In 2022, Professor Mike Beeler (MBA ’07) received the Weatherspoon Award for Teaching Excellence in the Undergraduate Business Program (UBP), one of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s highest faculty honors.
The following year, he received an even more personal honor: presenting the same award to C.J. Skender, his former Evening Executive MBA Program accounting professor turned mentor and friend.
“It was one of the most memorable and greatest professional accomplishments of my life to be able to do that,” says Beeler. “C.J. never stopped encouraging me. He was always my cheerleader.”
Skender retired in 2023, but his legacy lives on in professors like Beeler. Like Skender, Beeler considers it a key part of his job to forge lasting connections with students and make extraordinary commitments to their education.
The core operations classes he teaches in the UBP and MBA@UNC programs are challenging. Beeler will, without fail, review key concepts with students during office hours – not just one more time, but three or four more times if needed.
He begins classes with a joke of the day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he began “Start with something good.” He urged students to share something positive that happened in their lives since the class last met.
“I let my students know that my interest in them and my interaction with them doesn’t end at the classroom door,” says Beeler.
Beeler entered UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Evening Executive MBA Program when he was in his 40s and at something of a professional crossroads.
After serving nine years in the U.S. Navy, he worked in a variety of corporate jobs, all in operations or materials management, including positions at Hayes Lemmerz, an aluminum and steel wheels manufacturer, and Ericsson. His was a natural progression from heading the operations department on his ship based in Charleston, South Carolina. By the time he started his MBA studies, he had already amassed two decades of supply chain and operations management expertise.
But something was missing.
“When I think about the jobs that I have loved, it’s my time in the Navy serving the country and teaching that have stayed with me,” says Beeler. “The corporate jobs I had were never quite as fulfilling.”
Beeler had long thought about pursuing an MBA to advance his career. A first-generation college student, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Pennsylvania State University while in the Navy ROTC program. A strong background in math eventually made for a seamless transition to a civilian career in operations management.
Beeler had a resume quite unlike any of his MBA classmates. Also unique was a smoldering desire to teach. Just three years after graduating he was asked to return to UNC Kenan-Flagler as a guest lecturer for Professor Jayashankar Swaminathan’s supply chain management class. The simulations Swaminathan ran in his supply chain class looked a lot like the supply chains Beeler managed, so he talked to students about his experiences managing them in the real world.
“Jay also took the time to encourage me and give me advice about teaching,” says Beeler. “I still had no idea whether I was going to ever get to teach. It felt like a far-off dream.”
That all soon changed. As he began working as a customer supply-chain manager at Burt’s Bees in Durham in 2012, he joined UNC Kenan-Flagler’s faculty, leading operations courses. He worked full-time at Burt’s Bees while teaching one or two classes a semester, occasionally teaching back-to-back courses on the same night.
Three years later, he began teaching full time.
“It never seemed like a lot because it was something that I looked forward to doing,” says Beeler. “I loved my time as a student, and I’ve loved my time as a professor. It has been an opportunity to give back to the school that gave me so much.”
As with math, the core concepts of supply chain management don’t change, but the discussions in Beeler’s classes certainly have over the past few years.
COVID-19 ushered major shifts in supply chain strategies for many global companies. Since then, Beeler has seen growing interest in his UBP supply chain class. The phrase, “It’s a supply chain issue,” now means something entirely different and more relatable than it once did.
“You don’t exactly know where students are going after they graduate. It’s a different world out there, company to company,” says Beeler. “We talk a lot about conceptually how students would run things now.”
That heightened engagement with students energizes Beeler. A teaching award is validating, but his connections with his students make him feel that teaching is exactly what he is meant to do, and UNC Kenan-Flagler is exactly where he should be.
“I never stop seeing amazing students who are absolutely going to change the world,” says Beeler. “I’ve always said that if 20 years from now someone remembers something that I said or did or just the fact that I cared about my students and made some sort of difference, that’s what means the most to me.”