defined the school at its inception and continue to do so today. 

Professor Hunsaker is a beloved teacher who imparts management and leadership skills to our business degree students, both undergraduates and graduates. He is also one of the most respected organizational behavioral academics in the field and has authored over 130 articles and 14 books on management and organizational behavior published in multiple editions and languages. 

In addition, Professor Hunsaker has created the Leadership Fellows Program at the USD School of Business, which enhances students’ cross-cultural leadership skills and engages MBA students in Leadership Labs on campus to enhance their team leadership and process skills. 

Sometimes, leadership lessons take place right in his very own backyard. This is true in the Interpersonal Group Dynamics class, known by MBAs and others as the “touchy-feely” or “crying” course. The class challenges how students view themselves while helping them reflect and evolve past what no longer serves them, ultimately kickstarting their transformation into self-aware leaders.

“It’s all about trust that evening,” begins Professor Hunsaker. “We have a little something to eat and drink. And then we do a lot of team-building exercises in my backyard, building physical trust. Afterward, we sit around the bonfire and discuss what we learned about each other and how we can apply this to our interpersonal and leadership relationships.”

In his coursework, Professor Hunsaker emphasizes servant leadership as a mutually beneficial way to manage others. “Servant leaders,” he explains, “are people who seek the power and ability to change things for the better of their entire organization or for the world, as opposed to ego-centric leaders who are all about themselves.”

Servant leadership is the guiding principle behind the USD School of Business’ Master of Science in Executive Leadership (MSEL). In today’s business world, an exceptional leader cares not just about the bottom line but also about how their company’s business practices affect the world and how their employees are valued. 

“One of the best servant leaders is one of our own alumni, Garry Ridge at WD-40,” shares Professor Hunsaker. “I recently wrote a case about him that’s been presented at conferences and published a couple of times to demonstrate servant leadership in action. Garry practices what he preaches. If all leaders were like that, the world would be a better place.”

“Garry was a student in the first cohort of our MSEL program when I was co-teaching the servant leadership course with renowned leadership expert, Ken Blanchard. As a student, Garry went back to WD-40 each month armed with lessons from his classes and applied changes to his company culture and leadership styles. In doing so, he developed a leadership strategy model called ‘Servant Leadership with an Edge’ and it really turned WD-40 around. Their engagement index, which is how happy your employees are at your company, is around 98 percent. For most companies, it’s less than 50 percent.”

During the course of his management career, Professor Hunsaker has taught crucial skills to hundreds of students, coached numerous executives towards new heights, and written several books on leadership, including You Can Make it Happen: A Guide to Self-Actualization and Organizational Change, The New Art of Managing People, and his current class textbook, Training in Interpersonal Skills, among others. 

If you don’t have time to read one of his books, Professor Hunsaker believes one important thing you can do to become a better leader is to challenge preconceived notions of yourself. “You need to continually try to enhance your self-awareness by soliciting feedback and constructive criticism,” he shares. “You also need to develop empathy for other people and always try to build a collaborative win-win relationship.”

The expertise he’s shared in his industry-leading texts has compelled executives from local companies to reach out to him for support in transforming their managers into inspiring leaders. Through these executive coaching experiences, Professor Hunsaker brings real-world lessons to the classroom showing students the extent to which effective leadership can make a world of difference -- it can be the missing link between a career that stagnates and a career that thrives.

“I’m all about helping students develop their potential and building regenerative team cultures where everyone can reach a win-win decision,” shares Professor Hunsaker.

Now, as he nears retirement, Professor Hunsaker can look back proudly at the legacy he’ll be leaving behind, from successful alumni who used to sit in class learning how to be better leaders and team players to companies that have fostered positive and collaborative work environments thanks to his leadership coaching. 

If you wonder why Professor Hunsaker continues teaching after 43 years on the job, just ask him. “I just love what I’m doing and am constantly reinforced by the success stories I get from alumni -- from their heartfelt notes and emails over the years -- about what a difference our leadership training makes. That’s what it’s all about.”

USD Professor of Management Phil Hunsaker with his wife and fellow professor of management, Jo Hunsaker.

Professor of Management Phil Hunsaker with his wife and fellow professor of management, Jo Hunsaker, in Auckland, New Zealand to teach a management class.


Gabrielle Horta
(619) 260-4468