2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: Nicholas Didow, University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Nicholas Didow

Associate Professor

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

At age 70, it’s hard not to describe Nicholas Didow’s career at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School as prolific. Next year will be his 40th year of teaching business education and all of those years have been at Kenan-Flagler, where Didow earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees. Didow’s expertise is in consumer behavior, marketing strategy, product management, product scares, and sports marketing.

But beyond the classroom, Didow has an impressive record of public service. According to his school bio page, he has been elected to three terms as a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ Board of Education. Didow was asked to launch UNC’s Carolina Center for Public Service in 1999, and he “led the University’s efforts to assist with Hurricane Floyd recovery efforts in 1999-2001,” the school’s site says. Beyond that, Didow also works with the Food Bank of North Carolina, where he works with around 900 community leaders in eastern North Carolina.

Didow shows no sign of slowing down, as he spent his summer training his new Beagle puppy, Lucy and plans on learning how to fly an airplane in the near future.

Age: 70

Education: PhD in Marketing, Northwestern University; MBA, UNC Kenan-Flagler; BSBA, UNC Kenan-Flagler

At current institution since: 1979

List of courses you currently teach: Global Marketing – Issues in the Global Economy; Marketing Strategy Planning; Sustainability Consulting; Director of the STAR Program – Action Based Experiential Learning Major Field Consulting Projects for Businesses, Non-profits, and Government Agencies

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Helping launch the nationwide U.S. cell phone industry with infrastructure to also support voice and wireless text messaging. Establishing the campus-wide Carolina Center for Public Service to better connect the resources of the University with the people across North Carolina and beyond. Assembling the $143 million Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative which deployed 1,803 miles of fiber optic middle mile broadband infrastructure across 67 unserved or underserved counties in North Carolina, providing broadband connectivity to 179 Community Anchor Institutions and last mile service to millions of citizens.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” one of my favorite undergraduate marketing professors, Professor Jim Littlefield, said I should consider this as my career.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Terrified. And I still feel that way every day when I walk into class.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Marketing strategy planning for tourism-based economic development strategies in rural North Carolina. This state is rich in natural resources from the mountains to the coast and everything in between, and the people and small towns of North Carolina have amazing authentic histories and endless engaging stories.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? Taking a team of Kenan-Flagler students to Zambia to design and plan a contemporary women’s tertiary referral hospital to serve the region

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? Two major themes: “Global” has become mainstream, and UNC Kenan-Flagler students want to be prepared for a career that matches their professional skill sets and interests in addition to matching their values and passions.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” driving NASCAR for Joe Gibbs Racing in Charlotte.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: Remembering that every year you have to adjust to the wonderful students with whom you connected no longer being here on campus as they graduated the previous May. Every August I enter the classroom expecting them to still be sitting there smiling, enthusiastic and ready for class.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: Professor Rollie Tillman, the consummate thoughtful gentleman

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? The ambition and motivation exhibited by our Kenan-Flagler students is palpable and makes every day an exciting adventure for me as well as for them.

What’s the biggest challenge? My job is not just to tell you what you are doing well, but to also help you get better. You have to let me to do both.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? This is a very difficult question to answer as so many of my Kenan-Flagler students have gone on to live and work in their passion and have an impact for good in business, government and nonprofits.   One student in particular has lived into her passion to pioneer sustainable renewable energy first in residential solar and now with Dandelion Energy, the privately held geothermal moonshot business from Alphabet/Google’s project X.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? Been unwilling to dream big and expect great things from themselves and others.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? Broader world view today with much more global travel experience

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Engage with our course content and push yourself to both broaden and deepen your world view, critical thinking, and global understanding

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” a fair grader with very high expectations.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? “Good Golly Miss Molly” – Jerry Lee Lewis

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Eager

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Unengaged

“If my students can recognize they have grown by being able and willing to thoughtfully consider and analyze other points of view, then I’ve done my job as their professor.” 

Fun fact about yourself: I recently had the opportunity to drive one of Jimmie Johnson’s #48 NASCAR racecars all by myself at the Charlotte Motor Speedway with a top speed of 151 MPH

What are your hobbies? Golf, recipes for roasted tomatoes and tomato pies, British sports cars, working outdoors, college sports

How did you spend your summer? Welcoming and training Lucy, our new beagle puppy

Favorite place to vacation: tie between Emerald Isle beach on the North Carolina coast and Southern France

Favorite book: The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Favorite movie and/or television show: Scarface, as it is an unapologetic celebration of effective marketing strategy planning, capitalism and entrepreneurial spirit

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: beach music by The Tams

Bucket list item #1: fly an airplane, which I am going to do later this year

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment? Recognizing that, as part of a major public university, we have three priorities – excellent research, excellent teaching, and excellent service and engagement – and we must live into each of these every day.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” action-based experiential learning like our STAR Program that challenges every student to grow in their skills and managerial judgement

“And much less of this…” introductory lecture courses taught in auditoriums

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you: To be doing then what I am now called to do each and every day.

Students say…

Embodies everything a professor should be: knowledgeable, caring, supportive and motivating. He pushes students to think more deeply and truly learn rather than sit back and memorize. His classes have been among my favorite at Kenan-Flagler and UNC overall and I hope more students have the opportunity to learn from him in the future.”

Genuinely cares about his students. He actually knows his students’ names, asks about their research projects or plans for life and says hello if he sees them around campus. His knowledge and experience in marketing and business overall is amazing, yet he carries no air of superiority or arrogance.”

Successfully engages the entire class and encourages students to speak freely. He involves everyone and never belittles a student or makes their comment seem irrelevant or stupid. In his classroom, there is always a positive, open environment where students are encouraged to share ideas and become actively involved in learning”

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