Profile in Brief


John Branch
On the Market

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

The legal profession is changing dramatically, according to John Branch, a visiting professor teaching Marketing for Lawyers at the University of Michigan Law School.

“Things like value-based pricing, for example, and new ownership structures. Consequently, graduates of the law school who have taken some business courses such as marketing or finance will be better equipped and more valuable at graduation.”

Branch, who teaches marketing and international business courses at the U-M Stephen M. Ross School of Business, is teaching at Michigan Law while his Ross colleague, Professor Fred Feinberg, who taught Marketing for Lawyers in 2012, is on sabbatical.

“So I was asked to step in,” Branch says. “But I’ve been teaching marketing to lawyers for a number of years, and most recently, I was involved in a mini-MBA program for a large national law firm.”
Teaching Marketing for Lawyers is not so different, he notes.

“I enjoy teaching. Period. But because law students are not thinking about business on a daily business, it’s especially gratifying to see the development of their business acumen over a semester.”
Branch, who is entering his eighth year of teaching at Ross, serves as academic director for the school’s part-time MBA degrees, and is also affiliated with the U-M Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies.

The best part of teaching is his students, he says.

“Like the law school, Ross gets absolutely the best domestic and international students. They are clever, dedicated, challenging.”

And yet Branch, who joined Ross after five years on the faculty of the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University in Saint Louis, didn’t set out to be a teacher. In secondary school he focused on a trifecta of music, sports, and academics — principally mathematics and science. Mulling his options, he wondered what he might do with a bachelor’s degree in music.

“The likelihood of making it to the professional ranks was slim — besides, who had ever heard of a professional tuba player?”

The option of becoming an elementary or secondary school music teacher held no appeal, neither did an undergrad degree in physical education that might point to a similar teaching path, or to the doors of a YMCA or a recreation center.

And so engineering got the nod.

“After all, I loved building things, and I excelled in mathematics and science,” he says.

Paternal advice also played a role, with his father encouraging him to get his engineering ticket and do the music and sports on the side.

After earning a bachelor of engineering science in electronics from the University Of Western Ontario, Branch was accepted to a master of engineering program, with a full-ride research and teaching assistantship, but also applied to a few schools of business for a master of business degree.

“I knew nothing about it, but had taken the General Management Aptitude Test (GMAT) on a whim, following the advice of one of my housemates who had started the M.B.A. following a three-year degree in chemistry. He loved the program and spoke of the value of mixing technical and management skills.”

After picking three schools furthest from his home in Ontario, and located in cities he felt would offer interesting cultural and athletic experiences, he earned his M.B.A. from the University of New Brunswick, thoroughly enjoying the topics.

“Accounting and finance were a useful application of mathematics, not just some theoretical exercise,” he says. “Human resources and organizational behavior probed the inner workings of people and their companies, something I’d never studied due to the rigid nature of the engineering curriculum. But it was marketing which really set me going. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was because there was almost a complete lack of numbers — that it was focused solely on people. Perhaps I just had a knack for it. But it was me.”

He went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Washington University in St. Louis; and a Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Cambridge in England; and is currently working toward a Ph.D. in education at the U-M.

A Canadian who now considers himself an Ann Arbor “townie,” Branch has taught around the world, beginning his international career in Poland in 1992, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

“Since then, I’ve been teaching and training throughout the region, and consider it almost my second home,” he says. “I travel to Latvia, for example, at least three times per year, and usually at least once to Russia, Croatia, and a few more countries of Central and Eastern Europe.”

Since working as an assistant professor of marketing at École Supérieure de Commerce de Rennes in France in 1993, his work as an adjunct or visiting professor has taken him to more than 40 business schools throughout world, including the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, ESAN in Peru, and Thailand’s Sasin Graduate Institute of Administration. He also was a visiting scholar at Queen Elizabeth House of the University of Oxford in England, and at the J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management of Northwestern University in Evanston.

Branch enjoys the scope of his world travels and teaching.

“I’m fascinated by cultural differences,” he says.

He also has been involved in a variety of European Union and other government-funded development projects, most notably in the republics of the former U.S.S.R., including Kyrghyzstan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, and in those of Eastern and Central Europe; and has participated in management training programs for international organizations, including British American Tobacco, Anheuser-Busch, British Telecom, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Michelin, and Nestlé.

Branch — who hails from Orillia, Ontario, a small town 84 miles north of Toronto, and birthplace of 19th-century satirical humorist Stephen Leacock and folk singer Gordon Lightfoot — met his wife while earning his doctorate at the University of Cambridge, where she earned her Ph.D. in education. The couple and their three children — Henry, 11, Georgie, 9, and 8-year-old Charlie — live in Ann Arbor, where Branch is completing a gut-rehab of the family home.

“I enjoy rebuilding things — mostly old houses, cars, and other mechanical things,” he says. “I also have a 1963 Porsche 356 B project ready to get underway.”