Will Shelby just did it.
The former Nike sales executive graduated from the online Master of Business Administration with a Concentration in Marketing program at Southern Oregon University in February 2021, less than two weeks before his 60th birthday.
“I had a lifelong dream of getting an MBA,” he said. “I am looking at different avenues to take in my career — working for a nonprofit or returning to sales. I want to do something to bring people together. I love to work with people and elevate their capabilities.”
Shelby is in his fourth year as a boys assistant basketball coach at Central Catholic High School in Portland. He worked for Nike for more than 20 years, including five years as the Jordan Brand national sales manager for regional accounts. He and his wife, Sonia, have three adult daughters — Tessa, Jordan and Kendall.
“I know how I did things, but I wanted to know the why,” he said. “I thought it would benefit me in learning the why and maybe go into working for a nonprofit. I could also give back to Central Catholic utilizing the knowledge that I gained and the experience that I have.”
The long hiatus from formal education meant Shelby had a tough time early in the program, but SOU’s faculty members helped him gain his footing and take off in the right direction.
“I don’t read fast, so it takes a little bit of time for me,” he said. “The demands for reading and understanding were great. It was inundating.
“Professor Dennis Slattery gave me some extra time that first week. Without that encouragement from him, I would have said, ‘I have bitten off a little more than I can chew.’ SOU provided a good MBA program.”
Shelby grew up in the Los Angeles area, where he played football at Loyola High School. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from California State University, Long Beach, in 1986. He also served in the Army and worked in pharmaceutical sales for ten years before slipping into the shoe biz.
“I worked with Nike for 21 years,” he said. “I was a survivor. I survived about eight major reorganizations and a few mini ones. I couldn’t pull that last one off.
“A year and a half later, I found out I qualified for the Trade Act, which is a state-funded program that helps train you. At the time, I was 58 years old. I said, ‘What are they going to retrain me as? How much longer do I have to work?'”
After researching online MBA programs, Shelby chose SOU’s online MBA in Marketing program because it checked all the right boxes for his needs.
“The professors had similar backgrounds to mine, although theirs are in the academic world,” he said. “They encouraged me. The program, the cost and the people were great. SOU also has a good athletic program I could be a fan of.”
Even with a career’s worth of real-world experience, Shelby found new insights in the program curriculum and expanded his business acumen.
“Managerial Accounting for Decision Making [MBA 516] was a tough course, but I learned a lot about why Nike did certain things,” he said. “Strategic Operations Management [MBA 514] taught me to solve problems in operations and turned into my favorite course.”
Done in a Swoosh
Shelby completed the online MBA in Marketing program in 16 months. He hopes to attend an in-person commencement ceremony later in 2021.
“My family and friends are excited for me,” he said. “My wife and daughters gave me great support. My wife would ask, ‘How is my graduate student doing?’ They were bummed about the decision to have a virtual graduation due to COVID-19 because they wanted me to walk. Hopefully, it will work out.”
With an MBA under his belt, Shelby plans to continue coaching while looking for a new direction to take his primary career. He believes that having a master’s degree will create those opportunities for him.
“Now, I have a real-world background of what works and what doesn’t work,” he said. “I have been able to add an MBA experience and can validate my decisions with different formulas. At the very least, I can also plan my retirement.”
It’s been three and a half years since Nike laid off Shelby. He sees that experience as pivotal for his return to higher education.
“In 2017 when all of this happened, I didn’t feel like I could stay in the sales arena,” he said. “The MBA opened my eyes to a lot of other things I can do. If I can do this, I can do damn near anything. It was a great experience.”
Learn more about SOU’s online MBA in Marketing program.